WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Joe Biden brokered a series of trilateral defense initiatives with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David on Friday as the two U.S. allies move past decades of strained relations.
The agreements between the three countries include annual trilateral military exercises, ballistic missile defense cooperation and shoring up the security of defense supply chains. The U.S. has worked to reconcile Japan and South Korea for well over a decade as it seeks to bolster its alliances in Asia to counter China and contain North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“We’re elevating our trilateral defense collaboration to deliver in the Indo-Pacific region,” Biden said. “This is not about a day, a week or month. This is about decades and decades of relationships that we’re building.”
The leaders and some of their top cabinet officials agreed to meet at least once a year — in the hope that their commitments will outlast their time in office. The summit marked the first time Biden has hosted foreign leaders at the president’s country residence Camp David, intended to be a symbol of its importance. Indeed, the statement released — titled “The Spirit of Camp David” — calls this moment a “hinge point of history.”
Biden announced the three countries would establish a security hotline to consult with each other, and a joint statement announced “annual, named, multi-domain trilateral exercises on a regular basis.” This would include air, land, sea, undersea and cyber components.
The statement is full of the three countries’ future commitments, likely in response to the two U.S rivals it names. The first is China, whose maritime claims in the South China Sea it describes as “dangerous and aggressive.” China has increased its military drills around the island nation of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. The statement calls for “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. regularly conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and has sought to deepen military cooperation with its Southeast Asian partners who have overlapping claims in the disputed region.
The second country invoked in the statement is North Korea, whose “unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches” continue to rattle its neighbor to the south and Japan. The three countries “remain committed to re-establishing dialogue” with Pyongyang with no preconditions, according to the statement. Thus far, North Korea has declined invitations for detente.
The U.S. reaffirmed its extended deterrence commitments to both countries, and the three allies vowed that by the end of the year they would begin sharing data regarding North Korean missile launches.
“We are committed to pursuing enhanced ballistic missile defense cooperation to counter [North Korean] nuclear and missile threats,” the statement read.
The three countries will also collaborate more closely on supply chain security, which includes several vulnerable areas of the defense-industrial base that are often contingent on Chinese-dominated markets. These include critical minerals, batteries, semiconductors, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
They plan to expand information sharing and launch early warning systems to combat major supply chain disruptions as well as “better prepare us to confront and overcome economic coercion.”
The Biden administration and Congress have sought to lessen China’s influence over critical minerals like cobalt, which is needed to produce batteries and hard-target penetrators for the military.
The U.S. has also sought to onshore semiconductor production, fearful that a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan could upend a global shortage as most microelectronics are produced in east Asia.
Additionally, the Biden administration has convinced Japan to mirror sweeping U.S. export controls on semiconductor technology to China. The U.S. hopes this will hobble China’s AI weapons development and military quantum computing, though this also impacts civilian use for the technology such as weather forecasting and vaccine development. The joint statement vows to “strengthen trilateral cooperation on export controls.”
The three leaders also reaffirmed their support for aiding Ukraine “against Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war of aggression.”
“We believe the lasting lesson from this catastrophic war of aggression must be the international community’s abiding will to uphold the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” the statement read. “We reaffirm our view that when these foundational principles are rejected anywhere, they represent a threat to our region.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.