Biden hails ‘a new era in partnership’ as US, Japan and Korea announce ‘Camp David Principles’

The three-way summit is part of Mr Biden’s efforts to strengthen US alliances in the Indo-Pacific region

Andrew Feinberg
at Camp David in Thurmont, Maryland
Friday 18 August 2023 21:05 BST
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during the trilateral summit at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland, U.S., August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during the trilateral summit at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland, U.S., August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (REUTERS)

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Louise Thomas

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President Joe Biden said he, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol had completed a “great, great meeting” at “a historic place ... to make a historic moment” as the three leaders announced new joint security initiatives following a first-ever trilateral summit at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Mr Biden said he could not think of a more fitting location to begin the “next era of cooperation” between the US and two allies which have long been at odds despite each nation’s close ties with Washington, and pointed out that the site’s history “symbolises the power of new beginnings and new possibilities”.

“In the months and years ahead, we’re gonna continue to see those possibilities together, unwavering in our unity and unmatched in our resolve,” he said, adding that the new trilateral partnership would be “about decades and decades of relationships that we are building”.

The president also noted that the US, Japan and South Korea would be “elevating ... trilateral defence collaboration” to “unprecedented levels,” including by “doubling down on information sharing” about North Korean ballistic missile and cyber activities, “strengthening ballistic missile defence cooperation,” and committing to “swiftly consult with each other” in response to any threat to any of the countries by way of “a hotline to share information and coordinate our responses whenever there is a crisis in the region, or affecting any one of our countries”.

Mr Biden said the three leaders had also reaffirmed a “shared commitment” to countering Chinese aggression by acting “to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits and addressing economic coercion,” and continuing to counter threats from North Korea, such as that country’s “cryptocurrency money laundering” and “potential arms transfer in support of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine”.

A joint statement released by the three leaders laid out what they are calling the “Camp David Principles” and affirmed what they described as their “shared vision for our partnership as well as for the Indo-Pacific and beyond”.

The leaders said the trilateral partnership between the US, Japan and South Korea was one based on “ a bedrock of shared values, mutual respect, and a unified commitment to advance the prosperity of our three countries, the region, and the globe,” with an aim to “promote and enhance peace and stability throughout the region”.

Earlier in the day, Mr Biden had noted that the three-way confab was the “first-ever standalone summit between the leaders of Japan and Republican Korea and the United States” when the three leaders appeared for a brief availability with reporters. He also said that strengthening ties between the three democratic nations had “long been a priority” for him.

“Our countries are stronger and the world would be safer as we stand together,” he said, before thanking Mr Kishida and Mr Yoon for their courage in making the decision to thaw what has been an often-icy relationship between Tokyo and Seoul, due to longstanding tensions between the two countries as a result of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula during the Second World War.

Mr Yoon, who sported a blue lapel pin worn to commemorate Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, said the trilateral partnership between the US, Japan and his own country represented a “new chapter” that he views as having “great significance”.

He said Friday’s summit would be “remembered as a historic day, where we established a firm institutional basis and commitments to the trilateral partnership” and said he hoped the three-way confab would be an opportunity to “explore together ways to elevate cooperation between Korea, the US, and Japan to a new plane through in-depth discussions”.

For his part, Mr Kishida offered his Korean counterpart condolences on the recent death of his father and pointed out that he and Mr Yoon have been meeting each month for the last five months.

But the Japanese leader said the trilateral summit would be the start of “making a new history” at a time when the international community is “at a turning point”.

The Japanese and Korean leaders each arrived at the historic presidential retreat earlier on Friday by helicopter, with Mr Biden greeting them individually as they alighted from their aircraft.

Both leaders have met a number of times over the last several months in an effort to ease longstanding tensions between the two US allies, including old grievances dating back a century to the Japanese Empire’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

According to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on plans for the summit, the two Asian leaders have “taken further steps to reengage technologically, militarily and politically” at each of their previous meetings, receiving quiet encouragement from Mr Biden during respective bilateral engagements.

The official said Mr Kishida and Mr Yoon have both had to overcome “uncertainties” about the rapprochement, including “substantial” questions and opposition about their tentative steps towards deeper cooperation.

“There were some starts and stops along the way. But what we’ve seen over the course of the last several months is nothing short of courageous diplomacy on the part of President Yoon and matching efforts by Prime Minister Kishida,” the official said.

The successful completion of the summit marks a significant milestone in the president’s efforts to restore and strengthen America’s alliances after the tumultuous quadrennium of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

Since taking office, Mr Biden has sought to prioritise engagement with America’s Indo-Pacific allies and shore up relationships as a bulwark against China’s growing military power and influence in the region.

To that end, he said the US, Japan and South Korea would be launching new initiatives, including a “supply chain early-warning system” to alert each country’s leadership to “disruptions of certain products and materials, like critical minerals for batteries”.

He also said the three nations would enact “deepening cooperation between our development finance institutions, to mobilise more financing for quality infrastructure and secure communications technology”. Such a partnership would act as a counterweight to China’s efforts to dominate Fifth Generation mobile networks by flooding markets with cheap components from companies such as ZTE and Huawei, both of which have been found to embed spying backdoors in their equipment.

Mr Biden added that the three countries would launch “a new collaboration between our national laboratories” to “advance our science knowledge and technological capabilities together”.

He said the US, Japan and South Korea would “work in lockstep to set standards for safe, secure and trustworthy emerging technology, including artificial intelligence”.

While the intent of the new trilateral initiatives — to counter rising Chinese ambitions — was clear, Mr Biden told reporters that the summit meeting “was not about China”.

“Not to say we don’t share concerns about the economic coercion or heightened tensions caused by China, but this summit was really about our relationship with each other, and deepening cooperation across on entire range of issues that went well beyond just the immediate issues we raised,” he said. “It was about a more peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region ... that would benefit everyone living there, and around the world if we get it right”.

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