President Biden and the leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed at a historic Camp David summit to formally and “expeditiously” consult each other on provocations and threats from China and North Korea.
They stopped short of creating a mutual defense alliance like NATO.
Mr. Biden drew a sharp contrast between his commitment to Indo-Pacific allies and former President Donald Trump, who as president threatened to reduce the American military footprint on the Korean peninsula.
“There’s not much of anything I agree with my predecessor on foreign policy. His America First policy of walking away from the rest of the world made us weaker, not stronger,” Mr. Biden said during a joint press conference at the rustic Maryland retreat with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Mr. Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to take on Mr. Biden in 2024.
The summit offered Mr. Biden a chance to strike a commander-in-chief posture for his 2024 reelection campaign. He is battling some headwinds at home, including a congressional investigation of influence peddling, sluggish approval ratings, high prices and criticism of his response to the deadly Maui wildfire.
Standing next to foreign leaders, Mr. Biden was forced Friday to swat away questions about his son, Hunter, who is the target of a special counsel probe.
“That’s up to the Justice Department, and that’s all I have to say,” Mr. Biden said.
Outlining progress made at the summit, Mr. Biden said Cabinet-level officials from the U.S., South Korea and Japan will meet regularly and the three nations will hold annual military exercises “bringing our trilateral defense cooperation to an unprecedented level.”
They also committed to combatting cryptocurrency money laundering by North Korea.
“If it seems like I’m happy, it’s because I am. This has been a great, great meeting,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden wants to foster American ties with both Asian allies while accelerating efforts that Seoul and Tokyo have made to improve their relations after centuries of conflict.
“I want to thank you both for your political courage, that brought you here,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Yoon and Mr. Kishida.
In a joint statement, the leaders said they are at a “hinge point” in history, “when geopolitical competition, the climate crisis, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and nuclear provocations test us.”
“This is a moment that requires unity and coordinated action from true partners, and it is a moment we intend to meet, together,” they said.
The summit marked the first time a foreign leader has visited Camp David during the Biden presidency and the first, overall, since President Barack Obama hosted the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations in 2015 to try and ease their concerns about the Iran nuclear deal.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan noted that Mr. Biden hosted both leaders early in his administration and made visits to Japan and South Korea a priority when he toured Asia.
“We’re opening a new era, and we’re making sure that era has staying power,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Rep. Michelle Steel, a California Democrat who was born in South Korea and raised in Japan, hailed the meeting as a win for the world.
“As North Korea, Russia, and the Chinese Communist Party continue threatening global stability, I have called for increased cooperation between South Korea and Japan to counter hostile actors and bolster economic success,” she said. “Historic grievances must give way to a trilateral relationship based on shared values and committed to our shared success, and this meeting makes historic progress toward that goal.”
Not everyone is happy.
North Korea is likely to view the summit as a provocation, and there were fears Pyongyang would fire off a missile around the time of the summit.
China also bristled at the three-nation summit.
“China opposes relevant countries forming various cliques and their practices of exacerbating confrontation and jeopardizing other countries’ strategic security,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday. “We hope the countries concerned will go with the trend of the times and do something conducive to regional peace, stability and prosperity.”