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S. Korean, Japanese defense chiefs to hold first talks in 4 years in Singapore

Defense chiefs of S. Korea, US, Japan also to meet after NK’s failed satellite launch

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : June 1, 2023 - 18:26

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South Korean and Japanese national flags (Getty Images Bank) South Korean and Japanese national flags (Getty Images Bank)

The South Korean and Japanese defense chiefs are scheduled to hold a one-on-one meeting Sunday, marking the first such meeting since 2019, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Asia’s largest defense summit, which takes place from Friday to Sunday, will serve as the stage for both Seoul and Tokyo to engage in discussions on future-oriented approaches to address pending security issues amid escalating North Korean threats, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Friday.

As South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada will meet for the first meeting at that level since November 2019, there has been significant anticipation regarding whether the sides can resolve a radar lock-on dispute that dates to 2018.

Japan has accused South Korean warships of aiming their fire-control radar at a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft. In response, the South Korean military denied Japan’s claim and elucidated that the Japanese surveillance aircraft repeatedly conducted provocative, low-altitude flights toward South Korean warships between December 2018 and January 2019.

The dispute resulted in the suspension of bilateral security and military cooperation. The two countries have been at odds over the issue since.

A South Korean senior official said Thursday that the Defense Ministry’s stance on the issue has remained unchanged. But the official did not rule out the possibility of making headway at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

“The leaders of South Korea and Japan share the view that the relationship between the two countries should be developed in a future-oriented manner,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said during a closed-door briefing in the run-up to the security dialogue. “Under the context, both sides will discuss the issue in that direction.”

Seoul and Tokyo will also discuss ways to “restore regular consultative bodies” between defense authorities that have been suspended following the diplomatic tensions, the official said, declining to provide further information.

Lee, Hamada and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are also set to meet Saturday in Singapore to discuss ways to step up trilateral security cooperation, including trilateral military exercises.

This meeting holds significance as it marks the first time they have convened since June 2021, and it comes days after North Korea’s failed attempt to launch a military spy satellite.

One of the key items on the agenda would be how to share North Korean missile warning data in real time. The three countries have been engaged in working-level discussions with the aim of achieving this objective. However, no specific outcomes have been announced thus far.

During the Defense Trilateral Talks in mid-April, the three parties reiterated the importance of maximizing the utilization of existing information frameworks, including the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement, to enhance coordination and cooperation.

South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup delivers his speech on the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s North Korea policy and Indo-Pacific strategy at the 19th Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, on June 12, 2022. (File Photo - International Institute for Strategic Studies) South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup delivers his speech on the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s North Korea policy and Indo-Pacific strategy at the 19th Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, on June 12, 2022. (File Photo - International Institute for Strategic Studies)

Lee is also slated to meet Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu on Saturday evening.

“We haven’t finalized agenda topics for the bilateral talks, but it is expected to discuss various ways to improve defense cooperation between South Korea and China based on the principle of mutual respect and reciprocity,” the official said.

In Singapore, Lee will meet with counterparts from Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Union on Saturday and Sunday to discuss Korean Peninsula affairs and global issues including Indo-Pacific strategy.

Lee will also be delivering a keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday, with the topic focusing on “Joint efforts to address North Korean threats that pose regional security challenges.”

During the speech, the defense minister will outline the security policy of the Yoon Suk Yeol government in response to North Korean nuclear and missile threats, as well as human rights issues in North Korea. Additionally, Lee will call upon the international community to provide support and cooperation in addressing these challenges.