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International relations

South Korea agrees to share military intelligence with Thailand

As rift with Japan deepens, President Moon courts Southeast Asian partners

South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha after a news conference in Bangkok on Sept. 2.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding on military intelligence cooperation, a significant step for the South Korean leader who recently brought a trade spat with Japan into the security realm.

"We can [extend our] partnership in national security to [become stronger] together," Moon said after he and Prayuth met at the Government House in Bangkok.

"The agreement to share confidential information reflects the trust between the two sides," Prayuth said.

Moon's trip is the first official visit to Thailand by a South Korean president in seven years. The president arrived in Bangkok on Sunday as he began a weeklong tour of Southeast Asia.

The memorandum is significant for South Korea, which recently lessened its intelligence network by deciding to retaliate against Japan by discontinuing a military intelligence sharing agreement with its neighbor. Japan had previously dropped South Korea from a list of trusted trade partners.

Seoul's escalation of its fracas with Tokyo further angered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and frustrated the U.S., a security ally of both nations.

Moon and Prayuth clinched five other memorandums of understanding, including in the development of smart cities and so-called "Industry 4.0." The other areas of agreement were common language education, water resource management, railway infrastructure development and military intelligence cooperation.

South Korea has embarked on a drive to diversify its diplomatic and economic relationships with Southeast Asian countries as it seeks to rely less on major developed countries such as China, the U.S. and Japan.

Moon will depart Thailand for Myanmar, where he will meet state councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint on Wednesday. On Thursday, he will make a first-ever official visit as South Korean president to Laos. "I will visit all 10 ASEAN member countries during my tenure," he said.

Moon in November will host a summit with ASEAN leaders in the southeastern city of Busan. The president recently voiced his hope that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would attend.

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