Historic Camp David summit strengthens U.S. relations with South Korea and Japan, condemns China and North Korea

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Joseph Kim
Joseph Kim
Program Manager, Global Policy and Expert-in-Residence
George W. Bush Institute

In a historic meeting, leaders of the United States, South Korea, and Japan met Aug. 18 at Camp David, the U.S. president’s Maryland retreat.

South Korea and Japan have had strained diplomatic relations dating back to Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945. Considering this complicated history, Camp David, which is known to be a forum to foster peace and reconciliation, was a perfectly fitting location to host the summit and mark a “new era” for the trilateral relationship, as President Joe Biden said.  

Why This Matters 

A primary outcome of the summit was a commitment by the U.S., Japan, and South Korea to promote and enhance peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the world by adhering to “international law, shared norms, and common values” in order to deter Chinese and North Korean aggression and belligerence, according to a release by the White House. 

The trilateral summit established the three nations in the case of North Korea’s provocation. The three countries also agreed to hold an annual trilateral joint military defense exercise to increase cooperation and counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. In one of the major outcomes for the North Korean people suffering at the hands of their regime, the three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to promote human rights in North Korea.  

Bottom Line 

For the United States, the summit was an important diplomatic success that brought two of its major democratic allies in Asia closer, in what Washington hopes will be an effective deterrent to its two major regional adversaries, China and North Korea.  

For China, a refined and strengthened U.S., South Korea, and Japan alliance adds more significant challenges to its ambitions to invade Taiwan and control the South China Sea. The strengthened trilateral military readiness will serve as a more credible deterrence against China’s attempts to rob Taiwan of its sovereignty.    

For North Korea, the trilateral summit will likely be perceived as another unwelcome U.S. maneuver aimed at threatening the ruling Kim regime. One of North Korea’s consistent demands is to end U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises. A double-down on military exercises on the Korean Peninsula with Japan’s additional forces is meant to signal to North Korea that its military forces will be quickly overmatched in any conventional conflict.  

If the three countries follow through with the commitments made at the Camp David summit, it could create lasting and enduring deterrence on China and North Korea’s aggression and significantly strengthen the security posture for the U.S. and its democratic allies.