Upcoming Winter Olympics 'turning point' for peace, says South Korean Defence Minister

South Korean defence minister Song Young Moo speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Forum in Singapore on Jan 29, 2018.
South Korean defence minister Song Young Moo speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Forum in Singapore on Jan 29, 2018.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - South Korea hopes to make the upcoming Winter Olympics a "turning point" in its pushfor peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, the country's Defence Minister Song Young-moo said on Monday (Jan 29).

But Mr Song, who was delivering the keynote address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Forum, also said his country will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power. He called the North's nuclear and missile threats, which had raised tensions in the peninsula, "the most serious and eminent" security threat facing the world today.

Relations between the two Koreas have thawed recently and they held talks at the border village of Panmunjom this month - their first high-level dialogue in years.

Mr Song pointed out that both neighbours have restored channels of communication, and the North has also agreed to send a delegation to the Games in Pyeongchang.

Athletes from both countries will march together as one team during the opening ceremony next month.

"The Republic of Korea will use the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a turning point towards peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," said Mr Song, adding that he hoped this spirit of peace would persist to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

But South Korea will continue to push for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, said Mr Song in his speech to senior defence officials and other experts at the forum, held at the Fullerton Hotel.

"On one hand Korea will continue to strongly respond to North Korea provocations, and on the other hand utilise all possible measures, including sanctions and dialogue, to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," he said.

Outlining the South Korean government's defence policy, he said the ultimate aim was to prevent another war from occurring.

Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula was both a means to attain peace and a goal in and of itself, he added, calling on countries in the region to "proactively implement sanctions against North Korea".

He said despite international sanctions restricting the North's imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products, his government suspected that North Korea was obtaining these resources through smuggling in international waters, using ships under foreign flags.

Addressing such maritime security issues required transnational cooperation, and consistent, long-term effort.

"One country by itself cannot effectively meet the rapid increasing international threats - all countries must work together," he said.

He highlighted the importance of multilateral mechanisms such as the Asean Regional Forum and Shangri-La Dialogue, adding that efforts to enhance multilateral security cooperation must continue.

Being held here for the sixth time, the Fullerton Forum is organised in the run-up to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, where defence chiefs gather to discuss security issues.

Delegates will continue talks on issues discussed at last year's Shangri-La Dialogue, including fighting terrorism in the region and managing maritime security challenges.

On Monday, Mr Song also pledged to regularise Vice-Defence Minister-level talks between South Korea and Asean, and proposed holding a forum on maritime peace and order in North-east Asia involving the navies of South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

This is Mr Song's introductory visit to Singapore. As part of his visit, he also paid separate calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement that both defence ministers discussed the regional security situation and proposed ways to enhance their bilateral defence relationship. They also reaffirmed their cooperation in the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus platform.

"Mr Song's visit reflects the warm and friendly bilateral defence relationship between Singapore and the Republic of Korea," said Mindef in its statement.