SEOUL — South Korea refused to allow a Japanese warship to dock at its port in Busan in advance of a four-country naval exercise staged in nearby waters Wednesday and Thursday, according to Japanese media reports.
According to the reports, the U.S. mediated the dispute by rewriting the exercise scenario and doing away with the need for the Japanese ship to make a South Korean port call.
U.S. Forces Korea did not provide comment on the situation by deadline.
The Proliferation Security Initiative exercise, which also involved Australia, is used to prepare the navies involved on how to respond and search for potential weapons of mass destruction on the high seas, officials reportedly said.
A South Korean Ministry of National Defense official denied the Japanese reports, saying Wednesday the plan all along was for the Japanese ship to head directly to the exercise without making a stop in Busan. South Korea, he said, never barred the ship from making a port call.
When asked if South Korea will allow Japanese warships to dock at its ports in the future, the defense ministry official said, “It’s hard to say something about that now because it’s a hypothetical situation that may or may not happen in the future.”
Relations between Japan and South Korea have been strained dating back to the nations’ colonial past, including Japan’s forced prostitution of South Korean “comfort women” during its 35-year occupation of the peninsula.
Tensions were heightened last month when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited a pair of tiny islands the two countries claim as their own — known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan — and subsequently suggested the Japanese emperor should apologize for the colonial era if he were ever to visit the peninsula.