• Kyodo

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Japan, South Korea and the United States said Monday they have signed a memorandum of understanding on the sharing and safeguarding of classified information about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The memorandum enables the defense ministries of Japan and South Korea to now share information through the U.S. Department of Defense in the absence of a formal intelligence-sharing accord between the two Asian nations.

“This arrangement is significant,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said in a statement. “How to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats is our common pressing security challenge.”

Japan hopes to obtain timely South Korean data on North Korean missile launches.

Noting the three-way arrangement “symbolizes the will of Japanese and South Korean defense authorities to build future-oriented bilateral relations,” Nakatani said Japan will try to make ties “more fruitful next year, the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-South Korea relations.”

Tokyo and Seoul lack a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which would provide a bilateral channel for the exchange of sensitive information on military affairs and prevent it from falling into the hands of a third country. Each, however, has such a pact with the U.S.

In 2012, Tokyo and Seoul came close to agreeing on a similar bilaterally deal but failed in the eleventh hour because of opposition in South Korea stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II.

Unlike a GSOMIA, the new arrangement is not legally binding. Japan and South Korea will only share information on the North’s nuclear and missile threats and the United States will serve as the hub.

In May, the defense ministers of Japan, South Korea and the United States agreed on the importance of creating a framework for sharing information.