Friday at Camp David, US Vice President Joe Biden and the leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to expand military and economic cooperation and issued their harshest condemnation to date of China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea. In an effort to project unity in the face of China’s rising power and North Korean nuclear threats, the Biden administration convened a summit with the principal US allies in Asia, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
In a summit statement, the three nations have agreed to coordinate their responses to regional challenges, provocations, and threats affecting shared interests and to consult promptly during crises. In addition, they agreed to conduct annual military drills and to share real-time information on North Korean missile launches by the end of 2023. The nations agreed to conduct annual trilateral summits.
The three nations cited the South China Sea arbitration award from July 2016 as the legal basis for the peaceful resolution of maritime conflicts in the region. The arbitral award issued by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China’s expansive South China Sea claim and reaffirmed Manila’s maritime rights. The award originated from the 2013 lawsuit filed by the Philippines against China. In their statement, the three nations voiced their concern over actions “inconsistent with the rules-based international order, which undermine regional peace and prosperity.”
Invoking their previous condemnations of China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea, the United States, Japan, and South Korea stated that they “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.”
“We are especially opposed to the militarization of reclaimed land, the use of hazardous coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and coercive activities. In addition, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing causes us concern. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), we reaffirm our firm commitment to international law, including the freedom of navigation and overflight.
Despite the fact that the political commitments fall short of a formal three-way alliance, they represent a courageous move by Seoul and Tokyo, which have a long history of animosity stemming from Japan’s harsh colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
The summit held at the presidential retreat in Maryland was the first conference between the United States, Japan, and South Korea to be held independently. It was made possible by a reconciliation initiated by Yoon and fueled by shared perceptions of threats posed by China, North Korea, and Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
The leaders’ stronger-than-anticipated language regarding China is likely to provoke a response from Beijing, a vital trading partner for both South Korea and Japan.
The spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, stated that the international community could determine who was increasing tensions.
“Attempts to cobble together various exclusionary groupings and bring bloc confrontation and military blocs into the Asia-Pacific will be met with vigilance and opposition from regional countries,” he said.
It was Biden’s first summit with foreign leaders at Camp David, and he remarked that the wooded venue had long represented “the power of new beginnings and possibilities.”
“If I appear happy, it’s because I am,” he said at a news conference with Kishida and Yoon, labeling it a “new era” for the three nations. “This has been a great, great meeting.”
Biden commended the leaders’ political fortitude in pursing reconciliation. He stated that they understood the world was “at a turning point, where we are called to lead in new ways, to collaborate, and to stand united.”
Critically, we have all agreed to consult with each other promptly in response to dangers to any of our countries, regardless of their origin, he said. This means that whenever there is a crisis in the region or affecting any of our countries, we will have a hotline to communicate information and coordinate our responses.
Biden stated, “Together, we will defend international law and oppose coercion.”
Without mentioning China by name, Kishida stated, “Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force continue in the East and South China Seas,” adding that the nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea was “only growing larger.”
Yoon stated that as a result of the summit agreement, “any provocations or attacks against any of our three countries will trigger a decision-making process of this trilateral framework, and our solidarity will become even stronger and more unyielding.”
Historical baggage is one of the reasons, according to US officials, why the three countries are not presently pursuing a mutual defense pact similar to the one Washington has with Seoul and Tokyo – which are not formal allies. Kurt Campbell, Biden’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, stated that the summit was the result of “a breathtaking kind of diplomacy” conducted by Yoon and Kishida, who had “sometimes gone against the advice of their own counselors and staff.”
Beijing had previously warned that efforts by the United States to strengthen ties with South Korea and Japan could “increase tension and confrontation in the region.” While South Korea, Japan, and the United States wish to avoid inciting Beijing, China believes the United States is attempting to isolate it diplomatically and militarily.
When asked about China’s accusations, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters that the objective was “explicitly not a NATO for the Pacific” and that a trilateral alliance was not an explicit objective. Aware of impending elections, the White House desires to make it difficult for South Korea and Japan to reverse their progress by institutionalizing routine cooperation across the board.
Biden, an 80-year-old Democrat seeking another four-year term in the 2024 presidential election, confronts a probable opponent in Republican former president Donald Trump, who has expressed skepticism regarding the benefits of Washington’s traditional military and economic alliances. South Korea will conduct legislative elections in 2020, and Japan will need to do the same by October 2025. The analysts’ view of a still fragile rapprochement between the two countries remains controversial among the electorates of both countries.
Koshikawa Kazuhiko, the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines, stated on Twitter that the three nations “strongly oppose China’s offensive acts of unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, in particular, the dangerous use of coast guard, maritime militia vessels, and coercive activities.”
Compliance with the 2016 Arbitral Award and the UNCLOS is crucial for the region, he said.
Source: PhilStar Global