South Korea and Japan To Hold First Defense Minister Talks in 4 Years

kpride, May 19, 2015, 9:08 a.m.

South Korean and Japanese defense chiefs are expected to hold bilateral talks later this month for the first time in four years despite soured ties over historical rows, government sources here said Tuesday.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo plans to meet with his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani around the end of this month in Singapore on the sidelines of the regional security forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue, according to a source. The upcoming annual security forum is slated for May 29-31.

If held, it will be the first bilateral talks between the top defense officials in four years, as they have shunned such meetings due to deteriorated bilateral relations over history-related issues, including Japan's refusal to apologize for its wartime atrocities.

Icy Seoul-Tokyo relations have taken a turn for the worse in recent months after the Abe administration renewed claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo, and attempted to deny its wrongdoing during World War II, such as the forced sexual enslavement of Asian women, mostly Korean, for its soldiers. Korea was under harsh colonial rule by Japan from 1910 to 1945.

"On the table would be issues of mutual interest including how to work closely to deter and counter North Korea's nuclear and missiles threats and the implementation of the revised U.S.-Japan defense guidelines," another source said.

In April, Washington and Tokyo disclosed the upgraded version of their 1978 defense cooperation guidelines, which allows Japan to play a greater military role aboard. South Korea has urged the two countries closely consult with it in implementing the guidelines amid concerns over Japan's possible amendment of its pacifist Constitution and a regional arms race.

"To maximize the national security interests, it would be desirable for us to separate security issues from historic and other diplomatic feuds," said an official at Seoul's defense ministry, requesting anonymity.

Despite the strained relations, Seoul has been working with Japan on security matters. In December, the two Asian counties and the U.S. signed an arrangement to share military intelligence on North Korea's nuclear and missiles programs. In Singapore, the trilateral meeting among the defense chiefs of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan is also expected to take place to better deal with the bellicose regime.

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