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US, Japan, S. Korea reaffirm cooperation on economic, regional security

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell speaks to journalists after welcoming Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano and South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hyong Kyun, at his farm in Little Washington, Va., May 31, 2024.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell speaks to journalists after welcoming Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano and South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hyong Kyun, at his farm in Little Washington, Va., May 31, 2024.

The United States, Japan and South Korea “strongly oppose” any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific waters and “strongly condemned” North Korea's recent launches using ballistic missile technology.

This joint statement followed a meeting of senior officials in historic Little Washington, Virginia, on Friday.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell hosted Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano and South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong Kyun at his farmhouse, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Washington.

The three allies recognized the importance of “opposing unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea” and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

“There is no change in our basic positions on Taiwan, and we call for the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues,” the joint statement said.

On Friday, the three countries, along with several others, voiced their "resolute opposition" to the continued transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia and vowed to impose costs on those involved in the “unlawful transfer of arms” for use in attacking Ukraine.

Last week, the three countries announced unilateral sanctions against Russian ships and North Korean personnel to counter their illicit transactions.

The State Department’s second-highest-ranking diplomat told reporters he thought China, which still maintains close ties with North Korea, also has concerns.

"I think they, too, have some anxieties about the steps North Korea has taken with respect to providing dangerous military equipment to Russia," Campbell said during a joint news conference at his farmhouse.

The trilateral dialogue, a key deliverable from the historic 2023 Camp David summit involving the leaders of the three countries, reaffirmed cooperation on economic security, critical and emerging technologies, and maritime security.

When asked if the leaders of the three countries would meet on the margins of the NATO summit in Washington July 9-11, Campbell said that convening a second leaders summit was "among the highest priorities" for the remainder of this year.

The high-level talks unfolded against the backdrop of North Korea’s provocations, Russia’s war on Ukraine, the imperative of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and the need to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

“We have more shared interests, and we have more shared agendas. So, if we work together, we can produce more relevant and efficient result[s],” Japan’s Okano said.

The latest trilateral talks followed North Korea's launch of suspected ballistic missiles toward its eastern sea on Thursday, reported by South Korea's military.

The launches occurred shortly after the country's unsuccessful attempt to launch a military reconnaissance satellite and after North Korean dropped balloons containing feces and garbage on South Korea's busy streets and public areas.

“These actions will only solidify our resolve to strengthen security cooperation,” said South Korea's Kim.

"All of us know North Korea continues to violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and threatened the region with its nuclear and missile program,” he added.

“Any kind of aerial object, certainly, we would find destabilizing and provocative, and we continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea and Japan against these kinds of malign and destabilizing behaviors,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said during a briefing Thursday.

“We condemn the DPRK’s May 29th ballistic missile launch,” he noted, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The high-level talks also took place amid other regional and global challenges, including recent large-scale military drills by China following the inauguration of Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Friday's talks followed the recent revival of a high-level dialogue among China, Japan and South Korea after almost five years. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang attended a summit Monday in Seoul.

“We welcome renewed diplomacy between China, Japan and South Korea,” Campbell told VOA after receiving a “deep and sincere” debrief from his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

“We welcome the steps towards increasing dialogue and discussion on the critical matters of Northeast Asia,” he added.

Former U.S. intelligence officials and analysts said the alliance among Washington, Tokyo and Seoul was especially crucial amid rising military threats from the People’s Republic of China.

James Fanell, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said, “Given the current military threats from the PRC, as exemplified by last week’s large-scale drills near Taiwan, and the ongoing rapid military buildup, all three nations should break free from incremental changes and adopt a much more assertive approach to regional security.”

Others told VOA that countries in the region are not only worried about the economic fallout from any type of war, citing the importance of maintaining the status quo of the Taiwan Strait as an international waterway, but they also are very concerned about immediate Chinese threats following a potential forcible takeover of Taiwan.

"If China were to take Taiwan by force, then Chinese forces would be that much closer to their outlying territories. Especially in Japan, there's a fear that this would be the first step toward Chinese seizure of some of the southwestern islands,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

On Friday morning, Campbell met with South Korea’s Kim for a bilateral discussion.

The previous day, Campbell held an inaugural vice ministerial meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Okano, to focus on infrastructure development cooperation in other countries. That initiative is widely viewed as a key part of the two allies' strategy to counter China's influence in Southeast Asia and beyond.

The next trilateral vice foreign minister-level dialogue will be held in Seoul in the second half of this year.