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[Shangri-La Dialogue] S. Korea, Canada discuss defense cooperation, Indo-Pacific strategies amid Ukraine war

Meeting comes after Canada asked S. Korea to help replace depleted weapons sent to Ukraine

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (L) meets with his Canadian counterpart, Anita Anand, in Singapore on Friday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security forum. (South Korea's Ministry of National Defense)
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (L) meets with his Canadian counterpart, Anita Anand, in Singapore on Friday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security forum. (South Korea's Ministry of National Defense)

SINGAPORE -- The South Korean and Canadian defense chiefs on Friday discussed North Korean threats, their envisioned Indo-Pacific strategies and bilateral defense cooperation at a critical juncture, as Canada has called for South Korea to lend support to fill its depleted weapons stock sent to Ukraine.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and his Canadian counterpart Anita Anand held a 30-minute meeting from 11:30 local time on Friday on the sidelines of the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit that runs until Sunday in Singapore.

Both sides “discussed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region and bilateral defense cooperation,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on the same day in a Korean-language press statement, without sharing further details.

Arms export to Canada amid Ukraine war
The bilateral meeting between the South Korean and Canadian defense chiefs conspicuously came after Canada in May formally asked South Korea to export 100,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery ammunition to replenish its depleted weapons stock sent to Ukraine.

“The two ministers hope that South Korea and Canada will continue to cooperate on various occasions including bilateral and multilateral meetings to stabilize the situation in Ukraine,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

When asked by The Korea Herald, a Canadian senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, declined to confirm whether the supply of South Korea-produced artillery shells was on the agenda for the defense-ministerial meeting. The official, instead, elucidated that the goal of the meeting was to discuss ways to boost the “security partnership.”

The Yoon Suk-yeol government’s basic stance is not to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. But the ammunition export has significance as it would be Seoul’s first indirect weapons aid to Kyiv.

Related ministries within the Yoon government seek ways to “provide more proactive support” to Ukraine to live up to the international community’s expectations and play a role as a “global pivotal state,” a senior official said this week in a closed-door briefing.

North Korean threats
During the meeting, Lee also delivered a briefing on the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

In return, Defense Minister Anand said Canada “has contributed to peace on the Korean Peninsula through various ways including the faithful implementation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

“Canada will actively provide the support necessary for peace building on the Korean Peninsula,” Anand was quoted as saying by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense in the statement.

The bilateral defense-ministerial meeting was also notably held amid the growing clash between Canada and China over Canadian patrol planes’ participation in a UN-sanctioned mission. The Canadian Armed Forces early this month publicly accused Chinese warplanes of harassing their patrol aircraft while they were conducting surveillance operations to monitor North Korea’s compliance with sanctions and to identify suspected maritime sanctions evasion activities.

Indo-Pacific Strategy
The South Korean and Canadian defense chiefs also discussed their Indo-Pacific strategies and their respective roles in the region during the meeting.

Anand told Lee that Canada “hopes for more active engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, explaining that Canada will announce the Indo-Pacific strategy this fall,” according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

The Yoon Suk-yeol government is formulating its own Indo-Pacific strategy, the essence and direction of which will be unveiled in a speech delivered by Lee on Sunday at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Minister Lee reiterated, “South Korea and Canada are like-minded countries who share values such as freedom, democracy and a market economy, and (Korea) appreciated Canada’s willingness to contribute to regional stability.”

Lee also asked Anand to attend the Seoul Security Dialogue, to be held in September in South Korea, and to deliver a keynote speech.

Lee's debut in the international arena
The South Korean defense minister made his debut in the international arena at the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit. 

Lee also met New Zealand’s Defense Minister Peeni Henare on Friday afternoon. They shared their respective views on the regional security situation and defense and arms industry cooperation, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

Lee and Henare committed to expanding cooperation in various fields including climate change, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training, based on the two countries' shared values of freedom, democracy and market economy.

In addition, Lee conducted a series of meetings with counterparts from China, New Zealand and Singapore later in the day on the sidelines of Asia’s largest defense summit.

Lee will have his first in-person bilateral meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and a trilateral meeting with Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi on Saturday. The trilateral meeting will be the first since November 2019, when the three defense chiefs met on the occasion of the sixth ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus held in Bangkok.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is to kick off later in the day with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s keynote speech.

Eyes are riveted on Asia’s largest defense summit, where US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and China’s Minister of National Defense and State Councilor Wei Fenghe are expected to make their first face-to-face encounter. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will also deliver a speech on Saturday. 

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)

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