Japan Ends Further Consultations With South Korea Over “Radar Feud”
On Jan. 21, 2019, Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a final statement regarding the Japanese-South Korean “radar feud” that occurred at the end of last year.
The event triggering the dispute occurred on Dec. 20, 2018, in which a South Korean KDX-I destroyer allegedly locked on its fire-control radar onto a P-1 patrol aircraft of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) flying over the waters off the coast of Japan’s Noto Peninsula.
Commonly referred to as a “lock-on,” the act of locking onto a target with fire-control radar — used to locate a target for missiles or shells — is universally perceived as a dangerous act; directing the radar at a target is considered a step away from actual firing.
The Japanese government subsequently issued a press release the following day regarding the incident. At a press conference at the Ministry of Defense held on Dec. 21, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, citing that the intentions of the South Korean ship were unknown at the time, described the action as “extremely dangerous that could cause an unexpected situation.”
The incident occurred in the seas surrounding the Korean Peninsula — a very sensitive area where Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) overlap. South Korean media and official reports asserting that the destroyer involved was pursuing a North Korean vessel “drifting near the inter-Korean sea border” prompted Japan’s MoD to release footage taken by the maritime aircraft showing a crewmember asking the destroyer several times regarding the fire-control antenna directed at the P-1.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) responded with “deep concern [and] regrets” regarding the “radar feud” after the video was released, accusing Japan for portraying inaccuracies in its accusation, and subsequently releasing a video claiming that the maritime patrol aircraft “intimidated” the South Korean destroyer by “flying at an unnecessarily low altitude.”
At present, the true intentions of the South Korean destroyer still remain unclear.
In a press release by the South Korean Foreign Ministry on Jan. 4, 2019, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed to “address their differences through consultations between their military authorities.” Additionally, the two resolved to collaborate on “future-oriented development of bilateral ties through continued close communication.”
However, talks held at the two countries’ respective embassies in Singapore on Jan. 14 failed to produce any meaningful resolution or agreement, with a proposed exchange of information and data regarding the incident nixed by both sides’ claims of the asymmetry of the proposed data exchange.
On Jan. 21, with accusations still hanging in the air, Japan’s MoD released a final statement announcing that it had “deem[ed] that it has become difficult to continue to hold consultations with” South Korea given that “[South Korea] refuses to conduct an objective and neutral determination of facts based on the principle of reciprocity… [I]t is unlikely that the truth will ever be made clear even if working-level meetings were to continue.”
South Korea’s MND replied with a statement of its own on the following day, stressing that “the incident could have been resolved through working-level meetings” for further joint investigation of the matter and expressing its “deepest regrets to Japan for discontinuing the working-level meetings without providing any decisive evidence.”
The incident, along with the historically tenuous relationship between the two states, further intensifies political tensions. The dispute follows in the wake of last year’s ruling on by the Supreme Court of Korea upholding prior decisions ordering compensation for South Korea factory workers’ forced labor (by Japanese firms) during World War II. The ruling was rejected and vehemently denounced by the Japanese government, which cited arrangements made through the Treaty on Basic Relations in 1965 as precluding any further compensation by Japan.
Amid such distrust, experts note that such a situation could lead to many more serious problems, unbalancing relations between two of the United States’s closest Pacific allies and negatively affecting the Northeast Asian political climate. The dispute highlights a particularly rough patch in relations between Seoul and Tokyo, with the future trajectory of such relations going forward entering a period of greater uncertainty.