Japan spars with South Korea over multilateral naval drills

U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan conducts military drills during Keen Sword, a joint field-training exercise involving U.S. military, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel and Royal Canadian Navy, at sea November 3, 2018. (Reuters pic)

TOKYO: Japan and South Korea are engaged in a fresh spat — this time over whether Japan will participate in multilateral naval exercises set to take place off Busan in late April — amid renewed hostility over Japan’s past colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters Saturday that Japanese military vessels would not enter the port of Busan, but that they would take part in the remainder of the joint exercise program, according to a transcript of his comments on the Defense Ministry website.

“From the perspective of East Asian security, ties between Japan and South Korea, as well as between Japan, South Korea and the US, are extremely important,” Iwaya said.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website that Japan would take part in a planning meeting, but would not send ships to take part in the multilateral operations off Busan. This decision was announced at a conference to prepare the drills last week, the Defence Ministry said.

A total of eight countries are scheduled to participate in the drills off Busan from April 29-May 2: the US, South Korea, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and India, according to Kim Eun-kyung, a defence ministry official

“Japan will take part in the meeting held on land,” Kim said by phone. “They will not send ships to Busan — this was decided at the conference.”

The two countries have been increasingly at loggerheads in recent months over whether Japan has shown sufficient contrition for its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.