NATIONAL

South Korea pushes for bilateral talks with Japan, China

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : May 21, 2019 - 17:28
  • Updated : May 21, 2019 - 20:44

While Seoul’s relationships with Tokyo and Beijing are frayed as a result of military disputes over the past few months, military talks are set to resume in hopes of resolving the outstanding issues.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that it is cooperating separately with both neighboring countries to arrange bilateral talks between Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his Chinese and Japanese counterparts during the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue slated to run May 31 to June 2 in Singapore. 

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe (Yonhap)

“We are currently working (with the respective governments) toward bilateral talks (between the defense ministers). We will provide explanations when the decisions are made,” Roh Jae-chun, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry here, said during a regular press conference.

Military ties between South Korea and Japan became severely strained late last year when Tokyo accused one of Seoul’s naval warships of locking its weapons-targeting radar onto a Japanese warplane. Denying any such thing had happened, Seoul criticized Tokyo for flying its maritime patrol aircraft too close to the South Korean warship.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya also said Saturday that he was looking forward to meeting the South Korean defense minister to discuss how to improve ties and cooperate on the matter of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Bilateral ties between South Korea and China were damaged in the wake of Seoul’s decision to install the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system here in 2016 to counter the North’s continued provocations. Beijing protested the decision vehemently.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said it has also “normalized” the operation of the military hotline that was established Dec. 31, 2015, to reinforce cooperation between China and South Korea on regional security issues.

According to a ministry official here, since the THAAD dispute the two sides had not even tried checking to see whether the hotlines worked. But now, they are making sure that calls would go through if one side called the other, the official said.

South Korea and China only resumed working-level military communications in May 2018 -- after two years and four months -- with the 16th working-level talks on defense policy in Seoul.

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