By Kim Yon-se
Korea, the United States and Japan are moving to launch a joint security entity, which might also include Australia and New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region.
The idea, which is still in the initial stages of discussion, may take shape when President Lee Myung-bak meets U.S. President George W. Bush next week, according to sources.
Once the proposed plan takes shape, they said, the two leaders could meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda during the first half of the year.
The three leaders are likely to fine-tune a trilateral summit in the upcoming summit between Lee and Bush at Camp David, U.S. presidential retreat, on April 18-19 and between Lee and Fukuda in Tokyo on April 21, they said.
The United States is considering holding a Seoul-Washington-Tokyo summit mainly to discuss a defense coalition in Northeast Asia by forming an entity for a joint security regime, they added.
Presidential secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae neither confirmed nor denied the speculated summit between the three leaders at a designated venue in several months, though recent moves in the United States seem to indicate the possibility.
U.S. officials are said to have already notified the Lee administration of provisional schemes on launching a joint security entity.
Sources said the members of the speculated entity may also include several more countries in Oceania and Southeast Asia.
After Lee from the conservative Grand National Party won the Dec. 19 presidential election, U.S. conservatives like the Heritage Foundation suggested Korea, Japan and the United States arrange a joint security initiative as soon as possible.
``I think the key task for the trilateral security ties is how Korea will placate China, which would be excluded from the membership,'' a political expert said.
He alleged that the move is part of the strategy of the United States, which is trying to out-influence China in the Pan Asia-Pacific.
President Lee will likely be cooperative on suggestions of Bush over the project in the April summit. For example, Washington is expected to urge Seoul to fully participate in the U.S. missile defense plans and Proliferation Security Initiative.
If Lee is cooperative in these issues as well as agreeing to the full market opening to U.S. beef, it is possible the United States will offer upgrading of South Korea's sovereign rating as a gift, sources said.
As another gift, the two leaders could also discuss the visa waiver program for South Koreans planning to visit the United States.