By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is trying to set up bilateral defense ministers' talks with Japan and China on the sidelines of an annual regional security forum early next month in an effort to restore strained defense ties with the neighboring nations, officials said Tuesday.
Discussions are underway with Japan and China to organize one-on-one talks between Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his counterparts when the top defense officials gather in Singapore for the annual forum, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, slated for May 31-June 2, according to the officials.
South Korea's defense ties with Japan and China have strained over a radar row and a U.S. missile defense system, respectively. Top-level defense talks between Seoul and Tokyo were last held in October 2018, and the Seoul-Beijing defense ministers' meeting last took place in October 2017.
"We all share the need to restore defense and military ties, and discussions are underway with the respective countries on how to do so," a ministry official well-versed in the issue said.
According to Japanese media, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya recently expressed his wish to return to the original relationship with Seoul and to meet with Seoul's defense chief Jeong Kyeong-doo, while addressing North Korea.
Earlier this month, North Korea conducted weapons tests twice, including short-range missiles, in apparent discontent with stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.
The defense ties between Seoul and Tokyo have deteriorated particularly since December last year when Japan claimed that a South Korean warship directed military tracking radar at its maritime patrol aircraft, a charge dismissed by Seoul.
"Despite prolonged frictions in their diplomatic relations stemming from political and historic issues, their defense cooperation was a rare rallying point, and such a need appears to have grown bigger recently," another official said.
Seoul and Beijing have also been at odds over Washington's deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery on Korean soil in 2017. Though the allies have said the system aims at better defending against missile threats from North Korea, China lodged strong protests claiming that it would hurt its strategic security interests.
According to the Shangri-La dialogue organizer, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe will attend the forum and deliver a speech on China's place in the Indo-Pacific region on June 2.
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