Seoul and Beijing open official military hotline

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Seoul and Beijing open official military hotline

South Korea and China opened an official hotline on Thursday to facilitate better communication between their respective militaries, a move that demonstrated Seoul and Beijing’s bolstered security alliance following decades of animosity.

Korea’s Ministry of National Defense reported on Thursday that Minister Han Min-koo and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanguan had their first direct communication via the hotline to mark the occasion.

The installment of a military channel was among the top agenda items discussed between President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the bilateral summit in July 2014.

“Setting up a direct military line with China ... carries significance in that it will bolster regional strategic communication and raise cooperative capabilities among regional players to better cope with security issues on the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” the ministry said in a statement.

Both defense chiefs agreed on the need to extend security cooperation in the future, the ministry reported.

The installment of the hotline came a month after Han and Chang reaffirmed on the sidelines of a meeting with Asean defense officials the importance of setting up an emergency channel for the Air Force and the Navy to bolster bilateral security efforts and military cooperation.

The first direct military communication on Thursday carried significance given the decades-long animosity that existed between both countries.

During the 1950-53 Korean War, the Chinese military intervened to aid the North Korean military, which was on the brink of surrendering to United Nations forces.

Helped by the huge number of Chinese soldiers who swarmed the battle fields, the North pushed back the U.S.-led coalition to turn the tide of the war, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

It remains to be seen how Pyongyang will react to Beijing following the hotline installment. Relations between the two allies have soured since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in 2013, despite protests from China.

This latest display of military cooperation with Beijing also comes at a time when Washington has been increasing its efforts to forge a united front with South Korea and Japan to keep a rising China in check.

China also continues to protest Washington’s push to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-ballistic missile system on South Korean soil. Thaad’s installment has been controversial particularly because it comes with a radar system that can detect threats more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away - far enough to reach China and Russia.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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