On Feb. 12 (Feb. 13 Japan time), the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea issued their first joint statement in five years when they met in Hawaii for three-way talks. Discussions broadened areas of cooperation beyond North Korea’s nuclear and missile development to include issues concerning Ukraine and Taiwan.
The three nations define the joint statement as a mechanism to challenge China’s and Russia’s authoritarian regimes. It is also aimed at stopping South Korea’s tilt toward China.
The last joint statement, which was issued in February 2017, exclusively focused on a series of nuclear tests and missile launches that North Korea had conducted since 2016. The first launch of an intermediate-range missile by North Korea since 2017 was one reason for Tokyo, Washington, and Seoul to issue the latest statement, but that was not the only reason.
A Taiwan crisis is a realistic possibility with the escalation of militaristic threats posed by China. The likeliness of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is pressing the U.S. to deal with Europe and East Asia simultaneously.
The U.S. finds it increasingly necessary to have Japan and South Korea, two allies, join hands and deal with broader issues.
In 2017, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea carried out a number of joint exercises, and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the South Korean military actively engaged in exchange programs.
But Tokyo-Seoul ties deteriorated since the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of compensation payments to former requisitioned workers in 2018. The same year, a South Korean warship illuminated with its fire-control radar an SDF plane. Defense exchanges between the two nations have been suspended since then.
Japan and the U.S. are concerned that South Korea may tilt toward China, with which it has strong economic ties. Releasing the joint statement with a focus on trilateral cooperation before South Korea’s presidential race slated for March highlights that Tokyo and Washington want to anchor South Korea to their side. (Abridged)