Japan Protests S. Korean Hotel Canceling Defense Event

Japan’s government has complained to a hotel in Seoul after it canceled a reception planned for today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

The Lotte hotel decided not to host the event because there were fears protests could erupt near the venue during the ceremony, hotel manager Lee Da Bae said by phone. Any incidents could threaten the safety of other hotel guests, she said.

“Whatever the reason, it is extremely regrettable that the hotel took this kind of action the day before,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. “We want to convey our strong concern to the South Korean government,” he said, adding that Japan’s embassy in Seoul had protested to the hotel.

Unease is rising in South Korea over moves by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bolster the country’s security stance by reinterpreting its pacifist constitution to allow it to defend allies. The rift is hampering attempts to mend ties between the two key U.S. allies in northeast Asia, which have been hurt by a territorial dispute and lingering resentment over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

A survey published by Japan-based Genron NPO, a non-profit group, yesterday found that 46.3 percent of South Korean respondents saw Japan as a military threat, compared with 39.6 percent who said they saw China as a threat. More than 54 percent of Japanese respondents said they had a negative image of South Korea, compared with 37.3 percent in a similar study the previous year. The group surveyed about 1,000 people in each country in May and June, according to its website.

Abe’s cabinet passed the resolution reinterpreting its postwar pacifist constitution on July 1, also sparking expressions of concern from China in which it is embroiled in a dispute over islands. He has also boosted the defense budget and loosened restrictions on defense exports.

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