S. Korea, Japan agree to prevent repeat of 2018 maritime spat over Japanese patrol aircraft

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, right, and his Japanese counterpart, Minoru Kihara, talk during  bilateral talk on the sideline of  the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, June 1. Yonhap

The defense chiefs of South Korea and Japan agreed Saturday to take measures to prevent the recurrence of a 2018 maritime spat over Japanese patrol aircraft, an incident considered a major hindrance to efforts to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.

Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and his Japanese counterpart, Minoru Kihara, announced the agreement following their talks held on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

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 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.

The incident had remained a source of friction for years until Seoul and Tokyo’s defense chiefs agreed to begin working-level talks on the issue in the annual security forum held in Singapore last year, in what marked the first defense ministerial talks between Seoul and Tokyo since November 2019.

The latest agreement is expected to help move forward defense ties between the two nations amid deepening trilateral security cooperation also involving Washington.

Under the agreement, both sides will seek to ensure the “smooth and safe” operations of their warships and aircraft on waters through fluent communications in accordance with the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

Based on the international maritime agreement which aims to prevent unplanned encounters between naval vessels from escalating into collisions, Seoul and Tokyo will abide by safety distances and altitudes, and engage in active communications through relevant radio communication procedures.

“Both sides agreed on the importance of promoting mutual understanding through ensuring smooth communications,” the ministers said in a joint statement. “Going forward, the ROK Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will carry out operations in accordance with the agreement in the event of their peacetime encounter at sea.”

In efforts to activate defense dialogue and rebuild mutual trust, the countries also agreed to conduct regular vice defense ministerial talks 카지노 and resume working-level policy meetings as well as high-level exchanges between their servicemen, according to the statement.

“Both ministers concurred that South Korea-Japan security cooperation is the cornerstone of the South Korea-U.S.-Japan security cooperation, which stands firm and is beneficial for the two countries that share core values and strategic interest,” the ministers said, adding such cooperation is “essential” in deterring North Korean threats, and realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Following Saturday’s talks, Shin told reporters that South Korea has secured the safety of its naval vessels via the latest agreement and said both sides will work to restore the level of their exchanges to before the 2018 incident.

Shin said he will share the outcome of the meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a trilateral meeting of the defense chiefs of Seoul, Washington and Tokyo set for Sunday.

“South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will discuss areas where they can work together,” the minister said. “It will make the trilateral cooperation more official and further expand it.”

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have been beefing up their security cooperation following the landmark trilateral summit between their leaders at Camp David in August last year.

Bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo have also thawed after South Korea announced a decision last year to address the thorny issue of compensating Korean victims of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial-era forced labor through the so-called third-party reimbursement plan. 

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