Tensions And Cooperation: Dissecting Developments Following Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue Of 2024 – Analysis


The inaugural trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue, held in Washington, D.C. on January 5, 2024, marked a significant development in the partnership between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

Led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Japanese Deputy Minister/Director-General Kobe Yasuhiro, and ROK Deputy Minister Chung Byung-won, the meeting built upon the commitments made during the Trilateral Leaders’ Summit at Camp David in August 2023.

The dialogue commenced with expressions of condolences for the lives lost in the recent earthquake in Ishikawa prefecture. The representatives discussed each country’s Indo-Pacific approach and explored opportunities for cooperation, particularly focusing on partnerships with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries. They shared assessments on geopolitical trends in the Indo-Pacific and highlighted the need for enhanced trilateral cooperation.

The commitment to collaboration was reaffirmed through regional forums such as ASEAN, Friends of the Mekong, Partners in the Blue Pacific, and the Pacific Islands Forum. The unique opportunity for trilateral cooperation at the UN in 2024, with the United States, Japan, and the ROK holding seats on the Security Council, was acknowledged. The success of the U.S. APEC host year in 2023 was celebrated, and anticipation for cooperation on the ROK’s APEC host year in 2025 was expressed. Progress on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity negotiations was applauded.

The partners discussed strategies for advancing women’s economic empowerment and equitable participation in the digital economy. Anticipation for the 2024 Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference in Washington, D.C. was expressed. Opportunities for youth engagement with Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries were noted, including the upcoming July 2024 Trilateral Global Leadership Youth Summit in Busan.

Importantly, collaboration to enhance regional economic security, resilience, and development was emphasized. This includes action against climate change, engagement with Indo-Pacific partners on issues like information and communications technology, cybersecurity, and emerging technology. The AI Safety Summit and the Global AI Forum hosted by the ROK in 2024 were highlighted. Commitment to trilateral maritime security and law enforcement cooperation, with a focus on capacity building in the region, was reiterated.

While focusing on cooperation opportunities, the partners expressed concern over trends in the region, including the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis in Myanmar. Strong opposition to maritime claims by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the South China Sea was reiterated, emphasizing commitment to international law and freedom of navigation. Condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, military cooperation with Russia, and human rights violations was also expressed. Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait were reaffirmed as indispensable to international security and prosperity.

The partners addressed the increased threat of foreign information manipulation and discussed ways to counter these threats while respecting freedom of expression. The trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue is viewed as a new chapter in the partnership and a significant step to strengthen and align policies globally. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, Deputy Minister/Director-General Kobe, and Deputy Minister Chung reaffirmed their intent to hold the trilateral dialogue annually and coordinate closely on shared concerns in the Indo-Pacific. This dialogue serves as a platform for continued collaboration, reinforcing the strategic importance of the trilateral partnership in addressing regional challenges and fostering stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

On January 8, 2024, a spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry, Mao Ning, rebuffed the joint statement issued by the Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK). During a daily press briefing, Mao expressed serious concerns about the statement’s rhetoric on China, firmly opposing what she described as an attempt by these countries to form exclusionary groupings under the guise of cooperation. She criticized the alleged interference in China’s internal affairs, accusing the countries of attacking and smearing China, and fostering confrontation and antagonism.

Regarding the South China Sea, Mao stated that the situation is generally stable, emphasizing China’s commitment to safeguarding territorial sovereignty and maritime rights while advocating for dialogue and consultation with directly concerned countries. Mao criticized non-regional countries for attempting to escalate tensions in the South China Sea, stressing that Taiwan is an integral part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan question is an internal affair with no room for foreign interference. She highlighted the importance of upholding the one-China principle for maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. Mao urged relevant parties to respect regional countries’ efforts toward peace and stability, discard Cold War mentalities, refrain from creating bloc confrontations, and cease actions that fuel tensions in the region. She emphasized the Asia-Pacific region as a cooperation leader and discouraged turning it into a geopolitical chessboard.

Certainly, these actions are bound to heighten tensions in the South China Sea. Earlier in 2023, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea unveiled a collaborative platform aimed at sharing missile threat detection data as part of a broader trilateral agreement to enhance regional security and deter North Korean aggression. Led by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the initiative involves the exchange of real-time missile warning data to improve detection capabilities against North Korean missile launches. The platform was anticipated to be fully operational by December 2023, marking the first time all three nations would share such information jointly.

While the U.S. had previously shared threat information separately with South Korea and Japan, historical tensions had hindered collaborative efforts until now. Furthermore, South Korea has outlined plans to allocate 346.7 trillion Korean won (approximately U.S. $262.8 billion) over the next five years to enhance its defense capabilities, as indicated in the 2024-2028 midterm defense plan announced by the Defense Ministry. This budgetary increase, responding to North Korea’s recent satellite launch, focuses on bolstering military capabilities, maintaining troop levels, and modernizing defense facilities.

Specifically, funding for defense capabilities improvement has risen by 6%, from 107.4 trillion Korean won to 113.9 trillion Korean won, with expectations of an 11.3% annual growth. This effort encompasses deterrence measures, the expansion of preemptive strike capabilities, and addressing North Korean missiles and drones. In parallel, Japan is set to increase defense spending by over 16% in 2024, constituting a record military budget. The financial injection aims to expedite the deployment of long-range cruise missiles and strengthen the military with F-35 stealth combat jets and other American weapons, aligning with Japan’s evolving role in collaborative efforts with allies and taking on more offensive responsibilities. The 7.95 trillion-yen defense budget for the 2024 fiscal year, part of a five-year military buildup program, underscores Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government’s commitment to a new security strategy. In the backdrop of China’s formidable presence in the region, the observed escalation in militarization and armament is likely to contribute to prolonged tensions.

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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