January 28, 2019 13:39
A radar spat between Korea and Japan that was triggered by a Japanese surveillance aircraft buzzing a Korean destroyer near Dokdo is escalating into a war of nerves. Japan's defense chief paid an ostentatious visit to a naval base housing surveillance airplanes, which followed a warning from the Korean Navy against further close flybys. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in turn paid a visit to naval command headquarters and ordered troops to respond firmly to further provocations by Japan. Both politicians wore military jackets during their visits to signal that they mean business.
Japan's Defense Ministry is minded to cancel its plan to let a warship dock in Busan in April during a multinational maritime drill, while the Korean Navy has put on hold a scheduled visit to a Japanese naval base next month. Senior naval officers from both countries normally exchange visits every year, but now all bets are off as the nominal allies bicker. Japan will also not let its ships cross Korean waters to take part in an Asia-wide exercise in late April hosted by Korea and Singapore.
Of course there can be differences of opinion between allies. In that event the best thing to do is to sit through a cooling-off period and deal with the matter objectively. But both the Korean and Japanese governments seem determined to use the spat to their political advantage at home. And the behavior of both sides has been anything but professional. Some ruling-party lawmakers here are now calling for the scrapping of a vital intelligence-sharing pact between the two countries, which even Cheong Wa Dae believes to be invaluable for Korea's national security. Both governments must prevent the spat from escalating further. Japan must stop its silly coat-trailing flybys, and Seoul must get them into perspective. A second Washington-Pyongyang summit takes place soon, and the security landscape in Northeast Asia could change drastically as a result. Both Korea and Japan need to grow up.
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