Conflicts arise when misunderstanding occurs. They could easily cease if such misunderstandings are cleared up. Unfortunately, this ideal end result did not occur between South Korea and Japan. The two nations have gone through a long history of conflicts, gradually aggravating political tensions. Recently, another issue has been generating controversy between the two: the radar dispute.
On December 20, 2018, the Korean Coast Guard (KCG) Vessel Sambong and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) destroyer Gwanggaeto the Great sailed 100 kilometers northwest of Dokdo Island in order to rescue distressed North Korean ships. As the Korean army was carrying out rescue operations, a Japanese P-1 patrol plane approached near the South Korean ships, then retreated after a few minutes of aerial reconnaissance. In the process, Japan claimed that South Korea projected its tracking radar onto the P-1, and now they are demanding an apology.
On the other hand, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense claimed that they did not conduct such tracking. Since then, both nations have expressed various arguments and refused to back down, causing the strife between the two to deepen.
Apparent Evidence Refuted by Obscure Evidence
As the strife never seemed to cease, both countries called on each other to provide evidence to substantiate their claims. On January 4, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense uploaded a video on their YouTube channel that showed the close approach of the P-1 near the South Korean ships. Based on this record, the South Korean government insisted the Japanese government on apologizing for the close approach.
Despite the evident approach, the Japanese government showed no signs of remorse. Instead, they countered the Korean claims by releasing an audio file of what they called a “recorded transcript” on January 21. The file consisted of several noises, including those of machines and electromagnetic waves. From this audio file, the Japanese government asserted that the sound is the Fire Control Radar (FCR) that the Korean military ship had used against their P-1.
▲ The Japanese P-1 maritime patrol plane. Provided by daisetsuzan.blogspot.com
In response, an urgent press briefing was held by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo, in which she asserted that the audio file provided by the Japanese government is of mechanical noises and that they could not distinguish the sound.
She continued to say that they want the Japanese government to give them clear evidence just like the evidence that they gave to the Japanese government.
However, according to Fuji TV, on January 22, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya suddenly stated that they will stop trying to reach a compromise with the Korean government. Yet, he asserted the necessity of an amicable relationship between the two countries.
Still, since the declaration, the Japanese government has continuously provoked Korea indirectly, by sending other patrol planes such as the P-3 near Korean navy ships.
Political Struggles Behind the Scene
Earlier in 2013, a Chinese navy vessel directed a similar radar at a Japanese navy ship in the East China Sea. Itsunori Onodera, the Japanese Defense Minister at the time, described the incident, “Projecting fire control is very unusual. One mistake, and the situation could become very dangerous.” Yet, according to the Kyodo news agency, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe informed Onodera to “ respond calmly and not meet provocation with provocation,” which can be seen as a rather contrasting approach to the current case with Korea.
▲ Professor Kim Sung-han. Photographed by Kim Sun Min
Japan’s growing antagonism towards Korea is reflected in the series of recent circumstances. As Professor Kim Sunghan (Graduate School of International Studies) puts it, recently the two countries have not been on good terms. Looking back upon the past few months, Korea dismantled the Japanfunded comfort women foundation, and South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered the Japanese firm to pay compensation for the Koreans drafted into forced labor during World War II.
Such recent incidents have caused the countries to feel antipathy toward each other and resulted the P-1 radar lock-on dispute to be brought under the spotlight.
Moreover, there is a high possibility that the Japanese government is purposely avoiding a settlement with Korea on this issue. According to Professor Kim, Prime Minister Abe is trying to turn his country from a criminal state to a normal state. In order to accomplish his goals, he needs to convince citizens that Japan could always be in a state of war, and therefore needs a national military force. Thus, the prime minister continuously avoids agreements with the Korean government, showing the people that even their friend country could turn their back on them.
Where Does the Future Lie?
Escalating the conflict can only lead to a collision with more countries. Professor Kim also stated, “the Japanese government is trying to isolate and highlight this issue and prevent the other neighboring countries from interfering.” The three countries— South Korea, Japan, and the United States—are forming a three-party alliance, and the Japanese government does not want to break this alliance. As a result, they are trying to conclude this situation only with the Korean government. Thus, communication should continue between these two countries to better stress their stances and make compromises.
The two countries are still debating this issue, only stressing their stances. Such conflicts may further deteriorate relations between the two neighboring countries, perhaps even jeopardizing trust, economic growth and peace. Hence, it is important to recall the duty of a government, which is to prevent such turmoil from amplifying, instead of making matters worse. Professor Kim asserted, “remember history and the past, but head for the future.” Though feelings of hatred might not be loosened, the two countries need to cooperate to solve this clash and make a better future.