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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 31)

All News 06:59 December 31, 2018

Going too far
-Japan should stop raising tension over radar spat-

Japan has gone too far in claiming that a South Korean naval destroyer targeted its Maritime Self-Defense Force's patrol plane with fire-control radar Dec. 20.

It is difficult to understand why Tokyo has been overreacting to the radar spat, which happened in international waters in the East Sea while the 3,200-ton Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer was involved in a rescue operation of a North Korean fishing boat in distress.

It is also regrettable to see the incident turning into a military and diplomatic conflict between the two countries. The radar row is adding fuel to the fire in bilateral ties that have already become frayed since the Supreme Court of Korea ruled recently in favor of forced labor victims under 1910-45 Japanese rule.

Relations have also deteriorated due to the Seoul government's decision to disband a Tokyo-funded foundation to help wartime sex slavery victims. The decision has virtually nullified a controversial 2015 agreement between the two countries to settle the "comfort women" issue.

Against this backdrop, Japan has continued to raise the radar issue, alleging that what the Korean warship did was tantamount to a hostile act ― just one step away from actual firing. The nationalist Shinzo Abe government has aggravated the situation further by releasing on Friday a 13-minute video footage showing the operation of its P-1 patrol plane.

The purpose of the release was to back up Japan's claim that the Korean destroyer repeatedly locked its targeting radar on the aircraft. But the Ministry of National Defense of South Korea rejected the claim, expressing "deep concerns and regrets" over the unilateral release of the video clip.

We now cannot help questioning Tokyo's real intention of making pubic the video footage, which does not appear to be objective evidence proving the destroyer's "hostile" act. The release came a day after the two sides held a working-level video conference to discuss the matter. The video release only undermined Seoul's effort to find a solution through dialogue.

According to some Japanese media reports, Prime Minister Abe ordered the release of the footage, despite a cautious approach recommended by Japan's defense ministry. If that is true, Abe cannot avoid criticism that he is trying to use the radar dispute as a political ploy to ramp up tension between Seoul and Tokyo. This criticism could hold water, considering that he badly needs to do anything he can to divert attention from his government's falling approval rating.

The video clip proved only that the Japanese patrol plane was flying about 150 meters above the South Korean warship. It showed that the plane carrying missiles and torpedoes could be seen as posing a threat to the destroyer, which was involved in a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission.

Tokyo cannot justify its aircraft's low-altitude flight, which was threatening to the destroyer and also could have hampered the rescue operation. Japan should release its analysis of the radar frequency that could verify whether the Korean destroyer aimed its fire-control radar at the Japanese plane or not.

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