US, South Korea and Japan Set to Forge Unprecedented Cooperation

August 18, 2023 by Kate Michael
US, South Korea and Japan Set to Forge Unprecedented Cooperation

CAMP DAVID, Md. — The U.S., South Korea and Japan are set to convene a historic trilateral summit at Camp David. This meeting, which experts believe marks a significant milestone in international relations, has garnered attention for its potential to reshape the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region. 

“This is something that a lot of us wouldn’t have thought possible … and maybe a brand new opportunity to do something that has historically been overlooked,” Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow of the foreign policy program at The Brookings Institution, said, as Rahm Emanuel, ambassador to Japan, Mira Rapp-Hooper, National Security Council senior director for East Asia and Oceania, and Kurt Campbell, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator, spoke at the D.C.-based public policy organization in advance of the meeting. 

“The work that will be on display on Friday is in large part due to the two people on either side of me, [Emmanuel and Rapp-Hooper],” Campbell said. He added that Emanuel “has set the mark on what it means to be a strategic ambassador,” while Rapp-Hooper “quietly and effectively has nurtured this trilateral relationship over the past couple of years.”

While historic issues have sometimes strained relationships in the countries leading up to this moment, recent months have seen diplomacy that defied expectations. Steps were taken to heal past wounds and foster new alliances, culminating in the leaders’ unprecedented visit to Camp David.

The symbolism of hosting this meeting at Camp David “signals … the importance that we attach to this momentous moment,” Campbell said.

“What you will see on Friday is a very ambitious set of initiatives that seek to lock in trilateral engagement both now and into the future,” emphasized Emanuel. 

In terms of security, technology and education, he said the realignment is “what we believe will be a defining trilateral relationship for the 21st century … seeking not just to lock in Japan and South Korea for the future, but the United States as well.”

Going beyond security concerns, it represents a commitment to comprehensive engagement, transcending territorial disputes and reflecting evolving cultural currents. The leaders acknowledge that certain irritants might persist, but the focus remains on building a stronger, more interconnected Indo-Pacific region.

“I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that things like territorial irritants are going to completely vanish,” Rapp-Hooper said, but the changing threat landscape in the Indo-Pacific has necessitated a new level of cooperation. “Structural forces in the Indo-Pacific have been shifting.”

Structural shifts and geopolitical challenges like the DPRK’s coercion and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have underscored the need for stronger collaboration. These events have overturned conventional notions of international politics and called for united efforts to counter emerging threats. 

“A number of fundamentally aligned values and interests have forged the foundation of this trilateral endeavor, aiming for a more secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Rapp-Hooper explained.

“I am extremely, pleasantly surprised at how committed leadership is in both of these countries to trilateral endeavors,” Campbell said of South Korea and Japan. “They see it as additive, as effective, and in many respects complementing their national strategy.”

Politically, said Emanuel, “a big change is that both leaders saw the opportunities of the 21st century rather than the challenges of the 20th century. And we, [the U.S.], gave them the confidence to extend themselves.”

As the tripartite summit unfolds, the Indo-Pacific witnesses a transformation of alliances, signaling a turning point in international relations. The commitment of the U.S., South Korea,and Japan to collaborate on security, technology and education, marks a historic step toward a more secure and prosperous future for the entire region with an aim to demonstrate that everyone benefits when cooperation triumphs over isolation.

“And our message is we’re a permanent Pacific power and presence — and you can bet long on America,” Emanuel said. 

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