South Korea wants a multinational defence grouping

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am

President will use European summit to push regional agency

South Korea, still guarding the world's last cold war frontier with the communist North, will push its proposal for a multilateral security system for Northeast Asia at an upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) summit, officials say.

President Roh Moo-hyun, now in Europe on his way to join next week's summit in Finland, wants to sell the idea to both Asian and European counterparts.

While Europe has two key regional security bodies - Nato and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe - volatile Northeast Asia has none.

'At the Asem summit, the president will explain the government's policy towards the peaceful settlement of North Korea's nuclear and missile issues,' Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said.

'He plans to make a speech on the need for establishing a multilateral security system in Northeast Asia, drawing more attention and interest from Asem member countries to it.'

The Korean Peninsula has been a major regional flashpoint since the war half a century ago. North Korea has raised tensions with its nuclear and missile programmes.

Seoul has yet to elaborate on what kind of security system it envisages but analysts said the OSCE-like consultative body was more feasible than the Nato-like collective security model.

'The existing and strong bilateral alliance, either US-South Korea or US-Japan, contradicts a Nato-type mechanism in the region,' said Kim Sung-han, of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. 'What Seoul has in mind would be an OSCE-type. It fits better.'

A proposed collective security mechanism for Northeast Asia was discussed at a summit between Mr Roh and US President George W. Bush in South Korea in November.

'President Roh and President Bush agreed to make common efforts to develop a regional multilateral security dialogue and a co-operation mechanism, so as to jointly respond to regional security issues,' a statement said afterwards.

The United States has a major military presence in both South Korea and Japan and is obliged to provide Taiwan with a means of defence in case of an attack by mainland Chinese forces.

It is another potential flashpoint, with the mainland repeatedly threatening to invade the island should it move towards formal independence.

After the Asem summit, Mr Roh will visit the United States for a summit with Mr Bush on September 14.

'It has significance for President Roh to meet with President Bush soon after addressing the multilateral security issue in Northeast Asia,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Ko Ki-seok said.

But few disagree that the most pressing security issue is North Korea, a self-declared nuclear weapons state.

It left six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme last November and said it would not return until the US dropped financial sanctions.

The North stoked new international tensions with its July 5 ballistic missile tests in the Sea of Japan, known to Koreans as the East Sea. It was the second major test since it launched a missile over Japan into the Pacific in 1998.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the July tests and adopted a resolution imposing missile-related sanctions on the communist state.

Pyongyang immediately rejected the UN move and vowed to bolster its military.

The ABC television network, quoting US officials, said last month North Korea may be preparing an atomic bomb test.

Japan, in response to the tensions, is expanding its defence role.

It sent forces to help the US-led operation in Iraq and there are proposals for a revised constitution that would officially give the pacifist state a military for the first time in six decades.

Asian neighbours that suffered brutal 20th century Japanese occupations are eyeing Tokyo's moves with concern.