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(LEAD) S. Korean FM expresses deep regret over Japanese warplane's 'provocative' flyby

Diplomacy 22:09 January 23, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS details; FIXES name in 2nd para)

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top diplomat expressed deep regret over a Japanese warplane's low-altitude flight close to a South Korean warship during a meeting with her Japanese counterpart here on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said to Taro Kono that she feels very concerned about the current situation and expressed her regret at the latest incident that aggravated the strained relationship between the two sides during their bilateral talks held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"Including today, Japan's low-altitude flyby happened three times already," Kang said to Kono in their meeting at a Davos hotel. "But even in a situation like this, I believe both sides still share a common ground to develop the sustainable ties and think carefully on such issues."

Kono replied, "It's a difficult situation, but I think it's still meaningful to have this face-to-face meeting. I hope we can discuss current issues candidly."

Hours before their talks, Seoul's defense ministry condemned a Japanese warplane's low-altitude, close-range flight near its ship in international waters near Ieodo -- a submerged rock south of South Korea's southern island of Jeju -- as a "provocative act." The ministry later called in a defense attaché from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to lodge a protest.

It was the latest incident to escalate tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. The two sides have been in a monthlong spat over a South Korean warship's radar operation for a humanitarian mission to rescue a North Korean warship in distress on Dec. 20.

The two neighboring East Asian countries have also been at loggerheads regarding a series of South Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms for forced labor using Koreans during World War II, when Korea was under Japan's brutal colonization.

The Seoul court acknowledged the individual rights of victims to reparations, while Tokyo says all compensation-related issues were settled in a 1965 state-to-state deal to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations.

In their 50-minute talks held behind closed doors, Kang and Kono discussed such sensitive issues between the two nations, according to a foreign ministry official, as well as North Korea issues.

Also at the meeting was Lee Do-hoon, South Korea's top nuclear envoy who attended working-level consultations between North Korea and the United States in Sweden earlier this week. He briefed the Japanese officials on the result of the recent talks between North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and U.S. State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Biegun.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (R) speaks with her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono during their talks at a hotel in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 23, 2019. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr

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