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People's Daily Online

Interview: New milestone set for military cooperation with China: S. Korean vice defense chief

People's Daily Online

By Yoo Seungki, Zhang Qing (Xinhua) 10:38, March 12, 2015

SEOUL, March 12 -- South Korea is expected to return to China later this week another 68 more remains of Chinese soldiers in the 1950-53 Korean War, a fresh move that South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo sees will serve as 'new milestone for military cooperation between the two countries.

'The return of the remains of Chinese soldiers has great significance in that it served as a new stepping stone of trust between the two countries by quickly resolving the historical issue from a humanitarian perspective that opened a way for going toward future,' Baek said an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.

South Korea and China, which fought against each other about six decades ago, now become partners to go beyond the past and toward the future, Baek said. The return of the remains opened a door to cure scars of the past and 'set a new milestone for military cooperation of the two countries by building trust.'

In March 2014, South Korea handed over to China the remains of 437 Chinese volunteer soldiers killed in the war after President Park Geun-hye made a proposal to solidify bonds with China during her state visit to Beijing in June 2013.

President Park, who took office in February 2013, picked China as her second state-visit destination instead of Japan.

According to Baek, on March 20, South Korea will make the second return of 68 more remains of Chinese soldiers to make them rest in peace in their homeland, more than six decades after they said farewell to their beloved ones and left to fight in the war on the Korean Peninsula.

He said that it wasn't until Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Seoul in July 2014 and held summit with his South Korean President Park that relations between the two neighbors ushered in a new era of 'warming politics, hot economy.'

To Baek, people in China and South Korea must have felt the reality of closer bonds between the two countries, especially in culture and economy. South Koreans now can easily find 'made in China' products in stores, and many South Korean soup operas gained popularity among Chinese viewers.

Trade between China and South Korea surged to 228.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2013 from 6.4 billion dollars in 1992 when the two countries set up diplomatic ties, according to data from the South Korean presidential office. The number of tourists in the two nations visiting each other already topped 10 million.

Now the two countries are pushing their 'strategic cooperative partnership' to new heights in the military arena, Baek said.

Military exchange between South Korea and China has increased significantly to the point that more than 30 groups of military delegates visit each other every year for regular meetings and exchange programs.

'It served to rapidly enhance military trust between the two countries,' said Baek who has a long year of 'knot' with China from his school days.

Baek said he was fascinated by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and read many books about Deng when he was a high school student in the late 1970s.

When Baek went to Peking University in 1996 as a scholar of the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), he always carried a heavy Chinese dictionary in his backpack and helped the KIDA sign a memorandum of understanding with its Chinese counterpart on holding an annual regular academic event in the military area.

Since then, Baek visited Beijing several times as a senior research fellow.

He still remembers clearly his one-hour dialogue with then Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan in July 2014 when traveling to China as South Korean vice defense minister. Baek said he was ' deeply moved' that time.

'I had a meeting with Chinese defense minister... I cannot help but recall my dream since my school days... Since I began to pay attention to Deng Xiaoping in late high school days, I have maintained such attention... In reality, I became the partner of an important dialogue (with China),' Baek wrote in his Facebook posting on Sept. 13, 2014.

With the progress in defense cooperation between South Korea and China, Baek said close working-level discussions are under way to set up a hotline between defense ministries of the two countries within this year.

The hotline is expected to boost peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia as it can facilitate exchange of information and opinions in the military sphere between the two nations.

South Korea's army and navy chiefs of staff also plan to visit China this year.

Militaries of the two countries are exchanging education programs among junior army officers, and are reviewing increased cooperation in anti-pirate and maritime rescue efforts which have a peaceful purpose.

In the long run, South Korea and China should build mutual trust in the defense sector to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, in the region and in the world at large, which is in line with the future-oriented military partnership shared by President Park and President Xi, Baek said.

SENSITIVE ISSUES

In South Korea, controversy was raised again over a thorny issue, that is, whether to adopt the advanced U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). Ruling Saenuri Party floor leader Yoo Seung-min raised the need during a party meeting on Monday.

Defying the need, lawmakers of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said on Tuesday that it will be ' meaningless' to discuss whether to deploy the THAAD on the Korean Peninsula as the U.S. missile defense is aimed at intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

'Given the South Korean political system, many talks and claims are coming in from many people,' said Baek. 'For now, the Defense Ministry has no plan to purchase and introduce the THAAD. The U.S. side hasn't even called for the THAAD deployment.'

Baek said that if the United States officially calls for the THAAD introduction on the Korean Peninsula, the ministry would determine the yes or no only based on security and national interests of South Korea.

He said positions of other countries will not be considered important while making decisions, noting that the most important factor would be how effectively it could respond to the nuclear threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The South Korean military now has a plan to develop its own missile defense system, called Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) that is focusing on the terminal-phase, low-altitude missile defense against potential nuclear and missile threats from the DPRK.

While the THAAD, developed by the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin, was designed to intercept missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km, the KAMD aims to shoot down missiles at an altitude of about 40 km. The South Korean military is developing the long-range surface-to- air missile and medium-range surface-to-air missile to establish a multi-layered missile defense system.

As to the ongoing South Korea-U.S. annual war games, Baek said the 'Key Resolve' and the 'Foal Eagle' have been held regularly in preparations for what he called the DPRK's 'military threats,' reiterating the ministry's earlier stance.

He noted that the joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington were staged even in 2000 and 2007 when leaders of the two Koreas met in Pyongyang.

The annual joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington, which kicked off on March 2, are scheduled to run through April 24. The DPRK fired off two short-range ballistic missiles on the day when the drills began, in what appeared to protest against the joint war games, which mobilize more than 10, 000 U.S. forces and 200,000 South Korean troops.

The DPRK offered to halt the South Korea-U.S. joint war games in 2015 in return for its suspension of nuclear test, a proposal flatly rejected by Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang denounced the drills as a rehearsal for northward invasion.



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