MODERATOR: Greetings from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub. I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Dr. Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific at the National Security Council, and Daniel J. Kritenbrink, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The speakers will provide a readout of the Camp David trilateral summit that took place on August 18th with the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
With that, let’s get started. Coordinator Campbell, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
DR CAMPBELL: Thank you so much, and thanks so much to colleagues at the State Department for setting this up, and we all appreciate you joining. For us it’s the evening; I know many of you in Asia, it’s the morning. It’s terrific to be on this call today with my colleague and friend, Dan Kritenbrink, who played an absolutely central and critical role in helping to achieve what we think, without any exaggeration, was an historic meeting in Camp David on Friday.
I’ll just give you a little bit of background if you – for those of you who haven’t focused on it. Prime Minister Kishida, President Yoon, and President Biden met for most of the day on Friday at Camp David. Camp David was chosen specifically; it was the first visit for foreign leaders to Camp David in the Biden presidency. I think Camp David is well known as the place where key decisions were made during the Second World War, Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, and I think it was chosen carefully to register the significance and the importance of this event.
Look, what we’ve seen over the last several months is a remarkable display of political courage on the part of President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida. They’ve taken unprecedented steps to mend long-strained ties and to move forward to together engage on issues that are critical in the 21st century. But it is also the case since the very beginning, the first days of the Biden administration, the President instructed Dan and I and others at the State Department and the National Security Council to focus intensively and carefully behind the scenes on efforts to bridge the gaps that have existed between the two countries. And we’ve done so consistently, carefully, and patiently over the course of the last two and a half years.
I think I do want to underscore that the President’s interest in this precedes this administration. He was very engaged on these issues as vice president and he wanted to see what was possible. Once the progress began in the last three or four months, the President engaged behind the scenes, and when the three leaders met in Hiroshima, the decision was made by the President to invite them to Camp David.
What you saw on Friday was a remarkable display of democratic solidarity among the key countries of Northeast Asia and a series of what we call deliverables that were substantial, I think, in their own right, but taken in the historical context I think were deeply significant. A whole range of issues to embed trilateral cooperation into the fabric of Northeast Asias diplomacy. Yearly meetings between the leaders, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, and others. Substantial projects among the three countries in diplomacy and education and technology. A series of things to underscore our commitment to deepen, to strengthen trilateral bonds of cooperation and engagement.
I do want to just underscore that I think all three leaders understood the gravity of the moment. You could see that they appreciated the weight they were carrying historically. And I left the meetings – and I think Dan would acknowledge this – quite hopeful that the progress and the remarkable achievements that were rolled out in Camp David on Friday will be carried forward.
S with that as the background, let me just turn to Dan to provide his own context from his perspective at the State Department. Dan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Dr. Campbell, Kurt, thank you so much for that amazing laydown that really, I think, demonstrates clearly, as Kurt indicated, just how historic this summit at Camp David was. I thought maybe just to support Dr. Campbell’s presentation, I could talk a little bit further in detail about how we are institutionalizing our expanded trilateral relationship.
As Dr. Campbell indicated, the summit and its outcomes are built on the strengthened bilateral relations between our three countries, and of course that facilitates the amazing uptick in trilateral cooperation that we’ve seen. I think it’s important to particularly focus on the transformed relations between Japan and South Korea, which is the product of the political courage and leadership of President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida, supported of course by President Biden and the United States.
At Camp David, while the leaders of course strengthened their personal ties, they also contributed to institutionalizing our trilateral cooperation with a forward-looking vision and significant commitments that cement our work together. And I’ll try to outline several concrete steps we’ve agreed to take.
First – again, Dr. Campbell mentioned this as well – we will regularize trilateral meetings across the highest levels of our three countries going forward, with annual meetings of our three leaders, our foreign ministers, our defense ministers, our national security advisors, and our finance ministers. We will also engage in a trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue at the assistant secretary level.
Second, we announced our government’s commitment to consult with one another expeditiously to coordinate responses to threats that affect our collective interests and security.
Thirdly, we will continue to strengthen our robust security cooperation in the face of DPRK provocations through enhanced coordination, increased information sharing on ballistic missile defense, a three-way communications hotline, and a cyber working group to counter unlawful DPRK revenue and other malicious activities.
Fourth, we will deepen our economic and technology cooperation with an early warning system pilot to help address supply chain disruptions; new trilateral cooperation between our countries’ laboratories on energy and critical emerging technology; and women’s economic empowerment initiatives.
Fifth, to build the capacity and capabilities of our partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region, we’ll work together to build the security assistance framework, host a development and humanitarian assistance policy dialogue, and enhance cooperation and coordination on global development and humanitarian assistance. And as our leaders announced in the joint statement, we’ll focus in particular in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
And lastly, we will strengthen our societies for a more fair, diverse, and a prosperous future with the Global Leadership Youth Summit, a joint fight against cancer, cooperation on the peaceful development of space, and trilateral efforts to counter foreign information manipulation.
So really, these are tremendous advancements for our three countries to take that really do represent, as the President said, a very big deal for the peace and security as well as the economic and development cooperation across the region and across the globe. Trilateral cooperation between our countries will not only take place in the present but, as Dr. Campbell and the President himself indicated, our commitments will institutionalize this work for many years into the future. And again, our work together will enhance peace and prosperity across the region and across the world.
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this call. And Katie, let me turn it back to you now. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink. We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.
Our first question was submitted in advance and it goes to Ryo Kiyomiya from The Asahi Shimbun, based in Washington, D.C., who asks: “How will you ensure the institutionalization of the trilateral cooperation? What would be the long-term goal of this trilateral security cooperation?” Over to our speakers.
DR CAMPBELL: I’ll just start with that, Dan, and then maybe you could just jump in on a few things. Look, the key here is to build carefully and constructively, and I think that’s what we’ve sought to do. I think Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink laid out very clearly the series of initiatives that we seek to take over the course of the next several years.
I do want to underscore in government terms that is a very ambitious agenda. It extends to issues associated with technology, with diplomacy, with regional security, with education, with out-of-area pursuits in the Pacific and in Latin America and elsewhere. This is the broad and deep agenda, which we believe is critical and timely.
So I think we have a clear work plan ahead of us, and we think that the best steps that we can take over the next little while is to act on this set of initiatives that we’ve laid out to build deeper ties, greater depth, and each of our governments committed to trilateral engagement, and take steps carefully as a result of that.
So look, I think it’s appropriate to have some ambition for these trilateral engagements, but at the same time to realize that steps have to be taken carefully and we cannot get ahead of the political context that each of us deal with.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, Kurt, thank you very much. I mean, I think the only thing that I could add is I think I was really struck that all three of the leaders talked in detail about their commitment to institutionalizing this cooperation. I think that our colleagues here at the State Department in support of the White House are eager to move out expeditiously to work on that institutionalization. And I was also struck by President Biden’s comments in the press conference in which he said we’re going to see these possibilities together; we’ll be unwavering in our unity and unmatched in our resolve in doing so. And as we do so, we’re not doing this for a day or a week or a month; this is something we’re focused on for decades into the future.
So I think that’s the obligation that we feel and we intend to move out expeditiously to implement that vision. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question comes from Jae Young Choi from SBS in South Korea. Jae Young Choi asks: “First, among the three documents adopted by the leaders of South Korea, the U.S., and Japan at Camp David, it is a question related to the commission to consult. In this regard, some experts say the document does not contain the expression ‘duty,’ so it does not seem to be enforceable, but that South Korea, the U.S., and Japan are actually moving toward the level of a military alliance throughout this agreement. Compared with the AUKUS and the Quad and NATO, how do you estimate the level of this commission to consult?” Over to our speakers.
DR CAMPBELL: Yes, and thank you. I think the word that we used in the joint document was “commitment” to consult. And look, these are voluntary steps that each of the three countries have signed up to. We believe there are issues that are going to confront us that require consultation. I think if you read the documents carefully, they are based on an understanding that a challenge to any one of us is a challenge to all of us. And I think that’s an important recognition and one that we intend to build on.
I’d rather not compare or contrast various groupings. This has its own history, its own context. I will simply say that our two most important partners in Northeast Asia, two of our most important partners on the planet, are working more closely with us and we’ve committed to a trilateral work plan that we believe is unprecedented.
So this will stand on its own. We believe that it is deeply significant and that this new three-way partnership will stand the test of time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you, Kurt. I think that’s perfect. Nothing to add.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question goes to the live queue, Rhiannon Down from The Australian. Rhiannon, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hello there. Thank you for this briefing. Just on this pact, China has accused, basically, it of being an Asian NATO. What is your response to that? And secondly, what is Australia’s role in all of this?
DR CAMPBELL: So let me just say that, so, the three leaders met peacefully, they talked constructively, and they engaged openly and transparently. At the same time that we were meeting in Camp David, Russian and Chinese warships were plying waters very close to Japan, and earlier today North Korea has tested a new cruise missile.
I just want to underscore that we believe that there are many reasons why the three countries have chosen to work more closely together, but it is undeniable that the security environment in Asia is not only more complicated, but more worrisome to each of us. We have the unprovoked, illegal war in Ukraine. We have provocations on a regular basis from North Korea. I will underscore that each of our countries have reached out on many occasions to restart diplomacy with North Korea, including asking if they would be interested in humanitarian support during the COVID crisis, to no avail. And of course we’ve seen a number of steps on the part of China that are provocative – a massive military buildup and a number of steps that have caused anxiety, not just in Japan and South Korea but in the region as a whole.
And so I think this was an effort to work together in ways constructively, peacefully, to preserve the operating system, the democratic engagement that we all share between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. And I think we stand by that and we think it’s appropriate.
We also believe that the links and ties that Australia has with each of these countries is also deepening. We have worked extraordinarily closely with Australia. Australia has probably ascended to the absolute peak as a close partner of the United States. I think Prime Minister Albanese has definitely handled his diplomatic engagement with Southeast Asia, with India; he has reknit ties with China; and he has also worked extremely closely with Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
So we’re grateful for an active, engaged Australia on the global scene and we appreciate the support they have expressed for the trilateral summit last week.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question goes to the live queue, to Su Yangfan based at The Paper in Shanghai. Yangfan, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Yangfan Su from The Paper, Shanghai. President Biden mentioned, as have U.S., South Korean, and Japanese officials, that summit was not about China but it was focused on broader security issues. Yet according to the content of Camp David principles, China actually sits behind a lot of formal statements. Therefore, some analysts believe that the U.S. is deliberately provoking confrontation among Asian countries. How would you respond to this?
DR CAMPBELL: Dan, would you —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Perhaps if I could —
DR CAMPBELL: Yeah, please, Dan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: I could chime in on that one, and then be happy to have your input, please. I’m really delighted that our Chinese journalist friends have joined and I really appreciate your question. And I would go back directly to the press conference in which President Biden spoke explicitly to this. And if you look at President Biden’s comments, he explicitly said this summit was not all about China. This summit, as Dr. Campbell outlined as well, this was about our affirmative agenda, about our shared interests and values with two of our closest treaty allies in the world: the Republic of Korea and Japan. That would be point one.
Point two: Our leaders outlined an incredibly broad-based agenda on everything from security to economic and technology cooperation to cooperation on health, the environment, and people-to-people ties, and a broad range of other issues.
And point three, as Dr. Campbell indicated and as President Biden himself said, although this summit was about, again, our shared interests and values and taking advantage of the tremendous progress as well in rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo, one cannot deny the strategic environment in which we exist and operate. So of course it was natural that we would discuss some of the concerns and issues related to actions carried out by the PRC that are of significant concern to our three countries and to many others around the region and around the world.
But again, the focus of this summit was on our interests and values and taking advantage of this really historic step that we have for our three countries.
Kurt, what would you add to that?
DR CAMPBELL: Yeah. So I like the way that Dan expressed this, and we very much appreciate you being on the call today. I will say that there are a few steps that have taken place that, frankly, have surprised some Asian interlocutors and even some in the United States. I think the determination of President Xi in China to so firmly back Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and to provide private support, step up its technology and other engagements with Russia – quietly, so as not to attract attention – has caused concern. And I think there is worry that some will see this as a precedent for other actions. And I think it’s undeniable that this invasion has been deeply destabilizing, deeply concerning to not only the people of Ukraine but in the surrounding region, and it’s done terrible things for food prices and inflation more generally.
And I don’t – I think we try to be careful here, but those steps have been unnerving to Northeast Asian countries, and I do believe that this anxiety has provoked a desire for countries who are more likeminded to make sure that we are working together constructively. But at the same time, there’s a dynamic and a dynamism to, first of all, the relationship between Japan and South Korea that had nothing to do with China, that had – that owed to longstanding grievances and difficulties. And so to overcome them is a remarkable feat, and really has very little to do with China.
And so I just – I want us to underscore there is a broader context here, and it is true that there is anxiety, as you describe. I do not believe that these countries – the United States, Japan, and South Korea – believe that they are taking steps aimed at China. I think they’re taking steps, they believe, to protect themselves, that to ensure that the progress that they’ve made is protected and secured, and to work more closely together in a world increasingly uncertain.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question goes to Ryohei Takagi from Kyodo News based in Washington, D.C. You should be able to unmute yourself now. Let’s see, do we have you on the line?
DR CAMPBELL: He may have trouble unmuting here.
MODERATOR: All right, maybe we’ll —
DR CAMPBELL: Takagi-san, can you hear us? You can speak if you’re able to.
DR CAMPBELL: Go ahead.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Yeah, I can’t hear him, Katie.
MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll move on to a different question, then. We’ll go for now with Moon Jaeyeon from the Hankook Daily newspaper in South Korea, who asks: “When do you hope to hold the second trilateral summit? Does the United States Government hope to further activate talks such as the security of the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea? If so, would the three countries start consulting on defense strategies regarding the Indo-Pacific region?” Over to our speakers.
DR CAMPBELL: Look, I think the first part of the question, I think we very much have a hope and an expectation that we’ll meet in – together in 2024. I think it’s fair to say that both Japan and South Korea have expressed an interest and a willingness to host. I think South Korea has – President Yoon is very clear about that. I think we all appreciate that and believe that that would be appropriate. The goal would be, when possible, to have a stand-alone trilateral much like we did at Camp David, but these are very, very busy leaders, and so we will take opportunities to ensure that the three leaders are meeting regularly and keeping up to speed with common issues.
I don’t really have anything further to say about a defense agenda. I can tell you that each of the three countries are completely committed to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the maintenance of the status quo. And so there will be a clear desire to act carefully and prudently, and I think you can expect that in all of our engagement going forward.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: No, completely agree with what Dr. Campbell outlined. And again, I would just refer you back to the joint statement, the spirit of Camp David, and the U.S. fact sheet as well. You can see as we enumerate our shared interests and values, as Kurt indicated, of course that includes our commitment to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, our commitment to maintaining – maintain peace and stability across the maritime domains of East Asia, including in the South China Sea. And of course we’ve outlined what our shared interests and values are related to security issues broadly defined.
So I would look to that joint statement as the outline for our future work together. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question goes to our live queue, to Kris Mada with Kompas based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Kris, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Kris Mada. (inaudible) my voice clearly?
DR CAMPBELL: Yes, we can. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Loud and clear.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Dr. Campbell. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink. Since ASEAN and PIF (inaudible) mentioned above the Taiwan and North Korea in the spirit and principle document, could you explore more on what are concerns or benefits for ASEAN and PIF member states from the summits?
And the second: What are the impacts for Asia – Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands from this summit?
And the third: How would Korea, Japan, and U.S. ensure ASEAN and PIF member states will not become Korea, Japan, and U.S.’s geopolitical tools?
DR CAMPBELL: Well, look, I’ll start but I’d love Dan to jump in on this because he’s worked so closely on this. So first of all, let us just acknowledge that the dominant architecture, the most important grouping to engage with remains and will continue to be ASEAN, and we believe it has an absolutely central role in convening all the key countries and states of the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. And that role is critical and will continue.
I do think that ASEAN has struggled in the last few years given some of the challenges that it has faced internally with some election issues, with the struggles in Myanmar and the like. But nevertheless, the United States, other countries remain completely committed to the ASEAN process and all the things that ASEAN represents.
I don’t think there’s any desire for – among the three countries to think of ASEAN and the countries in it as anything more than partners. You will note that substantial increases in investment from Japan and South Korea into Southeast Asia – a deep political, diplomatic, and commercial engagement that we believe is deeply stabilizing and responsible. And I would just underscore that the United States also believes that it is centrally important to engage constructively friends in ASEAN.
I think it would be fair to say that each of the countries represented in – on Friday at Camp David, and Dan and I were there and saw it very clearly, expressed an interest to provide appropriate support to the Pacific. But mostly, to engage on issues that are deeply important to Pacific Island nations: climate change, illegal fishing, increase in economic and infrastructure investment, educational opportunities, sport, and just people-to-people engagement. And I think what we’ve seen is historic engagement on the part of Japan. Through Dan’s good efforts and the Secretary of State Blinken, we’ve stepped up our game I think notably in the Pacific. We recognize that I think we went several years with not enough engagement, but we’re seeking to address that. And obviously what South Korea has done under President Yoon is a dramatic increase in its engagement in the Pacific – again, likeminded engagements on climate, on fishing, on humanitarian issues, on education, on health. These are the appropriate issues of engagement that you see among the three countries in the Pacific.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Couldn’t agree more with you, Kurt. And again, I’d refer our friends in Southeast Asia and the Pacific back to the joint statement. It was so gratifying to see this tremendous strategic alignment among our three leaders, and if you look in the joint statement, all of our leaders agreed that each of us together – individually and together – we strongly support ASEAN centrality and unity. We strongly support the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. We support continued resilience and prosperity in the Mekong River Basin. We also support our Pacific Island partners, and we intend to do so in genuine partnership consistent with the Pacific Way, and as Dr. Campbell indicated, in support of their own interests as they have defined.
And so if you think about the tremendous work that our three countries have already done to demonstrate our commitment to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, what we’re indicating here through the Camp David summit is that our three countries intend to work together to further leverage those interests and those commitments, to further invest in the collective capacity and prosperity of our partners across the region. And I think that’s why the work at Camp David is so significant and I think will deliver concrete and tangible benefits for partners across the entire region.
DR CAMPBELL: That’s a really good answer, Dan. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And I see we’ve come to the end of our time – past it, in fact. So I did want to see, Dr. Campbell, do you have any closing remarks? I can turn it back over to you.
DR CAMPBELL: So, look, I’d like Dan to jump in here as well. I want to thank our friends from the State Department. So I recognize I think all these questions help tease out some of the details, some of the issues that were discussed, and what are the implications going forward. I do just want to underscore the – I think it’s important for all of us to take a step back and regard and recognize the strategic significance of this: to see friends from Japan and South Korea embrace each other so warmly, to work closely together. Given all the challenges that we face, I think that it’s an important and necessary step, and I do believe that it will benefit not just the peoples of each of our three countries but the broader environment in the Indo-Pacific.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Again, couldn’t agree more. I think Dr. Campbell has stated it just perfectly, and again, I’ll reiterate what I said at the top: Our mandate from our three leaders is to institutionalize this cooperation and this spirit of Camp David that was outlined by the three leaders, and we intend to work expeditiously together to make real those commitments and to deliver those benefits to partners across the region and across the world that Dr. Campbell has so eloquently outlined. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. Thanks for your interest, and really appreciate your participation in this call.
DR CAMPBELL: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you so much, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, Dr. Campbell. We really appreciate you taking so much of your evening and joining us today. That’s all the time we have for today. And I also want to give a big thank you to our participants for joining us. We’d love to hear your feedback; you can contact us at any time at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. And we will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it’s available.
Thank you again and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.
DR CAMPBELL: Thank you.