Meeting

U.S.-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Summit

Tuesday, August 15, 2023
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Speakers

John E. Merow Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations

CFR experts discuss the upcoming U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit at Camp David, as well as the countries’ shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific. 

STARES: Well, thank you, Krista. And good day, everyone. Welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations briefing on the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit. And thank you for joining us today. For those who don’t know me, I’m Paul Stares, senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and director of its Center for Preventive Action.

This Friday, the leaders of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States will meet at Camp David for what will be the first standalone summit between the three countries. It is also the first time, I believe, that President Biden has used Camp David for an international summit during his tenure at the White House.

Here to talk about this historic meeting, we have two of America’s leading experts on Japan and Korea. I will dispense with lengthy introductions, but Shelia Smith is the John E. Merow senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Studies here at the Council, and author most recently of Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power, and previous Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy here at the Council too, and author of the upcoming book, titled The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Why it May Fail and Why It Must Not.

So, as typical of these things, I’m going to ask a few questions to both our guests today, and then we’ll open it up for Q&A for the bulk of the discussion. So I’m going to turn to you first, Scott, and ask you to give us just some brief background on the summit. How did we get here and what is South Korea in particular looking to get out of this?

SNYDER: OK. Well, I think that the Biden administration came into office wanting to reinvigorate both of these alliances—the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-South Korea alliances—and pursued essentially a parallel approach in that regard. Secretary Blinken’s first trip, along with Secretary of Defense Austin, was to Tokyo and Seoul for parallel 2+2 meetings. But I think that the real driver that has enabled it to be possible to have a trilateral summit has been the advent of the Yoon administration and his focus on reconciliation with Japan. That made possible a three-way summit leaders’ statement last November in Phnom Penh. And then since then we’ve also seen the normalization of the Japan-South Korea relationship, and the ability to address or set aside some of the issues that had stood in the way with President Yoon visiting Prime Minister Kishida back in March, and then a return visit in May. And then also, regular meetings between these two that I think have now enabled all three leaders to take a next step, and that would be the trilateral meeting this Friday.

STARES: OK. Shelia, and tell us—give us the Japanese perspective on how this process has evolved and what they are looking for from the summit too.

SMITH: Thank you, Paul. It’s great to be with both you and Scott today. I agree with Scott completely. I think it’s the beginning of the Yoon administration where you really see the opening up of possibility for repair and restoration of some of the basic collaboration that we expect of this trilateral. We all know about the history, and we all know about the difficult period prior to President Yoon coming into office. But let me just say that one of the things that I’ve been really admiring in the Biden administration’s approach is even as they develop the Quad—they talked about the Indo-Pacific with Japan, Australia, and India—they very quickly began, as Scott pointed out, to restore the really high-level security consultations in the trilat. I think President Yoon has taken a significant step from Seoul, and that was reciprocated a little bit—cautiously, perhaps—by Prime Minister Kishida. The Japanese felt really quite worried about the domestic politics in South Korea, but they were welcoming have a stronger and a more direct conversation at the bilateral level.

So I think we do have to look at both the leaders, Kishida and Yoon, as being the engines here of what’s happened at the bilateral level. But I think—but I was—Scott mentioned the Phnom Penh statement, which was last November. I was struck by the emphasis on shared value. Something, again, the Yoon administration has emphasized in South Korea, the innovation piece, the technological innovation piece, and as well as the security and prosperity piece, which has always been there. So I think this Indo-Pacific reframing with these broader comprehensive goals has really been the mark of this trilateral. And I think what we’re going to see in Camp David will reflect that vision.

STARES: So international summits are typically prebaked in terms of the deliverables that have been decided at the outset. And we’ve already heard what they’re likely to be in the media this week. We’re talking about enhanced intelligence sharing particularly around ballistic missile early warning from North Korea, joint military exercises, maritime, ASW. Possibility of a crisis hotline has been mentioned, as well as a—I think, a general statement of principles for the three countries. They’re calling it the Camp David Principles. Of these agreements that we are looking to see come out of this, is there one in particular that really catches your eye or is more significant and important than the others? Scott, if you could take us—give us your sense first, and then Sheila.

SNYDER: So I would actually step back and suggest that I think that what this really is about is trying to institutionalize trilateral cooperation among the three governments, and that we’re likely to see a trilateral communique that is rather comprehensive in terms of issue areas. And each of these areas, there is a focus on trying to provide momentum for institutional cooperation. And the reason why I think that is significant is because it hedges against the possibility of reversibility of the process. And it puts into a place a process that I think the leaders are hoping will be durable.

STARES: Sheila, would you agree with that?

SMITH: Sure. I think, you know, we’re so used to thinking about this trilateral in the frame of what happens on the Korean Peninsula or, by extension, in Northeast Asia. I think what’s been interesting for me, and what I expect to see in the language of these Camp David Principles, is that this is a trilateral that matters not just for the specific security challenges that North Korea presents, but also can be mobilized for the broader goals of the Indo-Pacific, as I mentioned earlier. But also, you know, remember, that these Indo-Pacific allies have visited NATO during the summit meetings. They’ve engaged very strongly with us and with European partners on the Russian aggression against Ukraine. So I think there’s a—I expect to see in these principles this broadening of the scope of the shared goals and ambitions of the trilat as a tool of leverage for all three countries.

STARES: So for those of us who have sort of watched Northeast Asian politics for a while, some of us can recall that we’ve been here before in terms of enhanced trilateral cooperation. You, Scott, talked about institutionalizing this process. And I’d be interested to get your sense of whether this can be sustained, whether there are issues under the surface here that are still problematic for ROK-Japan relations. The risks that both leaders are taking in this process. Give us a sense of what lies beneath, if you will, in this relationship, and what could be real challenges as we move forward.

SNYDER: OK. Well, just to provide a little bit more detail, I think we’ve already seen a lot of progress in terms of institutionalization. Defense trilateral talks, trilateral defense minister meetings, just within the past few weeks and months that are pushing forward this process and making it possible to consider some of the very specific things that you mentioned, Paul, as related to real-time missile tracking, as related to potential expansion of trilateral exercises, and also in relationship to increase intelligence sharing. And I actually think that, at least from a political perspective on the trilateral front, this is a period in which, at least on the South Korean side, the focus really is likely to be on pushing forward and trying to institutionalize as much as possible in order to hedge against the risk of reversal in the event that President Yoon is not succeeded by a like-minded president after the next presidential election.

So on the South Korean front, we’re in a stage where there is contestation about some of these issues politically. And of course, there’s a South Korean election coming up next year. But at this point, there’s not necessarily any threat of reversal until the next presidential election. And also, President Yoon has already made the political downpayment on this process by actually initiating the normalization process with Japan. And so I think that it’s unlikely that he’s going to have to pay down any additional investment politically. Rather, institutionalization is designed—is hoped to actually yield political benefits for him going forward.

STARES: Mmm hmm. And would you agree with that, Sheila, too?

SMITH: Sure. I can speak more to the Japanese side of this. Of course, there’s a hope that this will become institutionalized, that this will become regular, predictable, strategic cooperation in the trilateral. But as you pointed out, Paul, this has been a three steps forward, two steps backward kind of process over the years. That being said, I think there’s great expectation in Tokyo. I do think there’s another piece of this. The world is—nothing is static. We very often focus on the process within the trilateral, but the world is changing rapidly. And I think this is apparent to both Japanese and South Koreans. Whether the trilateral can keep up with some of these changes, I think that’s very much what I’m seeing in what’s been happening since Phnom Penh. The exercises have begun, obviously, the trilat exercises for the region. But there’s also a whole host of other ways in which the three countries can expand their agenda, their shared agenda.

China has not come up. I don’t expect China to loom large at the Camp David statement in the language that comes out. But certainly it will—it sits behind a lot of these issues—technological innovations, supply chain resiliency. When you read through the formal statements, China is going to be in the background. Economic coercion is another area that I am going to be looking for to see what, if anything, the trilat will say about common response to any one of the individual countries being subjected to economic coercion. Of course, Japan and South Korea have had Chinese ire directed in their direction before.

On the politics side, the polling looks pretty positive. I mean, this is intermittent polling so we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the publics have really shifted. But there’s a significant degree of responsiveness to President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida’s summitry that we can see in the polling data on both sides. And then the last piece, of course, is Prime Minister Kishida doesn’t face an election is imminently as President Yoon. He will be able to call his election probably next fall. So he doesn’t have the same political pressures back home with opposition that President Yoon has to contend with.

STARES: Well, Sheila, thanks for raising the China question. And I think U.S.-ROK-Japan interests are probably most aligned on North Korea, but are they so aligned when it comes to China? Is there some daylight between the three countries on how to manage the challenge posed by China at the moment? If you want to, either of you, say something about that? Because that seems to be one area where there could be some significant friction going forward.

SMITH: I’ll just say something briefly and then turn it over to Scott for the Korea side. On the Japanese side, of course, much of the Japanese diplomacy, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Initiative or framing for their strategy in the region, a lot of this has China front and center. As in their NATO positions, what happened in Europe can happen in Indo-Pacific. Of course, they’re alluding to the Taiwan Straits tensions. I think for Japan, China looms large.

That being said, however, like the United States and like South Korea, there is a high degree of economic interdependence between the two economies. So making China the enemy is not necessarily going to be the diplomatic language that Tokyo will embrace. But nonetheless, I think we should see much of what comes out in this, the Camp David principles, look for the influence of Chinese pressure on this trilateral as well.

STARES: Scott, anything to add before I open this up to everybody?

SNYDER: Yeah. I would actually argue that the fact that this summit is happening reflects a broad convergence of interests among the three that is really about how they are looking at international security threats. There is alignment among these three now, very clearly, on Ukraine. I think that China is definitely present in the minds of all three leaders, even if the communique does not underscore it. And I think that there may be issues that the leaders will talk about in specific terms as related to that. And I would also note that, regardless of whether or not the communique mentions China, it’s very clear from the Chinese media that the Chinese have already preemptively viewed this as a negative development, a mini NATO-style gathering. And so regardless of whether or not it is intended, I think that we—and, also I would note, the trilateral participation with a Chinese representative and the Russian defense minister in a meeting in Pyongyang back on the anniversary of the armistice, that really I think reflects that there is an interactive dynamic on this at this point, and that the trilateral convergence of interest is having effects on the broader environment.

STARES: OK, well, well this is a terrific overview and introduction to the summit.

I now welcome everybody on the call to raise their hand, and I will try to call out in order they appear. Do we have anybody here? Yes, I think we have Lyric Hale with the first question. Lyric.

Q: Oh, can you unmute me again?

STARES: You are unmuted now.

Q: Can you—OK, you can hear me. Wonderful. Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for this overview.

My question is the Chinese—the Japanese economy, as predicted by our friend Richard Katz, has really shown resilience and has rebounded amazingly; 6 percent GDP growth. How do you think this will affect the dynamics of this meeting this weekend?

STARES: Anybody want to take that?

SMITH: Sure, I can say a couple of words. Lyric, thank you for the question.

So, that second quarter GDP number for Japan is really pretty impressive. And so it’s been—you know, it’s not going—we don’t know yet what the annualized GDP is, but it projects a 6 percent growth, which would be phenomenal for Japan. I do think it’s important to step back, though, and look at the pandemic impact on the Japanese economy, just like on every other economy. So you’re looking at a surge of growth that’s really impressive, but it comes against the backdrop of significant struggling of the Japanese economy over the last several years.

I don’t know that this is going to affect this meeting at Camp David specifically, but of course it’s a great boost for Prime Minister Kishida if he’s on good economic footing. That’s a very optimistic place, a positive place for him to be. And so I don’t know that it’ll affect any specific, you know, part of the principles that are going to be announced, but it certainly makes him feel stronger going into the meeting.

STARES: OK, Scott, anything that you want to add, or?

SNYDER: Not on Japan. On South Korea, I would just mention—although this is kind of old news, I guess, at this point—that, you know, Yoon’s turn toward the U.S. has been accompanied by significant South Korean inward investment; the Biden administration says over 100 billion (dollars) since the beginning of its administration in investment from South Korea in various sectors. And so I think that that is a significant factor that binds South Korea to the U.S. in foreign policy and makes it easy for President Yoon to justify making such a long trip for actually such short meeting.

Q: Thank you so much.

STARES: So next up is Morgan Chalfant. Morgan.

Q: Hey, thanks so much for doing this. I just have two questions. You touched on obviously the political—the domestic political ramifications in South Korea and Japan. But do you see any potential impact of changing U.S. leadership in 2024—out of the 2024 election impacting this effort to solidify trilateral cooperation? Or do you not see an impact? And then my second question is just, do you expect AI to come up during the meeting?

STARES: OK, well, I think that’s partly the institutionalization question. Shelia, you’re chuckling at this, so I’m going to turn it to you.

SMITH: I was—I was smiling. (Laughs.) I think it’s interesting. And I think I don’t want to go too deep into history. But it was interesting to watch the trilateral struggle during the Trump administration, largely. I think, because we are used to, in Washington, having a U.S. that’s fairly proactive in trying to encourage better bilateral relations between Seoul In Tokyo, but also strengthening trilateral avenues of cooperation. So the Trump administration really didn’t focus so much on this trilat. It focused on other—the bilateral alliances and the cost sharing specifically for U.S. troops. There were a lot of bilateral issues on the agenda, but not so much the trilateral.

And it really did—the relationship really deteriorated for a considerable amount of time. I don’t know that that’s going to loom large over this particular meeting coming up this this Friday, but of course both capitals will be looking very carefully at our election and that, you know, the possibility that we may have a transition in leadership at the time.

SNYDER: I would actually put forward the proposition that one of the motivations in both South Korea and Japan for pursuing institutionalization would be precisely to hedge against political uncertainty in the United States.

STARES: Definitely. Next up is Michael Mosettig. Michael.

Q: Here we go. Both of you are considerably more upbeat and optimistic than a newsletter I got yesterday from Dan Sneider, who works a lot in both countries. And one of the things that he mentioned that could be an obstacle is any talk about nuclear deterrence and trying to work out something there. That the Japanese are much more wary of getting involved in a nuclear issues with South Korea. And the fact that in South Korea now there is considerable public support for getting their own—their own deterrent. Talk about 2024, I think that would multiply tenfold if the other party comes into power in the United States, which spent its time in office largely bullying South Korea.

STARES: I’m going to kick this to you, Scott, first, and if Shelia wants to add something.

SNYDER: OK. So what Dan Sneider, I think, is—points to helps to explain why I think the Nuclear Consultative Group and a trilateral forum is not going to be part of any joint communique. There’s not a consensus around that issue. And I think that, you know, this process is just getting started between the U.S. and South Korea as related to deepening of South Korean participation in nuclear planning. And my understanding on the South Korean side is that in order—you know, as far as focusing on North Korea, the bilateral aspect of this is critical. It doesn’t rule out the possibility at some point that there might be some kind of desire for a multilateral nuclear planning process to look more carefully at deterrence with China, but I would say that for now the U.S. and South Korea have their hands full in dealing with nuclear consultations. Precisely because it is related to the relatively high level of support for—in the South Korean public for pursuing an independent nuclear capability.

SMITH: So, flipping it around to look at the Japan side, Michael, Japan doesn’t need the kind of declaratory demonstration of extended deterrence that South Korea I think, that President Yoon was talking to the Biden administration about. And that’s for two reasons. One is the obvious domestic politics of, you know, stationing and/or introducing strategic capabilities onto Japanese territory. That is well known. So it’s a—but the other piece, I think, is often misunderstood. What kind of steps are required to ensure extended deterrence are actually quite different in both alliances. It would be differently manifested with different kinds of forces.

But I do think you are—and I think, Scott—and I agree with Scott that sooner or later we may see this become much more necessary when—if China becomes the common focal point. But when you’re talking about North Korea, of course, both countries have a different role in any kind of contingency that that would be required. There was a little flirtation, I think, Michael, with the idea that the Washington declaration should be extended to include Japan. I don’t think the Japanese government feel that that’s necessary or required. They have their own extended deterrent dialogue. It’ll be elevated and now at the at the level of the 2+2 is where they are going to now be talking specifically about steps to improve extended deterrence.

STARES: Thank you both.

David Brunstrom (ph). If you can just unmute yourself.

Q: Sorry about that. I hope you can hear me now.

STARES: Yeah.

Q: Yeah. I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about your expectations for what sort of discussions they might have—the three might have on semiconductors. And how this divergence between Japan and South Korea on chip-related restrictions on China’s going to play out. And how many more waivers can South Korea expect?

STARES: Scott?

SNYDER: Well, there has been an active trilateral discussion about economic security. And, of course, South Korea and Japan are also involved with the Chip 4 or Fab 4, along with Taiwan. And also the other important factor, as related to the trilateral framing, is that Japan has now removed the export control restrictions that it had put forward on semiconductor precursors for South Korea. So far, my impression is that most of the discussion on semiconductors in terms of specific issues, well, they’re just different between the U.S. and Japan and U.S. and South Korea. Because the discussion with Japan has really related to materials that are necessary to secure in order to be able to make semiconductors, whereas the discussion between the U.S. and South Korea has been basically on whether or not China can remain as a market for South Korean semiconductors.

And I would say that that’s where the recent executive order that the Biden administration issued could come in, as the Biden ministration tries to strengthen a united front on export controls as related to exports to China. I’m sure that SK Hynix and Samsung will continue to request waivers for as long as they will be granted in order to try to recoup returns on the stock investment they already have from semiconductor plants that are up and running in China in the legacy sector. But I think it’s also clear that South Korea is not directing any new cutting-edge investments. Neither of these companies are investing in cutting-edge factory improvements. Those are coming to the U.S.

STARES: Anything to add, Shelia?

SMITH: No, I think Scott did a great job. The only footnote I would say is Samsung has put 220 million (dollars), I think, into a development facility in Yokohama. So there is a little bit of that kind of investment going on between Korea and Japan. But minor. I mean, the amount and the size is discernibly lower than what the U.S. is expecting from Korean manufacturers.

STARES: OK.

I think Mark Mannier (ph) had his hand up earlier. Mark (sp), are you still wanting to ask a question here? No, I don’t think we’ve got Mark (sp).

I want to return to a question that was posed earlier about AI. I don’t think we addressed that. How much is that going to be an issue at the summit, if at all? And is that a source of alignment or divergence in the three-way relationship?

SMITH: You know, Paul, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I will say that in the Phnom Penh statement, this cooperation on emergent technologies, AI was one of those, that and quantum. So it is on the radar. I don’t know whether or not it’s coming up at Camp David.

STARES: I see.

SNYDER: Yeah, I don’t—that’s correct. And I think that the really interesting, you know, question is what this looks like in specific terms. And I don’t think that the government statements as yet give us a very clear picture of how that looks. And, of course, that’s where you have to balance cooperation and competition with each other. And I think that it is the hard nut the Biden administration must find a way to crack if, indeed, its strategy of pursuing technology alliance cooperation is actually going to work. Not only with Japan and South Korea, but I think also in the context of AUKUS.

SMITH: Right.

STARES: OK, next up is Ellie Stokols. If I’m pronouncing your name correctly.

Q: It’s Eli, but, yes thank you—

STARES: Eli, sorry.

Q: Thank you for taking the question. I cover the White House for Politico.

And so I wanted to ask a sort of White House-specific question here. But you mentioned some of the reasons—circumstances why this is happening. Why Yoon and Kashida are leaning in, in terms of the convergence of interests related to security threats in a changing world. But, you know, I’ve heard from Rahm Emanuel and others who have been eager to talk about how important Biden has been as a convener, in sort of encouraging this. And you did mention, obviously, it’s a change from the Trump years and a return to sort of a normal U.S. approach to the trilat. But I wonder if you could speak to just how much credit you think Biden gets, and what it has been specifically that this administration has done that has, you know, made this the summit possible, and potentially opened the door to, as you say, institutionalizing and cementing this kind of cooperation going forward.

STARES: Who would like to take that first?

SMITH: Well, let me just start by saying I think without an active U.S. role, whether it’s—whatever word we use to describe it—I think the trilateral won’t move forward. So obviously because of our role in the trilateral, we’ve always wanted the trilateral to do more faster, perhaps, than the other two partners are ready for. But, you know, we’ve used interesting language. You noted, and maybe you’re quoting Ambassador Emanuel, with the word “convener.” I think the Obama administration used the word facilitator. A lot of people in Washington when they talk about this, they talk about the United States as a mediator between Seoul and Tokyo. And I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I do think that the idea that the U.S. has influence and can encourage this kind of expansion in the agenda and bilateral attention to the problems, I think that’s an important role for the United States.

But I would say I wouldn’t overdo it. Eli. I think at the bottom I would go back to Scott’s opening remark that, you know, President Yoon was the enabler in many ways, because he took the initiative to reach out to make this a priority in his administration. And I think, you know, not to underestimate the role of Prime Minister Kashida, I think he responded when he felt that this was a serious—that they were ready to go on some of these more difficult issues, such as the forced labor. So I think there’s two leaders in the region that probably should get the most credit for this. But I wouldn’t underestimate the amount of energy and focus the Biden administration has put on this as a priority for us.

SNYDER: I would just add that it seems to me very consistent with the Biden administration’s broader approach as they signaled coming in, as related to China, that they wanted to enhance a sense of a united front. And so along with Quad, and AUKUS, and all the efforts that are focused on trying to deepen unity of purpose among like-minded nations, this trilateral is one of those.

STARES: OK. I don’t see anybody in the queue at this moment. I urge others to ask questions.

I had a question I would like to put to both of you. You know, with this emphasis on a much broader aperture on the Indo-Pacific, the emphasis of shared values and interests, a defensive rules-based order, there could be a test of that commitment, that joint commitment, sooner rather than later, particularly with what’s happening in the South China Sea at the moment with the various incidents of between the Philippines Navy and Chinese Coast Guard. How do you see the three countries responding to that? Is this something that really will highlight the extent to which they are collectively committed to what they’re saying on paper here? Or will we see maybe some cracks appear sooner rather than later?

Sheila, do you want to take that?

SMITH: Sure. You know, again, I was—I hate to keep going back to the Phnom Penh statement, but they do note there that the three nations are committed to, as you said, rules-based order, but specifically in the maritime—in the maritime domain, and they referenced UNCLOS. They didn’t reference the Philippine arbitration—(laughs)—but they did reference the U.N. Law of the Sea, and that all three countries are urging, you know, that that be the rules that we all follow. So I don’t know that you’re going to see—I think in the press conference, it’ll be interesting to see whether somebody asks the question very specifically, Paul, as you noted, about the current Chinese behavior in the Philippines and Second Thomas Shal. I think there will want to be—I suspect that both President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida will want to reiterate what they said in Phnom Penh. But I don’t know whether they’re going to call China out specifically or not.

SNYDER: Yeah. I would imagine that this would definitely be a topic of conversation in line with what Sheila just pointed out, with regard to the Phnom Penh statement. And I would imagine that these actions that have taken place between the Philippines and PRC provide a platform or a pretext for trying to address and push back on actions that are perceived as inconsistent with rule of law. And it’s actually a very interesting potential test of exactly what trilateral cooperation means in this context, in terms of to what extent do Japan and South Korea respectively feel like they have to step up rhetorically and address or condemn this set of activities?

STARES: If we have time, I want to maybe talk about Taiwan, too. But see Mark Mannier (ph) has resurfaced. Mark, welcome. Please ask your question, Mark (sp). Can you unmute yourself? We seem to be having trouble hearing Mark (sp).

I’m going to go to the next person in line, Oliver Ward. And then hopefully we can come back to Mark (sp) in a minute. Mark (sp)? Yeah, sorry, Oliver. Excuse me.

Q: Hi. It’s Oliver from Inside U.S. Trade.

Obviously, Japan and Korea are also major IPEF members and participating in discussions there. And we have Thailand coming up soon. Are you expecting this to feature in discussions on Friday?

SMITH: Yes. (Laughs.) In anticipation of the APEC meeting later this year, IPEF will definitely be part of the conversation. All three countries, again, have endorsed IPEF’s goals. And I think there will be a time for them to say something about it. I hope they’re going to say something about it in Camp David. I don’t know exactly where they’re going to come down on Thailand, but it’ll be interesting to see.

STARES: Anything, Scott, there? No?

SNYDER: No, I’m good. I don’t have anything additional on that.

STARES: Mark (sp), can we try again here?

Q: Can you hear me?

STARES: Yeah, we can hear you.

Q: Oh, God is great. Thank you. Scott, Paul, Sheila, thank you very much for doing this. Great to see you guys.

So we have the broad outlines of a couple of China’s responses so far. The verbal response, I think, that Scott mentioned. They’re always quick off the mark on that one. Their own trilateral. And then kind of this, I guess, kind of emerging charm offensive, where they’re trying to kind of cozy up a little bit to Seoul and Tokyo to try to create some air in there—air and light. So I guess, particularly in light of their own economic difficulties right now, do you see other tools that they can use to try to blunt the trilateral a bit? That’s one. And then I guess the second one would be, some of the U.S. sort of quasi-industrial policies we’re seeing with the IRA and CHIPS, what’s the latitude for tension there? I know South Korea has been quite concerned that, you know, this is kind of a protectionist thing, in effect, for U.S. producers, and that’s working against them. Thank you.

STARES: Who’d like to go first?

SNYDER: Well, I’ll just address—the IRA and CHIPS, in my view, they are going to be continuing focal points and active areas of discussion between the South Korean government and private sector, and the Commerce Department. It’s not easy to address all the issues that are coming up in that context, and I think that what we saw last year in South Korea is that there is sensitivity and risk of politicization as related to anything that looks protectionist. I noticed that the South Korean media, you know, was spending a lot of time calling the Biden administration America first, which I thought was interesting, as a way of characterizing the core concern that South Korea has had. After all, at the same time that there’s a focus on protection, there’s also this inward investment. I think that has put the Biden administration into a bit of a contradiction in terms of how President Biden manages, on the one hand, welcoming investment and providing guarantees personally to Hyundai, and then turning around and having the Congress pass legislation that disadvantages a country that’s making a major investment.

SMITH: Well, I’ll take the first question then. (Laughs.) On the trilat, what can China do, I think two things are in the works, regardless of the Camp David summit. One is, of course, that the Japanese have been waiting for—to send the foreign minister to Beijing. That was in play when our Secretary of State Tony Blinken was due to go to Beijing, and then that got derailed by the balloon incident. China will want that to happen. Foreign Minister Hayashi met with the Chinese—you know, the new Chinese Foreign Minister, the new old Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Jakarta last month. There’s talk—this is the 45th anniversary of the signing of the bilateral treaty, so there’s talk of some kind of diplomatic—I was just checking to see if it had been announced yet or not—but I think the Chinese and Japanese are speaking about more formal high-level visits and we restoring some kind of summitry to the partnership. But I don’t know that this trilateral will derail that. That’s just out there. And we shouldn’t be surprised—it’s not necessarily a tit for tat, but it’s certainly an avenue that the Chinese are pursuing.

The other thing, and we haven’t talked about this, is, of course, China has been very critical of the release of the treated water from Fukushima nuclear plant. And very outspokenly antagonistic towards the Kishida government’s decision. This has also been one of the issues that has been the undercurrent leading up to the summit, and we haven’t spoken about it yet. So it’s important that we register this. When the—bilaterally, Japan and South Korea have had extensive conversations. Prime Minister Kishida invited Korean scientists to go to Fukushima to investigate and to test the material that was there. Of course, the IAEA had many taskforces on this and they issued their report last early July.

So there’s caution on the part of the Kishida Cabinet. And it has been a real invitation to South Korea to make sure that it has the scientific data that it needs to make a statement or a judgement. I think this has been not—maybe not resolved but has been understood as a place where both President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida will agree that this has been scientifically—pursued in accordance with scientific standards. But again, that release is due at the end of August. The water is to be released at the end of August. And there’s quite a bit of civil society activism, both obviously in South Korea but also in Japan and China. The government has been very, very strongly critical of this. So sowing some seeds, flaming some fires, I don’t know how to understand it beyond that. But it’s certainly something to watch.

STARES: We are coming to the end of our briefing. Just very quickly, what’s next after the summit? Everyone will go away with warm and fuzzy feelings. But what’s coming up or coming down the pike, if you will, that might be, as you say, a real test case to this new era of comity between the three powers. Scott.

SNYDER: I think that the governments are going to have to have a lot of heavy lifting, if indeed they’re focusing on institutionalizing trilaterally cooperation in a wide range of areas. It means that they have to have bureaucrats who are dedicated to supporting that process in all three countries. And so I do believe that implementing in the all the areas that have been indicated will be a heavy lift. We’ve seen just on the defense side, that there’s been a fair amount of movement in terms of convergence, the prospect of a lot more direct trilateral cooperation. And if you add on to that economics, we haven’t really mentioned development and the possibility of joint development projects within the Indo-Pacific. I think that’s another area to watch, where we might see some steps forward in terms of creating a framework that can support trilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

STARES: Shelia, just quickly?

SMITH: Scott gave a very comprehensive answer. I would just say, leaving the trilateral process to that—to the side, you’ve got the G-20, you’ve got the APEC coming up. I think that you’re going to see a little bit of movement on the economic security side. And, again, I’ll be looking for economic coercion response, that kind of thing, coming out of Camp David. Already, I think they’ve identified the Mekong subregion and the Pacific islands is an area of potential collaboration, as Scott said, on infrastructure, other kinds of ways that the three countries agree that they can engage in the Indo-Pacific to build infrastructure and to contribute to stability there. Pacific islands would be another place I would pay attention to.

STARES: Great. OK, we are out of time. I want to thank both my colleagues, Scott and Sheila, who never cease to impress me with their deep knowledge of these two countries. I also want to thank everybody on the call today. It’s my understanding the Council wants to do more press briefings going ahead. And so we very much look forward to seeing you again soon on other issues. And so thank you, again.

With that, I will bring these—bring this meeting to an end. Thank you, again. Bye-bye.

SNYDER: Thank you.

(END)

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