China, South Korea defence ministers hold first meeting in two years
Relations between two nations soured amid row over the deployment of a US-developed missile defence shield in South Korea
China and South Korea’s defence ministers have held their first talks in nearly two years, amid the two countries dispute over the deployment of a controversial US missile defence shield.
China’s Chang Wanquan and South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo met for about 30 minutes in Clark in the Philippines on the sidelines of a regional security forum on Tuesday, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
“Such a bilateral meeting between the defence ministers is meaningful in itself as it represents both sides’ desire to improve ties despite the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence issue,” the report quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying.
The official would not give details on what was discussed in the talks, citing a deal with China not to release the information, the report said.
The meeting, initiated by South Korea, came within weeks of South Korea’s new ambassador to China, Noh Young-min, stressing the importance of ties between the two countries, saying they were inseparable.
Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said the talks were to be welcomed given the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
“Facing the increasingly belligerent Pyongyang, Beijing gradually understands the security concerns of Seoul. The bilateral defence meeting, although it can hardly address the differences between two countries, is a very positive signal pointing to the security cooperation ahead between the two nations,” Zhang said.
“Beijing’s attitude towards regional security matters is changing, especially after the tit-for-tat economic sanctions against South Korea hurt bilateral economic ties. Now China needs more a partner than a foe.”
North Korea claimed in September that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. It was the reclusive nation’s sixth nuclear test.
South Korea says the missile shield is needed to counter the threat posed by North Korea. China says the system poses a threat to its own security as its tracking systems will pry into Chinese territory.
The first two missile shield batteries were put into operation in South Korea in May.
In the wake of escalating North Korean missile tests, South Korea is also deploying four more.
China has strongly criticised the deployment, sparking a boycott by Chinese consumers of some South Korean firms operating on the mainland.
Analysts said the meeting between the two defence ministers was largely symbolic and the core differences over THAAD would not easily be set aside.
“What’s important is not how the THAAD issue will be resolved, but the two sides finally meeting each other and beginning to discuss it after relations dipped to a historical low,” said Lee Kyu-tae, an expert on geopolitics at South Korea’s Catholic Kwandong University.