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S. Korea, China agree to high-level military dialogue, bolster security cooperation

Defense chiefs of South Korea and China on Friday agreed to establish an annual “strategic defense dialogue,” paving the way for enhanced cooperation in tackling peninsular and regional security issues, officials said.

During their talks in Beijing, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Liang Guanglie also expressed their opposition to “any acts that undermine peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin visits a capital defense military unit during his visit to China on Friday. Yonhap News
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin visits a capital defense military unit during his visit to China on Friday. Yonhap News
However, in an unprecedented press announcement issued after the talks, there was no mention of North Korea as the culprit in the torpedoing of the corvette Cheonan and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

Critics here said the belligerent state should have been mentioned to send it a strong message and deter future provocations.

Observers had expected the two sides would fail to mention the North with China reluctant to blame its staunch communist ally for the attacks that killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

One of the major outcomes of the talks was to establish the annual high-level military dialogue, officials explained.

Its first session will be held in Seoul for four days from July 27. The South Korean side will be headed by the vice defense minister while the Chinese side will be led by the vice chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The two countries have not had high-level military dialogue since relations chilled last year when the South Korean and U.S. military staged large-scale military exercises involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in a show of force against the North despite China’s opposition.

During the talks, the two countries also agreed to resume the program to offer Chinese language education to South Korean senior military officers. It was suspended in 2005 at the request of China.

To strengthen cooperation in disaster relief operations, the two sides decided to seek a pact that would coordinate their humanitarian programs in the event of natural disasters and other possible catastrophes.

It is a move to improve their joint efforts to deal with transnational, non-military threats, officials explained.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of their diplomatic relations, they agreed to seek to hold a series of events such as holding a joint seminar on defense issues. Kim also asked the Chinese defense chief to visit Seoul next year.

Lim Gwan-bin, deputy minister for policy at the Defense Ministry, said that the meeting was a turning point for the development of bilateral military ties.

"Although South Korea and China elevated their relationship to a strategic partnership in 2008, relations in the defense sector have yet to reach that partnership level,” he told reporters.

A day earlier, Kim had met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

During his talks with the top Chinese officials, Kim called on China to play a “constructive role” for regional peace.

“The two provocations -- the torpedoing of the Cheonan and the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island -- have hurt us a lot. After the incidents, the young generation in Korea, particularly those in their 20s, is turning conservative and its sense of security has been heightened,” Kim said.

Meanwhile, remarks made by Gen. Chen Bingde before his talks with Kim prompted criticism here, with the Korean media calling them “diplomatic gaffes.”

For about 15 minutes before the bilateral talks began, Chen Bingde, whose status is equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but lower than the defense minister, denounced the United States, one of the staunchest allies of South Korea.

“I told (U.S. JCS chairman Adm. Mike Mullen during his recent visit to China) that it is improper for the U.S. to stage military exercises with those countries with which China has some conflicts,” he reportedly said during the talks.

“The U.S. tells other countries to do this and do that, as it is a super power. When other states tell the U.S. to do something, they turn a deaf ear to that ... The U.S. is a symbol of hegemonism.”

Kim responded, saying “the top defense officials of South Korea, China and the U.S. have met like this and this shows that security in Northeast Asia is doing well.”  
Kim is to arrive home on Sunday morning.

By Song Sang-ho(sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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