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S. Korea's defense chief arrives in Singapore for security forum

June 2, 2023 - 19:42 By Yonhap
Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup heads to Singapore from Incheon International Airport on Thursday morning to attend the 20th Asian Security Conference in Singapore. (Yonhap)

South Korea's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup arrived in Singapore on Friday to attend an annual security forum, where North Korea's evolving military threats, the war in Ukraine and an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry are expected to feature prominently.

The three-day Shangri-La Dialogue got under way in the city-state earlier in the day, bringing together senior security officials from more than 40 countries, including the United States, China, Britain, Australia and Japan, according to Seoul officials.

Hosted by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the forum consists of seven key sessions, including those on US leadership in the Indo-Pacific, the building of a stable and balanced Asia-Pacific, and Asia's evolving maritime security order.

Lee is expected to use the forum and his encounters with key participants on its margins to rally support for Seoul's efforts to counter the North's growing nuclear and missile threats, as tensions flared anew over Pyongyang's failed yet defiant launch of a space rocket Wednesday.

During a main session Saturday, he plans to deliver a speech under the theme of "joint efforts to resolve the North Korean threat, a regional security challenge."

On the sidelines of the forum, Lee is scheduled to hold trilateral talks with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, as the three sides seek closer security cooperation against the North Korean security conundrum.

The meeting is expected to discuss ways to expand three-way security drills and establish a system to share North Korean missile warning data in real time, according to Seoul's defense ministry.

The three countries have been working to flesh out the agreement on the data sharing from a summit that President Yoon Suk Yeol and his US and Japanese counterparts, Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida, respectively, reached during a trilateral summit in Cambodia last November.

Lee is also scheduled to hold separate bilateral talks with Hamada, as well as his counterparts from China, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.

The meeting with Hamada will take place amid recent efforts to improve ties and is expected to discuss unresolved defense issues, including a row over a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft's unusually low-altitude flyby over a South Korean warship in December 2018.

It would mark the first bilateral meeting between the countries' defense chiefs since November 2019.

During talks with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, Lee will discuss ways to restart high-level and working-level dialogue between the two sides that has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ministry.

The bilateral talks come as signs of tensions emerged with Seoul moving to align closer with Washington to confront North Korea and other regional and global security challenges amid a hardening Sino-US rivalry.