Previewing the Camp David Trilateral Summit

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This transcript is from a CSIS press briefing hosted on August 14, 2023.

Paige Montfort: Thank you so much and good afternoon, everyone. As our operator kindly introduced, my name is Paige Montfort. I am the media relations manager here at CSIS. I really appreciate you joining us all here today for this briefing previewing the first standalone trilateral summit between President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida, and President Yoon, to be held at Camp David August 18th, so coming up in just a few days here.

I am joined by four outstanding CSIS experts today who are going to weigh in on their expectations for this summit and on trilateral cooperation across the Indo-Pacific more broadly. Before I introduce them, I’ll just briefly remind everyone of our agenda for today. So first we’ll have opening remarks, brief, five to seven minutes, from each of my expert colleagues. And then we’ll go to your Q&A. And within just a few hours after the call, I’ll share out a transcript to everyone who has RSVPed, and that will also be posted publicly on

So now I’m going to introduce my colleagues in the order in which they’ll be presenting their opening statements today.

So first we will hear from Dr. Victor Cha. He is CSIS senior vice president for Asia and holds our Korea Chair.

And Victor will be followed by Christopher Johnstone, who is senior advisor and Japan Chair here at CSIS.

He will be followed by Emily Benson. She is the director of our Project on Trade and Technology and a senior fellow in our Scholl Chair in International Business.

And then Ellen Kim, our deputy director and senior fellow with our Korea Chair. And I do believe I actually mixed those two up. My apologies. So it’ll be Ellen first and Emily finally to close us out, fourth.

So without further ado, then, I will turn it over to Dr. Cha to get us started.

Dr. Victor Cha: Thank you, Paige. And good – I guess it’s good afternoon to everyone. I’m actually dialing in from Hawaii, so it’s good morning here. And thank you, Paige, for arranging this, and thanks to my colleagues Chris, Ellen, and Emily for joining in on this – on this call about this trilateral summit meeting taking place at Camp David. Which is – I would say it’s a big deal. As Paige said, it’s the first standalone summit. They’ve chosen the rustic backdrop of Camp David. The U.S. has had bilateral meetings at Camp David with the allies, but this is the first time that they’re doing the trilateral.

The idea of moving it off the White House campus to Camp David, Chris and I can both attest to, is – internally it’s always a heavy lift, because you’re taking time out to move the president off campus when he’s in D.C. But it affords much more quality time together among, in this case, the three leaders. I’m sure with lots of walks and other sorts of things that really allow them to spend a lot of time to strategize together and to think about the future of the three-way – the three-way relationship.

The first point I wanted to talk about is why now? Why is this happening now? And I think, you know, there – I have – there are sort of two answers I would feature here.

One is this is happening now – this consolidation of the alliance relationships is happening now because the external environment is just so uncertain and unstable. There is nothing like an actual real war, even though it’s in another part of the world, to completely change the way or affect the way leaders think about their security. And so the war in Ukraine has had the effect of reducing the gap between the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theaters, and causing countries to think – to prioritize national security over other issues that might sometimes get in the way.

Second, of course, is China’s assertive behavior in the Taiwan Straits – economically, in a number of different ways, their plans in terms of their nuclear weapons program, as well – has added to this uncertainty and brought it even closer to home. And then even – and closest to home, of course, North Korea’s missile campaign, the WMD rampage where they just tested twice a solid fuel ICBM, which they had not done before.

I think all of this really is creating an environment in which there is a lot of uncertainty, and states are looking to try to create more certainty in their environment, and this trilateral relationship is one of the reasons why. The United States has always seen the trilateral relationship as being important, but it has always been hard to pull together because of one particular country, quite frankly, and that has been Korea because of a lot of domestic historical obstacles to security ties with Japan.

And here – and this is the second reason why now here is where you have to give the South Korean president a lot of credit. He came into office at a time when South Korea-Japan relations were about as bad as they’ve ever been. I mean, probably you would have to go back to the 1970s to see the level of discord and non-dialogue in the relationship. And he made it a point – almost his first foreign policy priority outside the alliance with the United States was to repair that relationship. And it wasn’t very popular at home; in fact, it was very unpopular at home for President Yoon to do this, but he stuck to it, he kept to it, and the results are now showing.

In terms of what to expect, I think everybody is expecting some sort of major trilateral security statement among the three countries. You know, I don’t expect it will be an Article 5-type, NATO-type collective defense statement, but I think they will get as close as they can to it talking about how the security of the countries are interlinked.

If you go back to the Phnom Penh statement, the last trilateral statement among the leaders – which will probably be the template for what we see coming later this week, it talks a great deal about how close the three countries were in terms of their security. And it’s not just rhetoric; it’s completely – it’s totally true. I mean, going back to the 1960s, the United States has always seen the alliances with Korea and Japan as a strategic hole. Korean defense is impossible without the seven U.S. rear bases in Japan. And defense of Taiwan – when we talk of defense of Taiwan today, Korea’s ability to deter credibly on the Korean Peninsula against opportunistic aggression in the case of a Taiwan contingency is something that the United States and Japan would both dearly need if there were a war in the Taiwan Straits. So the three allies are very much interlinked in terms of their security; not just in political rhetoric, but in actual military operations. And I hope that this statement – I mean, that this trilateral summit will make that absolutely clear for all to see.

I also expect that there will be some statements on trilateral economic security. I know that the Korean side has been pushing for a 2+2+2 economic security dialogue among the three allies. I don’t know if we’ll actually see that, but that I think is something that they’ve signaled very clearly. And again, we saw it – we saw both Japan and Korea signing up to pretty forward anti-coercion statements in the NATO leaders’ AP4 statement as well as in the G-7 statement.

Finally, in terms of China and Russia’s responses, clearly they’re not going to respond very positively to this. I think China and North Korea both have referred to this as the NATO-ization of East Asia. We’ve been tracking and are very concerned about growing military ties between Russia and North Korea and we have a piece coming out on that fairly soon.

And, of course, for China they will certainly not say anything positive and will be very critical of the trilateral statement. They have always seen the difficulties between South Korea and Japan as a freebie for them, one where they wouldn’t have to work very hard to split the allies.

But now that that has been repaired, you know, the Chinese see very little advantage and I think they will work very hard to try to engage both Korea and Japan to balance U.S. diplomacy.

So let me just finish by saying, you know, the Biden administration deserves a lot of credit. This trilateral leaders’ summit is a culmination of a lot of hard work by people inside the administration for over a year now and I expect to see really good things coming out of it.

Thanks, Paige.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you so much, Dr. Cha.

And I’ll hand it now over to Chris Johnstone.

Christopher B. Johnstone: Thanks, Paige, and thanks to all of you for joining and to my CSIS colleagues for participating in this as well.

I’m Chris Johnstone, the Japan chair, and I’ll just try to build a little bit on the great points that Victor made.

First, just to underscore that this really is a historic event. These leaders have met several times. I think this will be the fifth time but it’s the first dedicated trilateral. All the others have been on the margins of some other multilateral meeting. So the significance of the three leaders traveling and getting together for the purpose of this is new.

I think it’s fair to say that a few months ago both President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida might have been a bit uncomfortable with the prospect of a meeting at Camp David. Both would have been hesitant to endorse any implication that somehow the U.S. was brokering an improvement in Japan-ROK ties.

But we’re in a very different stage now. The relationship between the two countries has improved markedly since March due to the efforts of the leaders themselves – again, as Victor noted, much at the initiation of President Yoon, and Prime Minister Kishida has reciprocated.

So this meeting becomes rather than sort of a peace-brokering meeting one that’s more of a culmination, a ratification of the progress that’s been made in bilateral and trilateral ties and an opportunity to sort of celebrate and highlight that, and so I think that’s behind the receptivity to and the enthusiasm about a meeting at Camp David.

The improvement in Japan-ROK ties has really been driven by the leaders and the countries themselves. It was Yoon’s gesture back in March to resolve this historical dispute over forced labor that was the critical breakthrough. Kishida, in my view, was somewhat slow to respond, cautious at first about Yoon’s sincerity, whether he could deliver.

But then a sequence of events sort of really built momentum in that bilateral relationship. Yoon visited Tokyo in March. Kishida reciprocated with a visit to Seoul in May. He invited Yoon to Hiroshima as one of the guest countries to the G-7. They visited together a memorial to Korean victims of the atomic bombing.

All this helped, I think, really turn the corner and put a real foundation under the bilateral relationship. And so a key point here is that Japan and the ROK together really did this on their own. But Biden – President Biden and the U.S. did play an important role, in my view, in setting the political context that made this progress possible.

From the very beginning of this administration President Biden signaled that an improvement in bilateral ties between Japan and the ROK and trilateral ties was a personal priority for him. He communicated that as such directly to Prime Minister Suga, the first leader to visit the White House in April 2021.

He repeated it to then-President Moon in May of 2021. And thereafter, the administration really constructed an almost relentless rhythm of trilateral meetings at all levels and across a range of issues – the secretary of state meetings with foreign ministers, secretary of defense meeting with defense ministers, national security advisers, intelligence leaders, deputies in those agencies, the beginnings of an economic security trilateral meeting. This rhythm, I think, helped to reinforce the sense that the three countries have many common interests and a lot to talk about. So then when the political dynamic, particularly in Seoul, changed there was momentum to build upon and an opportunity to be seized.

I think it’s also fair to say that this progress remains fragile and certainly possible that future leaders could choose to reverse it. I think it’s fair to say that in South Korea, President Yoon’s efforts are still not widely popular. And in Japan there’s this constant refrain of skepticism that the improvement will be durable and that a – you know, the risk that a future ROK president could flip the table over again.

So I think the focus of this meeting and much is what is to come is to look for ways to institutionalize the progress that’s been made, and to make it harder for future leaders in any of these countries to walk away from it. So that, I think, is the background that you’ll see as we – as we look for deliverables on Friday.

I would just quickly highlight three that I expect. Victor noted the likely statement of recognition that security among the three countries is linked, and that some measure of threat to one is a threat to all. Even though it will fall far short of Article Five language, this kind of language would be a big deal, and important symbol that these alliances are coming together. And I think that it will be complemented with some specific new initiatives on the defense front. Perhaps announcements related to a deepening exercise program, information sharing, ballistic missile defense cooperation, and so on.

A second area you’ll see, I think, is expanding cooperation among the three countries in the region. And in particular, in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. This also is new. Historically, trilateral cooperation among these three countries has been almost entirely about the North Korean threat and the Korean Peninsula. But increasingly, there’s a broader basis for the cooperation, to include a frame on the Indo-Pacific. Korea released for the first time an Indo-Pacific strategy late last year. It echoed many of the themes that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. And so I think you can expect some deliverables related to development assistance cooperation, perhaps cooperation among development finance institutions in both countries – in all three countries, excuse me.

And then, finally, is the economic security agenda that Victor mentioned. I expect you’ll see an agenda related to building more resilient supply chains, perhaps resistant to economic coercion, managing the tech competition with China. And so the story here is really of a broadening base, a broadening foundation of trilateral cooperation that, in my view, creates at least the potential for this change to be enduring beyond the political leaders of the day. I’ll stop there and hand it over to our next – our next speaker. Thanks.

Dr. Ellen Kim: Thank you, Chris. Hi, everyone. This is Ellen Kim. I’m going to talk about trilateral economic security cooperation, with a focus on semiconductor issues. Before I do that, let me just say that I agree with what has been said by Dr. Cha and Chris.

And just want to add that tomorrow is the National Liberation Day in South Korea, when Korean people commemorate its independence from Japan’s colonial rule. And putting that into our conversation about the upcoming U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral summit, which is going to be held, you know, only three days after South Korea’s Liberation Day, I think that this is just a huge change and means a lot, showing how far South Korea and Japan have come forward to improve their bilateral relations for their common interests and for their desire to build a trilateral cooperation with the United States. So it will be worth checking out Yoon’s Liberation Day speech tomorrow, and whether he talks about the upcoming trilateral summit.

The Camp David summit will have a lot of deliverables on the trilateral security cooperation, but economic security is another important key pillar of the trilateral partnership. Following the leaders’ agreement at the earlier summit at Phnom Penh last November, The U.S., South Korea, and Japan held their first economic security dialogue in February 2023. And this was attended by senior officials from national security councils of the three countries. And these officials discussed a range of issues, specifically cooperation in emerging and core technologies, such as quantum, bio, and space. These officials also discussed ways to increase supply chain resilience in semiconductor, battery, and critical minerals. And also how to coordinate their response to economic coercion and protect sensitive technology.

So many of these topics have also been discussed in the bilateral settings as well. So I think we should expect to see that trilateral discussions will center around building more connectivity and resilience among the three countries on these issues.

On the semiconductor, I would say that this is one area that needs greater policy cooperation and coordination going forward, both bilaterally and trilaterally. The U.S., South Korea, and Japan are all big players in the semiconductor industry. If you look at the semiconductor supply chain, the U.S. and Japan are dominant players in the semiconductor manufacturing equipment, accounting for almost 70 percent of the global semiconductor manufacturing equipment market share in 2021. The U.S. also has a strong position on chip-design software.

South Korea is a key producer of the memory chips. In 2022, Korea’s two producers, Samsung and SK Hynix, together controlled about 73 percent of the market share for DRAM and almost 50 percent market share for the NAND memory chips.

So after the U.S. announced export-control regulations in October 2022 to restrict China’s ability to produce advanced chips, Japan and South Korea’s reactions have basically diverged. Japan enhanced its cooperation with the United States on export-control policy with its recent announcement in March this year of its own export-control regulatory framework and a list of 23 types of equipment that the country will enforce export controls starting from next month.

On the other hand, South Korea, the U.S. export – U.S. export controls have basically created a big dilemma for South Korea. Samsung and SK Hynix need U.S. semiconductor manufacturing equipment to produce their chips, but they are also heavily reliant on the Chinese market. Especially, the invested more than $30 billion to build huge manufacturing facility in China and around 40 percent of their memory chips are produced there. The United States granted South Korean firms a one-year waiver allowing them to continue their current production – chip production in China without upgrade. And U.S. official(s) also indicated that – recently that this waiver is going to be renewed before it expires in October, but this is seen as a temporary relief measure, not a real policy solution for Korean firms that want to have a more – greater certainty about the extensions in a longer-term period.

And as U.S.-China technology competition intensifies, there are more business uncertainties for South Koreans. China also adopt its export control of materials to the semiconductor industry such as gallium and germanium, as we saw very recently.

So overall, what – the point is that there’s a lot of work to be done on semiconductor cooperation. South Korea and the United States are not there yet to resolve their differences on export controls. And the United States also has not finalized its October 7 export-control rules. Secretary Gina Raimondo said that there is no timetable on the final rule, so basically I don’t think that there will be any major announcement or agreement on the semiconductor issues. But this is a potential area of trilateral cooperation that the three countries will have going forward.

I’ll stop there.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Ellen.

Emily Benson: Great. Thank you.

Ms. Montfort: Go ahead, Emily. (Laughs.)

Ms. Benson: Thank you, Paige. This is Emily Benson. I’m the director of the Project on Trade and Technology here. I would just like to pick up a couple of threads that my colleagues have previously noted.

And first and foremost, I’d like to point out that we are shifting increasingly into an environment where economic security is national security, and so I do anticipate that economic-security issues will feature quite prominently in the trilateral. This is a reflection of the fact that partners are confronted with multiple threats, not only in a hard security sense but also growing pressure and the hard lessons learned in the Russia-Ukraine context; but also supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic; of course, advanced technology proliferation like artificial intelligence and rising tensions with China. This is not to mention ongoing disruptions from climate change.

So all of these create an environment of added pressure where countries have to figure out what is critical for them to obtain, and then also what it is critical for them to control on the outward front. And that’s particularly pertinent when it comes to technology.

In the United States, this is manifested in the Biden administration’s pursuit of friendshoring. And that essentially means a concerted effort to move supply chains out of jurisdictions that pose significant geopolitical risks to those that do not present an imminent national security threat. Embedded in friend-shoring is the idea that onshoring is not only inefficient at the end of the day, but it’s not possible. No single country can confront all of these threats alone. That is where developing close allied economic partnerships really comes into play.

What’s interesting about Japan and Korea, of course, is that they already maintain very close trading relationships with the United States. They both rank in the top 10 trading partners. And, moreover, bilateral trade is very concentrated in advanced products. So, like Ellen mentioned earlier, when the Biden administration came into office, they undertook that critical supply chain review. That covers pharmaceuticals, critical minerals, batteries, and chips. Those are some of the products that are most traded between the United States and Japan and the United States and Korea. That really signifies the complexity of this economic relationship. Meaning that partnership is particularly important.

This has manifested, of course, in the promote side of the agenda, which is an effort to deepen economic cooperation. Japan and Korea have both played very visible leadership roles in the United States-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, this economic negotiation that’s ongoing between 14 countries. Korea most recently hosted the last round in Busan in mid-July. Parties will reconvene in Bangkok in September, and then again in Malaysia in October. The idea is to conclude a very meaningful deal by the APEC summit in San Francsico in November.

This comes at a time, of course, when Korea and Japan have deepened their own trading relationship. Earlier this year Japan reinstated Korea to its whitelist of friendly trading partners. That opens doors not only between those two parties, but it also facilitates an easier level of cooperation with allies like the United States. That’s not to say that differences don’t remain. As Ellen pointed out, also Japan has aligned with the October 7 controls in a way that Korea hasn’t quite done yet. Japan has also secured this bilateral critical minerals deal with the United States, and Korea is also kind of waiting to see what materializes on that front.

In addition to the promote side of the agenda, these partners are also cooperating on the protect side. Like I said, there’s a major geopolitical risk reassessment underway. And so together these partners are de-risking supply chains. This is also part of the assumption about concerted cooperation on export controls as an essential prerequisite for deeper economic engagement. This assumption is that you cannot scale up production in a country if the possibility of leakage to a country like China is high.

In addition to export controls, the next big tranche of discussions will probably surround the establishment of an outbound investment screening tool. Last Wednesday, the Biden administration directed the Treasury Department to standup this new program that would screen certain outbound investments through mandatory notifications and also targeted prohibitions in transactions in semiconductors, AI, and quantum technology to China.

There’s been plenty of references, of course, that Japan and Korea maintain somewhat similar authorities to screen outbound transactions. And while that’s true, each authority is very different from the one envisioned by the Biden administration. That means that getting both the Republic of Korea and Japan on board with this new agenda will probably take significant political capital. But I do anticipate that this will come up in the forthcoming trilateral.

The last thing I will say is on economic coercion. As the partners build out their toolkit for a new era of trade and investment, they also are confronted with how China retaliates. I think – my personal assessment is that China is experiencing a deteriorating macroeconomic environment. And so it’s not really in their best interest to retaliate in kind. They do not want to deter additional foreign investment at a time when they really need it. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good opportunity for close partners to fortify certain possibilities going forward. And so coming up with those tools, whether it’s combatting overcapacity or building this new outbound investment authority, it will be really important for them to work together to align on those key issues.

So the last closing point I will make is that there's been a lot of talk about the absence of a traditional trade agenda, particularly in Washington. But I think that is mostly a reflection of the fact that we are living in non-traditional times. We are shifting towards an economic security environment which is unlikely to change anytime soon. And looking at trilateral cooperation – like between Japan, Korea, and the United States – is a very good test to see how we make those durable and how we secure buy-in to the agenda over time.

So with that, let me pass it back to Paige.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Emily. And thank you to each of my other colleagues for sharing your insights. For anyone who jumped in a little bit late, we first heard from Dr. Victor Cha, followed by Christopher B. Johnstone, third, Dr. Ellen Kim, and fourth just now Emily Benson.

And so with that, I'm going to turn it back over to our AT&T operator briefly to let everyone know how to queue. And then we will go into our Q&A.

Operator: (Gives queuing instructions.)

Give me just a moment here. Shaun Tandon with AFP, please go ahead.

Q: Hi there. Thanks for doing this call.

I was going to ask something – about something that that Christopher touched on, which is the – and I think the other speakers as well – but the fragility of this process. And that President Yoon, some of the actions he's taken, you know, on reconciliation have perhaps led to this atmosphere. You're talking about institutionalizing that, making it so that this could take place in the future. Can you explain that a little bit? What could be done, perhaps, to institutionalize it? And what, if anything, is stopping some future leader of any of the three countries, for that matter, from halting this process?

And on a separate note, Taiwan. You mentioned in the concerns about Taiwan shared by the U.S. and Japan, largely. Is the ROK on the same page on that? Do you think the ROK sees Taiwan in the same way and (seems to believe ?) in the Taiwan Strait in the same way? Would they be willing to join in the same way with the other two countries? Thanks.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you, Shaun. Chris, do you maybe want to start out with that first part, and then maybe Dr. Cha on the second, then others can jump in?

Mr. Johnstone: Sure. That's fine. Yeah, thanks for the question.

Look, there's – of course, at the end of the day, there's little you can do to prevent a future political leader from walking away from the progress that's been made. But I do think that the more that the three countries can do to regularize, formalize, institutionalize the cooperation that they're building the more difficult it becomes. And I think of a few specific things as examples. For example, by the end of the year, the three countries have promised to bring online, to operationalize real-time early warning threat data related to North Korean missiles. The mechanism that they're working on will essentially automate that information sharing. Once you do that, it becomes a significant political decision to turn it off. And so therefore, something of an institutionalized form of cooperation.

Similarly, you can think about a trilateral effort to create sort of a long-term calendar, if you will, of military exercises and defense exchanges that extends sort of beyond the immediate horizon. Also a little bit harder to walk away from. Victor talked about the South Korean interest in creating an economic 2+2+2 mechanism for discussions on economic security issues. I think the more that you can create these structures, and these patterns of information sharing and cooperation, that it becomes more of a hurdle for future leaders to walk away from.

But, at the end of the day, for me the key thing is that two things have changed. One is the strategic context that Victor noted, the rise of China, the growing concern in both Japan and South Korea about the implications of China's rise and its behavior across the region. That becomes a basis for cooperation that hasn't been there before. And second is what I talked about in terms of a growing sense of common purpose in the region. Not just related to the North Korean threat but cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands on economic assistance, supply chain resilience, a whole range of issues that are new and, again, ground this relationship in a broader sense of common interest and common values.

I’ll stop there. Victor, on the Taiwan question?

Dr. Cha: Thanks.

So thanks for the question, Shaun. So let me – I would just want to foot stomp the point that Chris made about how the strategic context has changed. Even if you have a change of government in – let’s say, in this case in Korea that’s less enthusiastic about bilateral and trilateral security ties that future leader is going to be dealing with a(n) external environment that’s quite different from what the previous government in Korea dealt with, again, in the sense that the – it’s not just China’s rise but it’s China’s rise in the context of an unprovoked attack by another major power on a smaller power in Europe. I mean, that changes the context of everything and I think – so I think that that is very important and we shouldn’t – we should not underestimate the role that that will play.

And in terms of the Taiwan question, so this – you know, this meeting, just my personal impression from talking to folks, being involved in different meetings and things, but my sense is that because of the war in Europe and because of the increasing tension across the Taiwan Strait the conversation on – among the three allies on Taiwan’s defense has really changed and the way it would change is I would say in the past there was a lot of talk about hemming and hawing and hand wringing – oh, is Korea going to be involved. Like, are they going to – are they going to help out, like – or are they going to just sort of sit on the sidelines and hedge.

And I feel like the conversation now has changed to one in which there’s sort of serious and candid discussion about if something were to happen in the Taiwan Strait how do we prevent a scenario in which there are two contingencies in the region that really stretch U.S. resources.

So whether – you know, and most likely that would be something in the Taiwan Strait and something on the Korean Peninsula or something on the Taiwan Strait that then spurs a moment of opportunistic aggression on the Korean Peninsula.

You know, and it’s these sorts of scenarios that motivate discussions about how do the three allies divide their resources properly to deal or to deter a potential situation like that from emerging. And so what crystallizes from that conversation is not a discussion of whether Korea should go and fight in Taiwan. It becomes a discussion of if there’s a fight in Taiwan what can Korea do while the U.S. is engaged in the Taiwan Strait to ensure that there is no opportunistic aggression on the Korean Peninsula. So increasingly I’ve heard U.S. defense experts and Japanese defense experts talk in those sorts of terms rather than this conversation about, oh, will the Koreans be involved in a Taiwan Strait crisis.

So I think in that sense it’s changed quite a bit and our – and not to put too fine a point on it but our national security documents, right – our National Security Strategy, our Nuclear Posture Review – all make mention of this notion of opportunistic aggression if there’s a major contingency in East Asia, a second – that there could be a second contingency that could emerge. And so I think that that – the conversation in that sense has changed, if that makes – if that makes any sense.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you both so much.

Let’s go on to the next question. I’ll turn it back to AT&T.

Operator: Thank you.

We’ll go to George Condon with National Journal. Please go ahead.

Q: Great. Thanks much for doing this.

I have one broad question and one more narrow. When president went to the ASEAN and East Asia summits he thought it was important to reassure the other leaders that the Indo-Pacific was – we were there for the long term and they’re a priority to us, even with the focus on Ukraine. Is there still a need to do that?

And then the broader question was just touched on. How much does China hang over this summit? I mean, it was suggested that some of this trilateral cooperation is driven by the growing assertiveness by China.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you, George.

Who might like to start with that?

Dr. Cha: Chris, why don’t you go ahead?

Mr. Johnstone: OK. Yeah. I think – certainly I think when the war broke out and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was this, I think, concern, certainly among partners in Asia, that the U.S. would be distracted by the war in Europe and unable to continue to give dedicated focus to the Indo-Pacific. I think the administration deserves pretty high marks in refuting that proposition when you think about the president’s engagement over the last year and a half, whether it’s the participation in the ASEAN summit, the G-7 meetings in Japan, the AUKUS announcement in San Diego earlier this year, now this plan to host Pacific leaders again in the – in the near term at the White House like they did a year ago. So I think the – I think in the main the region is assured that the United States remains focused on the Indo-Pacific.

The challenge, I think, for the United States is exactly the set of issues that Ellen and Emily talked about, and that is the challenge of sustaining a robust economic engagement strategy at a time when political support for free-trade agreements is not what it used to be. That, I think, is the hole in the administration’s strategy. It’s a function of politics here. I think it’s unlikely to change in the near term. So while the administration has done, I think, a good job reinforcing the focus on the region and the focus on China, there is that economic-engagement piece that remains lacking, frankly, and a source of considerable demand signal from our partners.

I’ll stop there.

Dr. Cha: Hi, George. This is Victor. Let me just add, just to pick up where Chris left off. And I don’t know if Emily would like to add anything to this.

I mean, I think it – I mean, the trade piece is not – is not at all disconnected from the de-risking, anti-economic coercion piece, right? Because the administration does talk about how their de-risking strategy is not just about protection supply chains but it’s also impact mitigation in the sense of helping countries that have been targeted by China with economic pressure. And a big part of that – at least conceptually a big part of that impact mitigation strategy is also to provide trade diversification to allow countries, let’s say, whose exports all of a sudden have been – the Chinese have stopped importing; they’ve, you know, imposed an informal import embargo on the exports from a particular country – that that targeted country can then trade diversify to other markets. Well, if we don’t – if we’re not willing to make our markets accessible as part of that strategy – even as part of that strategy as opposed to, you know, a broader trade-access strategy – that undermines our own effort at de-risking and anti-coercion strategy.

So Chris is right. I mean, this piece is sort of deficient overall in Asia policy. But I would completely agree that the administration has demonstrated really beyond anything anybody could have imagined all of these new initiatives and these efforts in the Indo-Pacific, even as the U.S. is involved in this war in Ukraine.

On kind of driving the trilateral, I wouldn’t – I mean, certainly I think it’s – again, going back to the point about the strategic context has changed, certainly China and their behavior is a motivation or something that will be talked about a lot behind closed doors among the three leaders. You know, whether they’ll make explicit statements about China in the trilateral statement, I – you know, I don’t expect that will happen. I mean, I expect that they may restate some of their points that they’ve made earlier about Taiwan and defense of Taiwan because – and freedom and democracy in the Taiwan Strait. But at the same time, though, I think the conversation about economic security, the conversation about interlinked national security, these things you can read between the lines are about North Korea, they’re about China, and they’re about Russia.

Ms. Benson: If I could just pick up on a couple of things that are on economic security and trade, I agree that the administration will eventually have to confront the fact that most of its allies are demanding more on the trade front. What’s interesting is that there is new data that came out last week to suggest sort of a domestic party flip in the United States where 74 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of international trade engagement, and that’s a very significant flip from where we were 20, 25 years ago. So I’m not entirely convinced that the domestic politics aren’t there for more action on trade.

I think also it’s worth bearing in mind that the administration’s agenda requires a lot of time if we are de-risking supply chains, engaging in friend-shoring. We are moving production, we’re moving inputs, we’re completely reconstituting supply chains as we know it, and that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.

The other element, I think, that tends to get lost in discussions is the tendency to think that friend-shoring will naturally result in less trade, but I think it’s a little early to make that assumption because we’re facing this immense need to accelerate on the green transition, we’re building new quantum technology industries, and so there is really a need to deepen engagement. But that doesn’t mean that that needs to be an engagement model based on over-reliance and significant risk undertaking. But that’s a long way of saying, I think, in the next couple of years some of this will come home to roost if there is not an effort here in the administration to offer more market access concessions, and to actually follow through on concluding some of those deals. And there definitely is a role there for more traditional aspects of trade policy.

Dr. Cha: Let me – let me just – it’s Victor again. Let me just add to that interesting piece of data that Emily just provided on Democratic views of trade. There is also data that shows there is actually no statistically significant correlation between how Congress people vote on free trade agreements and whether they are or are not reelected to Congress; contrary, obviously, to the popular political view that if you are from a state that has been affected by a free trade agreement that voters will punish you if you vote in favor of the free trade agreement. But there is actually data that shows there is no – there’s no link there, so that’s just another data point.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you so, so much.

We will go over to our next question.

Operator: Thank you. And again, it is 1-0 to ask a question.

We’ll next go to Ryo Kiyomiya with Asahi News. Please go ahead.

Q: Thank you so much. Can you hear me?

Ms. Montfort: Yes, we can. Thank you.

Q: OK, perfect. Thank you for holding this call.

I have a question the trilateral cooperation on extended deterrence. In April, U.S. and ROK agreed on Washington declaration, and they announced establishment of nuclear consultative group to strengthen extended deterrence. And now it seems that the U.S. wants to expand such bilateral cooperation on extended deterrence to trilateral cooperation and create a new trilateral framework.

And how do you expect such discussions on trilateral cooperation on extended deterrence to proceed?

Ms. Montfort: Thank you, Ryo. Dr. Cha? Yeah.

Mr. Johnstone: Victor, do you want to start or should I?

Dr. Cha: I’ll go ahead.

So I’ll just say that I think it’s a great question, and I think that’s right. The administration I think is interested in doing the NCG. The launch of the NCG between the U.S. and South Korea was very – I thought it was very successful. It didn’t get as much attention as it should have because of the North Korean ICBM launch and because of the U.S. military soldier who ran across the DMV the same week that the NCG happened. But the NCG – the port call by the U.S. nuclear submarine – I mean, these are all really important efforts, both in terms of signaling and in terms of the capabilities that the U.S. and ROK can bring to bear.

The important term I – one of the most important terms I thought coming out of that agreement was the focus on combining and coordinating South Korean conventional military capability with U.S. nuclear capabilities, which is again a good sign of – sort of that a role that South Korea – not only that they understand, but they are involved in some of this nuclear planning.

Chris can speak to this better – Japan has its own extended deterrence dialogue with the United States, and I certainly think there will be efforts to – not so much – I don’t know if it’s so much to link them up, but to add a third element to it which is I don’t think that the U.S. will get rid of the NCG or the U.S.-Japan Extended Deterrence Dialogue, but adding a third piece to it, exercising, tabletop exercising, things of this nature.

Over to Chris.

Mr. Johnstone: Yeah. I would just add – firstly, I agree with – I agree with everything Victor just said. I mean, the U.S. and Japan have a longstanding, more than a decade long, process, the Extended Deterrence Dialogue, that is really quite mature and sophisticated, the level of discussions on the issues. There was just a meeting a couple of months ago. And I think there continues to be an important role for bilateral discussions on these issues for both Japan and the ROK with the United States.

I do think there's value in supplementing, as Victor said, with occasional, perhaps sort of ad hoc trilateral engagements on these issues. But I think there are particular issues to both countries that warrant bilateral conversations. So it's my hope and expectation that those separate forums will continue as they are. Over.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you, Chris.

And then Emily, Ellen, anything you two would like to add before we move onto the next question?

Ms. Benson: Nothing from me.

Dr. Kim: Nothing for me.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you both.

All right. We'll go to our next question.

Operator: Thank you.

It will come from Si Yang with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

Q: Hi. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. Can you hear me? Hello?

Ms. Montfort: Yes, we can. Thank you.

Q: Yeah, thank you. It's Si Yang from the Voice of America.

Dr. Cha just mentioned that China would not be happy about the trilateral summit. So my question, what is China so afraid of, the closer relationship of the three countries? And the second question is, China also tried to strengthen its ties with Japan and also South Korea. So my question, can China pull these two countries away from the United States? Thank you.

Dr. Cha: Thanks for the question. I so in terms of what is China afraid of, my – so, during the Cold War, China used to refer to the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea relationships, and trilateral aspects of that, for example, in things like the Nixon-Sato joint communique – the Korea clause in the Nixon-Sato joint communique that came with Okinawa reversion. They used to refer to that during the Cold War is the “Iron Triangle.” Of course, this was before China had any power projection, force production capabilities.

So I think – you know, the threat, I think, that China is – that they – first, they see themselves as having less leeway and less room when the three allies are together. When the three allies are together politically, economically, in terms of security, China has less room. China prefers to deal with every country in the region bilaterally rather than as a group, because they can exercise a lot more leverage when they deal with them bilaterally than when they – when they can isolate and deal with each country bilaterally than as a group.

So, you know, I think for this reason that the Chinese don't like trilateral cooperation. I'm sure that they are very unhappy with this trilateral meeting that will take place this week. Their response to it has been to try to engage bilaterally with both Japan and with Korea. The carrot that they've been using with Korea is that Korea really wants to restart the ASEAN+3 summit, which has been delayed, postponed, because we COVID initially but then afterwards for other reasons. Korea’s scheduled to be the next host of the plus-three summit, and so they really wanted to get that restarted. And that is what they have –the Chinese have been using to try to draw the Koreans to sort of balance U.S. diplomacy with that on the table.

But in general, I think, you know, the Chinese are not happy with trilateral cooperation on missile defense. They’re not happy with trilateral cooperation on sharing of intelligence. All these sorts of things are – they would not be happy with trilateral cooperation on energy security, on economic security, things that constrain the environment in which China is able to act and leverage the most – leverage their economic and military weight in the best way that they – in the best way they can.

Q: Thank you.

Dr. Kim: I will just add that China is worried about this upcoming summit because China tend to see this growing U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation as the possible emergence of the trilateral alliance. And this was evident in China's insistence to – first, to – you know, its Three-Noes Policy, that it – basically, that no – in the case of the THAAD missile defense system, it’s cases where, basically, China asked South Korea not to bring on other U.S. –additional THAAD missile system in the country. Also no missile defense system with the United States, and no military alliance with the U.S. and South – Japan and U.S. So this was clearly shown that China is afraid of this growing trilateral cooperation, to become trilateral alliances that will contain China in the region, I think.

And this – we recently saw that China lifted a travel ban to many countries, including South Korea and Japan. This was seen as sort of China's way to address it's growing economic problems, but also that it came right before the U.S.-ROK-Japan summit, which, to me, is China is sending a signal towards South Korea and Japan, the desire to warm the relationship –economic relationships. I'll stop there.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you so much, Ellen. And that was the last question in the queue. And we are coming up on one hour.

So I actually have one follow up from George Condon. I'll go to that before we wrap up for today.

Operator: Thank you.

And, George, your line is open.

Q: Right. Sorry to slip this in, but the last time we saw the South Korean president, he was singing “American Pie” in the in the East Room. Did the personal relationship – I mean, going back to Nakasone and Reagan has always been really important in these relationships. What kind of relationship – personal relationship, does Biden have with these two leaders?

Dr. Cha: So, George, it's Victor. I’ll Chris speak about Prime Minister Kishida, but with regard to President Yoon, look, I think the relationship is quite good. You know, Yoon in many ways has the advantage of not ever being in elected office before he became president. And so his views on foreign policy are almost Reaganesque, in the sense that he doesn't focus on issues so much as he focuses on principles where he says foreign policy, in his case, is driven by democracy, protection of freedom, individual rights, things of that nature. So it's a very – it's a very – I mean, I think it's a very Reaganesque view of how to think about foreign policy, which we really haven't seen from a South Korean leader yet.

And I think that really resonates with Biden, right? I think it really resonates with him. And, of course, you know, the closeness of the relationship was evidenced in the fact that they were given a state visit. And then added touches, like singing a few bars of “American Pie,” which I have to tell you, the room was – I was there that evening. The room was absolutely rocking when he was singing that. People were – you know, Cabinet officials on both sides were going completely nuts when he was singing that. Just a – it’s always a nice – it's always a nice touch. And it shows the world how close the relationship is.


Mr. Johnstone: Yeah. So it’s hard to compete with singing “American Pie” at the – at the state dinner, but I do think that President Biden has a lot of respect for Prime Minister Kishida. Kishida was foreign minister for five years under Prime Minister Abe. He’s comfortable with international issues. He does off-script in the meetings. So there is a – there is a free-flowing give and take on the issues that I think the president appreciates.

And I also think that Biden respects the decisions that Kishida has made in a couple of areas. First, the decision to support Ukraine and to join with the G-7 so forcefully in responding to Russia’s aggression. Seems sort of automatic now, but the history of Japan’s relationship with Russia, particularly under Prime Minister Abe, would have suggested a different set of decisions. So I think the boldness of Kishida’s leadership there had an impression. And then the very significant defense reforms that Japan has embarked upon under Kishida – the doubling of defense spending – near-doubling, I should say; investment in certain capabilities.

All of this, I think, has created the sense that Kishida is a consequential leader – perhaps not Abe in sort of the level of vision, but a very consequential leader. And so – and I think that’ll be on display at this – at this meeting at Camp David. I’m told that the lunch will be basically the president plus just a couple of aides, and the same for the other principals. So there’s a level of intimacy, I think, that will be on display in the meetings.


Dr. Cha: Paige, before we sign off, can I just let the group know – I mean, whoever’s left on the call that – so after the summit – after the Camp David summit, we – CSIS, we will be hosting our own trilateral with – we’ll be hosting our own trilateral on August 29th with Dr. Kurt Campbell, Ambassador Cho from South Korea, and Ambassador Tomita from Japan. This will be at CSIS on August 29th. We haven’t publicly announced it yet, so all of you on the call get a preview so that you can RSVP first as soon as we announce it. We’ll announce it the day of the summit, August 18th, after the press conference. But that’ll be August 29th at CSIS.

I think it’s at nine a.m. Is that right?

Mr. Johnstone: Yes, that’s right, Victor; nine a.m. on the 29th.

Dr. Cha: OK. All right.

Paige, over to you.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Dr. Cha. And thank you, everyone who joined and all of you, for sticking around here at the end. We really appreciate you taking the time.

And we will have that transcript out to you within just a few hours today. Please feel free to reach out to me, Paige Montfort, by email or by phone if you have any follow-up questions or other interview requests in the leadup to the summit this week or following the summit, or have any questions about the event that Dr. Cha alluded to.

So thank you and have a great day, everyone.