The dispute between South Korea and Japan over a low-altitude flyby by a Japanese patrol aircraft and a South Korean warship’s alleged targeting of the aircraft with its signal tracking and illumination radar (STIR) appears poised to drag out. Military authorities from both sides met in Singapore on Jan. 14 for working-level talks but were unable to bridge their differences.
According to a military official on Jan. 16, Japan proposed during the talks that the two sides exchange the radar information gathered by the patrol aircraft and all STIR frequency data from the destroyer Gwanggaeto the Great. The South Korean side rejected the demand, citing the “intelligence asymmetry” – indicating that the radar information allegedly intercepted by the patrol aircraft was not equivalent to the entirety of STIR information from the Gwanggaeto the Great.
“Radar information is a warship’s lifeblood. If we released that, we wouldn’t be able to avoid attack in a situation of electronic warfare,” a Ministry of National Defense official said.
“It’s farfetched for Japan to insist on all of our information in exchange for its own uncertain information,” the official said.
During the working-level meeting, South Korean authorities maintained that the patrol plane’s approach conformed to the pattern of a “threatening flight” indicated by the Japanese government in the two sides’ previous video conference – namely, a flight that was directed toward the warship, simulated attack, and crossed the vessel’s bow. According to military officials, the aircraft circled the Gwanggaeto the Great and made three flybys over a period of 10 minutes.
The Japanese side conveyed that it understood the South Korean warship perceiving this as a threat but did not acknowledge that the aircraft had engaged in a threatening flight, sources said. When asked whether Japan would have protested if a South Korean warplane had flown in the same manner toward a Japanese warship, the Japanese representatives reportedly insisted at first that they would “not protest,” before adding that this was “not an official response.”
During the meeting, the South Korean representatives expressed strong dismay over what they referred to as Japan’s attempts to make political fodder of the incident. Some observers have suggested the Japanese side did not appear genuinely committed to resolving the conflict, noting that while the South Korean representatives enlisted radar experts to clarify the facts at the working-level meeting, no relevant experts attended for Japan. The two sides did not set a date for their next working-level meeting.