NATIONAL

Defense chief vows to work with patience on N. Korea, urges cooperation of neighboring countries

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Sept 5, 2019 - 18:12
  • Updated : Sept 5, 2019 - 21:44

South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Thursday the nation would continue to work with patience to build trust with North Korea for lasting peace, urging multilateral cooperation.

Speaking at the 2019 Seoul Defense Dialogue, he appeared to touch on the recent feud with Japan, raising concerns that the competition between countries is intensifying due to their own national interests. The SDD is an annual multilateral consultative forum hosted by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.

“Last year, South Korea started the great journey for denuclearization of North Korea and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Jeong said in his opening remarks.

South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo delivers his opening remarks at the 2019 Seoul Defense Dialogue held in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

“But we could not immediately overcome the 70-year military conflict and tensions since the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950.”

“Still, we will continue to make efforts to build trust (with the North) carefully and with patience.”

Jeong also spoke about some “uneasy” moves by countries to promote their own national interests, causing security conflicts in the region, in an apparent reference to South Korea’s ongoing conflict with Japan.

In the first plenary session moderated by Moon Chung-in, a special presidential advisor and Yonsei University professor, panelists from five countries -- South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia -- discussed the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. The panel agreed that working-level talks between the US and North Korea should soon resume.

Joseph DeTrani, a former US special envoy for nuclear talks with North Korea, said its leader Kim Jong-un has made a strategic choice to forego nuclear weapons for security assurance and economic development of his isolated country.

As Washington is willing to be flexible in negotiations, Pyongyang should agree to working-level talks for an action-for-action agreement, DeTrani said, adding that the negotiations with Pyongyang must result in complete and verifiable denuclearization. 

Panels speak at the 2019 Seoul Defense Dialogue held in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Han Fang Ming, vice chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and Feodor Voitolovsky, director of Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Russia, spoke of their respective countries’ stance, noting that their relationship with the US also has influence on the denuclearization talks.

Former Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto expressed hopes that the working-level talks between the US and North Korea will resume soon.

While the session was about the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, the soured relations between Seoul and Tokyo were evident.

Morimoto expressed regret over Seoul’s recent decision to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement, warning that pulling out from the intelligence-sharing pact would negatively influence the trilateral alliance between the United States, South Korea and Japan.

South Korea’s Defense Vice Minister Park Jae-min reiterated that the government’s stance is that it is inappropriate to exchange sensitive military information with a country that does not trust South Korea.

The bilateral relationship between South Korea and Japan is at its lowest since Tokyo imposed trade restrictions, seen as a retaliatory act against Seoul’s top court’s ruling on wartime forced labor.

Around 900 top government officials and civilian experts from a total of 56 countries and five international organizations are attending this year’s SDD held under the theme of “Building Peace Together: Challenges and Visions,” which runs through Friday.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh delivered the opening remarks while US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams attended the ceremony.

The annual event, which kicked off in 2012 -- to play a pivotal role in peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region -- is a venue for many multilateral and bilateral meetings.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)