South Korea's Defense Ministry dropped its description of Japan as a "partner" in the latest defense white paper published Tuesday, a move painted by local media as a "downgrade" that reflects worsening ties between the two countries.

In the previous white paper published two years ago, South Korea and Japan were described as "geographically and culturally close neighbors as well as partners cooperating for global peace and prosperity."

The latest white paper states the two countries are "close neighbors that should cooperate not only for the two countries' relationships but also for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world."