Defense Minister Chang Wanquan began a three-day official visit to the Republic of Korea on Feb 3, a trip that observers said will help to strengthen stability in Northeast Asia.
Chang, making the first visit to the ROK by a Chinese defense minister since 2006, is scheduled to take part in a meeting with his ROK counterpart Han Min-koo on Feb 4.
Yonhap News Agency quoted an ROK military official as saying the meeting agenda will include setting up a military hotline between the two ministers. China will be only the second country that has such a hotline with the ROK, after the United States.
A statement from the ROK defense ministry said both countries also plan to exchange views on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, and explore ways to boost bilateral exchanges and cooperation, the report said.
A memorandum of understanding on setting up a direct telephone line between the defense ministers was signed when China and the ROK held their fourth Defense Strategic Dialogue on July 23 in Beijing.
Discussions on establishing the hotline began in 2007. They were followed by telephone hotlines between the two countries’ navies and air forces being set up in 2008, aimed at avoiding accidental clashes in the East China Sea.
Wang Junsheng, a researcher of East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the leaders of China and the ROK have attached unprecedented importance to strengthening the bilateral relationship and maintaining regional stability since taking office in 2013.
During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul in July, both countries agreed to further promote the bilateral strategic partnership, including defense.
Shi Yongming, a researcher of Asia-Pacific studies at the China Institute of International Relations, said, “An agreement on the direct telephone line will mean that China and the ROK have established a certain level of mutual trust.”
Shi said that in the past Washington had tried to curb Seoul’s security cooperation with Beijing, while Beijing had been constrained by concerns about the regional balance of power.
“The meeting marks a step by both sides to push forward such cooperation,” he said, adding that it is also an effort to bring about an early dialogue between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the US amid the current deadlock.