Seoul and Beijing have restored military cooperation, says South Korea’s vice-defence minister
- Military cooperation between China and South Korea was disrupted in 2017 when Beijing criticised Seoul for deploying the US-made THAAD anti-missile defence system
- But vice-defence minister Park Jae-min said both sides had built ‘mutual trust’ even amid growing strategic competition in the region
Between 2 million and 3 million soldiers died during the war.
“This [repatriation] is a result of efforts by the defence ministries of the two countries to prevent conflict and build mutual trust even as strategic competitions within the region are growing,” Park said.
“We expect defence exchanges between the two countries will continue developing down the road despite difficulties stemming from the pandemic.”
Park reiterated that THAAD is purely defensive and is intended solely to target North Korean missiles, although China regards it as a direct security threat.
“The radars’ angles and directions are all set with a view to intercepting the North’s ballistic missiles and you can’t change the modes for other purposes,” Park said. “Relations with China are on the mend following the fallout from the deployment of the THAAD.”
Park also highlighted new military communication hotlines between China and South Korea. In March, new channels were established linking South Korea’s navy and air force to its counterparts in China’s Eastern Theatre Command. Such lines are crucial to avoid military mishaps between the two countries.
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Regarding North Korea, Park said Seoul was committed to easing military tensions, as agreed by the countries’ leaders during a 2018 summit in Pyongyang.
Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, said the crisis in Afghanistan might have shifted Pyongyang’s calculations.
“The North is possibly concerned that it would be a target for backlash from the US should it do something provocative immediately after the collapse of Kabul,” Park said.
Park, the vice-defence minister, also discussed the Seoul Defence Forum (SDD), which will be held via video conference next month, where he will talk about the South Korean military’s work combating Covid-19. In South Korea, troops have been contributing to the country’s coronavirus response by rolling out vaccines and enforcing quarantine.
“This is a crisis without borders indeed. That is why we’ve set the agenda for the forum focusing on ways to cope with the crisis collectively.”