An unsuspecting tourist might be surprised by the tight security that surrounded a small house in the middle of the forest in Frederick County, Maryland. Built as a camp for federal government agents, Camp David has, at first glance, little of the luxury reserved for American politicians, but this retreat is where the president stays when he wants to escape Washington’s political machine.
And it is there that he received guests who were too important for the impersonal setting of the White House, as happened this Friday (18), when Biden met with the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, and with the South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, to an unprecedented summit between the three countries—and to, the Americans hope, consolidate one of the most ambitious US strategic partnerships in Asia in recent times. The White House denies it, but everything revolves around an uninvited figure: China.
South Korea and Japan have a complicated history, due to the horrific war crimes committed by Tokyo against Seoul. While under Japanese occupation, Koreans were subjected to sexual exploitation, massacres, slavery and various crimes against humanity. Although Japan officially apologized in 1993 for part of the transgressions committed, provocations and examples of denialism for decades irritated Koreans, preventing consistent attempts at rapprochement.
That has changed under Yoon. Five months ago, the South Korean leader took the first step by visiting Tokyo, in the first bilateral meeting of its kind since 2011, and by defending the normalization of relations with the neighbor. More recently, he used the traditional anniversary speech of Korea’s liberation from Japanese invasion not to provoke, as was customary, but to call for more cooperation on security and the economy.
Both countries have expressed anxiety about a China they see as more assertive and belligerent. In 2017, when it expressed opposition to the installation of American anti-missile shields on the Korean peninsula, Beijing applied measures to cause high economic costs to Seoul, prohibiting the sale of tourist packages to South Korea by Chinese agencies, imposing trade barriers and essentially banning a part significant part of the Korean cultural industry.
Then, to take a stand against Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, he fired missiles of all sorts, five of which into Japanese waters. Tokyo has occupied what the Chinese consider a rebellious province for 50 years and has often angered China by indicating it would respond militarily if invaded.
The United States has read the terrain and is taking advantage of the good diplomatic moment to capitalize on important support in China’s immediate neighbourhood. While he refuses to admit that the Biden meeting was about Sino-American competition, the language leaves no doubt what the target was.
Senior White House officials I spoke with deny any immediate intention to create a mutual defense treaty pact, but have announced that the three leaders would sign cooperation commitments and trilateral consultations on regional defense and security matters. The signed documents also indicate growing concern over stability in the Taiwan Strait and speak of advocating “free navigation” in the region, an obvious challenge to Chinese interests in the South China Sea.
It is not surprising that Beijing calls the meeting a “mini-NATO”, warning Asians of the risks and instability that a formal military alliance between Japanese, Koreans and Americans can bring.
It will add to Chinese paranoia in its already sensitive immediate neighbourhood, where it already has to deal with territorial disputes with India, ethnic challenges in Kazakhstan, terrorism in Afghanistan and the grievances of Southeast Asian nations over who rules the seas. Of region.
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