SEOUL: South Korean fighter jets conducted a patrol flight yesterday over islands at the centre of a bitter dispute with Japan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at an event marking the founding of the South Korean military.

South Korea showcased newly acquired F-35 stealth fighter jets to mark Armed Forces Day as Moon tried to allay concerns that his policy of engagement with North Korea would weaken the South’s commitment to defence.

He said South Korean F-15K jets patrolled over the disputed islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, which are controlled by Seoul and claimed by both countries, a move that could inflame already strained ties between the two.

“Just a moment ago, the F-15K, the most powerful fighter-bomber in Northeast Asia, has returned from completing a patrol mission over our land Dokdo…without any problems,” Moon said in an address to the military.

The defence ministry clarified two out of four jets that took part in the patrol flew over the islands.

On Friday, South Korean government officials had protested against Tokyo’s annual defence review which made a reference to Japan owning the islands. South Korea’s foreign ministry summoned a military official at the Japanese embassy in Seoul to demand an immediate retraction.

South Korea and Japan have been locked in a worsening diplomatic and trade row rooted in wartime history and disagreements over compensation for forced labourers during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.

After Japan tightened its curbs on exports of high-tech materials vital to South Korea’s chip and display industries in July, both countries have removed each other from fast-track trade status. – Reuters