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Editorial: S. Korea should clearly explain fire-control radar incident

A Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) P-1 patrol plane conducting monitoring and surveillance activities above the Sea of Japan off the coast of the Noto Peninsula in central Japan was targeted by a fire-controlling radar aboard a South Korean destroyer.

This announcement by the Japanese Defense Ministry was made a week ago, but the Japanese and South Korean governments are still unable to determine what really happened, which is abnormal.

Fire-control radar is used to track a target before an attack. Tracking a target is called "lock-on," and it is an extremely dangerous action inviting unexpected developments, even without any intent to attack.

What puzzles us is the fact that South Korea keeps changing its explanations as to what happened.

Initially, it insisted that the ship had used a radar other than fire-control equipment to search for a drifting North Korean fishing boat. When the Japanese Ministry of Defense pointed out that such an explanation does not match with the frequency of the radar wave that targeted the plane, the South Korean side began to deny the use of any radar at all.

Now Seoul says that the destroyer took pictures of the P-1 plane using a camera attached to the fire-control radar but that the radar itself was powered off.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Defense Ministry analyzed available data and concluded that the P-1 received radar waves several times from the fire-control radar. The explanation by the South Korean side is unnatural, and there should be an objective confirmation of the facts based on data from both sides.

We also question South Korea's handling of the problem.

Naval forces of western Pacific nations and Japan's MSDF have signed on to the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), which serves as a guideline to avoid collisions and other contingencies. Preventive measures in the CUES include carrying out radio contact. The P-1 plane radioed the ship three times, on different frequencies, but no response was observed.

The South Korean side said the radio waves were too weak for the ship's crew to discern the contents of the messages. This explanation, however, is difficult to understand as the South Korean ship was supposedly at a distance from the plane to try to photograph the aircraft.

Recently, the South Korean military has repeatedly committed actions that can be perceived as provocations. They include a request to MSDF vessels to refrain from hoisting a rising sun flag, or training near Takeshima Island in western Japan, which is claimed by Tokyo and controlled by Seoul.

If the crew of the South Korean ship tried to harass the MSDF aircraft, we have to be concerned about the South Korean government's control over its military.

Japan and South Korea do have problems such as the Takeshima issue and over perceptions of wartime history, but the two countries are important neighbors sharing the need to counter threats from North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile programs.

Therefore, problems like the radar incident must be settled promptly. We ask that the South Korean government clearly explain what happened and take measures to prevent a recurrence.

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