Reviewing the Camp David Trilateral Summit

Available Downloads

This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on August 29, 2023. Watch the full video here.

Victor Cha: Ok. All right. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us this morning. I think there’s nearly 400 of you in person and online. So, thank you for joining us for this conversation about the recent trilateral leaders’ summit between the U.S., Japan, and Korea. My name is Victor Cha. I’m senior vice president for Asia and Korea Chair here at CSIS, professor at Georgetown.

By way of introduction, let me offer a little bit of context for our discussion today. As some of you know, I’ve been studying the U.S.-Japan-Korea relationship for decades. My first book, actually, was on the trilateral relationship and how invaluable this relationship was for U.S. strategic interests. During the Cold War, the United States saw these individual bilateral alliances as a strategic trilateral hole when it came to defense and deterrence. And in the post-Cold War, they also saw the institution as important for promoting values, and democracy, and support of the liberal international order in a part of the world that had not yet fully accepted these values.

In the long history of this relationship, there are probably two historic moments that I would highlight. The first was in June of 1965, a positive moment when the United States helped to broker the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea, which led to the flow of technology and economic assistance that helped to launch the South Korean economy. The second, the negative moment, was in 2022 when Japan-Korea relations really plummeted to one of their lowest points in history. Assets were under threat of being nationalized, countries were being put on export control lists, there was talk of decoupling for an intelligence sharing agreement, there was no dialogue taking place between the leaders of the two countries.

And so, it’s in this context that I would argue that the Camp David summit of August 2023 constitutes sort of the third historic moment in this relationship. The scope of the agreements that were reached are quite impressive. The institutionalization of these high-level meetings, including summit-level meetings, the creation of a new named set of trilateral exercises, and many other agreements and cooperation laid out in the statement on supply chains, combating disinformation, promoting coordinated development assistance. This institutionalization of the trilateral relationship is simply unprecedented, and it really transforms these alliances into something quite new.

So in 1965, when Edwin Reischauer worked feverishly to try to bring together – just to bring together the foreign ministers of Japan and Korea, he probably never imagined what we’re seeing today, thanks to the hard work of these three gentlemen on the stage this morning: Kurt Campbell, one of our nation’s most creative, if not the most creative, diplomats of U.S. strategy in Asia; Ambassador Cho Hyundong, who before coming to DC was the point person for crucial agreements between Japan and Korea that allowed – facilitated the improved relations today; and Ambassador Tomita Koji, one of Japan’s most capable and experienced diplomats worked incredibly hard to facilitate the dramatic change in relations over the past year leading to this moment.

So, the significance of the Camp David summit cannot be overestimated. And I’m glad we’re here to discuss the reflections, opportunities, and challenges going forward. I will turn the floor over now to my colleagues, Christopher Johnstone, senior fellow and Japan chair, former NSC director for Japan and Dr. Ellen Kim, senior fellow and deputy director in the Korea chair, to carry forth the discussion. Over to you.

Christopher B. Johnstone: Good morning, everyone. I’m Chris Johnstone, senior advisor and Japan chair. And, again, I want to welcome Dr. Campbell, Ambassador Cho, Ambassador Tomita. Really a great pleasure to host you here this morning.

Maybe, if I could, I’ll start with just a broad question, really, for each of you. Would just invite you to offer your reflections, perspectives on what you think were the most significant outcomes from the meetings at Camp David, and perhaps anything that you think might have been overlooked or underplayed in the coverage – in the coverage here. Maybe I’ll start, if I may, with Kurt, and then go to Ambassador Cho, then go to Ambassador Tomita, if that’s ok. Kurt.

Kurt Campbell: Great. First, good morning to everyone. And many thanks to Victor, Christopher, all our friends at CSIS for hosting this meeting today. I will also say that, you know, there’s a lot of folks who helped play a role in building bridges. And I would say the quiet encouragement and work of institutions, particularly CSIS, has been central over many years.

So, you know, you’re supposed to be steady, unemotional, and just sort of take it in stride. I found that difficult at Camp David. I found myself emotional. I found it, Chris, extremely powerful at a personal level. I’ve done diplomacy for almost 30 years. I personally have not experienced something quite like that. And, you know, in the arsenal of diplomatic features, Camp David plays a rare role. And the fact that we were able to meet there, and sort of consecrate this three-way relationship was extremely powerful.

And the power of it, like you would be in a room or a cabin, and people would say, oh, this is the cabin that Menachem Begin stayed in. This was Jimmy Carter’s cabin. This is where Churchill slept before the meetings about, you know, the next phase in the Second World War. You feel, in many respects even more than in the White House and other places around Washington, sort of walking in the footsteps of history.

And I was struck and impressed by how much my Japanese and South Korean friends understood that, recognized it, and I think appreciated it. I would also say what was very much on display is something that I don’t think gets as much attention, Chris, is, you know, we all have challenges in our democracies. We all have issues that we grapple with. But one of the things that was clear to me was I saw very clearly over two days the strategic empathy that President Biden has in these circumstances.

So just to give you just a quick insight. So, I think as you all know, President Yoon’s father died just days before the summit. He was his driving inspiration. He was one of the people who most supported rapprochement with Japan. He was one of the first exchange students as a young man to go to Korea in the 1960s – to go to Japan in the 1960s.

So, the president insisted that he wanted to talk to President Yoon before the beginning of the summit, got him on the phone. And usually those calls are quick. I’m really sorry, but this was an extensive call in which they talked about family. They talked about President Yoon’s role in his life. And, you know, I – it’s a busy period. I watched the president take, you know, 45 minutes to go through very clearly heartfelt appreciation for his role and for President Yoon’s loss.

And then when we were – the next day, when the president was meeting with Prime Minister Kishida, he basically said, look, I know you’re going to be facing some difficult times with respect to Fukushima. And I want you to know that the United States is going to be with you and we’re going to support you even though you’re going to face disinformation and challenges; and so a real sense of understanding sort of the political circumstances.

And so, I will say that I like very much the way Victor laid it out, Chris. I think the things that are going to be most important will be the institutionalization at every level, the three leaders meeting every year, investing in a very high-tech hotline that we will utilize. The fact that we’ll have our national-security advisers, our secretaries, ministers of defense, our secretaries of state, meeting regularly, we believe, will help propel this relationship forward.

I think we’re under no illusions that we will face challenges. But the hope will be this time that because the United States has now basically underscored that it has a stated interest directly and publicly in this powerful and positive trilateral, that we will engage to help ensure that whatever rough patches that we have, Chris, that we will get through together.

Thank you.

Mr. Johnstone: That’s terrific, Kurt. Thanks. I mean, there’s certainly nothing like the intimacy of Camp David. As you said, the institutionalization of the relationship is very much a theme here.

Ambassador Cho, may I turn to you for your reflections?

Ambassador Cho Hyundong: Well, first of all, I’d like to join Kurt. I’d like to echo Kurt, what he said about the significance, historic significance, of this Camp David trilateral summit.

When you look at the press coverage, I think most attention has been focused on something like strategic implication toward China or some security arrangement in response to North Korea’s provocation. But I’d also like to highlight some point that made this trilateral summit so special.

First of all, the three countries are the engine of the global economy. So last year I think the total GDP of the world, I think, reached 105 trillion U.S. dollars. But among them, the three countries’ combined GDP account for about 31 percent of global – world GDP. And I think, more than that, we three countries are the leaders of high-tech industry, and they are leaders in cutting-edge technologies. And they are also, you know, leaders in many advanced industries like manufacturing EV batteries and semiconductors and 5G and 6G communications.

For instance, we three countries provide, I think, almost 80 percent of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to the world market. And the Korea and Japan companies, companies from the two countries, supply, I think, almost 90 percent of batteries which will be used in United States the next year.

So, the deeper cooperation amongst three countries will, I think, facilitate the more resilient and safer supply – global supply chain, which is, I think, benefit for all.

And number two, as President Biden publicly said, the three countries are kind of force of good across the Indo-Pacific, which I think we share universal values of democracy, freedom and rule of law, and also human right. So, we are to promote and enhance freedom and peace in the Indo-Pacific, I think, region, and this is not by word. For instance, I think also total, I think, combined amount of official development assistance – ODA – account for 40 percent of global ODA. So also in deeper cooperation among the three countries in this field will definitely benefit millions of people in the Global South.

One of the point I’d like to add is three leaders agreed on the stronger cooperation in the field of people-to-people exchange, in particular among the younger generations, and they agreed to hold a kind of global youth summit next year. And President Yoon is a strong believer of people-to-people exchange, in particular among the younger generation, because the stronger cooperation among the younger generation will lay the foundation for the future cooperation of the three countries. So, city of Busan will be proud of hosting next year’s youth summit in Korea.

I think I will stop.

Mr. Johnstone: That’s great. Thank you. I like that phrase, a force of good across the Indo-Pacific. That’s speaking to the expanding basis of the cooperation among these three countries.

Ambassador Tomita, may I invite you, too, with your thoughts?

Ambassador Tomita Koji: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Chris. And I thank CSIS for having us for this very, very important occasion.

And I agree with Kurt and Ambassador Cho. It was a historic occasion. And we had a venue – very fitting venue for this historic occasion. It was an incredible honor to share with these two guys the privilege of being in that meeting.

As Kurt noted, there was a lot of symbolism. I was watching the leaders departing the podium at the press conference and disappearing into the greenery of Camp David. That was just like watching the end glow of a film. (Laughter.) So, there was very symbolic moments during the meeting.

The meeting was more than symbolism. I think produced very important deliverables. To my mind, there are three things that stand out in terms of the concrete outcome.

The first is we agreed to work for stronger coordination between two alliances. You know, we always had a very robust alliance between the United States and Japan, the United States and ROK. But now we are talking about stronger coordination, or connection if you like, between these two alliance, which will enable us to respond to – with the greater deterrent response and capabilities to the increasingly troubling security situation – so multidomain exercise, start sharing the missile warning data, and so on and so forth. So, I think those things will contribute to this end.

The second thing is, as Ambassador Cho mentioned, we are broadening horizon of our cooperation in terms of geographic outlook of our cooperation. We have mostly concentrated on the – what is happening on the Korean Peninsula, but we’re now looking at the broader security outlook and we even discussed grain, for instance. And also, we are also taking on the margin policy challenges like economic security. So, I think we are talking about, you know, expanding trilateral cooperation covering a broader region and broader policy areas.

The third outcome, I think, which is very important, is to – was we have managed to put in place a mechanism for developing, you know, closer habit to consultation. So, the leaders will meet annually. Ministers will meet annually. Security advisers will meet annually. And those new mechanism will help us bring cooperation to the next level.

So, the meeting was rich in symbolism, but also rich in substance.

Mr. Johnstone: That’s great. Thank you, Ambassador Tomita.


Ellen Kim: So let me ask you about the commitment to consult, this trilateral agreement to consult and coordinate a response to regional challenges, which was a really impressive outcome. But the Camp David statement also have a paragraph of the caveats emphasizing sovereign rights and the primacy of the bilateral security treaties, as well as international and domestic law. So, could you tell us a little bit more about the meaning of this – how we should understand the meaning of this commitment and why this commitment is so important to each of your country? Maybe may I ask you, Ambassador Tomita, to start, and then –

Amb. Tomita: Yeah, of course. Absolutely.

This commitment to consult, you know, like I said in my previous statement, we are trying to work on stronger coordination between the two alliance, and this is something that would underpin this – our efforts. And in fact, you know, after the failed satellite launch a few days ago, the foreign minister immediately consulted over the telephone. So, this is something that underpin the stronger and deeper trilateral cooperation.

But at the same time, you know, as I noted, we have had very robust alliances existing bilaterally between the United States and Japan, the United States and ROK. So, there are a lot of undertakings to consult under these alliance mechanism. So, the caveat is just a healthy warning not to complicate, you know, the existing understandings to consult. So, I don’t think we should read too much into these caveat. It’s just a bureaucratic thing. (Laughter.)

Dr. Kim: Dr. Campbell.

Dr. Campbell: I love the fact that Tomita-san just said it’s just a bureaucratic thing. (Laughter.) That’s great.

So, I would just point out that, you know, in terms of these two alliances, we have about a – over 150 years of experience with them together. So, in many respects, we understand some of the challenges, some of the ebbs and flows.

I would say that I think what the statement and the meetings underscore is a general proposition that a challenge to the security of any one of the countries affects the security of all of them, right? And that is a fundamental, foundational understanding which is underscored in the statement.

I think there is a recognition – and Ambassador Tomita, I think, presented this well – that on many issues we should get in the habit of consulting more directly in ways that – on issues that affect our immediate or our collective security. And you know, what we have done in the last several years has been primarily on the Korean Peninsula, but I think our ambition is to increase the geographic scope and the general framing of these discussions to issues in cyberspace – I mean, we – the leaders spoke quite a lot about cybercrime from North Korea. We have a special group that’s going to meet to start working in this area. I think we recognize that we have a lot of work that we can do together in the Pacific. They spoke about the South China Sea, they spoke about Ukraine, they spoke about Haiti – so many different areas, that I think suggests that we have the opportunity to interact more directly.

And so, I think I tend to read the document as ambitious in this respect. I think those caveats are put there for a good reason in the sense that our fundamental treaty obligations go through the Senate. These are taken carefully, and we want to begin carefully, as well, not to overstep to build this trilateral cooperation step by step. So, I do think it’s ambitious, but I think it has also been put in the appropriate context as well.

Amb. Cho: Yeah. Well, again, I’d like to echo what Kurt and Ambassador Tomita elaborated on this. And let me just briefly underline one point.

Well, I think this is clear and loud expression of the leaders of the political way for future cooperation in terms of security challenges in the region. As we know, we have a bilateral arrangement between Seoul and Washington and between Washington and Tokyo. We have mutual defense treaty. And also, between Japan and United States, you have some kind of similar security agreement. But in between Tokyo and Seoul, we don’t have such legal arrangement. So, with this trilateral commitment to consult, I think our security cooperation has been elevated to a higher level for the future.

Dr. Campbell: Good. Chris, can I also say one other thing? That this is perhaps just a subtle matter, but I think an important one. I think, you know, if you look at these complex relationships for us in Northeast Asia, over time I think there is undeniably a paternal quality to some of those interactions. And I thought what was on display in Camp David is a sense of three equal, powerful, committed, determined nations meeting on equal terms. I had that sense, Chris, more than I ever had in the past. That these are not – these are no longer lesser, weaker, stronger, older-brother relationships. These are relationships in which each country takes responsibility for consultation.

I will also say that on many of the issues, the leader of progress was not necessarily the United States. It was Japan or South Korea, given on specific matters – on technology, on Ukraine. And to see that, to witness it, was deeply powerful.

Mr. Johnstone: Ok. Thank you, Kurt.

Let me ask our ambassadors about the reaction in your respective countries to the developments and the outcomes at Camp David. I think it’s fair to say that in both countries this rapprochement, both trilateral and bilaterally between your countries, has been somewhat controversial. I think that’s a fair statement. President Yoon has faced criticism at home for his bold leadership in improving ties with Japan. And I think Prime Minister Kishida, at least early on, faced some skepticism about the opportunity that was emerging.

So, I’d ask each of you, could you share sort of what has been the reaction at home to the outcomes at Camp David? And what more is needed to sort of reinforce, solidify the progress that’s been made? Maybe I’ll start, if I may, with Ambassador Cho, and then invite Ambassador Tomita.

Amb. Cho: Well, it’s tricky question, but let me answer in a very simple manner. Well, I think I’ve seen some public opinion poll conducted in Seoul right at the trilateral summit. Well, President Yoon’s approval rate has gone up. And also, so that I think probably two-thirds majority of the Korean people support the trilateral cooperation and trilateral security cooperation in particular. So, I think I’m witnessing more and more favorable and positive public reaction to the trilateral cooperation.

And also, when you ask about the bilateral relation between Seoul and Tokyo and public reaction, ok, also let me rephrase that. You see now we are witnessing fast-growing number of tourists between the two countries. That is the public reaction to the improvement of relations between Seoul and Tokyo. And there will be more. And I’m quite sure that more and more people in Korea will understand the desire and intention behind President Yoon’s initiative, very bold initiative, towards improving relations with Japan.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you. That’s great.

Ambassador Tomita.

Amb. Tomita: Well, from a – state my conclusion first. I think domestic response in Japan has been generally very positive. Of course, we do have our share of people who are doubting the effectiveness of this undertaking. But, you know, I should remind you that this trilateral meeting was possible on the basis of the improvement in our bilateral relations. And I remember President Biden speaking about political courage of both President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida during the press conference. And indeed, there was a lot of courage needed for the bilateral – in improving the bilateral relations. And I feel very strongly about this, because I was previous ambassador in Korea. My only complaint is that why we couldn’t do this earlier, so I could have some bragging right about it. (Laughter.)

But anyway, so the trilateral was possible because we had a better bilateral relation between Japan and the ROK. But with what has been achieved in Camp David, I think we could now expect sort of virtuous cycle developing, trilateral – deepening trilateral cooperation having a positive impact on the bilateral relation between Japan and ROK. Because trilateral cooperation will, you know, I’m sure will lead to a closer alignment of security and diplomatic outlook. I view that as a positive to bring our two countries together.

And also, the broadening horizon I mentioned, I think it’s going to be very positive as well because, you know, previously, I think, Japan and the ROK were too much obsessed with our bilateral relations. We are only talking about what we should do, or should not do, to each other. Now we can talk about what we can do together for the broader good of the region and international society. That will make, I think, positive impact on our – on how people look at each other, and create a very positive foundation for the progress.

Dr. Campbell: Could I – just one thing, Chris, if I can just say.

Mr. Johnstone: Sure.

Dr. Campbell: When we were briefing the president in advance – and, you know, you’re – you know, parts of Camp David are quite rustic. And so, we were meeting with the secretary of state and our national security adviser briefing him. And the day before we were reminding the president that each of these leaders have demonstrated remarkable courage and they face some headwinds at home, some opposition. And the president stopped and remarked how many of the initiatives that had come out of Camp David had actually come from circumstances where the leaders faced domestic opposition, and that they stood the test of time.

And I will also say, look, the credit goes to South Korea and Japan. It is true that we help play a role behind the scenes, and do things for a period of time, and supported it. But that’s where the credit is due. I will also just underscore, I think one of the ways, Chris, that it is important to help ensure that this agreement stands is that it – that these two leaders receive the credit they deserve internationally. I just – want to just underscore this. I do not believe there is any development in international relations in the last several years that can match this move towards greater peace and stability. So it is that significant.

And I just hope that – many of the institutions that basically reward and acknowledge international statesmanship tend to favor other places and other regions. This is a very significant development that needs to be acknowledged internationally. And that international acknowledgement will then have domestic consequences. So, it is usually the case that domestic issues inform international politics. But in this case, international recognition and acknowledgement will have a deep impact on domestic politics. So, I just – I want to say that I do not believe that there’s any acknowledgement, any accolade that Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon do not deserve.

Mr. Johnstone: Thanks, Kurt.

Amb. Cho: It sounds like your dream has come true. (Laughter.)

Dr. Kim: Dr. Campbell and Ambassador Cho, so the joint statement have a number of impressive area of economic and technological collaboration among the three countries, but it is also the case that many Korean, Japanese and American companies are fierce competitors in manufactures industry. And also, economic security has become national security, and even allied interests do not always align. So, for example, there’s no reference in the joint statement about limits on outbound investment to China. So is this likely to be a challenging area for the three countries to build a more cooperative agenda?

May I start with Dr. Campbell?

Dr. Campbell: So, look, I think, first of all, just as a proposition, it is undeniable that technology represents the emerging arena of the most intensive competition and cooperation between allies and partners. So, I think the way you presented it is exactly right.

I would also say that, even a step further, I think all three leaders acknowledged that increasingly our governments need to field senior practitioners who actually understand the decisions on technology that they’re making. And I am often struck that I am in meetings where we’re making decisions on things that are very hard to fully grasp technologically and understand. And I admit that readily.

So, one of the things that the three leaders agreed to is to begin an executive-training program for senior officials, rising officials, in all three countries that will help, you know, spend weeks together, months together, learning about the ramparts of technology, AI and quantum computing, so better able to make joint decisions.

I think the truth is that Japan, South Korea, and the United States are practiced at the art of understanding how to navigate both competition and cooperation. I think that is a key study for how to maintain strong relations even in the face of fierce competition. And so, I think that represents in many respects an international ideal.

I personally believe that the three countries are quite aligned with respect to how they see the challenges in the region – the challenges that Russia presents to Ukraine, the provocations of North Korea, and the desire to have a steady, predictable relationship with China, but also concern about increasing provocations and uncertainty emanating from Beijing.

Dr. Kim: Ambassador Cho, do you have anything to add?

Amb. Cho: Well, just briefly, well, in the system of market economy, all the companies in the same area, they are sometimes competitors but at the same time they are collaborators. So, I think the trilateral cooperation in the field of business and industry are strengthened among the government. I think the companies of the three countries will follow the way.

For instance, well, as I – as I mentioned, for the manufacturing sector of the electric-vehicle batteries, there are three major Korean companies. And on the other hand, there are three major automakers in the United States. So now these three companies have their own pairing partnership with the other three companies. For instance, LG made a joint venture with GM, and Samsung made a joint venture with Stellantis, and HK made a similar – a kind of similar arrangement with Ford. So, all these kind of partnership among the three from Korea, three from the United States will make, I think, the EV battery, I think, EV electric-vehicles industry in the United States more, I think, prosperous. And the collaboration, well, we’re going to see more and more collaboration among the countries concerned.

Dr. Kim: Thank you.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you.

Let’s turn to North Korea, and then we’ll get to China before we open things up a bit. I think you could say that North Korea is beginning to reopen, if that’s the right word. Defense Minister Shoigu and a senior Chinese politburo official were in Pyongyang for the anniversary of the Korean war; press reports about North Koreans who were sort of stranded overseas when the pandemic set in now returning; so, a sense that reengagement, to some degree, is happening.

And I wonder, for Ambassador Cho, do you see any opportunity for dialogue with North Korea? Is there any opportunity that might emerge here as this reopening, such as it is, proceeds? Or are we just going to see more focus on the relationship between North Korea and Russia and China?

And then, for Ambassador Tomita, if I may, Prime Minister Kishida has renewed calls for dialogue with North Korea on the abductions issue. He characterized it in the press conference at Camp David as a, quote, humanitarian issue with time constraints, as the families of the victims age. What are the prospects, from your point of view, for dialogue with North Korea on this issue?

Maybe first to Ambassador Cho.

Amb. Cho: All right, let me first underline the point that in the joint statement – we call it spirit of Camp David – the three leaders again reaffirmed their strong commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea, DPRK – specifically, DPRK this time. And also, they reiterated their commitment to the resumption of dialogue with North Korea with no preconditions.

Well, but when it comes to the possibility of reopening any dialogue with North Korea, well, we are witnessing a continued provocation and continued North Korea’s commitment to launching missiles. And they say they’re going to do it again in October.

And so probably the opportunity for reopening the dialogue with North Korea is not likely for the time being. But on the other hand, we are going to strengthen our cooperation, for instance, on the issue of North Korean human rights by enhancing awareness of international community the reality of the human-rights situation in North Korea.

This time, I think, for the first time, we include the issue of unrepatriated prisoners of war, together with the issues of the – (inaudible) – and other North Korean refugees, which is also significant. So, at the international forum, our three countries, we take the lead in consolidating, I think, international support for North Korean human right and also in response to North Korea’s, I think, continued provocation.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you.

Ambassador Tomita?

Amb. Tomita: Well, first of all, although I mentioned a broadening horizon for trilateral cooperation, that doesn’t mean that we are going to dilute our efforts on North Korea. On the contrary, I think we’ll be seeing much more robust efforts coming from alliance on the basis of closer coordination among three countries.

That being said, the issue of abduction is, like you said, Chris, extremely serious. I met abductees’ families visiting the United States several months ago. It was really heart-wrenching story. And there was a palpable sense of urgency, because, as you said, there are abductees, fathers and mothers getting into old age, and some of them have passed away. So, there’s not much time left for these families to see their loved ones coming back. So that’s the reason why Prime Minister Kishida has been calling on North Korean government, North Koreans, to start dialogue with a view to solving this extremely serious humanitarian issue.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any window for dialogue developing. I think the important thing is to maintain solidarity, national solidarity, as a very important means of finding a solution to this end. For that reason, we very much appreciate very strong words of support coming from both President Biden and President Yoon in Camp David.

Amb. Cho: Let me add just one simple point.

Mr. Johnstone: Please.

Amb. Cho: I mean, so as to achieve the goal of – common goal of denuclearization of North Korea, any kind of dialogue or engagement or negotiation with North Korea is vital, vital element. Without any engagement, we cannot, I mean, achieve this goal. So, the offer of the dialogue, resumption of the engagement is open there. So, I’d just like to urge North Korea: Come back to negotiating table.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you. Very good.


Kurt, did you want to come in on that?

Dr. Campbell: No, I’m fine. Thank you.

Mr. Johnstone: Ok. Yeah.

Dr. Kim: So, let’s talk about China. For Ambassador Tomita and Ambassador Cho, as you know, China is not happy with the Camp David summit, and both of your government have indicated a desire to stabilize relation with Beijing. And both President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida have proposed resuming the Korea-Japan-China trilateral process, but do you think that that will be now more difficult in light of the Camp David summit? How do you see – how do each of you see the relations with Beijing going forward?

And, Ambassador Tomita, I also have a follow-up question for you. How do you assess the – China’s reaction to the release of the treated water from the Fukushima power plant? Do you see that this is going to further impede progress between Japan and China?

Maybe first –

Amb. Cho: Ok. So, well, as far as China’s reaction to trilateral summit is concerned, we have seen some negative reaction by Chinese government. But to me, their reaction is more rhetorical than substantive. So, my personal feeling is their reaction is quite reserved.

And as far as this trilateral cooperation among Korea, Japan, and China is concerned, well, there’s been a few years of hiatus in terms of a trilateral summit meeting. The last meeting was 2019. As chair and host of this upcoming trilateral, I think, summit meeting among the three countries, now Korea is making every effort to consult with these two countries to – hopefully to – we’ll be able to host a trilateral summit meeting, well, toward the end of this year. And so far, the reaction from – well, from Tokyo is always positive, but also from the – from Beijing is – I’d say is quite forthcoming. So, we look forward to hosting another trilateral meeting any time soon.

Dr. Kim: Ambassador Tomita?

Amb. Tomita: Well, I think at the press conference or in other occasions, I think our leaders made it very clear that this initiative is not directed to any specific country, although we have sent a very clear message about some aspect of Chinese behaviors which we found troubling. But while sending these messages, we also have made it very clear that we continue to work to find constructive and stable relations with these countries. I think – on that score, I think all three countries agree.

And as far as the discharge of treated water from Fukushima Daiichi – (inaudible) – ALPS-treated water. You know, this is an indispensable step toward decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. We haven’t made a decision in haste. We took many month trying to find the best and safest solution to this really serious challenge. And our system will allow us to purify all the nuclides except tritium. And as far as tritium is concerned, we reduced concentration of that nuclide to the level far, far below internationally accepted and scientifically based international regulatory standard.

And in the process of reaching that conclusion, we have been engaging relevant international organization, most notably IAEA, and reaching out all the relevant countries – interested countries in the region and beyond, including China. And of course, the IAEA, in their comprehensive report, concluded that there will be a negligible impact on human health and oceanic environment.

So, after we started the discharge, I think we have seen the very broad understanding space by the international community. But the Chinese response was, in our view, out of proportion in its ferocity. They have instigated a very blistering attack against our action which we think is not based on science. And also, they have introduced countermeasures like banning the import of Japanese fishery products.

And the most concerning is we started to see harassments directed against Japanese nationals living in China. Stones are thrown into Japanese schools in China, and so on and so forth. So, we are calling for Chinese government to make sure about the safety of our citizens living there. So, we – it is not our hope that this will – this issue will stand in the way of our efforts to find – you know, construct a stable relation with China. That we want to see more responsible action taken by the Chinese government.

Mr. Johnstone: Yeah, so alarming set of developments, in a sense.

But, Kurt, please let me invite you to comment on this too.

Dr. Campbell: Can I just say one thing? Sure.

So I think we have to recognize and acknowledge that the trilateral summit takes place in the midst of a very complex and challenging security environment in Northeast Asia. And just to give you a sense of what was transpiring at roughly the same time, as we met in Camp David, Russian and Chinese warships were passing with a clear signal to Japan in a way that was unmistakable. We are facing increased Chinese activities against Philippine friends in the South China Sea, in waters territorially aligned with the Philippines. We’ve watched as India has engaged China on possible steps to try to improve the security and political situation along the line of actual control, and discussions in South Africa. We’re facing enormous challenges there. We see North Korea increasingly strategically working with Russia, and also with China.

So, a shifting security environment that is complex and challenging to all three democratically elected governments. And so, I do want to just underscore that I think what was important at the summit, Chris, was that the leaders not only discussed all the areas that we were going to work collectively going forward, but they tried to align their views of what was transpiring in the region generally, Northeast Asia, in Asia, per se, and broadly Internationally. And I will say that, for at least my ears, I have rarely heard such a broad sense of consensus about what the challenges that each of us face more directly. And so, I think it is undeniable that the security environment is concerning to all three. And the – I think the appropriate response are exactly the steps that the leaders took at Camp David.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you, Kurt.

We have just a couple of minutes for a question or two from the audience. We have a microphone that will make its way up and down the aisles when you get called upon. Please keep your question concise. (Laughs.) But please, we’ll start here in the second row here. Thank you.

Q: I’m Alan Jones, a student at Georgetown University. I have a question for His Excellency Tomita Koji.

(Speaks in Japanese.)

Mr. Johnstone: In essence, right, Ambassador, he’s asking about –

Amb. Tomita: For the benefit of the audience, I think you should have asked a question –

Mr. Johnstone: Can you ask the – in a nutshell, am I right, you’re –

Amb. Tomita: And, in a nutshell, your question is too technical. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to address, to try to address.

Mr. Johnstone: Ok, that’s fine. Yeah.

Amb. Tomita: So, if you have any query, I think you can – you can reach out to our embassy, so that we could give you an answer to your very technical question.

Mr. Johnstone: Thank you.

Yes, right here, please. Again, concise, please.

Q: Yeah. Hi. I’m Soyoung Kim, a reporter for Radio Free Asia.

I have a question regarding the three – trilateral cooperation in response to North Korea threats. You touched it a little bit, but since we just saw the second satellite launch last week, and that’s not long after this trilateral summit, so do you see that the three countries have seen any kind of changes or improvements in responding to the North Korea’s immediate threats? And then, do you see any areas that you can improve a little bit more? Thank you.

Dr. Campbell: I would say, I’ve been – I’ve been extremely impressed about how our national security and defense establishments have responded to provocations. We have Syd Seiler here, who helped work on these issues for decades when he was in government. What has been refined over time are trilateral responses. We have playbooks. We know exactly how we’ll respond to particular provocations – deep consultations, as Ambassador Tomita suggested, on these particular issues.

I think the challenge that we face, that in the current circumstances – in the past, that it was often the case that North Korea went through this ritual of testing or provocations to send a signal about the possibility of, you know, what are the terms for dialogue or discussion. It appears to each of us that increasingly these military steps are about modernizing their arsenal, and doing so in ways that are deeply concerning to the region as a whole. I think all three of us are united in our determination to keep the door of diplomacy open.

And it is also the case that we have all put, carefully and quietly, incentives for resumption of those discussions, whether it’s in humanitarian or health or other ways. I would say at least from the American perspective, ever since President Trump left Vietnam, Hanoi perhaps earlier than the Vietnamese – the North Koreans anticipated, we’ve had no real discussion or dialogue of any sort in North Korea, through any channel, through any mechanism. And we still await the possible response to any sign that they’re interested resuming dialogue.

Mr. Johnstone: Maybe we’ll do one last question back here.

Q: Thank you. James Brady, Tono Consulting. And thank you, everyone, for a really engaging discussion today.

I’ll try to be very brief. And we’re at a historic high-water mark between the three countries today. But there are major elections coming in each country in the next few years. How future proof is this new framework? And secondly, just with relation to Fukushima and in terms of boosting the trilateral, would President Biden or President Yoon be open to setting up a standing order to eat some delicious Fukushima fish once a week hereafter? (Laughter.)

Dr. Campbell: Chris, this nice woman in the back was the first to raise her hand. And we should take a question as well, and then we’ll answer. We have to be balanced here.

Q: Yes, actually, Dr. Campbell. Thank you. My question was for you.

Dr. Campbell: I was hoping it was to other people. (Laughs.) But go ahead.

Q: I’m Eunjung Cho with the Voice of America.

Today Kim Jong-un called the leaders of the U.S., and South Korea, and Japan as gang leaders for regularizing joint military exercises. Dr. Campbell, what is your reaction? And some analysts compare the commitment to consult to Article Four of NATO. Would you say the trilateral relationship is already a de facto military alliance, or at least a step towards the military alliance? Thank you.

Mr. Johnstone: Tricky questions. Why don’t we move around to – Ambassador Cho, would you like to take any part of what you’ve just heard to get us started?

Amb. Cho: Well, I think Kurt should respond.

Dr. Campbell: I can only start. Well, first of all, thank you for your first question, and your idea and suggestion. First of all, Ambassador Emanuel has just returned to Tokyo from leave, and he intends to head up north for a delicious fish dinner very shortly. And knowing Rahm, he will not eat quietly. (Laughter.) There will probably be a lot of reporters and others there. He will comment after every delicious bite. So, I think we can anticipate that.

And I think I would just underscore your point; nothing can be future proof. Nothing can be. But I will also just underscore that there are examples of countries that face complex histories that have managed to – through a variety of reasons and mechanisms, managed to create a new relationship and a new future. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s, the enormous tension that existed between France and Germany. It’s almost impossible to remember now, but through courageous steps, through institutionalization, through habit, through exchange, the people-to-people issues, the youth exchanging, education, many of those issues have been very effectively surmounted. And they are now thought to be among the two most important and aligned diplomatic forces on the European continent. You know, obviously, every circumstance is different. But we are determined and intent to try to do what we can to solidify and to continue this trajectory into the future.

And I will say one other thing, if I may, that, you know, we often talk about, like, ensuring that the process can continue between Japan and South Korea. What is often unstated, because Japanese and Korean friends are very polite, is they seek the same in the United States. And they are also worried about political developments in the United States that would depart from what, I believe, is the strongest, most durable, most bipartisan tradition in the United States, which is tackling issues working in the context of allies and partners. And I believe that is something that President Biden, working closely with Democrats and Republicans, has sought to do not only in Europe, and Asia, and elsewhere.

There are lots of criticisms to go around, but I think a general proposition is that that sentiment and that tendency and that desire has been welcomed by allies and partners, particularly in Northeast Asia. And they’re trying to send a subtle but unmistakable signal to American domestic politics that working with allies and partners in this constructive, respectful manner as equals is the preferred course of action for our partners in Asia as well. So, this is not just locking things in in the region; this is a very clear demand signal from Asia – subtle, but unmistakable – that continuing some of these policies, which were and have always been bipartisan, should be continued. So, I think that’s our goal in all three polities.

To the very good question that you asked which I have now forgotten, Chris – (laughter) – can you just repeat? I was so focused on this France and Germany; I had gone back in time. (Laughter.) This is – this is what happens when you get older here. So can you –

Mr. Johnstone: It was on North Korea.

Dr. Campbell: North Korea. North Korea.

Dr. Kim: Right. Kim Jong-un called the leaders of U.S., South Korea, Japan as gang leaders.

Dr. Campbell: Yeah. Right. Oh, gang members.

Mr. Johnstone: Gang members.

Mr. Campbell: Yeah, that’s right.

Dr. Kim: And then the commitment to consult some compare with Article 4 of NATO. So, is the trilateral relationship already a de facto military alliance or at least a step towards that?

Dr. Campbell: I get it. Sorry, I – (laughter) – now it all comes back, yeah. (Laughter.)

So, look, we’ve heard lots of talk about, like, this is the – this is a version of NATO in Asia. So, first of all, I would say NATO as an institution has so much to be proud of. It’s one of the most impressive, unique military and political establishments on the planet. It’s served American interests, European interests, other interests quite effectively. I do not believe fundamentally that what is going on in Asia has really much to do with NATO. These have unique characteristics.

As I mentioned, we have almost 160 years of alliance relationship with both of these countries. Our goal is to follow that unique path, and to recognize that it will follow its own timing and pattern of consultation and engagement. I think it’s very important for all of us not to get ahead of ourselves, and so we’ve tried to take this in a step-by step manner.

And so, I personally would discourage comparisons with NATO. I would focus more on the unique contributions that all three countries make and the desire to chart their own path in a complex Northeast Asian environment.


Amb. Cho: I’ll do one quick response to the question about North Korea. I’d just like to make clear to North Korea, as President Yoon said, the continued provocation and the continued violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolution by North Korea will only strengthen the trilateral security cooperation among the three countries.

Dr. Campbell: That’s well said.

Mr. Johnstone: Ambassador Tomita, is there any final thoughts you want to offer before we wrap up here?

Amb. Tomita: No, I think, you know, we all – three of us meeting, you know, very often, and the meeting always ends Kurt having the last word, so. (Laughter.) Sorry, I did not mean to –

Mr. Johnstone: Doesn’t really – doesn’t really feel that way. It feels like you’re talking. (Laughter.)

Dr. Campbell: I’m familiar with that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. Johnstone: Well, please – this has been a terrific and wide-ranging conversation. My sincere congratulations to all of you again on really an historic set of developments. Please join me in a warm round of applause for – (applause). Thanks very much.