“I will not withdraw the patrol aircraft countermeasures guidance… a future-oriented relationship”
Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop will hold talks with the defense ministers of South Korea, the United States and Japan, Korea and China, and Korea and Japan. Attention is focused on whether South Korea-US-Japan cooperation measures against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats will be able to find certain compromises to prevent a conflict between South Korea and Japan.
According to the Ministry of National Defense on the 1st, Minister Lee announced that he will attend the Asian Security Conference (Shangri-La Dialogue) held in Singapore on the 2nd to the 4th. Since 2002, the Shangri-La Dialogue has been a meeting attended by defense ministers and high-ranking military officers from major Asian and European countries.
The bilateral talk with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, scheduled for the 4th, is expected to be a major event. This is the first bilateral defense minister meeting between South Korea and Japan to be held in about three and a half years since November 2019.
The background of the disengagement in military cooperation between the two countries is the patrol aircraft conflict that erupted in December 2018. At the time, a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft flew close to the Great Gwanggaeto at a distance of 500 m and an altitude of 150 m. South Korea claimed that the Japanese patrol plane had flown threateningly, and Japan countered that the Gwanggaeto fired the first super radar at the patrol plane and threatened it. The Moon Jae-in administration has prepared ‘Guidelines for Responding to Patrol Aircraft’, which require Japan Self-Defense Force aircraft to fire tracking radars and counter them if they fly close without responding to communications warn.
Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun recently reported that South Korea will withdraw this guideline at the defense ministers’ meeting and discuss the resumption of training between the South Korean Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. At a general meeting of the National Defense Commission that day, Minister Lee denied the report, saying it was “not true.” Instead, he said, “We will try to resolve it in a wise way for the development of bilateral relations in the future.” Regarding the future-oriented expression, he explained, “What we have to make concessions to each other is to make concessions and confirm each other’s position.”
Minister Lee emphasized that the two countries’ positions on the patrol aircraft conflict remain the same and that they are well aware of each other’s positions. In this meeting, the discussion may end up on the line of strengthening cooperation between military authorities in a wider framework, rather than finding a separate solution to the patrol aircraft conflict. However, some point out that a more effective recurrence prevention plan should be created in the sense that a similar conflict can happen again at any time in the future depending on the domestic political situation of the two countries.
On the 3rd, Minister Lee will hold a three-way meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada. The three countries have agreed to establish a real-time sharing system for North Korean missile warning information based on the Korea-US-Japan Information Sharing Agreement (TISA). The issue of harmonizing anti-submarine warfare training and missile defense training between the three countries is also expected to be discussed.
On the same day, Minister Lee sat down with Chinese Defense Minister Li Sangfu. There is also the possibility that the issue of the Taiwan Strait, which has become an issue of hegemonic competition between the United States and China, will come to the table. President Yoon Seok-yeol, who set proximity to the US as the keynote for diplomacy and security, announced his opposition to ‘changing the status quo by force’ by targeting China at a number of international summits and conferences. The government is in a position to improve relations with China, but it is unlikely that the defense ministers of the two countries will discuss beyond the theoretical level.
Bilateral meetings between South Korean and US ministers have not yet been scheduled, but additional meetings may be held depending on the situation on the spot, the Ministry of National Defense said. Minister Lee is also due to hold talks with the defense ministers of Canada and Germany. Minister Lee will give a speech at the plenary session on the theme of ‘joint efforts to resolve the North Korean threat, a regional security challenge’. Minister Lee is expected to stress that North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are a serious source of tension in the region and a serious challenge to the international order, and is said to be asking for international cooperation on the government’s policy stance towards the North Korea.