A Japanese maritime patrol aircraft carried out a low-altitude flight close to a South Korean warship Wednesday afternoon, in an apparent threatening and provocative action, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
"The P3 maritime patrol airplane flew at an altitude of 60 to 70 meters and about 540 meters away from the South Korean Navy's destroyer in waters near Ieodo, [a rock southwest of the southern island of Jeju] at around 2:03 p.m., Wednesday," the ministry said.
In response, the South Korean Navy lodged a strong complaint about the incident through a hot line, urging Japan to stop the recurrence of such acts. The Navy also said it will take steps for self-defense if Japan repeats such an "obvious provocation."
The Navy said that the destroyer perceived the move as a security threat, adding that Japan should make it clear the exact reason for the low-level flight.
According to the ministry, Japan replied that it was "very inappropriate" for South Korea to threaten to take self-defense measures, as Japan is an ally and the Navy must have been able to discern that the aircraft belonged to the allied country.
"South Korea considers such a threatening low altitude flight as an apparent provocation," Suh Wook, chief director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a media briefing.
At around 5 p.m. the same day, the defense ministry summoned the Japanese defense attache here to lodge a strong protest.
This is not the first time that Japan has conducted an intimidating low-level flight near South Korean Navy vessels, according to the ministry.
This year alone, patrol aircraft from Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force flew "threateningly" close to South Korean warships twice on Jan. 18 and 22, it said.
The latest provocation came about a month after a Japanese P-1 patrol airplane conducted such a flight above the Navy's Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer, which Tokyo claimed locked its fire-control radar on the plane.
Following the dispute over this, diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo reached their lowest ebb, with both sides giving contradictory statements and failing to narrow their differences over the dispute.
The South Korean position is that the destroyer never directed the radar onto the Japanese aircraft, as it was on a humanitarian mission to rescue a North Korean fishing boat.
However, Japan has repeatedly claimed that the radar "painted" (locked onto) the aircraft, which it said posed a serious military threat to the aircraft.
To resolve the conflict, the military authorities from both sides recently held a meeting in Singapore, which ended in failure after they failed to reach a compromise over the issue.
Against this backdrop, ties between Seoul and Tokyo will continue to fray in the wake of the most recent incident.
The defense ministry said it questions the intention of such a series of militarily provocative acts from Japan.
Suh said the Navy will take appropriate but tough countermeasures if there is a recurrence of such activities.
In a press conference, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo shared his view on the provocative acts.
"It is certain that Japan is carrying out the acts apparently with political intent," Jeong said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the country's foreign and defense ministers are taking issue with the dispute in an apparent move to politicize the matter, according to Jeong.