(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES throughout with more details)
By Chae Yun-hwan
SINGAPORE, June 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Japan agreed Sunday to craft measures to prevent the recurrence of a yearslong military dispute, involving their maritime operations, Seoul's defense chief said, in the latest effort to improve bilateral relations.
After his talks with his Japanese counterpart, Yasukazu Hamada, in Singapore, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said the two sides will hold working-level talks to address the issue -- still a lingering irritant in bilateral defense cooperation.
The dispute flared up in December 2018, when a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft made an unusually low-altitude flyby over a South Korean warship. Seoul has decried the plane's approach as a "menacing" flight, while Tokyo has accused the South Korean vessel of having locked its fire-control radar on the plane.
"Regarding the issue, (we) agreed to resolve it by starting working-level talks and placing a focus on coming up with measures to prevent its recurrence," Lee said.
The two countries' positions on the issue remain unchanged, but they agreed to focus on formulating measures to prevent such an incident from happening again, a senior Seoul official told reporters, requesting anonymity.
The first defense ministerial talks between the countries since November 2019 came amid recent efforts to mend bilateral ties strained over long-running historical spats stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.
Their relations have recently taken a turn for the better after Seoul's decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor on its own without asking for contributions from Japanese firms.
During the talks, the two ministers agreed on the importance of further advancing security cooperation between their countries, as well as trilaterally with their shared ally, the United States, to deter and respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, according to Seoul's defense ministry.
On Saturday, Lee and Hamada held trilateral talks with their U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on a range of issues, including trilateral cooperation against the security challenge that the North poses.
Lee and Hamada also "strongly condemned" Pyongyang's launch of a "long-range ballistic missile under the guise of a so-called satellite" last week as a "grave" violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology, the ministry said.
The North carried out the failed yet defiant launch of a purported space rocket Wednesday.
Lee and Hamada also agreed that the two countries' defense authorities will continue close communication to enhance security cooperation, citing their leaders' agreement to develop bilateral ties to another level, the ministry added.
President Yoon Suk Yeol visited Tokyo in March for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Kishida visited Seoul last month, resuming so-called shuttle diplomacy between the two countries' leaders after 12 years.
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