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Minilateralism: A Newfound Approach to Bolstering the US-Indo-Pacific Partnerships in Emerging Technology

How might the adoption of minilateralism pave the way for emerging technology cooperation and increase overall US and Indo-Pacific partners’ competitiveness?

With the increased US-China strategic competition and the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, existing multilateral security cooperation systems, such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization, have faced increased limitations. The nature of these systems is meant to deal with broad matters, using an inclusive approach that often results in various problems, for example, delays in decision-making. As an alternative, minilateral security cooperation systems have become an enticing alternative framework for security cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region.

Increasingly, minilateral systems are seen as crucial to maintaining balance in the Indo-Pacific amid the growing competition between the United States and China and is preferable to the traditional multilateral system. This growing awareness has led to the expansion of cooperation beyond military security, focusing instead on economic and technological spheres of influence. Notably, the enhanced collaboration within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (The Quad) among the United States, Japan, India, and Australia and the recent establishment of the US-ROK-Japan trilateral partnership created earlier this year highlight this important trend.

One strategy within this goal is to sharpen their competitive edge and rebalance regional power by expanding and strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation with allies, including India, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

These minilateral systems serve as an effective security cooperation framework in addressing specific issues, optimized to achieve precise goals through its distinct governance structure. Especially noteworthy is the emphasis on emerging technology cooperation within both the Quad and the US-ROK-Japan trilateral partnership. Advanced technology is at the center of innovation and has become a crucial factor for enhancing a country’s economic resiliency and competitiveness. 

As the United States and China continue to compete, US security policy has shifted its focus to advanced technology in an effort to counterbalance China's powerful influence in various high-tech industries. One strategy within this goal is to sharpen their competitive edge and rebalance regional power by expanding and strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation with allies, including India, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (The Quad)

A key example of US minilateral initiatives has been the Quad Dialogues among the United States, Australia, India, and Japan. In May 2023, the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima built upon the agendas and achievements discussed in the four previous in-person and virtual summits, and delineated four initiatives related to critical and emerging technology cooperation were specified: Commercial Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) Deployment in Palau, Open RAN Security Report, Advancing Innovation to Empower Nextgen Agriculture (AI-Engage), and Quad Technology Business and Investment Forum. Open RAN was also frequently discussed throughout the joint statement concerning emerging technology cooperation.

Moreover, during the opening week of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2023, a Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting took place, and a Joint Statement by the ministers was subsequently released. They once again indicated their plans to “continue to advance the development of a secure and trusted telecommunications network with a network modernization project and Open Radio Access Network deployment in Palau” and “support the private sector-led Quad Investors Network to facilitate investment in critical and emerging technologies.” Their continual engagement in the dialogue on emerging technology cooperation demonstrates a steadfast commitment to maintaining an ongoing discourse.

Looking ahead, the 2024 Quad Leaders’ Summit is set to be held in India, promising further opportunities to advance collaboration initiatives and shape the future landscape of emerging technologies.

US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Relations

The Quad was not the only partnership that emphasized the significance of emerging technology cooperation. The US-ROK-Japan trilateral partnership, initiated in August 2023 during the historic Camp David Summit, also highlighted a shared commitment to foster cooperation in emerging technologies.

Even prior to the Camp David Summit, these discussions have been in motion. In 2022, at a sideline ASEAN Summit in Cambodia, the three countries announced their commitment to advancing emerging technologies through a multitude of collaborations in their Phnom Penh Statement, some of which included biotechnology, artificial intelligence, quantum information science and technology, and open-RAN technology. This was further detailed during the Camp David Summit, where three statements were released: the “Camp David Principles,” “The Spirit of Camp David,” and “Commitment to Consult." Of these three statements, the first two are unprecedented in underscoring and concretely delineating the expansion of trilateral cooperation in emerging technologies. Similarly, to the Quad, Open RAN played a pivotal role in the commitments that were set, with the notable distinction that artificial intelligence was also incorporated into the discussions. The three countries’ agreement to establish a collaborative platform for emerging technologies, spanning the entire circle from joint development to international standardization, technology protection, and personnel exchange, is a notable outcome of the Camp David Summit.

The minilateral approach, characterized by smaller groups of states working collaboratively on specific issues, offers a nimble and adaptive framework that member states are seeming to favorably adopt.

In the coming years, the minilateral systems are anticipated to play an expanding role in tackling a range of non-traditional security issues, including but not limited to emerging technology cooperation, that are becoming increasingly complex and interconnected. The minilateral approach, characterized by smaller groups of states working collaboratively on specific issues, offers a nimble and adaptive framework that member states are seeming to favorably adopt. This agility enables a more efficient response to the multifaceted nature of emerging security threats, fostering targeted solutions in the face of evolving global challenges.

Interestingly, South Korea is in a unique position to participate in and reap the benefits of such reinvigorated minilateral systems in the Indo-Pacific. Within the current circumstances, South Korea may consider actively engaging in the Quad’s working group on critical and emerging technology. Incorporating Quad Plus participation into the regional security strategy would be beneficial for both South Korea and Quad member countries, providing competitive advantages on both sides. 

Additionally, the US-ROK-Japan trilateral partnership is anticipated to strengthen the current regional framework among the three countries and solidify this newly established trilateral partnership, enhancing minilateral resiliency in the Indo-Pacific landscape.

Going forward, South Korea’s choices and actions, alongside those of the United States and its closest regional allies, are expected to play a crucial role in shaping the direction and operation of today’s minilateral security cooperation frameworks.

This blog post is part of an ongoing NextGen series for the Korea Foundation Junior Scholar program. This series is made possible thanks to the generous support from the Korea Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are the views of the author(s). For questions/comments, please contact coordinating staff at

Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy

The Center for Korean History and Public Policy was established in 2015 with the generous support of the Hyundai Motor Company and the Korea Foundation to provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and informing the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond.  Read more

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more