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China tensions feature in Korean talks

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Scott Morrison's meetings with the South Korean leader have gone ahead despite a COVID-19 scare. Photo: Getty
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged using South Korea’s diplomatic clout with China to open peaceful dialogue, as a $1 billion weapons deal was inked.

Scott Morrison and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held formal talks in Canberra in which they pushed forward with a new “comprehensive strategic partnership”.

As well, a $1 billion deal was signed, under which Korean defence company Hanwha will provide 30 self-propelled howitzer artillery weapons, 15 ammunition supply vehicles and radars to detect enemy artillery.

It is the largest defence contract struck between Australia and an Asian nation.

The vehicles will be able to quickly fire and move to avoid enemy counterattacks.

The deal is expected to create at least 300 jobs in the greater Geelong region, where the manufacturing facility will be based. Construction is due to start in 2022.

Mr Moon defended the new deal after being pressed by journalists whether it would send a negative signal to China amid Australia’s diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympic games and ongoing tensions with the major trading partner.

Mr Moon said South Korea would not engage in a diplomatic boycott of the games, but respected the decision of sovereign nations to do so.

“The state visit I make at this time has nothing to do with our position over China,” he said.

“This (visit to Australia) is very important for the national interest of Korea and to promote peace and prosperity in the region.”

Mr Morrison said the bilateral relationship continued to grow amid heightening tensions in the Indo-Pacific and specifically with China over Taiwan.

“This partnership speaks to the trust as well as the skills transfer and opportunities that are there for Australian defence industry,” Mr Morrison said.

“To ensure peace and stability you need a strong security environment where the rule of law is upheld. There must be a free and open Indo-Pacific and that is a goal that we share.”

Mr Morrison said South Korea had an important role to play in this dialogue for a peaceful resolution over Taiwan tensions due to its unique standing in the region and relationship with China.

“Korea has a very strong and open dialogue with China,” he said.

“(The outcome of war) is one that no-one seeks, that no-one hopes transpires, whether by miscalculation or other means, therefore, Australia and Korea have important work to do as liberal democracies.”

Mr Moon touted the need for peaceful dialogue to manage cross strait tensions after being asked about Defence Minister Peter Dutton, saying Australia not supporting any future US military intervention was “inconceivable”.

The South Korean pivoted from questions over Chinese coercion to the shared objective of working towards an official end of war with North Korea.

“Korea has another factor to take into account and that has to do with … denuclearisation of (North Korea). The end of war declaration has to do with ending the army regime which is unstable,” he said.

“Korea is focused on the steadfast alliance with the US and also with China – we want a harmonised relationship.”

Discussions also canvassed greater co-operation with Australia on low-carbon technology and space development.

The two nations this year mark 60 years of diplomatic relations.

Mr Moon is the first international leader to visit Australia since borders reopened.

– AAP