Joe Biden achieved a good diplomatic goal yesterday by making the leaders of Japan and South Korea put aside their mutual and old suspicions and join the common front promoted by Washington against Beijing in the military and economic fields.
To underline the relevance of the "trilateral summit" between the three presidents and their heads of foreign affairs, the president of the United States chose the Camp David residence - scene of historical milestones in international relations - to receive the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and the South Korean president, Yoon Suk Yeol.
"If we stand together, our countries are stronger and the world safer," Biden stressed at the start of the meeting held at the site where his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower received Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1959 and where Jimmy Carter promoted the peace agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat in 1978. Yesterday was Biden's first official meeting at Camp David, and the first high-level meeting which has been hosted there since 2015, when Barack Obama summoned the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Biden's Asian priority was clear from the beginning of his mandate, when his first guests at the White House were precisely his counterparts from Tokyo and South Korea. But getting these two leaders to attend together at the US presidential residence in Maryland, when they had never met outside of multilateral summits before, was still something of a feat.
The wounds from the Japanese occupation of Korea and from Tokyo's actions in World War II, reopened in recent times with visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the country's military fallen on the front, including 14 criminals from war, they haven't finished healing. For this reason, Biden praised the "political value" of his guests when it came to making this new way of three-way cooperation possible.
And it is that, in the eyes of the three interlocutors, the common goal of slowing down China is now imperative. And, although yesterday Washington highlighted the breadth of trilateral cooperation in areas that also include the economy, the main agreements that the three presidents had to sign point to military prevention against any invasive temptation from China in the area.
The three rulers were preparing last night to establish an early warning system or red phone to coordinate militarily in case any force - without mentioning China but obviously alluding to it and explicitly North Korea – attack any of the three key countries or allies in the area.
According to the principle, "whatever poses a threat to any one of us poses a threat to all": a phrase reminiscent of NATO's Article 5 on mutual military assistance between allies but which, as he pointed out the White House, "it is not a formal commitment of collective defense but of immediate communication and consultation" between the three partners in case of contingency or regional threat, basically in the Indo-Pacific, and "without violating the right of defense of anyone under international law or existing treaties”.
The pacts of this first trilateral summit, which its interlocutors want to consolidate with annual meetings, include moving forward in the exchange of air warning data on ballistic missiles; a program of joint military exercises more comprehensive than current and new economic and energy security initiatives, including coordination in the face of disruptions in the supply chain.
Beijing reacted as expected: "China opposes countries that form cliques, exacerbate confrontation and endanger the strategic security of other countries," said a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Xi Jinping's Government. The tension continues to rise.