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(LEAD) Shangri-La Dialogue to discuss N.K. nuclear issue, S. China Sea rows

All News 15:54 June 03, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more comments)

SINGAPORE, June 3 (Yonhap) -- An annual regional defense ministers' summit, the Asia Security Summit, kicked off its three-day run in the city-state of Singapore on Friday, with North Korea's ever-growing nuclear ambitions and South China Sea rows expected to top this year's agenda.

The regional forum, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after its venue of the Shangri-La Hotel, will bring together defense ministers, security and diplomatic officials, as well as academics from 52 countries, including the host country, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and France.

South Korean officials said North Korea will be a prominent topic at the meeting since this year's dialogue comes amid the international community's stronger-than-ever efforts to rein in the country's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons following its nuclear and long-range tests early this year.

They said China's relentless territorial claims to the South China Sea may also feature dominantly, as they did last year, especially since several Southeast Asian countries, along with the U.S. and Japan, have been opposed to what they see as Beijing's territorial expansionism.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo is scheduled to deliver a speech at a plenary session Saturday, where he will call for increased and concerted international efforts to deter North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

The minister will also stress the need for all members to follow through with the recent United Nations Security Council sanctions adopted in March in retaliation for the recent North Korean military provocations.

North Korea's nuclear issues will be put to more in-depth discussion when Han holds separate bilateral meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, as well as his Chinese and Japanese counterparts on Saturday on the sidelines of the dialogue hosted by the British think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are also scheduled to hold a trilateral summit of defense ministers Saturday.

"North Korea's nuclear issue will come up as the most important agenda item at this year's Asia Security Summit on top of the South China Sea issues," a South Korean defense official said. "Seoul expects that international collaboration on countering North Korea's nuclear and missile threats will gather further traction after this meeting."

"This year's IISS Shangri-La Dialogue takes place against the backdrop of growing tensions over the South China Sea, provocations by the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong-un and renewed concerns over jihadist terrorism," the IISS said in a statement.

Topics of discussion will also include "how to develop military capabilities in a time of tightened defense budgets, how to cope with cyber threats and how to pursue common security objectives, the statement also said.

U.S. news reports, meanwhile, said the upcoming South Korea-U.S. meeting would discuss the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, but South Korea's defense ministry refuted the reports, saying, "There are no plans for discussion on the matter between the South Korean and U.S. defense ministers at the Shangri-La Dialogue."

On Sunday, Han is also scheduled to hold talks with his French and Swiss counterparts, with the North Korean nuclear issue expected to dominate the discussions.


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