US, Japan, and South Korea Sharpen Sticks Against China

US, Japan, and South Korea Sharpen Sticks Against China - President Joe Biden invited two estranged allies, Japan and South Korea, on a camping trip. During their stay at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland, the three leaders were all smiles for the cameras.

US, Japan, and South Korea Sharpen Sticks Against China

US, Japan, and South Korea Sharpen Sticks Against China

Commentary

President Joe Biden invited two estranged allies, Japan and South Korea, on a camping trip. During their stay at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland, the three leaders were all smiles for the cameras.

Going camping, for presidents, is apparently as simple as taking the tie off. But all was not golden marshmallows and kumbaya around the campfire.

The Japanese prime minister watched from afar as Russia and China sailed warships too close to a Japanese island. The three democratic allies hadn’t targeted China publicly at Camp David until then. Afterward, the leaders began sharpening their sticks.

“The three committed to consulting on threats to each’s security, working together on ballistic-missile defense, conducting annual joint military exercises and holding yearly summits to maintain the momentum,” according to The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 18.

Their joint statement addressed issues that poke Beijing’s sore points, including the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights, territorial integrity, and the sovereignty of nations. All are under threat by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Beyond the three allies, India and Taiwan are drawing closer to Washington. Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand are becoming NATO partners, making the nominally Atlantic organization approach what has been needed for a decade at least—a global alliance of democracies.

Even autocratic Vietnam wants closer defense relations with the United States. The two countries are planning a Biden visit to Hanoi in September, a “strategic partnership” agreement, military cooperation, artificial intelligence and semiconductor technology sharing, and U.S. weapons sales.

Leaving aside whether it really makes sense for the United States to again empower a communist dictatorship, at least we can understand the Vietnamese side. The communist party in Hanoi is rightly unhappy that its comrades to the north claim the entire South China Sea as territory, which would make Vietnam a nearly landlocked country.

Moscow and Beijing, for some self-defeating purpose, are so belligerent as to provoke closer defense cooperation on nearly all their borders, which are many. This should be the opposite of what Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping want. But down that path they go, with flying colors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023. (Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023. (Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

Is it hubris? Stupidity? The old 19th-century campaign of risk and glory in pursuit of empire and expansion? The attempts of Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi to escape the doldrums of their worsening economies in bonfires of nationalism lit on foreign shores?

All of the above apparently apply. What their overt aggression is certainly not is an intelligent attempt to increase Russian and Chinese national security.

While President Biden would like to claim the preponderance of credit for bringing Japan and South Korea closer together with his campy photo ops, the reality is that he gets just a little. Our two Asian allies were already on a path of reconciliation for multiple reasons.

First, the current Japanese-Korean estrangement is not really all that bad. It relates to occurrences almost a century ago—atrocities committed against Koreans by Imperial Japan—that Beijing tries to hype to keep the two apart. After World War II, there was a clean break with the empire by democratic Tokyo. So we really can’t blame contemporary Japan for the sins of past regimes. Yet Tokyo continues to apologize in seemingly endless fashion.

Second, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a conservative, as is his counterpart in South Korea, President Yoon Suk-yeol. The two had already met and improved defense relations by the time they decamped to “mountainous” Maryland with President Biden.

Third, the increasingly tone-deaf CCP continues to shoot itself in the foot with bizarre racist comments. After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s attempt to get Japan and South Korea to be friendlier to Beijing by saying, “No matter how blonde you dye your hair, how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become a European or American, you can never become a Westerner,” the only props missing at Camp David were the curly blond clown wigs and cowboy boots. President Biden would surely have welcomed the wig, at least.

I can humor our aging head of state because we can do that in the United States. Most Americans and our allies actually believe in something called freedom. We believe in it not only for ourselves but also for the world. Except for the isolationists among us who think our promotion of democracy globally may be a medicine worse than the disease, and sometimes they have a point, we are supposed to be willing to fight and die anytime, anywhere, for our beliefs.

That commitment and self-sacrifice is the key to America’s popularity and global power. It might have saved us a few times over from fascist and communist dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. It certainly saved some of our allies, including Japan and South Korea, from their autocracies and those around them. In that, at least, they and we have something in common upon which to build our bulwarks against the CCP.