SINGAPORE — The defense chiefs of South Korea, the United States and Japan reached an agreement Saturday to establish and operate a real-time information sharing system concerning North Korea's missile launches within this year.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada convened for a meeting during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The meeting marks the first defense ministerial meeting between the three countries since June 2022.
The defense chiefs agreed to establish and operate a real-time system for sharing missile warning data on North Korean launches by the end of this year, according to an announcement by South Korea's Defense Ministry on Saturday. "Missile warning data" refers to information about projected launch location, trajectory, and anticipated landing location of North Korean missiles.
This agreement was reached around seven months after the leaders of South Korea, the US, and Japan first agreed on the information-sharing initiative during the November 2022 summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
During the meeting, the defense ministers of the three countries discussed the progress that has been made through working-level consultations on technical matters.
The three then agreed to achieve further progress in the coming months to operate a mechanism for real-time information sharing on North Korea's missile warning data, affirming that "this is a major step for deterrence, peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region."
Specifically, the US Indo-Pacific Command will act as an intermediary under the new information sharing system, a senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, told reporters Saturday.
The US Indo-Pacific Command will connect the current real-time information sharing system between the South Korean military and the US Forces Korea to the real-time information sharing system between the US Forces Japan and the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
The existing Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement, signed in 2014, will also provide the necessary legal framework for the establishment of the real-time information-sharing system, the unnamed official added.
The primary objective of the TISA is to facilitate the sharing of classified information related to the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea. However, under this arrangement, South Korea and Japan share information through the US as a central hub.
N. Korea and beyond
The three defense chiefs also agreed to enhance trilateral security cooperation, taking into account both the threats posed by North Korea and the evolving security landscape in the Indo-Pacific region. They emphasized the importance of strengthening trilateral cooperation through information sharing on critical matters, high-level policy consultations, and joint exercises to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Against that backdrop, the defense ministers reiterated their commitment to regularize anti-submarine warfare exercises and naval missile defense exercises to strengthen their deterrence against North Korean threats.
Furthermore, they reaffirmed their commitment to promptly resume trilateral maritime interdiction and anti-piracy exercises -- which have been suspended since 2018 -- within this year. The three also committed to identifying additional areas for expanded cooperation, such as disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
South Korea, the US and Japan will make an annual plan that includes all trilateral military and non-military security exercises in a bid to conduct them more effectively, the unnamed official said during the closed-door briefing following the meeting.
The US Indo-Pacific Command, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces will be responsible for coordinating and streamlining these trilateral training exercises.
The meeting took place at a crucial moment, as North Korea conducted a missile launch on Wednesday, asserting that it was a "military reconnaissance satellite" while employing ballistic missile technologies, despite warnings from the United States and its key Asian treaty allies. North Korea further said it will conduct another launch "as soon as possible."
During the meeting, the three defense leaders also "strongly condemned" North Korea's recent launch of what it called a space launch vehicle. They characterized the launch as a "serious violation" of multiple UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit any launches involving ballistic missile technologies. The defense leaders expressed their commitment to respond decisively and in closer coordination with each other and the international community in light of this launch.
The three defense leaders notably "stressed the importance of the rule of law and expressed strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo by force or coercion and increase tensions in the region" in a joint press statement issued following the meeting.
They also "emphasized the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait" in an apparent message to China. The discussions took place during the meeting held on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, which has been overshadowed by tensions between the US and China concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Lee and Austin also held a 10-minute "pull-aside meeting," which marked their first encounter since January, prior to the commencement of the trilateral meeting, the unnamed official said.
Both sides discussed how the South Korean Defense Ministry and the US Department of Defense can take substantial steps to implement the Washington Declaration signed by the presidents of the two countries during the April 26 summit.
Lee and Austin notably also agreed to conduct joint research on components of North Korea's rocket after South Korea completes its salvage operation in the West Sea of the Korean Peninsula.