Economic Statecraft
Reincarnation of the USA-Japan-South Korea Triangle

Washington continues with indomitable energy to build a new global architecture of military-political alliances which are under its direct control, along the perimeter of the borders of Russia and China, uniting the security infrastructure from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean into a self-contained power infrastructure, writes Alexander Vorontsov.

The first ever summit of the three states was held on August 18 in the residence of the current US president in Camp David, (the top elected leaders of these countries sometimes met before in the same composition – but those were brief meetings on the side-lines of major international forums). It became a real breakthrough in the long, but rather sluggish process of the formation of this military-political structure, creating a qualitatively new and different phenomenon in the international arena, that is fundamentally different from the tripartite structure, about which several internationally-known experts have already written. There are indeed grounds for seeing a real transformation of the organisation previously described in terms of a “coalition structure” into a quasi-full-format military-political security pact.

The array of specifics of the phenomenon that arose at Camp David is so massive and multi-layered that not only its analysis, but a simple description and retelling of the package of adopted documents (including the three most important ones: “Principles” and “Spirit” of Camp David, plus an obligation to conduct consultations) will require much more space than the format of this article allows.

Therefore, we will focus on the key, in our opinion, results of the summit.

First of all, it must be emphasised that the meeting itself and its results are an obvious and resounding success of US diplomacy.

Washington, with the same hard pressure as in Europe, where it prides itself on how quickly and effectively it mobilised and subordinated its NATO partners to a single allied will, is energetically “lining up” its allies in East Asia as well.

It is amazing how quickly, in fact, in less than one year, the Biden administration managed to convince Japan and South Korea to put aside their perennial differences and focus on common threats formulated in American terms. South Korean President Yun Seok Yeol, elected in 2022, is considered a Japanophile by many Koreans due to a number of circumstances and his personal biography, and it was not difficult to persuade him to radically improve relations with Japan based on the “forget the past, focus on the future” approach. Meanwhile, the position of Japan was much more complicated: in recent years Tokyo has frankly mistreated Seoul and was determined to continue this “educational” policy, due to which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at first avoided personal meetings with the leader of the Republic of Korea. However, the White House managed to find the necessary arguments for everyone, and before our eyes, “the impossible began to turn into the possible.” In March, Yun Seok Yeol paid an official visit to Tokyo, and in May Fumio Kishida paid a return working visit to Seoul.

Finally, in August, a full-scale trilateral summit took place.
South Korea and Japan: An Alliance Without Friendship
Kazushige Kobayashi
The bilateral relationship between Seoul and Tokyo has been a marriage of convenience, plagued by a perpetual deficit of trust and respect on both sides. Despite the fact that both nations are considered America’s primary allies in Asia-Pacific, they struggle to even agree on the name of the sea between them.

One of the fundamentally important characteristics of the new pact was that, if earlier it was considered as a non-primary instrument intended exclusively for the Northeast Asian region with an eye on North Korea, now its main mission has become global and defined in ensuring the strategic tasks of the US allies throughout the Indo-Pacific region. The document “The Spirit of Camp David” states: “Our partnership is built not only for our peoples, but for the entire Indo-Pacific region.”
So, Washington continues with indomitable energy to build a new global architecture of military-political alliances which are under its direct control, along the perimeter of the borders of Russia and China, uniting the security infrastructure from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean into a self-contained power infrastructure.

In this global configuration, the East Asian “triangle” is destined for a fundamentally important mission. The expert community is already actively thinking about its goals. One of the possible options is that the reformatted triangle should close the chain of similar alliances like QUAD, AUKUS and complete the system of new military-political structures in Asia. According to another version, the first two of these alliances have not yet fully justified the expectations of the White House. The first is due to the independent position of India, which does not want the militarisation of this organisation. The second one consists entirely of non-regional players, except for junior member Australia, which is geographically located on the periphery of the region. This naturally makes it an “alien body” in the eyes of Asian states. In such a situation, the East Asian triangle is called upon to become a pillar of the comprehensive structure of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. The idea of establishing close coordination, if not merging it with AUKUS, is allowed.

But what is more important is what we see already now “on the ground”. Washington at Camp David managed to tie Tokyo and Seoul closer to its strategic, primarily anti-Chinese agenda, overcoming hesitation, the desire not to quarrel with Beijing, both by Tokyo and, even more so, by Seoul. The White House managed to convince them to align themselves at a higher level with its strategic programme.

In this situation, our task is to take time to take a closer look at what exactly the decisions taken at the summit mean for Russia and China. We see that both of the White House’s Far Eastern allies, especially South Korea, made deep concessions to Washington, which could seriously complicate its relations with both the Russian Federation and the DPRK.

First about Russia.

As you know, Seoul has so far tried to maintain a relatively restrained line, not crossing the two “red lines” that Moscow has clearly outlined: not to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine and not to participate in actions aimed at setting a price cap for Russian oil on world markets. During the summit, Joe Biden managed to convince his high-ranking guests to sign the following statement contained in the already-cited document: “We commit ourselves to continue to provide assistance to Ukraine, to impose coordinated and tough sanctions against Russia, and to accelerate the reduction of dependence on Russian energy resources.” That means that the President of the Republic of Korea actually crossed one of the “red lines” of Moscow. It seems that now South Korean diplomacy will have to exert maximum ingenuity in order to try to explain to Moscow the compatibility of the two aforementioned promises.

With China, the situation is perhaps even more acute. So far, Seoul, trying to maintain even relations with Beijing, has tried to evade direct assessments of the situation in the Taiwan Strait and the Taiwan problem in general. But now, in a joint statement, the three countries’ leaders have sharply raised the bar of their claims and, having mentioned the official name of the PRC for the first time, directly pointed to it as an entity that impedes the establishment of a “legal international order” in the region. (For example, in the Phnom Phen statement of November 2022, the same countries evaded naming Beijing even as they were raising the same claims to China). As a result, one can conclude that the summit became a turning point in the process of an anti-China security system in East Asia taking shape.

An extensive, carefully prepared part of these documents on economic matters clearly indicates the deepening of the solidarity course aimed at ousting China from the sphere of highly advanced technology. Supply chains and advanced technology are to be considered the vanguard of the US-China economic war. At the summit, Korea and Japan joined the US “mobile strike group” to detect technology leaks and a number of other initiatives aimed at monopolizing the countries of the triangle, including a full cycle of key new technologies such as artificial intelligence and space, advanced computing, international standardization, and technology protection. That is, we are talking not only about the production of microchips and batteries, which are currently being written about more often. An agreement was reached on the formation of new trilateral cooperation between the national laboratories and the expansion of trilateral cooperation in the field of research and development as well as personnel. First of all, major research institutes under the US government, such as the Los Alamos Research Center and the Sandia Research Center, will team up with research institutes in Korea and Japan to conduct joint research.

A study of the summit documents leads to the conclusion that now the triangle intends primarily to implement the US strategic goals for global containment (or the preparation of even more far-reaching plans) of Washington’s two main opponents – the PRC and the Russian Federation. The security problems of the Korean Peninsula are bumped into second place.

Of course, in the summit documents, considerable attention was devoted to condemning the actions of the DPRK and plans to neutralise its military capabilities, including the announcement of the creation of a new trilateral working group to intensify cooperation, together with the international community, to combat the cyber threats of the DPRK and blocking its cyber operations. The three countries have committed themselves to hold major joint military exercises at least once a year, as well as the summits, etc.

The three leaders expectedly reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions and urged the DPRK in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes.

It is obvious that the latest demand for denuclearization, which is obviously unacceptable for Pyongyang, confirms the fact that the Troika has no plans or intentions to enter into a process of meaningful negotiations with the DPRK.
But, we repeat, the globalisation of the role of the triangle in the Indo-Pacific region is a clear priority for US strategy.

Summarizing, we emphasise that the main result of the summit, in our opinion, was a “great leap” in the implementation of the US strategy to create a unified military-political architecture from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In this case, we see the deep transformation of the US-Japan-South Korea alliance and the relentless pursuit of its maximum institutionalisation, which deserves to be a topic of independent research. The purpose of these actions is also clear – to strengthen the military infrastructure in order to intensify the confrontation with the DPRK, China, and Russia.
Norms and Values
The US — South Korea — Japan Triangle in the Biden Doctrine
Igor Istomin
The apparent convergence in the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo triangle creates challenges for the new logistics routes currently being built with much difficulty, including through the Sea of Japan, writes Valdai Club expert Igor Istomin.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.