Five Things to Watch as Biden Hosts Japan, South Korea Leaders

President Joe Biden will host the leaders of South Korea and Japan on Friday at Camp David, a first for the three nations as they confront mounting threats in the Asia-Pacific.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden will host the leaders of South Korea and Japan on Friday at Camp David, a first for the three nations as they confront mounting threats in the Asia-Pacific. 

The historic gathering reflects how concerns about China and North Korea are forging a closer relationship between the US and its two chief allies in the region, while helping South Korea and Japan overcome decades of animus.

Here are five things to watch at Friday’s summit with Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol: 

Growing Unity 

Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have long been strained over Japanese treatment of Koreans during Japan’s rule over the peninsula through the end of World War II. Those longstanding issues have damaged past US attempts to cooperate against mutual threats in the region.

QuickTake: Why South Korea-Japan Ties Are Plagued by History

“I find the meeting at Camp David mind blowing. We could barely get South Korean and Japanese leaders to meet with us in the same room,” Dennis Wilder, who served on the White House National Security Council under President George W. Bush, wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. 

Biden and former President Donald Trump were able to get the three leaders together on the sidelines of other summits, but the standalone nature of this meeting signifies how the dynamics in the region over the last decade have changed the relationship between Japan and South Korea. 

Yoon upon taking office last year launched an effort to improve relations with Japan, reversing his predecessor’s policy despite domestic opposition to a rapprochement. That included engaging with Japan on its use of forced labor when it occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. 

That work helped lay the foundation for Friday’s summit, which is expected to become an annual occurrence in order to formalize the closer ties. 

China Conundrum

The Biden administration sees alliances with Japan and South Korea as critical to counter China’s military aggression and economic practices, while Beijing has sought closer ties with Russia and North Korea in order to curb US influence in Asia. 

The summit is expected to result in agreements to improve communications on defense and economic issues, including the creation of a three-way hot line for the allies to use and a yearly joint military exercise, said top White House Asia adviser Kurt Campbell.

Despite the closer coordination, differences remain between the allies about how far each is willing to go to retaliate against China.

“There’s a lot of daylight between ROK on the one side and Japan and the US on the other,” said Tobias Harris, deputy director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund, using an acronym to describe South Korea. “The ROK’s Indo-Pacific strategy mentioned China explicitly as a partner, not as a historic strategic challenge like Japan’s.”

That could affect the China language included in the joint statement the leaders are expected to issue at the conclusion of the summit.

Countering North Korea

Biden, Kishida and Yoon walk more in lockstep when it comes to North Korea. The South Korean leader in particular has taken a harder line against Pyongyang than his predecessor former President Moon Jae-In. 

Likewise, the leaders are expected to announce more steps to counter North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, including making operational new data-sharing measures about North Korean missile warnings. The joint military exercise is intended to be a show of strength against North Korea, and not just China. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has rolled out new nuclear-capable missiles designed to evade US-operated interceptors that could reach South Korea and most of Japan within 15 minutes, highlighting the need for information sharing. 

Other deterrence measures against Pyongyang and Beijing are expected to include new cybersecurity initiatives including efforts aimed at combating misinformation. But questions remain about how the three allies can ensure United Nations sanctions designed to choke off North Korea are being fully implemented.  

Chips War 

Leaders are expected to agree to new ways to protect supply chains for critical goods, such as semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries and other technologies, including by establishing an “early warning system” for shortages, Yoon told Bloomberg News. 

But thorny issues remain in the nations’ economic relationship, particularly on the issue of chips. Some South Korean manufacturers have chafed at domestic incentives, that include Biden’s Chips and Science Act, intended to spur US semiconductor production. 

Japan has joined other US partners in curbing exports of critical materials to China, leaving South Korea with questions about how to navigate the economic tensions. 

Camp David

The presidential retreat in rural Maryland has been the site of landmark US-led peace negotiations. That started in 1978 with accords between Israel and Egypt brokered by Jimmy Carter that paved the way for the Jewish state to make peace with its Arab neighbors. 

Bill Clinton returned to Camp David in 2000 to hold talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority designed to end their long-running conflict, but the summit didn’t result in an agreement. Donald Trump in 2019 tried and failed to get the leaders of Afghanistan and the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks.

Friday’s get-together will have all the ceremonial trappings of a presidential summit. The leaders will gather for a trilateral meeting in the morning, followed by a working lunch and then a joint press conference. 

–With assistance from Isabel Reynolds.

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.