CAMP DAVID - US President Joe Biden on Friday hailed a "new era" of unity with the leaders of South Korea and Japan as the allies unveiled new three-way security cooperation at a first-of-a-kind summit that has already rattled China.
Going tieless in the Camp David presidential retreat, Biden praised the "political courage" of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in turning the page on historical animosity.
"Our countries are stronger -- and the world will be safer -- as we stand together. I know that's a belief that we all three share," he told them as he opened the talks in the mountains west of Washington.
Biden said the three would pursue "this new era of cooperation and renew our resolve to serve as a force of good across the Indo-Pacific and, quite frankly, around the world."
The two treaty-bound US allies largely see eye to eye on the world -- and together are the base for some 84,500 US troops -- but such a summit would have been unthinkable until recently due to the legacy of Japan's harsh 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.
But Yoon, taking political risks at home, has turned the page by resolving a dispute over wartime forced labor, and now calling Japan a partner at a time of high tensions with both China and North Korea.
"Today will be remembered as a historic day, where we established a firm institutional basis and commitments to the trilateral partnership," Yoon said.
The three leaders will agree to a multi-year plan of regular exercises in all domains, going beyond one-off drills in response to North Korea, and will announce a "commitment to consult" during crises, said Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor.
The leaders will also agree to share real-time data on North Korea and to hold summits every year, officials said.
Camp David marks the first time the three countries' leaders have met for a standalone summit, not on the sidelines of a larger event, and is the first diplomatic event since 2015 at the resort, which is synonymous with Middle East peacemaking.
- 'You can never become a Westerner' -
Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, said the summit would have an "affirmative vision" on how the countries can deliver together and was "not taking aim at a country."
But Rahm Emanuel, the blunt-speaking US ambassador to Japan, took another tone when he previewed the summit, saying that the three powers "created something that is exactly what China was hoping would never happen."
For Emanuel, the former congressman turned ambassador, China should understand one thing: "We are the rising power; they are declining."
China has flexed its muscle both at home and in Asia under President Xi Jinping, exerting disputed maritime claims and carrying out major exercises near Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the two economically developed Northeast Asian democracies instead to work with Beijing to "revitalize East Asia."
"No matter how blond you dye your hair or how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become a European or American, you can never become a Westerner," he said in a video shared on official media.
"We must know where our roots lie," he said.
But China's pressure tactics have led to a sharp deterioration in its favorability in Japan and South Korea, which have traditionally been more discreet than the United States in their comments.
Tensions have also risen with North Korea, which has launched a volley of missiles in recent months and is feared to respond with new action in response to the summit.
As the Camp David summit opened, North Korea said it had scrambled jets in response to what it called a US spy plane's incursion.
- Global allies -
But the summit hopes to move beyond a focus on North Korea or even just Asia.
Tokyo and Seoul have offered a major boost to Ukraine as major non-Western powers joining pressure against Russia's invasion.
The summit aims to institutionalize three-way cooperation to make it difficult for any reversal by a future leader -- a South Korean president who again seizes on hostility with Japan or, potentially, a return of Donald Trump, who has disparaged US troop commitments overseas as wasteful.
To the surprise of many observers, Yoon's embrace of Japan has drawn relatively muted protests at home.
Both Japanese and South Koreans feel that there are "a number of fundamentally aligned values and interests that should bring them together," said Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior director for East Asia and Oceania on the National Security Council.
Yoon, a conservative, has quickly become a close US ally, with Biden welcoming him for a rare state visit in which the South Korean leader regaled the audience by singing "American Pie."
But Yoon is constitutionally prohibited from serving more than a single term, which ends in 2027.