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Quantum Partnership Strengthens US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Relationship

Asia Korea Japan

In the spirit of the Camp David Summit, a new quantum partnership between the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, and the University of Chicago has strengthened the US-ROK-Japan Trilateral relationship.

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Japan are the United States’ most important allies in the Indo-Pacific. However, due to flare-ups in the bilateral Japan-ROK relationship concerning the colonial legacy of Japan in South Korea, the trilateral relationship has oscillated between volatility and cooperation. Nevertheless, since the Camp David summit between the US, South Korea, and Japan in August of 2023, cooperation has prevailed. Camp David was remarkable in that it produced the “Commitment to Consult” which declared, for the first time, that the countries’ “security is intertwined.” More recently, in January 2024, the three countries held the inaugural trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue in Washington, DC, discussing areas of cooperation and concern.

A new $100 million quantum partnership between universities in Tokyo, Seoul, and Chicago builds upon the spirit of Camp David. On January 18th, 2024, during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the presidents of the University of Chicago, Seoul National University, and the University of Tokyo signed a letter of intent to partner on quantum science and technologies. The partnership is funded by IBM, a US multinational technology corporation, and intends to “develop a supercomputer … to process vast quantities of information at top speed.”

Furthermore, the deal also incorporates programs to train up to 40,000 students from the universities mentioned, plus Keio University in Japan and Yonsei University in South Korea. The National Security Advisors of the US and Japan and the Director of National Security of Korea congratulated the new trilateral quantum partnership, emphasizing the deal’s step towards fulfilling shared goals established during Camp David.

The president of the University of Tokyo, Teruo Fujii, shared his insights with the East-West Center in Washington on the new partnership:

"It is a great pleasure for us to sign this letter of intent with the University of Chicago and Seoul National University to strengthen the global partnership in the quantum field among leading universities in each of our countries. This trilateral partnership aims to contribute to the further development of quantum science and engineering, which has the potential to bring about major changes in society and the economy. I hope our future collaboration will play an important role in solving various global issues in not only the three countries, but today’s turbulent world."

The signing of the deal comes to fruition not only during a political rapprochement between Japan and South Korea but also in a broader trilateral effort to boost collaboration in quantum computing. During the G7 Summit last May (2023) in Hiroshima, Japan, Google, the University of Tokyo, and the University of Chicago announced a quantum computing partnership “committing together up to $100 million over ten years” to “develop and accelerate the development of a fault-tolerant quantum computer.” Last June, the University of Chicago forged a “Quantum Alliance” with Japan’s Tohoku University. Last November, the University of Tokyo finished installing IBM’s 127-Qubit IBM Quantum Eagle Processor.

Quantum computing is stealing the spotlight on the technology front of the trilateral relationship, and understandably so. According to Harvard Business Review, “digital computing has limitations in regards to an important category of calculation called combinatorics … computers and software that are predicated on the assumptions of quantum mechanics have the potential to perform combinatorics and other calculations much faster.” Beyond quantum computing, Camp David outlined an intent to cooperate on other technology fronts, such as “supply chain resilience, particularly on semiconductors and batteries, as well as on technology security and standards, clean energy and energy security, biotechnology, critical minerals, pharmaceuticals, (and) artificial intelligence.”

The current direction of technology and quantum computing collaboration signals a brighter future for the trilateral relationship.

Lei Nishiuwatoko is a Spring 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from Northeastern University, where she obtained a B.A. in International Affairs. Lei has previously interned at the NATO Defense College, WorldBoston, and L.E.K. Consulting.