S. Korea, U.S., Japan rearranging schedule for defense ministers’ talks

SEOUL-- South Korea, the United States and Japan are rearranging trilateral defense talks after they were forced to cancel a meeting slated for June in Singapore due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Sunday.

Defense Minister Suh Wook and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Minister Nobuo Kishi -- had initially planned to hold talks on the sidelines of the security forum of the Shangri-La Dialogue, set to take place in the Southeast Asian country on June 4-5.

But the organizer, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said Thursday it decided to cancel the forum due to the deteriorating global virus situation.

"The three sides have a strong willingness to hold a trilateral defense meeting. We are looking for other options," a ministry official said.

The countries prefer an in-person gathering, rather than a video conference, and a meeting in Hawaii could be one option, another official said.

The push for the trilateral meeting comes as Washington calls for better relations between Seoul and Tokyo. During his recent visit to Seoul, Austin said North Korea and China pose "unprecedented challenges."

Suh had a face-to-face meeting with Austin last month in Seoul, but has not spoken with Kishi since taking office in September last year, even via phone.

The top defense officials of Seoul, Washington and Tokyo last met in November 2019 in Bangkok on the sidelines of the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus).

"We also had sought to hold bilateral talks with Japan, China and several other partner nations during the Shangri-La dialogue. We will explore other ways to boost exchanges and cooperation in defense fields with those countries," the official said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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