Why Joe Biden’s Closing Ranks with Japan and South Korea Is So Unusual

For the first time ever, Joe Biden met with foreign dignitaries at the U.S. president’s country retreat. He not only agreed with Japanese and South Korean leaders about preparing for Chinese attack on Taiwan. He also prepared for a possible Republican presidential election victory.

It was the first time that Joe Biden had received foreign dignitaries at Camp David. The country retreat of U.S. presidents has made history as a place where Washington practices the art of sounding out what is possible in foreign relations. Now, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to closer security collaboration and direct consultation in crisis situations.

Biden’s choice of location gave historical significance to the summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. The world faces a turning point, the U.S. president emphasized, when democratic states have to assume a new form of leadership through collaboration and solidarity.

The trio avoided identifying by name the two powers that are among the drivers of this change. Neither China nor Donald Trump appear in the Camp David Principles. But it speaks volumes that the three leaders “reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” The passage, lies between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, a passage that China continues to abuse through provocative threats that all three governments take as a sign that Beijing is serious in its military claims to Taiwan.

At the same time, Biden, Yoon and Kishida explained that the principles they agreed upon are “the start of our new chapter” intended “to guide our trilateral partnership for years to come.” They are united in their conviction that “the Indo-Pacific is stronger when Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States stand as one.”

Underlying this pronouncement are Tokyo’s and Seoul’s attempts to establish a backstop in case Trump should return to the White House in the 2024 presidential election. During Trump’s administration, the Republican president provoked increasing instability in the region with his (completely useless) advances to North Korea. This destabilization was reinforced by his threats to withhold military support from South Korea.

With the trilateral agreement, Japan and South Korea are hoping to institutionalize security relations that will outlast a potential second Trump era. The fact that the two countries set aside their decades-long conflict over reparations for Koreans forced to labor for the Japanese in order to do so is another historical chapter that has been written at Camp David.

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