The just-concluded Camp David summit, which included South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is being interpreted in various colours by almost all stakeholders.
Whereas Beijing has reasons to see it as an indirect attempt at creating a Pacific Nato, the White House is overjoyed with this major political venture that has apparently brought Seoul and Tokyo together in the US camp. Following their landmark trilateral summit at Camp David, the leaders of South Korea, the United States, and Japan displayed palpable satisfaction. Among them, US President Joe Biden radiated a particularly pronounced contentment – a sentiment hardly surprising. Biden has succeeded in fostering reconciliation between Seoul and Tokyo, aligning their focus with Washington’s bid to curb Beijing’s influence both regionally and worldwide. This diplomatic feat undoubtedly bolsters Biden’s reelection aspirations, adding another feather to his cap of achievements to counter the rising tide of Donald Trump. Biden hopes that the three-way summit with leaders from America’s two strongest allies in Northeast Asia will lead to a unified trilateral bloc.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, striving to avoid relegation to a mere backseat in Asia’s dynamics, maintained a measured countenance during the summit. Outwardly, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol mirrored his counterparts, but hints of strain were perceptible. Understandably so, as Yoon shoulders the gravest political gamble within the trio. The intricacies of his situation are quite palpable: A significant proportion of his populace remains ambivalent about Seoul’s unilateral drift towards Tokyo, underscoring the formidable political tightrope he navigates.
Despite the ostensible attempts emanating from the White House to portray the Camp David summit as a successful milestone heralding peace and stability within the Korean peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region, the situation is quite different. This summit stands as a manifestation of a calculated endeavour to engender the inception of what can only be construed as a Pacific counterpart to Nato, orchestrated with the sole purpose of encircling and confining China.
President Biden’s strategic maneuvers during the summit offer ample grounds for suspicion. His persistent efforts to channel deliberations toward China, evident in both the discourse and the joint statement, suggest a calculated manipulation. It becomes increasingly apparent that Biden instrumentalized the spectre of the China threat to steer the participants’ collective narrative, thereby raising questions about the summit’s underlying motives. Amidst South Korea’s historical reluctance to openly designate China as a threat or aggressor in regional security dialogues, the Camp David summit yielded an unexpected outcome – a blunt call for the cessation of Beijing’s maritime and territorial assertions in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the leaders made a commitment to upholding ‘peace’ in the Taiwan Strait. While these proclamations may fall short of some form of an alliance, the amplified economic and military collaboration send a different message toward China.
This undercurrent suggests that South Korea and Japan are signaling their unwillingness to remain passive. Apparently, the Camp David summit outcomes might seem like a repackaged rendition of familiar rhetoric. Yet, a deeper analysis unveils a different narrative. Yoon and Kishida are trying to breathe new life into historically erratic diplomacy, with Biden propelling their efforts under his Indo-Pacific gaze.
A mix of consequential ramifications has eventually cascaded forth from this summit setting. Strangely, less limelight is cast upon the profound implications arising from the growing trilateral collaboration between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. This partnership’s reverberations extend to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, arenas that have lately burgeoned as theatres for geopolitical contestation.
Amidst the intricate interplay between China, the United States, and the latter’s web of allies and associates – comprising Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and beyond – these domains have witnessed a mounting tug of war, one overshadowed by the more conspicuous developments in East Asia. Amidst the grand theatrics and exuberant proclamations surrounding the summit’s promise, a notable void persists: the deliberate omission of the intricate underpinnings threading through these three nations and the broader region. Conspicuously absent is the historical hostility between South Korea and Japan.
Meanwhile, the conflicting strategic pursuits of these actors cast a shadow of doubt over the very viability of the trilateral alliance. This veneer of unity seems detached from the complex realities, raising suspicions about its longevity. Beyond the apparent, the existing reconciliation pact emerges as a hasty consequence of Washington’s strategic impetus to reconcile Tokyo and Seoul, aligning with its East Asian interests. Doubts run deep. Yoon’s growing intent to carve a role within Washington’s containment playbook against China not only contradicts his predecessor’s measured foreign approach but also opposes the broader public sentiment. Most recent surveys reveal that a significant majority of South Koreans do not support the notion of China as a foe and favour a nonaligned posture in the US-China rivalry. The tenuous nature of Yoon’s Japan policy raises scepticism among analysts about its post-Yoon viability, transcending ideological leanings.
Moreover, indications of an orchestrated move to untangle from Beijing surface as Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul amplify talks on economic security. The ambition: to reshape supply chains, curbing reliance on China. Capitalizing on the US-Japan-ROK framework and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the US aspires to weaken China’s role in regional supply chains, eroding its ties with neighbours.
Crystallizing the US-Japan-ROK trilateral bond marks a pivotal stride in the recalibration of America’s Asia-Pacific alliance framework, intensifying the specter of ‘polarized confrontation’. The Indo-Pacific, poised for collaborative growth, should shun the mantle of a geopolitical battleground. Amidst the ongoing Ukraine turmoil, nurturing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific assumes paramount importance on a global scale. The cold-war ethos and stratagems inherent in myopic alliances fail to assure lasting security, rather amplifying the prospect of strife and heaping added responsibilities on US partners, such as Japan and South Korea. The burden on US allies is exacerbated, rendering them vulnerable associates in a high-stakes gambit, contrary to the spirit of cooperative global development. Thus, the Camp David summit appears, in addition to AUKUS and Quad, to be another attempt by Washington to encircle China in the Indo-Pacific through ‘alliance diplomacy’.Dr Imran Khalid, "Camp David politics," The News. 2023-09-03.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political venture , Diplomacy , Economics , Donald Trump , President Biden , China , Washington , ROK