[Newsmaker] Seoul focuses on military elements in friction over Japanese warplanes

By Choi He-suk
  • Published : Jan 24, 2019 - 15:56
  • Updated : Jan 24, 2019 - 18:06

Seoul is focusing on the military aspects of inappropriate actions by Japanese military planes, in an apparent move to avoid the matter being politicized by Tokyo, following another close-proximity flight by a Japanese patrol plane.

On Wednesday, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense revealed that Japan’s P-3 patrol plane flew at an altitude of 60 to 70 meters and 540 meters away from South Korean destroyer Daejoyeong in international waters near Ieodo, a submerged rock near Jeju Island. 

Military officers meet with lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap

On Thursday, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the ruling Democratic Party, discussing the possibility of strengthening response measures.

According to reports, the JCS raised the possibility of increasing the distance at which warnings are issued to approaching planes, and deploying helicopters onboard warships when foreign military aircraft’s flights are deemed threatening. 

Later in the day, the Defense Ministry released five photographs and still images from video footage showing the Japanese aircraft flying about 60 meters above the South Korean Navy vessel. 

The ministry said that video footage of the incident will not be released to avoid explosing information related to the ship‘s radar systems. 

Japanese patrol plane is seen in flight in a photograph released by Seoul's Ministry of National Defense. Ministry of National Defense

The briefing focused on military measures, in line with the Defense Ministry’s position that the issue will not be handled as a political one. 

In disclosing the latest incident Wednesday, the ministry changed its initial plans for Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo to brief the media, instead choosing Suh Wook, chief director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Who makes an announcement has symbolism, and the chief director of operations was chosen, as the issue is related to a military response and operational importance,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said, adding that the ministry will not be handling the matter politically.

“It is a technical matter, and involves fundamental and procedural elements in dealing with a friendly nation, so the position (of the ministry) is to resolve the issue based on unbiased and scientific evidence.”

Wednesday’s incident was the fourth involving a Japanese military plane approaching South Korean warships at a low altitude since Dec. 20. Seoul has branded the flights as threatening, and called for Tokyo’s apology and to ensure such incidents are not repeated.

Following the first incident, in which Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s P-1 patrol aircraft approached the 3,200-ton Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer, Japan denied the claims and accused the South Korean warship of locking its fire-control on the aircraft.

Seoul denied the accusation, and the two sides responded by releasing videos and audio files to support their claims.

Japan maintains the same stance on Wednesday’s incident, with top officials taking issue with Seoul’s response.

“I would like to request composed and appropriate response (from Seoul),” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday, saying that Seoul’s announcement was “regretful.”

“The Ministry of Defense has reported that the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s patrol plane did not fly as South Korea claims, and that the flight was appropriate.”

Regarding the possibility of releasing Japan’s records of the flight, Suga simply stated that defense authorities of the two countries need to “seek proper communication.”

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya had stated Wednesday that the Japanese military has records of the flight and that the flight was in accordance with international law.

By Choi He-suk (