South Korea’s defense minister said the country could strengthen its military cooperation with rival Japan as the two US allies work to boost regional security against threats like those posed by North Korea.
Suh Wook, who held talks last week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on his first overseas trip since taking office, said Seoul views Japan as one. of its crucial security partners and wants to continue its cooperation with the neighboring partnership with the US.
“What protects the Korean peninsula focuses on the Korea-US alliance, but we believe that Korea-Japan security cooperation is also a valuable asset, so we must maintain this,” Suh said in a Bloomberg interview. Television, a day after the talks with the American envoys ended
Visits to Tokyo and Seoul by Blinken and Austin appeared to help thaw cold relations between the neighbors, which are home to most of the US troops in the region. Ties sank during President Donald Trump’s tenure as tensions stemming from historic differences triggered a trade dispute that at one point threatened global semiconductor supply lines and nearly led South Korea to abandon a joint intelligence-sharing agreement. .
The defense minister also said that Seoul will continue to develop its alliance with the new Biden administration, allowing it to play a more important security role on the international stage.
The government of President Moon Jae-in has embarked on one of the country’s largest military build-ups in years, seeking to add an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine. The measures would allow it to project more power abroad and comes after the Trump administration pressured Seoul to increase its presence in international security agreements, such as protecting waterways in the Middle East than South Korea does. receives most of its oil.
The Biden administration has also been seeking help from allies to formulate policies against what Blinken called “aggression and coercion” from China, putting South Korea in a difficult position. Beijing is its biggest trading partner and a key player in persuading North Korea to reduce its nuclear arsenal.
Suh said there has been progress on the delayed transfer of wartime troop management known as the Operational Control Authority, or OPCON, from the US to South Korea and highlighted the New Southern Policy, aimed at enhancing ties with Southeast Asia and India.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
About Japan’s cooperation:
“In fact, there is the question of problems related to history, but feel that relations between Korea and Japan are necessary in terms of defense cooperation. We will continue to hold military talks and continue cooperation in the future. “
On plans for aircraft carriers:
“It is to prepare against possible threats in the future, a matter of scope for the Korean peninsula, and to ensure flexibility on matters such as humanitarian assistance, which we believe is necessary.”
In OPCON transfer:
“Actually, there is not much difference in terms of moving the current combined forces command to a future version of the combined forces command in addition to changing the position of the commander-in-chief and the deputy commander-in-chief. In that sense, our readiness posture doesn’t have much change other than the citizenship of the commander-in-chief, so we believe there is no need to worry about our readiness posture issue. “
On regional strategy:
“We have the principle that our New Southern Policy can be like regional cooperation in terms of tackling different problems. We believe that we can work with other countries that are also applying the New Southern Policy in terms of different sectors through cooperation ”.
“We also explained the dialogue we have been having with our Chinese military counterparts, especially on how to establish a direct line to continue intercommunication regarding flying to the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone: how we are discussing the matter and taking action when respect. “
About global politics:
“We will continue to develop the alliance into a complementary and future-oriented global alliance while expanding the horizons of cooperation,” he said in written comments accompanying the interview.
– With the help of Shinhye Kang
(Updates with comments on China.)