Photo/IllutrationOfficers of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces salute victims of the 2010 sinking of a South Korean patrol vessel at a ceremony in Daejeon, South Korea, in 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

SEOUL--Japan and South Korea agreed to suspend all senior-level defense exchange programs for the first half of the year to provide a cooling-off period for their heated disputes, South Korean military sources said.

Japan’s Defense Ministry and South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense by the end of January had said they would reschedule the exchange programs for high-ranking officers, the sources said.

The South Korean military has already told the Japanese government that it wants to postpone a scheduled February visit to Japan by the commander of the South Korean Navy’s First Fleet.

The exchange programs are large-scale events, often with the threat from North Korea in mind. In scale, exchanges between Japan and South Korea are second only to those between Japan and the United States.

In recent years, more than a dozen senior officers from Japan and South Korea have joined the exchanges.

However, Tokyo and Seoul had feuded on a nearly daily basis over an incident between a South Korean destroyer and a Maritime Self-Defense Force P-1 patrol aircraft in December.

Japan said the destroyer locked its fire-control radar on the aircraft. Seoul denied this happened and accused the MSDF pilot of flying dangerously low near the destroyer.

South Korea recently accused Japan of conducing another low-altitude flyby.

The two countries had aimed to expand the scale of the defense exchange programs after relations improved with the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement on resolving the issue of “comfort woman,” who were forced to provide sex to the Japanese military before and during World War II.

That agreement now appears to be falling apart.