Japan and South Korea in fresh spat over upcoming naval drills

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 Minister of Defence Takeshi Iwaya told reporters on 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 programme, according to a transcript of his comments on the defence ministry's 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," Mr Iwaya said.

South Korea's Ministry of Defence 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 United States, South Korea, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and India, according to defence ministry official Kim Eun-kyung.

"Japan will take part in the meeting held on land," the official said.

"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 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2019, with the headline 'Japan and S. Korea in fresh spat over upcoming naval drills'. Print Edition | Subscribe