South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are seeking to hold trilateral defense talks on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore later this month, to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and other issues of mutual concern, a Seoul official said Sunday.
During the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual meeting of defense ministers in Singapore, the top defense officials of the countries are also expected to talk about the three-way intelligence cooperation, which the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. agreed last month to foster, analysts said.
“The three countries are considering the three-way talks as we did last year. We are still coordinating the agenda,” said the Seoul official on condition of anonymity, refusing to elaborate further on the issue.
The three-day multilateral forum, officially called Asia Security Summit, is to begin on May 30. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met for a trilateral meeting during last year’s security summit.
Pyongyang’s nuclear threat is expected to top the agenda amid reports that the communist state has almost finished preparations for a fourth nuclear test, which the international community fears would significantly enhance the unpredictable country’s nuclear capability.
Also on the agenda is the sharing of military intelligence among the three nations. Seoul officials said the three were considering signing a memorandum of understanding on intelligence cooperation.
Seoul has long been cautious about sharing defense intelligence with Tokyo as many South Koreans remain opposed to any military collaboration with the onetime colonizer, which they argue has not atoned for its wartime atrocities.
Reports say that during the envisioned trilateral talks, Kim and Onodera could also discuss a pact on bilateral intelligence cooperation, which the two sides failed to sign in July 2012 amid strong public opposition in Korea.
But Seoul officials dismissed the reports as untrue.
Washington has long promoted the three-way security cooperation with its key Asian allies as it pushes to strengthen its strategic engagement in Asia in an apparent move to keep an assertive China in check. It has called on Seoul and Tokyo to put their history behind and forge a forward-looking relationship.
Apart from the trilateral defense talks, Seoul is seeking to hold bilateral defense talks with Washington and Beijing. During talks between Kim and Hagel, the two are expected to discuss the proposed delay in the transfer of wartime operational control.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)