Tokyo uses radar incident to get leverage in laborers case

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Tokyo uses radar incident to get leverage in laborers case

Following Japan’s accusation that a South Korean destroyer locked a targeting radar on its surveillance plane last week, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday that Tokyo is prepared to take the Korean top court’s forced labor decision to international arbitration.

Kono was quoted by NHK on Tuesday as saying on a trip to Morocco, “I believe the Korean government will take measures to prevent any disadvantages for Japanese companies, however, just in case, we will be preparing countermeasures including international arbitration.”

In October and November, Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during World War II. The rulings have been protested by Tokyo, who has been asking Seoul to take “appropriate measures.”

Amid the diplomatic row, military tensions escalated after Japan’s Defense Ministry accused a South Korean warship of targeting a Japanese patrol plane multiple times and for several minutes using its radar on Dec. 20, demanding an apology from Seoul.

Observers in Seoul have viewed Tokyo’s unusually sensitive response to the radar incident as an attempt to seek diplomatic leverage after recent Korean Supreme Court decisions ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced labor victims from World War II.

In a press conference last Friday, Japan’s Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya said that a Korean Navy Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyer aimed its fire control radar at a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) P-1 patrol plane that was conducting surveillance operations over its waters near central Honshu Island the previous afternoon.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense on Saturday dismissed the claims and explained that the radar had been used on Thursday to search for a North Korean fishing boat that had been marooned for several days in the East Sea. The Navy that day rescued three North Korean sailors and recovered one body, and they were repatriated to the North the next day.

The Japanese Defense Ministry on Saturday said that it “conducted a careful and detailed analysis on the data collected by the MSDF patrol aircraft’s equipment” to confirm that a fire-control radar was used and that “it is not suitable for searching over a wide range.”

Kim Yong-kil, director general of the Northeast Asian affairs at the Korean Foreign Ministry, held talks with Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, in Seoul Monday to discuss the North Korea denuclearization issue. The radar incident was also raised, and Kanasugi called the incident “regrettable” and urged Seoul to take steps to prevent similar cases from happening.

The Japanese Defense Ministry further came down on Seoul through a press release on Wednesday, stating that it “conducted an analysis of the frequency band, radio field intensity, etc. emitted from the destroyer based on the data collected by the MSDF P-1’s equipment and confirmed that the MSDF P-1 was hit multiple times continuously over a certain period by electromagnetic waves that are unique to fire-control radars.”

But Japan has not released any more data backing its claims.

It also said that its P-1 patrol plane transmitted over radio, “KOREA SOUTH NAVAL SHIP, HULL NUMBER 971” three times in English to confirm the intent of the radar but that Seoul did not respond.

Seoul’s military officials have rebutted that only the fire-control system’s three-dimensional MW08 multibeam detecting and tracking radar was operated and that the its targeting radar, the STIR 180, a longer range tracking and illumination radar system, had not been used.

The Korean Defense Ministry also said that the radio transmission was too weak so they were not able to make out the patrol plane’s full message and only heard, “Korea Coast,” and mistook it as a request for the Coast Guard. Tokyo said that it never signaled “Korea Coast.”

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party held a national defense and security meeting Tuesday and came down hard on the Korean government over the radar issue, with lawmakers demanding an apology from Korea, reported Kyodo News.

Should bilateral relations continue to deteriorate, Seoul would be put into an awkward position, especially if Tokyo files the forced labor case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Taking the case to the ICJ requires consent from both countries, but even if Korea does not agree, it would be expected to explain why it will not make a joint submission.

Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul settled all compensation matters once and for all. Korea’s top court determined that an individual’s right to file claims for damages has not expired, noting the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule.

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