The United States will host a trilateral meeting of security officials from Japan and South Korea on April 2.
According to a White House announcement, President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his counterparts Shigeru Kitamura from Japan and Suh Hoon of the Republic of Korea will meet for talks at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The talks will focus on regional security and foreign policy issues, including peace on the Korean Peninsula, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change.
It is not known whether Taiwan will be discussed. There is growing concern over China’s intentions against the island and worry from senior U.S. military officials that it may consider military action to forcibly unify it with the mainland before the decade is over.
Japan hinted that it would cooperate with the United States in the event of an emergency over Taiwan during the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit in March. There are also reports that Japan will join the United States in making a joint statement about Taiwan when Biden and Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide meet later this month.
Relations between Japan and South Korea are strained, stemming from abuses during Japan’s occupation and administration of the Korean peninsula as a colony before and during World War II. The United States has separate alliances with both countries, and each hosts a significant U.S. military presence. U.S. forces in South Korea are largely positioned to deter North Korea while forces in Japan help guarantee that country’s security but also serve broader U.S. security priorities throughout the Pacific.
Together, the Korean peninsula and the Japanese islands encircle most of China’s coastline. Because of this geographic containment, the United States has long sought to improve relations and cooperation between South Korea and Japan. This has led to several trilateral naval exercises, but the centerpiece of these efforts is a bilateral intelligence-sharing agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement. The agreement was stronger than an earlier trilateral information-sharing agreement where the United States passed information between Japan and South Korea because it holds the force of a binding treaty and enabled the two countries to share intelligence directly, without the United States having to serve as an intermediary.
In 2019 South Korea announced that it intended to pull out of the agreement rather than renew it amid worsening political tensions with Japan. The United States pressured the two countries to compartmentalize the important intelligence sharing agreement from other areas of disagreement and in the end South Korea decided to renew the pact.