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OpinionsCloser Russia & North Korea ties could lead to tensions in Asia-Pacific

Closer Russia & North Korea ties could lead to tensions in Asia-Pacific

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Japan and South Korea worried as USA closely watches Putin's move

By Girish Linganna

Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong-un's recent visit to Russia—his first trip since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out—is anticipated to witness the two Cold War allies enhancing their and economic cooperation in the face of Western sanctions.

The Cold War is generally considered to have started after War II, around the late-1940s, and it lasted until the early-1990s when the Soviet Union was dissolved. This period was characterized by political and military tensions between the United States and its allies (often referred to as the Western Bloc) and the Soviet Union and its allies (known as the Eastern Bloc), without direct military conflict between these superpowers.

Because Russia is a pariah for much of the world since its Ukraine invasion, followed persistent attacks on civilian targets and clear violations of international humanitarian law, an out-of-munitions Russia— which has expended huge arsenals in the over 18 months of war in Ukraine—has sought help from countries —North Korea and China. Moscow now needs more military supplies for its war in Ukraine, and might want to buy more weapons from Pyongyang. Ukraine's military intelligence head, Kyrylo Budanov, reportedly told his country's NV Radio that North Korea has already been supplying Russia with weapons for over a month now.

If this situation escalates, it could create a new alliance between Russia and North Korea, which could be similar to a ‘Cold War' grouping and this new entente may challenge the alliance between the United States, Japan and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region, says a scholar from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) to the South China Morning Post. It is feared that, if North Korea and Russia become closer, it will greatly affect the situation in the region and on a global scale.

In North-East Asia, there is a possibility of a tense situation arising between the ‘quasi-alliance' of the United States, Japan and South Korea and the alliance of Russia and North Korea. This could potentially lead to a sudden escalation of issues in the region, says the CICIR scholar. Rebooting the denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula and establishing a peace and security order in North-East Asia will then become more challenging.

On Wednesday (September 13) morning, Pyongyang launched two short-range missiles even as Kim was making his way through the forests of Russia by train shortly before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space centre in Russia's Far East. Kim arrived in Russia by train on Tuesday (September 12).

During their Wednesday meeting, Kim told Putin that North Korea considers its relationship with Russia as top priority. He expressed his full support for Russia's decisions in its ongoing struggle to “protect its sovereignty and security”, which he referred to as a “sacred fight”. At the space centre, they both visited the assembly and launching sites for Soyuz-2 and Angara rocket launch vehicles. This information was shared through published by Russian news agency Tass.

The United States has cautioned North Korea against selling weapons to Russia and mentioned the possibility of imposing additional sanctions. Russia and China have both opposed any new sanctions on North Korea, blocking attempts by the US and its allies and openly splitting the UN Security Council for the first time since it started imposing penalties on Pyongyang in 2006. The South Korean presidential office has also urged Moscow to behave responsibly concerning its dealings with North Korea.

In response to North Korea's nuclear threats and China's military actions in the South China Sea, the United States, Japan and South Korea have increased their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region over the past few years.

According to the CICIR scholar, the enhanced collaboration between Russia and North Korea is seen as a response to growing US influence, which has strengthened under President Joe Biden's Administration. This influence affects not only its former Cold War rivals, but also includes China.

In the eastern part of the world, the United States is using the North Korean nuclear problem to strengthen security collaboration among Japan and South Korea, aiming to exert pressure on, or potentially undermine, the governments of China and North Korea, the scholar stated. Pyongyang has been actively reconnecting with Moscow and Beijing. They reopened their borders and even invited Russian and Chinese delegations to North Korea for celebratory events twice since July.

In July, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu apparently suggested to Kim the idea of a joint naval exercise involving Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang, as reported by a South Korean media house citing South Korean intelligence sources. There is also widespread speculation that Putin and Kim will revisit this proposal during Kim's visit this week. China has not given an official response to the proposal and kept a low profile regarding Kim's prominent visit to Russia. China has stated that it considers this matter to be between Russia and North Korea and maintains positive relations with both countries.

During the ASEAN summit in Jakarta last week, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol had a one-on-one meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang. At this meeting, President Yoon urged China to take additional steps to address the nuclear threats posed by North Korea. In a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry regarding this issue, spokesperson Mao Ning mentioned that China was dedicated to promoting peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. However, she emphasized that having good relations with North Korea and exerting influence over North Korea were two separate concepts. (IPA)

 

(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political analyst based in Bengaluru)

 

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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