U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Madrid, June 2022
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid. The brief tête-à-tête may have seemed like little more than a photo op. Despite North Korean claims about the formation of an “Asian NATO,” no major agreements were reached, and no joint statement was issued. Indeed, the White House readout of the meeting was barely a paragraph long.

But this heavily choreographed encounter was far from a waste of time. In fact, it represented an important breakthrough in

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