North Korea should cease escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula since Seoul and Washington have postponed their planned joint aerial drill, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Monday, according to the pre-distributed address to a regional defense ministers’ conference.
Attending the sixth Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, Jeong also said working-level talks between the US and North Korea and the third summit between the leaders of the two countries would be a “critical fork” for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“North Korea should refrain from raising tensions on the peninsula in response to the goodwill shown by the ROK (and) US governments, as well as the expectations of the international community,” Jeong said during the regular session of the ministers’ meeting. ROK refers to the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.
On Sunday, Jeong and his US counterpart, Mark Esper, announced that their governments had agreed to postpone the Combined Flying Training Event scheduled for this month, as “an act of goodwill” to support the diplomatic efforts for North Korea to return to the denuclearization negotiations.
North Korea has strongly protested the combined military exercises, calling them “war exercises” directed against the North. Pyongyang called on South Korea and the US to suspend the combined aerial exercises, which the two countries had already planned to scale down, warning that otherwise they would face a “greater threat.”
“There is no change in the trust and commitment between the leaders of the ROK, North Korea and the US,” Jeong said at the general session. “The partnership built through past meetings will be the driving force to rescue the (denuclearization) dialogue from its currently stagnant state.”
In his speech, Jeong also highlighted the importance of respect for international law in order to prevent conflicts of interest and friction in the security field.
“When we exercise strict adherence to international law and relevant regulations like the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and Guidelines for Air Military Encounters, we will be able to more soundly establish an order of peace within the region.”
Attending the ADMM Plus meeting, which started Saturday and runs through Tuesday, Jeong held bilateral and trilateral talks on the sidelines with his counterparts from other countries, including the US and Japan.
One of the sticking points in the talks for South Korea with the US and Japan was the General Security of Military Information Agreement, a military intelligence-sharing pact inked between Seoul and Tokyo.
Bilateral ties between South Korea and Japan are at their worst point in decades after Tokyo imposed trade curbs against Seoul, citing lack of trust. Following the move, South Korea announced its intention to scrap GSOMIA, to the dismay of the US, which played a role in facilitating the agreement when it was signed in 2016.
Holding a press conference with reporters on Sunday after his bilateral and trilateral meetings with Esper and Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, Jeong said the US was putting similar levels of pressure on South Korea and Japan to renew the intelligence-sharing pact.
While explaining that GSOMIA was more of a symbolic agreement for the three allies, he said the decision to renew was in the hands of the governments of South Korea and Japan.
GSOMIA will expire at midnight on Saturday if neither side changes its position.
During the general session at the ADMM Plus, Jeong also reminded the group of the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit, which takes place in Busan next week.
He also said South Korea is to co-chair the cybersecurity Expert Working Group under the ADMM Plus with Malaysia from 2020 to 2023, and vowed South Korea would search for creative courses of action to present a common response against increasing cyberthreats.
During his four-day stay in Bangkok, which began Saturday, Jeong also held talks with his counterparts from other participating countries, including China, Thailand and New Zealand.
ADMM-Plus, launched in 2010, was held every two or three years until last year, when it became an annual event. Defense chiefs from the ASEAN countries and eight member states -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and India -- participate in the meeting to discuss multilateral and regional security cooperation.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org