SINGAPORE -- Asia's key defense forum will open in Singapore on Friday night at a time when regional security faces a potential turning point.
The North Korea issue is expected to dominate this year's Shangri-La Dialogue, although the communist nation is not joining it.
The annual dialogue comes amid cautious optimism about a historic breakthrough in efforts to denuclearize North Korea, formally end the 1950-53 Korean War and introduce a peace treaty.
A summit between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump is apparently in the offing.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo arrives at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on June 1, 2018, to attend a regional security forum. (Yonhap)
A team of North Korean officials is on a visit to the city state for preparatory consultations with aides to Trump who openly expressed hope that the agreed-upon June 12 summit will go ahead. The two sides have picked Singapore as the host country, although a specific summit venue and schedule remain unannounced.
Touching on North Korea, the meeting of senior defense officials from dozens of Asian and European nations will focus on diplomacy, rather than getting tough on the nuclear-armed country.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo is scheduled to deliver a speech at a Saturday session titled "De-escalating the North Korea Crisis." He plans to talk about Seoul's efforts toward the denuclearization of the peninsula and peace, as exemplified by two rounds of inter-Korean summit talks in recent weeks.
The minister began his official activity here with a meeting with US Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.
Song will also hold a meeting with the Chinese delegation, led by Lt. Gen. He Lei, vice president of the Academy of Military Science of the People's Liberation Army, before attending the official reception for the participants in the dialogue, in which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to deliver a keynote speech.
China's assertiveness in the South China Sea will be another main topic at the Shangri-La Dialogue, which is named after the hotel where it is held.
A view of the Shangri-La hotel, where the 17th Asia Security Summit is to open on June 1, 2018 (Yonhap)
On his way to Singapore, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made it clear that Washington will confront Beijing's military muscle-flexing in the tense region.
He announced that the Pacific Command will be renamed the US Indo-Pacific Command, citing the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The defense chiefs of South Korea and the US plan to hold talks on Saturday on the sidelines of the security forum, followed by a trilateral meeting involving their Japanese counterpart the next day.
The back-to-back meetings offer a chance for the three regional powers to coordinate a strategy on North Korea ahead of the highly anticipated Kim-Trump summit. (Yonhap)