Japan did not announce an anti-piracy drill it conducted with South Korea in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia in late December due to concerns that doing so could impede bilateral negotiations to resolve the so-called “comfort women” issue, a senior Japanese government official said Wednesday.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Navy conducted the exercise on Dec. 23, five days before the foreign ministers of the two countries struck a landmark agreement to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue of Korean women forced into wartime Japanese brothels, the official said, requesting anonymity.
The official cited mixed feelings among the South Korean people as to whether Seoul should promote defense exchanges with Tokyo. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945.
In 2012, the two governments were ready to sign an agreement that would allow the two countries to exchange military intelligence, but South Korea postponed it at the last minute due to public opposition.
In the wake of a news report Wednesday about the joint drill, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the exercise took place on Dec. 23.
“I’m aware that the destroyer Suzunami carried out a drill on Dec. 23 with a South Korean navy vessel to enhance the MSDF’s tactical skills as part of increased coordination among troops of each country engaging in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden,” Suga said.
The joint drill “was of a small scale to train basic operations,” the top government spokesman said.
Speaking separately, an MSDF official said the two sides underwent communications training and performed tactical movements.
Initially, the United States had planned to join the drill but did not take part due to other missions, the official said.
The MSDF said that as of Wednesday, Japanese destroyers had escorted commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden on about 700 occasions since the MSDF began providing protection against piracy in 2009.
Later Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with a visiting South Korean parliamentary delegation and expressed hope that the Dec. 28 agreement on the comfort women issue will pave the way for the two countries to build “a new era” in their relationship.
Suh Chung-won, a senior lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party who leads the delegation, delivered a message from President Park Geun-hye, saying the two countries need to manage domestic forces so that they will not undermine the spirit of the accord.