Seoul hits back with own footage of weapons radar incident as tensions with Tokyo escalate

  • South Korea accuses Japan of ‘distorting facts’ of the incident, which it describes as a humanitarian mission involving a stricken North Korean vessel
  • The clip was filmed last month, when a Japanese aircraft was spotted flying low over a South Korean warship that Tokyo says acquired weapons lock
PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 5:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 9:24pm

Seoul accused Tokyo of “distorting facts” and made a fresh call for an apology on Friday, amid an escalating row between the two neighbours over allegations that a South Korean warship locked its fire-control radar onto a Japanese plane.

The incident occurred on December 20 as the South Korean vessel was attempting to conduct a “humanitarian rescue operation”, according to the country’s defence ministry.

To back up its claim that the Japanese aircraft was flying low and in a “threatening” manner, the ministry released a clip composed of footage shot from sea level combined with video filmed from the aircraft that Tokyo had released earlier.

“The release is aimed to provide accurate facts as distorted facts have been unilaterally disseminated to internet users across the globe by a video clip uploaded by Japan” said ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo.

“We once again urge Japan to stop actions that distort the facts and to apologise for carrying out a low-altitude flight around our warship which was on a humanitarian rescue operation.”

South Korea’s video, which was uploaded to YouTube, shows the Japanese aircraft circling overhead as the crew of the warship radio a North Korean fishing boat that was drifting near the inter-Korean sea border. A South Korean sailor can be heard saying that the North Koreans were asking for warm drinking water.

The footage is overlaid with subtitles and intersected by title cards throughout.

One asks why the Japanese plane was flying in such “a threatening manner”, with others claiming that it was as low as 150 metres above the South Korean vessel. “It was so close to the ship that her crew could feel the (engine) noise and vibrations,” one reads.

“The Japanese aircraft hampered a humanitarian rescue operation, carrying out seriously threatening activities,” reads another.

The clip goes on to cite the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s “Rules of the Air”, which state that aircraft should not fly less than 150 metres above the ground or water unless taking off or landing.

Last week Tokyo released its own video, composed of 13 minutes of footage filmed from the aircraft, which it said proved that the South Korean ship had locked its weapons targeting system onto the Japanese plane.

Seoul has repeatedly denied the allegations and dismissed the Japanese footage.

There will be no winners in this fracas, only losers
Ha Jong-moon, university professor

Both countries’ top diplomats held phone talks later on Friday and agreeing that the issue needed to be resolved swiftly by their respective defence authorities.

“Minister Kang and I shared the view that defence authorities need to discuss the [radar] issue based on facts and resolve it at the earliest possible date,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said.

During the talks, Kono said he also urged Seoul to prevent harm to a Japanese company after lawyers started a process to seize its assets following a South Korean court order to compensate for wartime forced labour.

The radar dispute has inflamed bilateral relations that were already strained over Japan’s ongoing claim to a remote island controlled by Seoul and its continued denial of legal responsibility for South Korean victims of wartime atrocities.

It also comes amid mounting suspicion in Tokyo that South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to power in 2017, is adopting intentionally aggressive policies towards Japan while he seeks rapprochement with Pyongyang.

“The Abe government suspects Seoul is taking an unnecessarily aggressive posture toward Tokyo, using the issue of history as leverage”, said Lee Won-deog, an international politics professor at Kukmin University in Seoul, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“But for Seoul, this is not a welcome situation [as it] should not be distracted from its diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korea issue”.

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Ha Jong-moon, a professor of modern Japanese history at Hanshin University also in the South Korean capital, said it was “unfortunate” that the two leaders had shed diplomatic niceties and escalated what could have been a “trivial” episode.

“I don’t see any exit out of this dispute in the near future. An issue that should have been resolved in a practical manner between working-level officials snowballed into a highly emotional issue”, he said.

“There will be no winners in this fracas, only losers.”

South Korean news media have accused Abe of blowing the dispute out of proportion as he attempts to rally support for his campaign to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution and increase its military role in international affairs.

Additional reporting by Associated Press