South Korea, Japan, U.S. defense ministers strengthen security ties South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloy Austin in a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara at the Defence Ministry’s headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, on Sunday. [MINISTRY OF DEFENSE] Defense Ministers from South Korea, Japan and the U.S. have announced tighter cooperation in response to the escalating security instability in the Indo-Pacific region. The three countries will cooperate closely on the deterrence of North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat. According to the South Korean military, the mechanism of sharing information on North Korea’s missile launches in real time between the three countries is in its final stage and will be fully operational by next month. “The three ministers have agreed to work closely in achieving a complete denuclearization of North Korea according to the U.N. Security Council’s resolution,” the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Sunday. The ministers’ meeting is taking place against the backdrop of two major ongoing global wars — one between Ukraine and Russia, and Israel against the Palestinian militant group Hamas — as well as the continuing threats from North Korea, which has recently strengthened its alliance with Russia, and escalating tensions in the South China Sea. South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attended the meeting at the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Yongsan, central Seoul, while Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara attended via video conference. Secretary Austin, who arrived on Sunday, is on a three-day trip to Seoul. The U.S. Defense Secretary’s schedule also includes a meeting with ministers from 17 U.N. Command member countries. The inaugural meeting was held to mark the 70th anniversary of the amnesty of the Korean War. According to the South Korean Defense Ministry, this is the first exclusive trilateral meeting between the defense ministers. The first exclusive economic ministers meeting took place in August. The Korean ministry noted that while there had been bilateral meetings as well as three-way meetings between the three countries, past meetings were held on the sidelines of other multilateral discussions such as the Asean Defense Ministers Meeting. The Korean military said the latest meeting indicates stronger security ties among the three countries, which has been built up since the summit between President Yoon Suk Yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden in August at Camp David, which was the first of its kind. “This meeting is a follow-up to the agreement made by the three heads of state during their meeting at Camp David,” said a ministry official. “It is an agreement to increase communication between the three countries and to hold an annual meeting exclusively between the defense ministers of the three countries.” The security cooperation between the three countries, which was considered to have weakened during the previous administration, and was restored with President Yoon and Prime Minster Kishida reinstating the intelligence exchange between the two countries. Amid escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan, the General Security of Military Information Agreement, which was first signed in November 2016, was halted in 2019 by the incumbent Moon Jae-in and Abe Shinzo governments. South Korea and the U.S.’s top military brass are also expected to further discuss the regional security threatened by North Korea during a Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Monday. It was reported earlier that the two defense chiefs are to discuss the suspension of the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, on Monday. The military agreement between the two countries, often referred to as the “Sept. 19” agreement in South Korea, outlined the reducing of military exercises, including propaganda, to ease tensions on the Peninsula. However, Minister Shin during the annual National Assembly audit on Oct. 27 told lawmakers that North Korea has violated the agreement close to 3,600 times in the past five years. The minister said North Korea had already fired 110 artillery shells into the military buffer zone in the Yellow Sea. And on more than 3,400 occasions North Korea opened its gun barrels and portholes, which again violated the agreement. Threats from North Korea have recently increased since its leader Kim met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 13 at the spaceport Vostochny Cosmodrome. The meeting, which was the first in four years between the two leaders, was held at a time when Russia was reportedly running out of ammunition in its war with Ukraine, which has been continuing for the second year. Since the meeting took place, intelligences from Seoul and Washington have found that Pyongyang supplied ammunition to Moscow. In exchange, Moscow has been supplying military technologies including missiles and spy satellites. North Korea has failed twice in successfully launching its spy satellite into orbit this year. It is planning a third attempt, which was previously believed to have happened in October. The exchanges between the two are a clear violation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution. A similar message was relayed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit last week. Blinken, who was in Seoul for two days from Wednesday, condemned the “two-way street” arms deal between North Korea and Russia. “It’s a real concern for the security of the Korean Peninsula, it’s a real concern for global nonproliferation regimes, it’s a real concern for the Russian aggression in Ukraine and a real concern for its violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Blinken said on Thursday during a press conference in Seoul. He also added that the U.S. and Korean government are closely watching “any signs of exchange of weapons or military strategy between Hamas and North Korea.” Later this week, President Yoon will depart for San Francisco to attend the APEC summit, where he will meet with U.S. President Biden and hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first in a year. BY LEE HO-JEONG []

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