Biden brings South Korean and Japanese leaders to Camp David
President Joe Biden is continuing his charm offensive with the leaders of Japan and South Korea by hosting them Friday for a summit at Camp David – the first time he’s entertained leaders at the woodsy presidential retreat. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President President Yoon Suk-yeol arrived separately by helicopter Friday morning and then were driven on golf carts to a photo-op with Biden, in front of the iconic brown Camp David sign. The leaders are expected to sign a new security pledge, agreeing to consult one another should a crisis arise in the Pacific, a plan that China roasted as forming ‘exclusive groups and cliques’ and comes as North Korea is expected to test a new round of missiles. ‘I want to thank you both for your political courage that brought you here and I’m looking forward to us having a great meeting but continuing these meetings,’ Biden said at the top of the summit.
He also noted how that ‘it’s not only the first summit I’ve hosted at Camp David it’s the first ever standalone summit’ between the leaders of Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States. ‘And I can think of no better way, no better way, to mark our new chapter of our trilateral cooperation than meeting here at Camp David,’ Biden said. Both Yoon and Kishida mentioned the historic location. ‘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,’ Yoon said, through a translator. Kishida called Camp David ‘a place of history.’ The fact that we, the three leaders, have got together in this way I believe means that we are indeed making a new history as of today,’ the Japanese leader said.
Earlier Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pushed back at Chinese criticism that the trilateral summit will only make relations more tense, by promoting ‘bloc confrontation’ in the region. ‘It’s explicitly not a NATO for the Pacific,’ Sullivan said. ‘We’ve said that, we will continue to underscore that and so will both Japan and Korea.’ Sullivan noted that the summit – and the agreements that come out of it – is a natural progression to what Biden started directly after being sworn-in, as he’s made gestures to play up the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with the two Asian powers. ‘In many ways the summit has been in the making since the day that President Biden took office,’ Sullivan said Friday morning, previewing the trip from Camp David. ‘He has really focused on each of these relationships, each of these alliances, the bilateral relationship we have with Japan and with Korea and then, of course, the trilateral cooperation among the three of us,’ Sullivan said.
As COVID got better, Biden’s April 2021 meeting with then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was his first in-person bilateral meeting held at the White House. His second was a month later with then Korean President Moon Jae-in. Last May, Biden’s first trip to Asia as president started with a stop in South Korea, to meet with the newly elected Yoon. He then headed to Tokyo for facetime with Kishida, who came into office in October 2021. Biden then had Yoon at the White House for his second state dinner as president in April. That night was marked by Yoon showing off his singing skills, belting the lyrics of American Pie, while guests that included actress Angelina Jolie, her son Maddox and hope improvement powerhouses Chip and Joanna Gaines looked on.
Biden returned to Japan this May when Hiroshima – and all of its nuclear history – became the site for the annual G7 meeting, in which a surprise visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the Russian invasion the top topic, over any Indo-Pacific concerns. He saw Yoon at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania last month. ‘We’ve had a combined 150 years of alliance cooperation,’ Sullivan pointed out Friday, skipping over the fact that the U.S. and Japan being on opposing sides during World War II, and Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. ‘So this is – in that sense, the work that we are doing with these two countries – is not new. What is new is that we are now stitching all of that work together to try to enhance regional stability and security,’ Sullivan said.
Prior to the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Friday that, ‘The international community has its own judgment as to who is creating contradictions and increasing tensions.’ ‘Attempts to form various exclusive groups and cliques and to bring bloc confrontation into the Asia-Pacific region are unpopular and will definitely spark vigilance and opposition in the countries of the region,’ Wang said. Sullivan pushed that the Camp David summit ‘is not against anyone, it is for something.’ ‘It is for a vision of the Indo-Pacific that is free, open, secure and prosperous,’ he said. ‘If you look at the deliverables, if you look at the joint statement, if you look at the principles that are coming out of today, they are not taking aim at a country, they are taking at an affirmative vision for how we can deliver results for the peoples of our countries but also for people across the Pacific,’ Sullivan added.
The summit marks the first time Camp David has been used for a foreign leader visit since 2015, after former President Donald Trump’s plans to hold a G7 summit at the Maryland mountain refuge in 2020 was scrapped by the coronavirus pandemic. Trump had also floated using Camp David for a meeting with Taliban leaders as he tried to pull the U.S. out of the conflict in Afghanistan. Prior to Trump, President Barack Obama had used Camp David in May of 2015 to host the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations amid nuclear talks with Iran. It was first used to host foreign leaders during World War II, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill strategized with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the refuge, then known as ‘Shangri-La.’
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