Trilateral Defense Pact: Enhancing Military Cooperation Among Japan, China, and South Korea

On the fringes of summit discussions connected to the Alliance of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Manila in 1999, the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea initiated trilateral negotiations. With each of the three countries taking turns to serve as president, the trilateral leaders’ summit has developed since 2008 to function independently from ASEAN meetings. Understanding the shifting dynamics in both bilateral and multilateral interactions depends heavily on the summit sessions that will take place on May 26–27, 2024, five years after the last one that was held in 2019 amid unresolved disagreements and the Covid-19 epidemic.

The three nations’ mutual trust and cooperation have eroded recently, especially in light of alliances emerging in the Asia-Pacific area, making the impending trilateral summit all the more crucial. In addition to these advancements, a number of crises, including the crisis in Ukraine, North Korea’s increasing nuclear testing and threats on the peninsula, geopolitical unrest, and interruptions in industrial supply chains, underscore the need for deeper collaboration and idea sharing among China, Japan, and South Korea.

In an effort to bolster deterrence and show their own resistance to China and North Korea, Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo have been working to improve their collective combat preparedness since the Camp David summit. One such effort is the regular execution of joint naval and aircraft maneuvers in regional maritime and air areas.

In terms of regional security, it is important that the governments attend the May summit aimed at addressing the ongoing difficulties in trilateral relations between China, Japan, and South Korea by talking about their current issues at the negotiation table. In addition, the summit might include talks about various cooperative projects in areas such as trade, public health, technology, sustainable development, and security, as well as people-to-people interactions. Increased interaction between individuals among the three nations will, in fact, bolster public support for regional cooperation, as former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has stated. In light of the current state of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, which are set for November 2024, the three nations bear significant obligations to maintain regional stability. The purpose of the summit was to facilitate the sharing of concerns and investigate possible areas of cooperation between the three nations in advance of the July 2024 NATO summit in the United States. This meeting may encourage South Korea and Japan to take China’s concerns into account when interacting with Washington.China anticipates pushback to regional ideological polarization from both South Korea and Japan.

China, South Korea’s and Japan’s main trading partner, is concerned about the United States’ increasing military and political influence in the Asia-Pacific region and worries that these nations may form an official trilateral alliance with the US. China places great weight on the yearly summits with South Korea and Japan in this regard. China’s economic might does, in fact, play a major role in pressuring neighboring nations to embrace an American-China balancing policy inside alliance systems headed by the US. Policies shaped by China’s economic power are exemplified by the ASEAN countries’ pragmatic approach in the context of the competition between China and the US. In this approach, they pursue a balanced policy to maintain strong relations with the US while simultaneously benefiting from trade and economic relations with China.

North Korea’s nuclear missile program activities near the Korean Peninsula and its destabilizing behavior have been major factors in bringing China, Japan, and South Korea together at the tripartite summit over the years. One of the few ways to address the existential threat is through trilateral talks between China, Japan, and South Korea. The last round of the Six-Party Talks, which included North Korea, the United States, Russia, and South Korea in 2009, failed to eradicate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and capabilities.

In this regard, China’s considerable power over North Korea serves as one of the main drivers for South Korea, Japan, and the trilateral summit’s participants: China should act constructively in containing North Korea’s nuclear program. Amidst North Korea’s nuclear program and other common issues, these two nations are striving to move past their historical differences and strengthen their collaboration. This upcoming summit will be the first since 2019 owing to tense relations between South Korea and Japan.

These summits tackle China’s increasing economic might in addition to regional security concerns like North Korea’s mounting provocations and nuclear weapons program. Additionally, these summits are crucial in achieving strategic and economic goals including maintaining regional peace and building commercial partnerships across the area. It is anticipated that South Korea’s and Japan’s alliance ties with the US will play a significant balancing role in regional cooperation and balance strategies. Bringing the three nations together before the July 2024 NATO summit to discuss shared issues and possible areas of cooperation might be an important first step toward comprehending and influencing the dynamics of the region.

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