Published: 10:52, August 17, 2023 | Updated: 13:02, August 17, 2023
US-Japan-ROK summit sparks security concerns
By Zhao Ruinan

US President Joe Biden (left) talks with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the ROK's President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) ahead of a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, May 21, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

The United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea are planning to initiate a series of joint projects in technology and defense during the leaders' meeting at Camp David on Friday, according to senior US administration officials, amid increasing concerns about the tense situation and regional divisions in Northeast Asia.

US President Joe Biden is set to host his Japanese and ROK counterparts for a trilateral summit at Camp David on Friday, the first time the three countries' leaders will meet at a stand-alone summit, not on the sidelines of a multilateral event.

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While the summit is unlikely to produce a formal security arrangement that commits the nations to each others' defense, they will agree to a "mutual understanding about regional responsibilities" and set up a three-way hotline to communicate in times of crisis, the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move would no doubt provoke Pyongyang, raising its concern over regional security. The DPRK will respond accordingly and, in this way, it becomes increasingly unlikely to resolve the Peninsula crisis through dialogue.

Li Nan, Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Zhan Debin, an international relations professor at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, said that Washington is deliberately further stirring up regional instability through the trilateral alliance.

The alliance between the three nations is evolving into a NATO-like mechanism, with a scope of cooperation that even surpasses that of the transatlantic alliance, Zhan said, adding that given US' leadership role in NATO, the establishment of this cooperative framework between the three nations would likely bolster their ties with NATO.

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"The key concern lies in the trilateral alliance's stance on regional division. By promoting exclusivity and presenting a formidable military threat, it raises concerns about the stability of the region."

He also pointed out that the location of this meeting carries political significance.

'Deliberate move'

"This trilateral meeting is being held at Camp David, a deliberate move by the US to highlight the importance of this meeting. Historically, some important decisions and meetings have taken place at this venue, making the US-Japan-ROK meeting a significant event."

Yoon Suk-yeol, president of the ROK, expressed on Tuesday his eagerness for stronger trilateral security cooperation with Tokyo and Washington, in a Liberation Day address commemorating the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

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The relationship between Japan and the ROK has improved since President Yoon's administration decided to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor without seeking contributions from Japanese businesses. However, this decision has faced opposition and triggered protests in Seoul.

Li Nan, a researcher specializing on the Korean Peninsula at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed concern that the "institutionalization" of the trilateral alliance would intensify the polarization in Northeast Asia.

"The move would no doubt provoke Pyongyang, raising its concern over regional security. The DPRK will respond accordingly and, in this way, it becomes increasingly unlikely to resolve the Peninsula crisis through dialogue."

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Tension would skyrocket if Washington continued to apply its "America first, alliance first" Cold War thinking in meddling in regional issues, Li said.

Meanwhile, Seoul's sentiment toward Japan is contradictory and distorted.

When Yoon made his speech and called Japan a partner sharing universal values and pursuing common interests, the ROK Foreign Ministry expressed regret as Japanese politicians visited a war shrine that symbolizes Japan's militaristic past on the anniversary of the country's surrender in World War II.

"The Tokyo-Seoul relations are inherently fragile, and there are not many things the US could do as a mediator. This could potentially plant a time bomb for a future trilateral alliance," Li said.

Christopher Johnstone, a former Biden White House official now with Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, also told a briefing previewing the summit that progress remained fragile.

"In South Korea (the ROK), Yoon's efforts are still not widely popular. And in Japan, there's this constant refrain of skepticism that the improvement will be durable and that… a future (ROK) president could flip the table over again," he said.

Agencies contributed to this story.