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International relations

South Korea joins Japan's international fleet review to boost ties

U.S., India send ships for event held following North Korea missile launches

Japanese MSDF multipurpose destroyer Izumo leads the fleet at Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo, on Nov. 6. (Photo by Kyodo/via Reuters)

ABOARD IZUMO, Sagami Bay, Japan (Kyodo) -- Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force held an international naval fleet review Sunday in the wake of North Korea firing off ballistic missiles at an unprecedented pace, with South Korea's navy participating amid efforts by the two East Asian neighbors to thaw their icy relations.

The MSDF said that 18 vessels from 12 nations including Australia, Canada, India and the United States, as well as a total of six French and U.S. warplanes, joined the review.

A mass of vessels and aircraft gathered at Sagami Bay off Kanagawa prefecture, with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida inspecting the fleets.

On board the MSDF carrier Izumo, Kishida said North Korea has been launching ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, more frequently than ever since earlier this year.

"North Korea fired a missile that flew over our country," Kishida said, referring to one launched on Oct. 4. "We can never tolerate (North Korea's) nuclear and missile development."

The prime minister also said Japan cannot tolerate Russia's invasion of Ukraine: "Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, such as the invasion of Ukraine, must never be tolerated in any part of the world."

In a veiled reference against China, Kishida said, "The security environment surrounding our country, including the East China Sea and the South China Sea, is rapidly becoming more severe," stressing the necessity to prepare against any threat and vowing to drastically ramp up Japan's defense capabilities.

Japan hosted the international fleet review for the first time in 20 years to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the MSDF this year. Following the event, a joint drill focused on search and rescue missions will also be held on Sunday and Monday.

South Korea's participation comes as President Yoon Suk-yeol has been working to improve trilateral defense cooperation with the United States and Japan. He has adopted a hard-line stance against North Korea.

Relations between Japan and South Korea sank to their lowest level in decades under Yoon's progressive predecessor Moon Jae-in over disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including compensation demands from South Koreans over wartime labor.

Defense cooperation between the two countries -- U.S. security allies in the region -- also deteriorated as the South Korean navy allegedly locked fire-control radar on an MSDF patrol plane in 2018.

Japan had also invited China to the fleet review, the Defense Ministry has said. But amid tense bilateral ties, Beijing had informed Tokyo that it would not join the naval event, though it said it will participate in a two-day Western Pacific Naval Symposium to be held in Yokohama from Monday.

The symposium will draw top naval officers from nearly 30 countries, including observers, to discuss maritime security, the ministry said.

Japan had extended an invitation to all member nations of the biennial naval symposium to attend the review but later rescinded its invitation to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in late February.

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