SINGAPORE – Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his South Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, have held their first talks in four years and agreed to continue a dialogue to improve strained relations.
“It is extremely meaningful” to resume the discussions, Nakatani said at the outset of the meeting with Han, adding “Japan wants to make efforts” through the occasion to improve bilateral ties.
Han called the meeting “significant,” noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.
Defense ministers from the two countries had not met one-on-one since June 2011 amid ties turned fractious by history-related issues, including the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the thousands of females forced to work in wartime brothels for the Imperial Japanese military, and a long-simmering sovereignty dispute. The Korean Peninsula was annexed by Japan in 1910 and liberated in 1945.
In their talks in Singapore, held on the fringes of the annual Asia Security Summit conference, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, Nakatani explained the security bills that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to pass and the revisions to the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, Foreign Ministry officials said.
Han was quoted as telling Nakatani that South Koreans have a keen interest in the issue, adding that Seoul wants to be consulted by Tokyo whenever situations arise related to South Korea, according to the officials.
The bills, if passed, would remove geographical restrictions on where the Self-Defense Forces can operate, and under certain conditions allow Japanese forces to defend the U.S. and other allied militaries via collective self-defense, possibly without Diet approval. The revised guidelines reflect the changes contained in the legislation.
The two ministers also agreed to resume exchanges between the SDF and South Korean military forces.
Nakatani proposed that South Korean vessels join SDF fleet reviews. He also suggested organizing a joint search and rescue exercise involving the two countries’ militaries. Han sounded positive about both proposals, according to Nakatani.
Nakatani urged Seoul to sign an agreement on the security of military information to allow the bilateral exchange of military intelligence. The two countries put off signing the agreement in 2012 due to domestic opposition in South Korea.
Nakatani also called for discussions on an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that would allow the Japanese and South Korean militaries to provide food, water, fuel and other supplies to each other, the officials said. But Han was noncommittal on those matters, they said.
In a separate three-way meeting, Nakatani, Han and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreed that their nations will continue to cooperate on issues concerning North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.