President Hosts ‘Historic’ Trilateral Meeting With Japanese, Philippines Leaders

April 12, 2024 by Dan McCue
President Hosts ‘Historic’ Trilateral Meeting With Japanese, Philippines Leaders
President Joe Biden, center, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pose before a trilateral meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippines President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to the White House Thursday afternoon for a trilateral meeting he called the beginning of a “new era of partnership” in the Indo-Pacific.

With that, however, Biden wasted no time in turning to the concerns of the moment, the growing, provocative Chinese military activity in the region.

“I want to be clear, the United States’ defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad,” he said. 

“They are ironclad,” he repeated with emphasis. 

“Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” he said.

Biden’s statement marked the second day in a row that he led with military concerns as he appeared beside Kishida. He made essentially the same commitment on Wednesday, when the two appeared together for a Rose Garden press conference.

And just as he did during the press conference, he followed his initial remarks by emphasizing a commitment to work with his regional partners to deal with climate change and foster future partnerships in clean energy, technology and closer economic ties in the region.

“A great deal of history in our world will be written in the Indo-Pacific in the coming years,” Biden said.

“Together with our steadfast partners, we are committed to writing that story together, and building an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, prosperous and secure for all,” he said.

The gathering of the three leaders and a retinue of officials from all three governments in the East Room of the White House came a day after Biden held one-on-one talks with Kishida in the Oval Office and toasted the Japanese leader with a glitzy state dinner.

On Thursday, the president also hosted Marcos for a private meeting at the White House ahead of the late afternoon trilateral that brought together three countries that have sometimes had complicated relations over the past several decades if not centuries.

Now, however, they share a common concern. What to do if Chinese leader Xi Jinping attempts to follow through on his vow to bring Taiwan, long a thorn in communist China’s side, under Beijing’s control.

The Taiwan Relations Act obligates Washington to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion. If that happened, Japan and the Philippines, both of whom are also defense treaty allies of the U.S., would no doubt play significant roles. 

In a call with reporters ahead of Thursday’s talks, administration officials, speaking on background, said the leaders were expected to conclude their meeting by announcing their respective coast guards will hold a joint patrol in the Indo-Pacific this year.

A similar drill was carried out by several regional law enforcement entities last year.

In addition it is expected the president will announce that the U.S. Coast Guard will also welcome Filipino and Japanese coast guard members onto one of its vessels for training during the patrol.

“When we stand as one we are able to forge a better peace for all,” the president said before the meeting began.

As the White House pool entered the East Room Thursday ahead of the actual talks, the three leaders were seated at separate tables with members of their delegations. Biden sat with his back to the wall dominated by a large portrait of George Washington, while Marcos sat at the table to his right and Kishida to his left.

“We meet today as friends and partners bound by a shared vision and pursuit of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Marcos said in English after thanking the president for hosting the meeting. 

“It is a partnership born not out of convenience, nor of expediency, but as a natural progression of a deepening relation and robust cooperation amongst our three countries, linked by a profound respect for democracy, good governance and the rule of law,” he said. 

“Today’s historic summit is a culmination of several preparatory engagements between our foreign ministries, our national security advisors and our vice ministers, as well as the conduct of trilateral maritime exercises and joint development cooperation. But this meeting can be just a beginning,” Marcos continued. 

“Facing the complex challenges of our time requires concerted efforts on everyone’s part, a dedication to a common purpose and an unwavering commitment to the rule-based international order,” he said.

“Today’s summit is an opportunity to define the future that we want and how we intend to achieve it together,” Marcos said.

Kishida, speaking in Japanese, expressed “deep gratitude” to Biden for bringing the first ever trilateral summit among the three nations to pass, and he warmly greeted Marcos, whom he’d only met for the first time last December.

“What a pleasure it is to see you once again,” he said. 

“In the midst of a compound crisis faced by the global community, multi-layered cooperation between allies and like-minded countries is essential if we are to maintain and bolster a free and open international order based on the rule of law,” Kishida said. “Today’s meeting will make history as an occasion that significantly pushed forward such an initiative. 

“Japan, the U.S. and the Philippines are maritime nations connected by the Pacific Ocean and are natural partners,” he continued. “We share fundamental values and principles and have supported regional economic development. 

“In order to secure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, I hope to reaffirm our intention to further strengthen trilateral cooperation and to present the specific way forward through today’s meeting,” Kishida said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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