Top South Korean navy official cancels Japan visit amid military spat

SEOUL - A top South Korean navy official has cancelled a planned visit to Japan next month amid a row over low altitude flights that Seoul alleges Japanese patrol planes have been carrying out near the country's naval vessels.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing a military official, reported on Sunday (Jan 27) that Rear Admiral Kim Myung-soo, the commander of the South Korean Navy's First Fleet, had decided to call off the trip, part of a bilateral exchange programme that sees senior military officers visiting each other's countries on alternate years.

"In February this year, it is our turn to send our Navy officer to Japan," it quoted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying. "But we have notified Japan of our decision not to send any this year."

The move comes after South Korea's Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Saturday urged that the country issues a "lawful and strong" response should Japanese patrol planes conduct another low-altitude flyby.

The military spat has been simmering since Dec 20, when Japan claimed that a South Korean warship had locked its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol plane. Seoul rejected that accusation, saying the ship was on a normal rescue mission and the patrol plane had needlessly approached the ship.

South Korea has accused Japanese patrol planes of conducting low-altitude flybys near the country's naval vessels three times this month.

The spat has also led Japan to reconsider its plan to send warships to an international maritime security exercise that will be held in the waters off the Korean peninsula in April, Yo nhap reported.

The news agency cited a report by the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun which quoted a Japanese government source as saying that Japan's defence ministry was reviewing the plan to dispatch its Izumo helicopter carrier for the exercise.