SEOUL • A Japanese patrol aircraft made an "intimidating" pass over a South Korean warship yesterday, in what South Korea's military said was a "clear provocation" towards a friendly neighbour.
The aircraft made its flight just over the South Korean navy vessel in waters off the south-west coast of the Korean peninsula, even after the aircraft determined the ship's identity, the South Korean military said, according to Reuters.
"Today's low-altitude flight was a clear provocation against a ship of a friendly country, and we cannot help but doubt Japan's intentions and strongly condemn it," General Suh Wook of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told a news briefing.
South Korea's Defence Ministry said it called in a defence official from Japan's embassy to lodge a protest. "If this behaviour is repeated again, we will sternly respond according to our military's rules of conduct," Gen Suh said.
Japanese government and defence force spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying he was aware of Seoul's announcement and that it was important the two countries maintained communication.
Yesterday's encounter follows a December feud in which Japan complained that a South Korean destroyer locked a targeting radar on a Japanese surveillance plane.
Seoul denied the claim, saying the plane needlessly approached the ship, which was on a normal rescue mission.
There have been two other flights by Japanese aircraft near South Korean vessels since last Friday, which prompted a South Korean request to Japan to stop such incidents, Gen Suh said.
Defence officials from the two sides have been meeting, but Japan decided to halt the talks, Japanese media reported on Monday.
The two countries' foreign ministers were due to meet yesterday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Animosity between South Korea and Japan looks set to worsen in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of Korea's 1919 independence movement against Japanese rule on March 1, as diplomatic spats over issues such as comfort women and forced wartime labour have deepened in recent months.
The two US allies share a bitter history that includes Japan's 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean peninsula and the use of comfort women - Japan's euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean - who were forced to work in its wartime brothels.
The rows over wartime history have long been a stumbling block for relations between the neighbours, sparking concern about regional efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme.
Ties have taken a further beating after South Korean victims of forced labour successfully sued for damages against Japanese companies Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for exploitation during Japan's colonial rule.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asserted that the rulings were "extremely regrettable", but South Korean President Moon Jae-in has hit back, accusing Japan of trying to politicise the issue and turning it into a controversy.