Japan, U.S., S. Korea to Expand Defense, Economic Cooperation, With China in Mind

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol depart following a joint press conference during the trilateral summit at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland, U.S., August 18, 2023.

CAMP DAVID, Md. — The leaders of Japan, the United States and South Korea have made clear their intention to enhance cooperation in the fields of defense and economic security, amid China’s increasingly hegemonic actions.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed the need for such measures during talks at Camp David near Washington on Friday.

Traditionally, the three-party framework has focused on formulating a joint response vis-a-vis North Korea, but this time around, the country heads agreed to expand their focus to the Indo-Pacific region.

The joint statement released following the summit incorporates a wide range of steps for boosting cooperation among the three nations.

‘Geopolitical competition’

The statement notes that the three countries are “at a hinge point of history,” citing “geopolitical competition” as the primary reason for the situation, ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and nuclear provocations.

The document states, “This is a moment that requires unity and coordinated action from true partners,” an expression likely referring to China, which has fiercely been vying for the hegemony with the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific region.

The text specifically references China over its aggressive maritime activities in the South China Sea, saying, “we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.”

The centerpiece of the three-countries’ defense-related cooperation is the planned enhancement of joint exercises among the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. and South Korean forces. The joint statement says the three nations “intend to hold annual, named, multi-domain trilateral exercises on a regular basis.” The three allies are expected to specify the exercises’ operational names and carry out anti-ballistic missile drills, in addition to other exercises in a variety of fields, including addressing cyber-related threats.

Information sharing

The statement also stresses the significance of information sharing and message alignment.

The three nations, which already have a highly confidential information-sharing system, intend to further improve the communication mechanisms.

Regarding information sharing in the event of a contingency, the joint statement states, among other things, “We announce our governments’ commitment to consult with each other in an expeditious manner.” A separate document that focuses on the commitment has also been prepared.

To counter China, the three countries also plan to build a new framework to help Southeast Asian countries and Pacific island nations improve their maritime security capabilities, and establish a new trilateral working group to combat North Korean cyber-attacks, according to the document.

The statement also outlines planned new measures to deepen cooperation in the field of economic security, also with China in mind.

To help stabilize global supply chains for semiconductors and other products, the three nations are “committed to working closely together to launch early warning system pilots to expand information sharing and enhance policy coordination on possible disruptions to global supply chains,” the document says.

The text also reveals that relevant officials of the three nations will start discussions to “prevent the cutting-edge technologies we develop from being illegally exported or stolen abroad,” apparently in an effort to prevent such technologies from outflowing to China.

Talks with North Korea

The document also states that Tokyo, Washington and Seoul “remain committed to reestablishing dialogue” with North Korea “with no preconditions,” indicating that the door remains open for dialogue with Pyongyang.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mentioned relations with China at a press conference after the talks, saying, “We’ll say what has to be said and strongly press [China] to take responsible actions, while steadily continuing with dialogue. We’re committed to building a constructive and stable relationship [with Beijing].”