1 of 6 | United States President Joe Biden smiles as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands at the Trilateral Summit at Camp David in Maryland on Friday. Photo by Nathan Howard/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 18 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden hosted a summit at Camp David Friday, bringing together the leaders of Japan and South Korea in an effort to heal old wounds and unite the frayed allies in response to increasing military threats in Southeast Asia.
The summit got underway at 11 a.m., with Biden sitting down with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for about 4 hours in a first-ever trilateral meeting between the world powers, the White House said.
The three leaders emerged from the private chat after 3 p.m. and held a joint press conference ahead of Biden's expected departure to Reno, Nev., for a vacation on Lake Tahoe.
"Mr. Prime Minster, Mr. President, it's an honor to welcome you both here today to inaugurate the Camp David trilateral between our three nations, among our three nations. It's not only the first summit I've hosted at Camp David, it's the first standalone summit between the leaders of Japan and Republic of Korea and the United States and I can think of no better way to mark our new chapter of our trilateral cooperation than meeting here at Camp David," Biden told reporters.
"Strengthening the ties between our democracies has long been a priority for me dating back to when I was vice president of the United States. That's because our countries are stronger and the world is safer, let me say that again, our countries are stronger and the world will be as we stand together and I know that this is a belief we all three share," Biden continued.
The leaders announced they had agreed to an annual leaders' meeting to share assessments on a range of strategic issues and to discuss opportunities for further trilateral cooperation.
Also among the agreements reached at the summit was what is being called a "Commitment to Consult," in which the three nations agree to consult with one another regarding any possible responses to regional provocations or threats.
And the parties all agreed to initiate an annual Indo-Pacific Dialogue focused on coordinating implementation of their Japan and South Korea's Indo-Pacific approaches, with a particular emphasis on partnership with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries.
President Yoon thanked his host and emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership.
"I would like to extend my gratitude to President Biden for his warm hospitality," said Yoon.
"At this symbolic venue of Camp David in the history of modern diplomacy our trilateral partnership is opening a new chapter which carries great significance in my view. President Roosevelt once stated, 'freedom is not given but something you fight to win.' To make sure that each of our freedoms is neither threatened or damaged our three nations must tighten our solidarity," said Yoon.
Prime Minister Kishida started his remarks by expressing his condolences for the loss of life caused by the recent wildfires in Hawaii.
"First of all, I would like to express my sympathy once again for the devastating damages caused by the wildfires in Maui, Hawaii. In order to provide relief to the affected people, Japan has decided to offer a total of around $2 million of support," Kishida said.
"May I also once again offer my heartfelt condolences for the passing of away of President Yoon's father," Kishida continued.
Kishida also drew attention to the security challenge posed by North Korea.
"The international community is at a turning point in history. In order to allow the potential of our trilateral strategic cooperation to bloom and to blossom. I wish to take this moment to raise the security coordination between Japan, ROK and the U.S. to new heights while strengthening the coordination between the Japan-U.S. and U.S. ROK alliances as we deepen our cooperation in response to North Korea I wish to expand and deepen our collaboration in extensive areas including economic security such as critical and emerging technology cooperation and supply chain resilience," Kishida said.
The summit marks the first time any foreign dignitaries have visited Camp David since 2015, and comes as the United States and South Korea prepare to hold joint military drills next week as North Korea was threatening to test another ballistic missile.
The annual defense exercise -- known as the Ulchi Freedom Shield -- includes live field maneuvers, computer-simulated exercises and civil defense drills, and will be conducted over ten days starting Aug. 21.
The thaw in relations between Japan and South Korea comes in the face of growing nuclear threats from North Korea and an increasingly assertive China, which have escalated provocations throughout the Indo-Pacific in recent months.
Biden met previously with Kishida and Yoon in May on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, where they reaffirmed commitments to settling tensions in the region as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin were forming a tighter alliance amid the war in Ukraine.
At the time, Biden and Kishida agreed to continue supporting Ukraine against Russia and committed to work more closely to address regional security challenges, including North Korea's nuclear program and actions by China that continued to flout international law.
Washington has long been pushing for closer cooperation among its allies in the region in light of a shifting balance of power across the globe, and Xi vowing to take steps toward "reunification" with Taiwan during his third term, which started in March.
Trilateral defense and intelligence-sharing activities have ramped up in recent months, with Biden signing strategic agreements with several Asian nations while shoring up military installations in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
In July, North Korea and China reaffirmed their alliance in a high-level meeting in Pyongyang, in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted a Chinese delegation led by politburo member Li Hongzhong.
Since the meeting, Kim has vowed to make "stronger military offensives" against the United States, while backing up the threat by continuing to test-fire missiles in the region.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the upcoming summit as a "new era" of cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, saying the alliance would serve as a "force multiplier for good" and "promote peace and stability" in Southeast Asia, while the U.S. was committed to "the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
"Together, the leaders will have an opportunity to discuss and to strengthen practical cooperation on a variety of shared priorities, from physical security to economic security, for humanitarian assistance to development finance, from global health to critical and emerging technologies," he said.
Tensions between Seoul and Tokyo emerged earlier this week as Japan held memorial services to mark 78 years since Japan's surrender in the war. The South Korean government criticized Kishida after he sent a "masakaki" offering to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo -- a controversial site that glorifies military figures who committed atrocities during World War II.
Seoul called for "responsible figures in Japan to face history squarely and to demonstrate humble reflection and genuine remorse for the past."
Overall relations between the Asian powers, however, were showing signs of improvement after decades of tensions due to unresolved political clashes, territorial disputes, and Japan's refusal to compensate for forced colonial labor during the war.
In late June, Japan and South Korea held an economic summit for the first time since 2016, agreeing to reestablish currency exchanges in a further sign of reconciliation between the allies after Japan said it would reinstate South Korea to its "white list" of preferred trade partners after a four-year absence.