(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 6-7, 17; RECONSTRUCTS)
By Chae Yun-hwan
SINGAPORE, June 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed Saturday to operate a system to share North Korean missile warning data in real time "within this year," Seoul's defense chief said, in another move to beef up trilateral cooperation against Pyongyang's growing military threats.
Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup made the remarks after he met trilaterally with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Yasukazu Hamada, respectively, on the margins of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, amid renewed tensions over the North's botched yet defiant launch of a purported space rocket earlier this week.
"While actively implementing the agreed-upon measures between the leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan, the three countries agreed to elevate security cooperation to another level," he told reporters, referring to the agreement from a trilateral summit in Cambodia last November.
"Especially regarding the real-time sharing of North Korean missile warning data, we decided to connect the respective information sharing systems -- one run between South Korea and the United States and the other between Japan and the United States -- and operate the combined one within this year," he added.
For this, the three countries will hold working-level talks at an early date, he said.
The warning data includes a missile's launch point, flight trajectory and expected point of impact, a Seoul official told reporters, requesting anonymity.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is expected to serve as an intermediary to enable the three-way sharing of the data, he said.
The three countries have been working on the data sharing method in line with an agreement that President Yoon Suk Yeol and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida, respectively, reached during their summit in Cambodia last November.
Seoul's defense ministry said Saturday's agreement was reached in an effort to enhance each country's ability to detect and assess North Korean missiles.
"The three ministers discussed progress under way through working-level talks on technical issues, and affirmed that this is an important procedure for deterrence, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the region," it said in a statement.
Currently, the real-time sharing of missile warning data is occurring between the South Korean military and the U.S. Forces Korea, and between the Japan Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Forces Japan, while South Korea and Japan do not have a similar direct mechanism, given that they are not treaty allies.
In line with last year's summit agreement, the three countries have been working on procedures for a real-time data-sharing method among the three nations based on a trilateral information sharing arrangement signed in 2014.
In their talks, Lee, Austin and Hamada "strongly condemned" the North's launch this week, which they described as a "long-range ballistic missile," the ministry said.
"(They) strongly condemned North Korea's recent long-range ballistic missile launch -- under the guise of a so-called satellite -- as a grave violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban any launches using ballistic missile technology," it said. "With the enhancing of trilateral cooperation, they agreed to sternly respond in cooperation with the international community."
They also urged the North to immediately stop "reckless" acts that create "tensions" on the Korean Peninsula and comply with the resolutions.
The trio agreed to regularly hold defensive exercises, such as anti-submarine and maritime missile defense exercises, and reaffirmed an agreement to swiftly resume maritime interdiction and anti-piracy exercises as agreed during working-level talks in April, it said.
The three sides plan to create an annual plan on such drills so that they are "predictable" and can be operated "efficiently," the official said.
The ministers expressed "strong opposition" to unilateral action that creates tension in the region and changes to the status quo through "force or coercion," saying they stand together with Ukraine in the ongoing war against Russian invaders, while stressing the importance of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait.
Trilateral cooperation has gained traction in the wake of Pyongyang's saber-rattling earlier this year, including the firing of a purported solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile in April. Last year, the regime fired an unprecedented number of missiles.