US-Japan-SKorea summit a coup for Biden but will detente last?
The United States and China have achieved what many deemed impossible – a historic meeting between US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol.
Mr Biden is hosting the first stand-alone meeting among the three countries at the Camp David presidential retreat in the US on Friday. It’s a diplomatic – but still tenuous – coup for the American leader.
South Korea and Japan are neighbours and old US allies, but they have never been friends.
Now, however, an increasingly assertive China has renewed US interest in East Asia. And it has brought together two countries who for decades have struggled to overcome deep historical grievances.
“I find the meeting at Camp David mind-blowing,” Dennis Wilder wrote on X. A professor at Georgetown University, Mr Wilder managed the Japan and South Korea relationship under former President George W Bush.
At that time, they could “barely get South Korean and Japanese leaders to meet with us in the same room,” he said.
In recent months, Mr Kishida and Mr Yoon have taken tentative steps to resolve their hostilities, and strengthen ties with Washington. This once-inconceivable alliance is driven by shared concerns – the biggest of which is China.
The meeting at Camp David – also the first time foreign leaders have visited the presidential retreat since 2015 – is an attempt to “signify and to demonstrate how seriously” Mr Biden takes the relationship between Japan and South Korea, according to a White House spokesman.
“The Camp David summit is truly historic, unimaginable until now, because the Seoul-Tokyo relationship was always fraught with historical disputes miring the two legs of the triangle,” says Duyeon Kim from the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for New American Security in Seoul.
“It’s an extremely rare opportunity for the three countries to propel their vision to the next level. They should seize it and push ahead boldly on even ambitious issues before presidential election cycles test or even strain the durability of their commitments.”