June 05, 2013 13:06
The military chiefs of South Korea and China met in Beijing on Tuesday and agreed to strengthen strategic cooperation. Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Fang Fenghui agreed to open a military hotline and establish a formal consultation channel while sending representatives to observe anti-terrorism drills and boosting joint rescue operations during natural disasters.
Jung and his 15-member entourage are to go to Qingdao to tour China's first aircraft carrier.
Military cooperation between South Korea and China is still in the infant stage. Seoul has repeatedly urged Beijing to set up a hotline linking their armies, and China every time said it would consider the move, only to fail to make good on its words. The navies and air forces of the two countries have been operating a hotline since 2008. The two defense ministers in 2001 agreed to open a hotline between them, but that too has yet to bear fruit.
Cooperation between the two sides is currently only limited to holding a regular meeting between the military chiefs and discussing security in Northeast Asia. It should go beyond that.
South Korean and Chinese troops faced each other in battle during the 1950-53 Korean War. The South has maintained a security alliance with the U.S. over the past 52 years, binding American troops to intervene in case of emergency, while the North has a similar pact with China.
South Korea and China must therefore both tread carefully when it comes to military cooperation, but it would be unrealistic to think about peace on the Korean Peninsula without their close cooperation. A certain level of mutual understanding between the two countries on security issues is essential to prevent unwanted conflict as the North Korean threat looms.
North Korea's decision to push ahead with its third nuclear test despite China's strong opposition appears to have chilled Beijing's sentiment toward Pyongyang. Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out to senior North Korean apparatchik Choe Ryong-hae, who visited Beijing last month, that denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is "inevitable." Choe pledged to "take active steps" to promote peace and stability, but the latest bluster from North Korea suggests just the opposite.
This is why the meeting of the military chiefs of South Korea and China comes at a crucial time. It should be viewed not just as the latest development in bilateral relations but also as the first step in establishing peace in Northeast Asia.
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