Conflicts between South Korea and Japan are growing. Their cooperation is required to resolve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, among others, and prosper together economically, but they are going separate ways.
Disputes are escalating over whether a South Korean destroyer locked its fire control radar on a Japanese patrol aircraft on Dec. 20.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Sunday to take strong countermeasures in response to Koreans‘ legal action against a Japanese company, seeking compensation for their forced labor at the company during World War II.
Tokyo claims that a South Korean naval vessel directed its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol plane. Japan’s Ministry of Defense asserted the radar lock-on was an extremely dangerous act that could cause an unexpected military clash, and disclosed video footage to support its assertions.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense flatly denies Japan’s allegations, saying the destroyer used an optical camera but did not direct its radar at the plane. It released related videos Friday to disprove Japan’s assertions, demanding Tokyo stop distorting the truth and apologize for the threatening low-altitude flight of the plane.
In view of their seemingly unbending positions, it is unlikely for either government to admit to the facts readily if they are ascertained.
This issue cannot be resolved this way. Bones of contention must be settled through unbiased joint investigations without emotional tit-for-tat exchanges.
If the truth is found, it must be accepted without hesitation, and an apology offered. Then both sides should bury the hatchet and try to restore their relationship.
Above all, each side must try to avoid escalating tensions intentionally for political reasons. There is speculation that Abe intends to raise his approval rating ahead of elections by escalating disputes to inflame nationalist sentiment.
South Korea and Japan are both face the nuclear threat of North Korea. It is not desirable to blame each other in such a situation. Cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States is vital to contain the North.
Seoul and Tokyo must cooperate to clear doubts over the incident and work out measures to prevent the recurrence of similar cases.
They must not let the disputes develop into a battle infused with old sentiments over historical issues between them.
To do so, frequent communication is essential, and the two governments should refrain from provoking each other.
Regrettably, however, Abe has ordered his ministries to come up with concrete countermeasures for Japan to take if South Korean victims of forced labor for Japanese companies during World War II take legal steps to seize assets and secure compensation.
The move to seek legal action follows a series of South Korean Supreme Court rulings that have ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to Koreans forced into labor for the benefit of the companies during the war.
Japan has staked its claim that compensation for wartime forced labor was settled with the 1965 treaty to normalize diplomatic ties between the two countries. In return, Japan provided $600 million in compensation and loans.
If the Korea-based assets of PNR, a joint venture between Korea’s Posco and Japan’s Nippon Steel, are seized via court order, Japan will reportedly file a suit to the International Court of Justice and raise tariffs on Korean products.
This issue must be resolved through close and frequent communication. Emotional responses must be avoided. Strong actions and reactions guided by emotional fervor will only bring losses to both sides.
The two governments and related companies need to approach this problem with an open mind and sense of responsibility.
The US, a common ally of both South Korea and Japan, has often been a mediator between the neighbors, but has kept silent this time. The Moon Jae-in administration should mull why its security environment has changed.
South Korea and Japan need each other for security -- both militarily and economically -- and many other reasons. It does not help if disputes escalate into an emotional battle.
Sometimes the two governments may raise different voices, but they must not wage a war of nerves detrimental to both sides.