Korea, Japan’s ministers to hold defense talks

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Korea, Japan’s ministers to hold defense talks

Korea and Japan’s defense ministers will hold talks at the end of this month for the first time in four years, the Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday.

Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo has agreed to sit down for talks with his Japanese counterpart, Gen Nakatani, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the regional security conference in Singapore.

This will be the first time for the Park Geun-hye administration to hold defense ministerial talks with Japan.

The last such meeting between the two countries took place in 2011, also on the sidelines of the Singapore conference, though no subsequent talks have followed with relations between Korea and Japan souring over the past few years.

“Whenever it has an opportunity, Japan stresses the importance of having bilateral defense ministerial talks,” a defense official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Until now, the talks were postponed for various reasons, but the two sides agreed to meet in Singapore.”

The conference will start on May 29, and Seoul and Tokyo’s defense ministers are expected to sit down for a separate meeting on May 30.

Their schedule is currently being fine-tuned. “The Shangri-La Dialogue takes place over three days, and there are many meetings already in place in addition to the official sessions, so we need to adjust the schedule,” the official said.

While Korea was previously reluctant to hold defense talks due to strained ties, the Park government recently changed its stance to better address mounting threats from North Korea.

Pyongyang announced earlier this month that it had successfully launched a ballistic missile from a submarine, a security nightmare not only for Seoul and other neighboring countries, but also for Washington.

There were already signs in Seoul that the government was moving to restore relations between Korea and Japan with a two-track approach, which would see historical disputes handled separately from bilateral security and economic issues.

“Our diplomacy won’t be buried under history,” Park said during a meeting with her senior secretaries on May 4. “The government should point out issues related to history clearly while setting forth a new goal and direction for diplomacy and push them forward faithfully.”

The Defense Ministry said the two defense ministers will discuss cooperative plans to counter nuclear and missile threats from North Korea as well as efforts to improve military exchanges.

Sensitive concerns surrounding a newly adopted defense cooperation pact between Japan and the United States, which enabled Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to cooperate with Washington “to respond to an armed attack against the United States or a third country” are also expected to be addressed.

Japan’s right to collective self-defense, or the right to wage war outside its borders, was forbidden under its postwar pacifist constitution, which was written by the United States.

One key concern is whether Japan will be able to bring its armed forces to the Korean Peninsula without prior consent from the South Korean government. Japan and the United States signed revised bilateral defense cooperation guidelines last month during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington.

Routine defense talks among Korea, Japan and the United States will also be held on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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