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Seoul Launches New Forum for Asia-Pacific Security Talks

Nov. 9, 2012 - 11:31AM   |  
By JUNG SUNG-KI   |   Comments
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SEOUL — South Korea will hold a multinational security dialogue Nov. 14-16 to discuss efforts to ease military tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. The first Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) comes under the spotlight because of growing territorial disputes in northeastern Asia, as well as the increasing North Korean military threat.

The goal is for attendees of the SDD, the first vice ministerial-level security forum in the region, to develop practical “action plans” to deal with regional security issues, said Lee Young-geol, South Korea’s vice defense minister.

“South Korea is one of the few countries receiving the world’s attention due to volatile security conditions, but unfortunately, we didn’t have a security dialogue channel that can address security issues on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Asia-Pacific region,” Lee said in an interview with Defense News.

Q. Tell us about the SDD.

A. South Korea has held working-level arms control seminars with other countries for years, but there was no multinational security forum in Seoul that can address broader security issues. Given Korea is the only divided country in the world, in particular, we felt the need of developing those ... seminars led by civilian experts into a government-level multinational “track 1.5” dialogue channel to address the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Through such a forum, we could seek better understanding and cooperation from the international community regarding peace and stability on the penin-sula. In addition, we will be able to offer a venue for Asia-Pacific countries to discuss solutions to common security threats.

These days, collective capabilities or multinational efforts are required to deal with security threats changing fast and becoming diverse. That’s why multinational dialogue channels are emerging in this region, such as the Shangri-La Dialogue [SLD], [and] the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Regional Forum.

The global status of South Korea has improved since we held several international events, including the G-20 Summit and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. So we’re pretty confident holding this security forum, and improving it to a high-profile global conference.

Q. What’s the difference between SDD and SLD?

A. It’s premature to compare the inaugural SDD with the 10-year-old Shangri-La Dialogue at the moment. The SLD, held by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has become one of the important security forums in the world, while the SDD is taking its first step. But if the SDD continues to be developed, [it] will be able to share roles with the SLD. As the SDD is a vice ministerial-level dialogue, it could be more effective to forge action plans on certain security agenda [items], while the minister-level SLD paints a big picture and sets the agenda.

Q. How many countries are attending?

A. Government delegations from 15 countries have confirmed to attend the SDD — [including South Korea], the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. In addition, EU and NATO delegations will join the forum, and six domestic and foreign experts will attend.

Many countries show interest in the SDD and how [it] will evolve. I think it will take at least three to five years to get the course of this forum, and more governments will join this framework, then.

Q. What is on the agenda?

A. First, the forum will focus on ways of dealing with common security threats in the Asia-Pacific region and the prevention of weapons of mass destruction.

The second topic is the cybersecurity threat, one of the most serious challenges the world faces. South Korea has the reputation of being an IT and software powerhouse, so we plan to lead the discussion of cybersecurity.

The last topic is the efficiency of defense management. Many countries suffer from economic difficulties, leading to defense budget problems. So the forum will offer an opportunity for these countries to share ... know-how and best practices of defense spending management.

Q. Is North Korea a main topic?

A. The SDD will address broader security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The security threat on the Korean Peninsula is one of the top topics, but the forum is not designed to target a certain country — it’s designed to get answers to common security problems.

We hope North Korea will join this forum in the future, though it’s not possible now given the aggravated relations between the two Koreas. If Pyongyang attends, they will be given an opportunity to explain what they’re thinking and what they want, and participants could seek the best way of resolving [these] issues through constructive dialogue.

Q. Will territorial disputes be discussed?

A. Territorial disputes, including the China-Japan dispute over the Senkaku Islands, also known as Diaoyu in China, are expected to be discussed during bilateral or tripartite talks, though they are not included in official agendas. The SDD will be an appropriate venue for those security issues, with participating countries exchanging opinions and finding clues to solutions of disagreements.

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