(LEAD) S. Korean defense chief to visit Australia for talks on arms industry cooperation
(ATT: UPDATES with additional info in paras 3-6)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup is set to depart for Australia on Tuesday for talks with his Australian counterpart on arms industry cooperation and regional security, his ministry said.
Lee plans to meet Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles in Canberra on Thursday to discuss two-way defense cooperation as part of follow-up measures to the summit between President Yoon Suk-yeol and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese held on the margins of a NATO summit in Madrid in June.
The two are also expected to discuss their countries' respective policy approaches toward the Indo-Pacific, a region riddled with geopolitical uncertainties amid an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry.
Australia is a member of the trilateral AUKUS security pact involving the United States and Britain. The pact, announced in September last year, has raised tensions with China amid speculation that it seeks to counter China's maritime influence.
The two sides could also explore ways to more effectively conduct bilateral and multilateral military drills involving the two nations, a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
North Korea is likely to be an agenda item as Australia has been an active enforcer of international sanctions on the reclusive regime, including maritime interdiction operations targeting its illicit activities, according to the official.
While in Australia, Lee and Marles also plan to visit Geelong, a southeastern city home to a K9 self-propelled howitzer factory of the South Korean firm Hanwha Defense. The visit has been arranged upon Marles' proposal.
"During the visit, they plan to reaffirm the two countries' will for bilateral arms industry cooperation," the ministry said in a press release.
Lee will also pay homage at a Korean War monument and visit the Australian Strategic Policy Institute for talks with its officials on regional security.
The planned talks between Lee and Marles would mark their second in-person talks in their current capacities following the first one on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June.
It would also be Australia's first bilateral defense ministerial talks with a partner nation in Canberra since the new Australian administration was launched in May, according to the ministry.
Meanwhile, the South Korean armored vehicle Redback has been competing to win the Australian Army's high-profile procurement project, called Land 400 Phase 3.
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