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Biden and leaders from South Korea, Japan make security agreements at Camp David

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Camp David has a long history of being a place where U.S. presidents try to broker big geopolitical breakthroughs. And today, President Biden used the historic venue to forge a series of security agreements with leaders from South Korea and Japan - leaders who, themselves, have overcome some long-standing differences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is the first summit I've hosted at Camp David as president. I can think of no more fitting location to begin the next era - our next era of cooperation - a place that has long symbolized the power of new beginnings and new possibilities.

CHANG: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been following these talks and joins us now from Camp David in Maryland. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so we've been hearing President Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida all declare this to be a historic day. But what exactly did they agree to?

KHALID: Well, they agreed to strengthen defense cooperation. And they're intending to do that in a few different ways - more comprehensive joint military exercises as well as creating this crisis hotline. I will say this is not, you know, only about security. They also have pledged more economic cooperation around things like supply chains. You know, I think it's worth pointing out that part of why this is so significant is that Japan and South Korea have had a rather tense relationship over the decades stemming back to when Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. And you heard today President Biden praise these two leaders for their political courage to come to this meeting here today. You know, this all being said - as much as I was saying, there are other components to this agreement. I do think security is really the key component, and they're specifically bolstering security in the context of North Korea and China.

CHANG: Yeah, I want to focus on China for a moment. How detailed were the leaders in terms of what they want to do to counter or to isolate China?

KHALID: You know, Ailsa, this is a sensitive issue. You know, they made it clear that this was not just about China, but of course, China is in the backdrop. And you can look through the documents that were released today, and you see language about upholding order in the South China Sea. Biden himself was perhaps the most explicit and said that the leaders have a shared commitment to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and said that they would address economic coercion and aggression in the South China Sea. You know, these comments do not explicitly mention China, but they are certainly aimed at China. That's the subtext there. And I will say that, you know, part of what makes referencing China within this trilateral relationship so complicated is that all three leaders have their own domestic audiences, and South Korea and Japan have distinct interests with China. You know, they're not all relating to China the same way that the United States is. That being said, you know, Biden himself has made it very clear that his foreign policy is about rebuilding alliances and countering China's influence. And here he was today standing side by side with two key allies from the Indo-Pacific region.

CHANG: And finally, Asma, I mean, not many people get to go to Camp David. Can you tell us - what is it like there?

KHALID: Yeah, I mean, you really do get a sense that you're in a politically historic place. We saw the leaders this afternoon walk up a path that was shaded under giant trees in the woods. It was a more casual setting than being invited to the White House. You know, they didn't wear ties. And the press conference itself was held outdoors. You saw dappled light coming through the leaves. You know, there are really some key moments in American history that have been established here. And I think what we saw with the Biden White House today was a desire to tap into that long legacy of diplomacy at Camp David, really trying to elevate the relationship that they have with Japan and South Korea. And I will say that both guests were very attuned to the fact that not every leader gets an invite here, that this is a bit more special than getting an invitation to the White House.

CHANG: That is NPR's Asma Khalid reporting from Camp David. Thank you so much, Asma.

KHALID: My pleasure. Good to speak with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.

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