Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed Saturday to launch a system that will allow information about North Korean missiles to be shared in real-time by the end of this year, amid Pyongyang's repeated ballistic missile tests.
In a joint statement issued following their talks on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Lee Jong Sup, said they will "make further progress" toward making the new system operational "over the next few months."
The first talks between the three countries' defense ministers since June last year took place on the fringes of the three-day summit in the Southeast Asian city-state, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which began Friday.
The planned information-sharing system will enable the three nations to detect and track projectiles fired by the North more accurately and swiftly, and will be "a major step for deterrence, peace and stability," the statement said.
The ministers also pledged to hold three-way missile defense drills, alongside anti-submarine drills, on a regular basis in response to North Korea's actions, as well as to act as a deterrent.
Japan and South Korea will share real-time information via the United States, since the two U.S. security allies in East Asia do not have a direct communication mechanism established.
Washington has a system that is linked with Tokyo and Seoul individually for tracking Pyongyang's missiles from launch to impact.
The envisaged framework "will improve each country's ability to detect and assess the threat of North Korean missiles," Hamada told reporters after the trilateral gathering, adding that details are still being worked out.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed at a meeting in Cambodia last November to share North Korean missile warning data in real-time.
Their defense chiefs held talks after a North Korean military reconnaissance satellite launch failed on Wednesday, with the three countries saying the operation would likely have used ballistic missile technology, which violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said that "serious defects" appeared in an engine of the rocket carrying the satellite after the launch, and admitted it flew abnormally.
As Pyongyang has pledged to make another attempt "as soon as possible," and its pre-declared launch window from May 31 to June 11 has yet to end, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul remain on guard over possible further launches.
During the talks, Austin reaffirmed his nation's "steadfast alliance commitments" to Japan and South Korea, which are "backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear," according to the statement.
Since the start of last year, North Korea has frequently carried out missile tests, with fears lingering that it may be preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, the first since September 2017.
The three nations have been beefing up their security cooperation against the backdrop of a recent rapprochement between Japan and South Korea after Yoon took office in May last year.
Besides North Korea, the three defense ministers reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, where China's military activities have been intensifying, and expressed their strong opposition to any unilateral attempts to alter the status quo, by force or coercion.
Also on Saturday, Hamada and Austin held a separate trilateral meeting with their Australian counterpart Richard Marles in Singapore, vowing to increase the number of joint exercises conducted by their forces, as well as expand their activities, according to a joint statement.