S. Korean defense chief to discuss N. Korea at Singapore forum

SINGAPORE, May 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin arrived in Singapore Friday to attend a security forum where he will focus on coordinating efforts on North Korea as hope grows for talks to reduce tension following months of bellicose rhetoric from the communist country.

The Asia Security Summit, also called the Shangri-La Dialogue, was to open Friday evening for a three-day run, with the defense chiefs and security experts from 27 nations in attendance.

The 12th summit, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, will address pressing geopolitical challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, including North Korea's nuclear program, the U.S.'s "pivot" toward Asia amid financial tightening, as well as China's military buildup and conflicts with its neighbors.

On Saturday, Seoul's defense chief will have a bilateral meeting with U.S. defense chief Chuck Hagel to discuss ways to strengthen their alliance and coordinate their policies on North Korea as it is shifting its hostile stance towards conciliatory gestures.

The two will meet in person for the first time since Hagel's inauguration in late February.

"The South Korea-U.S. alliance is a central axis of for our security," Kim told reporters at the Shangri-La hotel, the summit venue. "I will try to seek ways to strengthen bilateral alliance in the meeting."

The allies will also have a trilateral meeting with their Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera to seek ways to expand defense cooperation and joint efforts to handle North Korea's missile and nuclear program.

"South Korea, the U.S., Japan will also discuss ways to cooperate humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and U.N. peacekeeping operations," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.

The North's envoy last week met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to show its readiness to rejoin the six-party nuclear disarmament talks, raising hope for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The North angrily reacted to South Korea-U.S. joint drills in March and April with a new round of bellicose rhetoric. But Pyongyang has since toned down its language in recent weeks and Seoul officials said medium-range missiles placed along the communist country's eastern coast in April were no longer poised for launch.

Ahead of the defense forum's opening reception on Friday, Kim had bilateral meetings with his Singaporean and Mongolian counterparts, in which he asked them to take part in the 2nd Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) set for November in Seoul.

Launched last year, the SDD is a senior-level multilateral security forum to discuss concerted efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The first Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) brought together vice minister-level officials from 15 Asia-Pacific countries, the European Union and two international organizations.

Kim also discussed with Mongolian Defense Minister Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene on the transfer of South Korean military equipment to support the Mongolian army's modernization plan.

On Saturday, Kim is scheduled to have bilateral meetings with defense chiefs of Indonesia, Australia and Canada.

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