President Joe Biden convened with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a Camp David summit on Friday, unveiling several agreements aimed at bringing the countries closer together amid mounting tensions with China and North Korea.
The three countries announced that they would hold trilateral meetings between leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers and national security advisers "at least annually" and quickly consult with each other when responding to regional challenges. They also said they intend to hold military exercises together each year and share missile warning data on North Korea.
"We've all committed to swiftly consult with each other in response to threats to any one of our countries from whatever source it occurs," Biden said during Friday's joint news conference. "That means we'll have a hotline to share information and coordinate our responses whenever there is a crisis in the region or affecting any one of our countries."
The summit marks the first time the three countries have had a standalone meeting that was not on the edge of a larger multilateral conference. It's also the first Camp David summit of Biden's presidency.
Biden thanked the two leaders for their “political courage” when welcoming them to Camp David.
“I look forward to working with both of you as we begin this new era of cooperation and renew our resolve to serve as a force of good across the Indo-Pacific and quite frankly, around the world as well,” Biden said on Friday morning.
South Korea and Japan have historically had a fraught relationship, originating in part from Japan's 35-year rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and estimates of 200,000 mostly South Korean women and girls forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military.
Experts noted the significance of Japan and South Korea coming together despite that friction.
"To me, the importance of this is that it is a genuine trilateral meeting, which means the Japanese and the Koreans are talking to one another as opposed to us dealing separately with each of them," said Thomas Fingar, who served as chairman of the National Intelligence Council under former President George W. Bush.
The summit comes as tensions between the U.S. and China have risen in recent years over Taiwan, economic issues and a spy balloon.
In a statement, the three countries referred to China's "dangerous and aggressive behavior supporting unlawful maritime claims" in the South China Sea, and said that they oppose the militarization of "reclaimed features."
During the joint news conference, Biden said the "summit was not about China," though China "obviously came up."
"Not to say we don't share concerns about the economic coercion or heightened tensions caused by China," Biden said. "But this summit was really about our relationship with each other and deepening cooperation across an entire range of issues that went well beyond just the immediate issues we raised."
Nicholas Szechenyi, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the summit is "sending a strong signal that despite China’s efforts to weaken U.S. influence in Asia, the alliance network led by the United States is as strong as ever."
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a Friday news conference that “attempts to cobble together various exclusionary groupings and bring bloc confrontation and military blocs into the Asia-Pacific are not going to get support and will only be met with vigilance and opposition from regional countries.”
The Camp David summit also comes against the backdrop of Russia's war in Ukraine.
"At the moment, the free and open international order based on the rule of law is in crisis," Kishida said through an interpreter during the news conference. "Due to Russia's aggression of Ukraine, the international order is shaken from its foundation."
Yoon, also speaking through an interpreter, said the countries are "determined" to increase three-way coordination to "help Ukrainians regain freedom and pursue reconstruction."
Some experts say the war in Ukraine has caused governments in Asia to reconsider their strategic assumptions and defense plans.
“Both countries realize that if there’s a regional contingency, either on the Korean peninsula or across the Taiwan Strait, they’ve got to coordinate more closely,” Szechenyi said. “So, ironically, the war in Ukraine has developed a lot more thinking about security cooperation in Asia.”