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Biden strengthens three-way Japan-South Korea ties in gesture to China

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US President Joe Biden has set to unveil a fresh wave of security collaboration during an unprecedented trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea, aiming to signal solidarity against China’s expressed dissatisfaction.

The unique summit, taking place at the Camp David retreat in the Washington mountains, marks a remarkable shift. The two US allies, long at odds due to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, are now turning a new leaf. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, taking significant political risks domestically, has defused a historical dispute, embracing Japan as a partner amid escalating tensions with China and North Korea.

Expected to be announced during the summit are the establishment of a three-way crisis hotline, regular joint military exercises, and an annual trilateral summit, all intended to institutionalize their cooperation and progress.

Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, emphasized, “We have created something that is exactly what China was hoping would never happen.” He reaffirmed America’s enduring presence in the Pacific and its ascendant power.

China’s assertive actions, both regionally and domestically under President Xi Jinping, have soured its favorability in Japan and South Korea. The summit is anticipated to address real-time data sharing concerning North Korea’s missile activity. South Korean intelligence even suggested a potential intercontinental ballistic missile test coinciding with the summit.

Beyond regional matters, the trilateral collaboration also extends to supporting Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, marking a shift in focus for Japan and South Korea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized it as a “new era in trilateral cooperation.”

The summit signifies the convergence of leaders from the three countries outside the framework of a larger summit, marking a diplomatic milestone since the 2015 event at Camp David, which is renowned for its role in Middle East peace efforts.

Despite potential reversals by future leaders, efforts are being made to solidify the trilateral initiatives. Kurt Campbell, responsible for Asia policy at the White House, emphasized the intention to embed this cooperation deeply within politics to deter any leader from reversing course.

The summit’s positive reception in both South Korea and Japan demonstrates the alignment of core values and interests, providing impetus for further collaboration. South Korean President Yoon, a conservative, has garnered swift support from the US and could continue to make strides in cooperation with Japan.

In light of constitutional limitations preventing President Yoon from seeking reelection after 2027, the focus is on securing institutionalization to mitigate the risk of a reversal should a less accommodating successor emerge.

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