South Korea and China have reached a consensus on establishing a military hotline between their defense chiefs this year to further boost cooperation, a Seoul government source said Sunday.
After agreeing on "the necessity for the hotline, the two countries began discussing the issue in earnest from the end of last year and have reached a consensus to set it up within this year," the source said. He declined to be named.
"The two are likely to reach a final decision during their fourth round of the strategic defense dialogue due next week," he added.
The Seoul-Beijing dialogue is set to take place next Tuesday in China, with South Korea to be represented by Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo and China by Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
During the summit meeting earlier this month, the two sides agreed to quickly set up such a hotline, but did not give a specific time frame.
If established, China will be the second nation with which South Korea maintains a defense ministerial-level military hotline.
Their Navies and Air Forces already have such a communication line.
In 2008, South Korea's Second Fleet Headquarters established a hotline with China's North Sea Fleet Headquarters in Qingdao, and the Air Force's master control and reporting center with the air defense center in China's Jinan Military Region.
The U.S. is currently the only country with which South Korea maintains a hotline between defense chiefs.
"The issue was put on the table in an official fashion during the last session of the talks in November, and the two sides have since exchanged opinions," the source said.
China has reportedly been reluctant about the move over the past several years in apparent consideration of its relations with traditional ally North Korea.
"The military hotline between the defense ministers will further boost their swift and close communications in such key issues as nuclear development in the North and other regional security issues," the source said.
During the strategic talks next week, Seoul and Beijing will "explore ways on how to deepen friendship and cooperation and to discuss the security situation of the Korean Peninsula and the region," Seoul's defense ministry said, without elaboration.
China is North Korea's last remaining ally, but Pyongyang appears to have fallen out of favor due to its erratic behavior.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to South Korea earlier this month marked the first time that a Chinese leader visited the South ahead of the North. (Yonhap)