An unprecedented trilateral summit at Camp David between South Korea, Japan, and the United States countered the successful divide-and-conquer tactics used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to expand its military's regional power in what CCP leaders call the post-U.S. era.
A concluding joint statement laying the groundwork for strategic cooperation was detailed and substantial (see below).
Key to the summit's success was the rise of conservative President Yoon Suk-Yeol and what is being called South Korea's "new Right," according to an analysis by Benjamin A. Engel. They are part of campaign to re-frame the nation’s recent history by dispelling the dominant influence of pro-communist scholars and activists.
Engel wrote of the "new Right" in an Aug. 18 analysis for Korea Pro: "These influential conservative figures advocate for a more favorable view of the nation’s authoritarian past and, following their ascension into positions of power, help directly shape the policies and rhetoric of the Yoon administration."
The summit's joint statement included the following:
We share concerns about actions inconsistent with the rules-based international order, which undermine regional peace and prosperity. Recalling the publicly announced position of each of our countries regarding the dangerous and aggressive behavior supporting unlawful maritime claims that we have recently witnessed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the South China Sea, we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific. In particular, we steadfastly oppose the militarization of reclaimed features; the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels; and coercive activities. In addition, we are concerned about illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. We reiterate our firm commitment to international law, including the freedom of navigation and overflight, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The July 2016 award in the South China Sea arbitration sets out the legal basis for the peaceful resolution of maritime conflicts between the parties to that proceeding. We reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community. There is no change in our basic positions on Taiwan, and we call for a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.In what was seen by observers as a warning to China, Yoon said following the Camp David summit: "Korea, the U.S., and Japan, in their pursuit of Indo-Pacific strategies, oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force."
Yoon suceeded the leftist Moon Jae-In government that had impeached and convicted conservative President Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of President Park Chung-Hee ho who was assassinated in 1979. The policies of the Moon Jae-In government aimed to accommodate North Korea and served to exacerbate both Koreas' historic tensions with Japan.
These "New Right" influencers, Engel noted, "aim to re-frame their countries’ past positively, leaning on nationalism for political leverage. In South Korea’s case, international media often spotlights Korea’s colonial history, scrutinizing its impact on the country’s relations with Japan. It is precisely that aspect of history — the Yoon administration’s attempts to overcome them and the Japanese government’s somewhat tepid response to Yoon’s outreach — that are at the heart of the trilateral summit at Camp David."
Those who support the "new Right" movement in the South, "advocate for a more favorable portrayal of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-Hee — past authoritarian leaders held in high esteem by many conservative factions," Engel wrote. "For conservatives in post-democratization South Korea, reevaluating these past authoritarian figures is crucial."
Engel continued: "The prevailing perception of these leaders is one of a hindrance to Korea’s democratization, suppressors of labor movements and enablers of economic inequality. However, the new Right counters this narrative. They assert that the Rhee and Park regimes’ economic interventions and authoritarianism were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the thriving liberal democracy and robust capitalist economy that defines South Korea today."
One of Yoon’s key appointments after succeeding leftist President Moon Jae-In was that of Kim Yung-Ho as the unification minister.
Engle noted: "A typical figure in the New Right movement, Kim was a democracy activist and translated Marxist philosophy in the 1980s. But by the 2000s, he radically changed his views and championed the New Right cause. Of particular note, Kim participated in a textbook forum that sought to promote the movement’s interpretations of history to young students.
"Kim Yung-Ho’s past writings reveal the depth of the New Right’s ideology within the Yoon administration’s policies. Speaking at a 2005 event commemorating the founding of the New Right Think Net organization, Kim argued that the movement advocates liberal values that cherish individual freedoms. He emphasized reinforcing the U.S.-South Korea alliance based on the shared values of democracy and capitalism.
"Additionally, he advocated recognizing the de facto existence of North Korea as a separate state, encouraged engagement to uplift its circumstances before seeking reunification, differentiated the Kim regime from the North Korean populace and championed human rights for the latter."
The conservative Yoon champions shared values such as freedom, democracy, capitalism and a fortified U.S.-Korea alliance while holding North Korea to account for its human rights abuses.
"A deeper examination of Yoon’s Liberation Day speech hints at how much the new Right has permeated his administration’s policy preferences and ideas about history," Engel noted.
In his address, Yoon praised unnamed past leaders for their “wise decision” to “build a liberal democracy” in South Korea, attributing the nation’s growth and prosperity to this choice. In stark contrast, he alluded to the “forces of communist totalitarianism” masking themselves as “democracy activists, human rights advocates, or progressive activists.”
Yoon, Engel added, "took care not to label all democracy activists as communists. Nevertheless, he still drew a connection between present-day 'anti-state forces' and 'communist totalitarianism.' Yoon’s narrative crafts an ongoing historical struggle: South Korea’s conservatives, steadfast in their 'enduring conviction' in freedom and democracy, versus the insidious communist forces seeking to 'disrupt and attack our society.' "
Yoon alluded to those forces in his comments following the Camp David summit, saying: "Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, the peaceful settlement of disputes, among others, undergird a rules-based international order that we resolve to safeguard by intensifying our collaboration."
Other points from the joint statement from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea:
The United States unequivocally reaffirms that its extended deterrence commitments to both Japan and the ROK are ironclad and backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities. Our three countries announce today that we intend to hold annual, named, multi-domain trilateral exercises on a regular basis to enhance our coordinated capabilities and cooperation. In mid-August, our three countries conducted a maritime ballistic missile defense warning test for the real-time sharing of missile warning data to demonstrate our ability to deter and respond to the DPRK’s advancing nuclear and missile threats more effectively. By the end of 2023, we intend to operationalize our sharing of missile warning data on the DPRK in real-time in fulfillment of commitments reflected in the November 2022 Phnom Penh Statement, and our countries have taken initial steps to test our technical capabilities for real-time sharing of missile warning data. We are committed to pursuing enhanced ballistic missile defense cooperation to counter DPRK nuclear and missile threats. We reaffirm that achieving a world without nuclear weapons is a common goal for the international community, and we continue to make every effort to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.
Going forward, our countries are committed to working closely together to launch early warning system pilots to expand information sharing and enhance policy coordination on possible disruptions to global supply chains as well as to better prepare us to confront and overcome economic coercion. We will continue to develop the Partnership for Resilient and Inclusive Supply-chain Enhancement (RISE) to help developing countries play larger roles in the supply chains of clean energy products. We will also enhance cooperation on technology protection measures to prevent the cutting-edge technologies we develop from being illegally exported or stolen abroad. To that end, we will conduct inaugural exchanges between the U.S. Disruptive Technology Strike Force and Japanese and ROK counterparts to deepen information-sharing and coordination across our enforcement agencies. We will also continue to strengthen trilateral cooperation on export controls to prevent our technologies from being diverted for military or dual-use capabilities that could potentially threaten international peace and security.
We are fully committed to continuing to eliminate barriers to economic participation and build diverse, accessible, and inclusive economies in which all our people—including women and marginalized groups—can succeed. We will work to further strengthen our people-to-people ties, including among our young people and students. We will continue our cooperation toward the successful conclusion of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) negotiations, and President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida welcome the United States’ hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum this year. President Yoon and President Biden applaud Japan’s strong and principled leadership at the G7 Hiroshima Summit to respond to challenges that the international community is facing. Together, we are committed to accelerate the clean energy transition; mobilize financing for quality infrastructure and resilient supply chains, including through trilateral collaboration among our development finance institutions as well as through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII); and promote sustainable economic growth and financial stability, as well as orderly and well-functioning financial markets. We will continue our ambitious agenda to evolve the multilateral development banks to make them more responsive to shared global challenges. The Leaders committed to explore delivering new World Bank Group concessional resources and headroom to fight poverty by addressing global challenges in line with its forthcoming concessionality framework and enhancing resources for the poorest countries, including crisis response.