South Korea’s vice defense minister is visiting Cambodia and Laos this week.
Hwang In-moo will visit the two Southeast Asian states as part of a 12-member delegation to discuss bilateral defense cooperation, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement. The delegation will also include officials from the foreign ministry, presidential office and defense ministry.
Hwang will visit Cambodia from Monday to Wednesday, followed by Laos from Wednesday to Friday. He will be the highest South Korean defense official to visit both countries.
In Cambodia, Hwang will hold talks with his counterpart and the country’s military chief. He will also make courtesy calls on both Prime Minister Hun Sen and the foreign minister.
In Laos, he will meet with a deputy defense minister and will discuss a range of issues. Laos is this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is thus leading the region’s summitry in 2016.
Defense issues and potential cooperation will be the subject of both visits. In Laos for example, Hwang is expected to discuss collaboration on demining, a major concern for the Southeast Asian state.
But both visits are also partly geared at securing greater cooperation against North Korea following the country’s nuclear test in January and long-range missile test in February. South Korea has attempted to step up the diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang following a string of destabilizing actions in 2016.
Cambodia and Laos both maintain close relations with North Korea. Earlier this month, a delegation led by Choe Thae-bok, a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party’s central committee, visited Laos and met with several officials including President Bounnhang Vorachith in what was viewed as Pyongyang’s own diplomatic offensive to boost international support amid tougher international sanctions.
“The upcoming visits will touch on the efforts made by the government following the North’s nuclear test,” a defense official said according to Yonhap news agency.