02-15-2010 15:24 By Jung Sung-ki Staff Reporter http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2010/02/113_60828.html South Korea, Japan and China are discussing establishing a tripartite security framework this year, Seoul officials said Monday. Senior defense officials from the three countries will discuss their security and military cooperation in the region on a regular basis, the officials said. South Korea's Ministry of National Defense (MND) is leading the discussion, following a tripartite summit of leaders from the nations last October in Beijing, they said. The framework will help build trust between the three militaries as well as resolve pending security issues in the region, including North Korea's nuclear weapons program, said the officials. This issue was a lead topic during an MND meeting with South Korean diplomatic mission chiefs abroad last week, they added. "Once the tripartite security framework takes effect, it will help resolve many security issues in the region, including North Korea's nuclear problem and the U.S.-China relationship," a security expert said. "The framework could successfully evolve into a broader security framework for Northeast Asia." The three East Asian nations have sought closer military partnerships in recent years despite frequent disputes over history and territorial issues. Earlier this month, a senior U.S. military officer said a trilateral military exercise by the U.S., South Korea and Japan could be conducted in the near future with the three parties sharing the concept for such a drill. In April last year, Seoul and Tokyo signed a letter of intent on bilateral defense cooperation, the first formal military pact between the two countries. The letter covers goodwill exchanges of top defense officials and military units from the two nations, exchanges between defense institutes, the institutionalization of joint search-and-rescue operations, reciprocal visits by aircraft and naval ships, and joint international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. Since December 2008, South Korea and China have operated military hotlines between their navies and air forces. The establishment of 24-hour telephone hotlines was agreed upon at talks between the defense chiefs of the two countries in April 2007 in Beijing as part of efforts to build confidence between the two militaries.