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S. Korea's defense chief wraps up Singapore trip highlighting efforts to curb NK threats

By Yonhap

Published : June 5, 2023 - 09:43

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Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup makes a speech during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last Saturday. (Yonhap) Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup makes a speech during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last Saturday. (Yonhap)

SINGAPORE -- South Korea's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup on Monday concluded a four-day visit to Singapore for an annual forum, where he focused on firming up international cooperation against North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.

On the margins of the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue that began Friday, Lee held back-to-back talks with his counterparts from the United States, Japan, China and others, amid renewed tensions over Pyongyang's failed yet defiant launch of a space rocket last week.

The highlight of his trip came on Saturday, when he and his US and Japanese counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Yasukazu Hamada, held a trilateral meeting in a sign that their three-way security cooperation goes beyond just rhetoric.

They agreed to build and operate a system to share North Korean missile warning data in real time within the year -- in line with an agreement made at a summit between their leaders in Cambodia last November.

Before the three-way talks, Lee and Austin held a brief meeting, where they agreed to conduct a joint probe into the wreckage of the North's rocket once the South's military salvages it. The rocket crashed into the Yellow Sea last Wednesday.

During a main session of the forum on the same day, Lee made an emphatic call for "resolute and unified" international efforts against Pyongyang's military quandary, which he depicted as a "shared" security challenge that affects the "entire world."

In yet another positive sign for cooperation with Japan, Lee met bilaterally with Hamada on Sunday in the two countries' first defense ministerial meeting since November 2019.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been frayed amid historical rows stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea. But they recently warmed following Seoul's decision in March to resolve a long-running dispute over Japan's wartime forced labor.

The two ministers agreed to craft measures to prevent the recurrence of a military dispute that erupted in December 2018, when a Japanese maritime patrol plane made what Seoul called a "threatening" low-altitude flight over a South Korean warship.

Lee also met with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, and called for Beijing's "constructive" role to establish peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Over the weekend, Lee also met with his counterparts from the Netherlands, Canada and Germany, as well as the European Union's top diplomat for discussions on security cooperation. (Yonhap)