SINGAPORE — Japan and South Korea’s defense ministers have agreed that improving ties will be key to countering nuclear-armed North Korea, during a regional security summit in Singapore.

Japan’s Yasukazu Hamada met with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an event organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies that ran June 2-4.

Hamada told reporters after the meeting that both sides agreed to “accelerate talks, including steps to prevent a recurrence” of a 2018 radar incident. That incident saw Japan accuse a South Korean warship of locking onto a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft with its fire control radar in international waters between the countries, a allegation South Korea has denied.

The administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has sought stronger bilateral ties following years of a frosty relationship over Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

In their respective plenary speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue, both ministers flagged improving ties as a way for their nations to counter North Korea. Lee said in his speech that strengthening South Korean-Japanese ties, plus trilateral security cooperation with the United States, is “an inevitable measure taken to protect regional freedom and peace from the advancing North Korean nuclear and missile threats.”

He added during a question-and-answer session that bilateral relations “should not merely focus on the issues of the past, but rather we have to share the sentiment that we have to develop this in a future-oriented manner, especially regarding the nuclear and missile threats by North Korea.”

In a separate plenary session, Hamada said improving ties with South Korea is crucial in light of the increasingly tough security situation in the Indo-Pacific region. He also said he looked forward to enhancing communication with the South Korean government.

North Korea is technically still at war with South Korea, with an armistice to end the Korean War in 1953 still holding in the absence of a formal peace treaty. The North has continued its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs despite international sanctions and pressure, with missile tests flying over Japan’s territory on several occasions.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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