Putin’s North Korea Visit Sparks Concerns in Seoul, Silence from Beijing

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Frontier India News Network
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The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korea is a significant event that may have stirred up Beijing. China, North Korea’s main supporter and its primary partner in trade and security, has been notably silent on Putin’s trip. However, on June 18, Chinese diplomats and military officials met with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul, a move that could potentially hint at China’s concerns or strategic considerations.

A key concern is the formation of a military alliance between Moscow and Pyongyang, a possibility that could pose an existential threat to South Korea. The head of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, Cho Tae-yong, expressed a measured view, emphasizing that negotiations between Moscow and Pyongyang should not undermine peace on the Korean Peninsula. This reaction, while predictable, underscores the potential gravity of the situation.

Understanding the context of the deteriorating South Korea and Russia’s bilateral relations is crucial. The tensions began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move that South Korea responded to by participating in subsequent US-led sanctions on Russia. This led to Russia branding South Korea as an ‘unfriendly’ state. Tensions further escalated over North Korean concerns, as Russia continued to veto all new UN Security Council Resolutions against North Korea, despite the latter’s ongoing military provocations in 2022 and 2023.

The deteriorating Seoul-Moscow relations worsened as both sides formed a new alignment. In July 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol paid a surprise visit to Ukraine and unveiled South Korea’s peace effort supporting Ukraine, which included military, humanitarian, and economic reconstruction assistance. Two months later, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met and agreed to strengthen their nations’ military cooperation. Most recently, tensions erupted in a diplomatic spat between Seoul and Moscow over President Yoon’s remarks on North Korea.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister stated that Seoul is closely monitoring the Russian president’s visit to North Korea and may take “necessary countermeasures” based on the outcome of the negotiations in Pyongyang. According to Cho, the stronger relationships between Russia and North Korea are driven by events in Ukraine and rising global geopolitical tensions. It will be obvious later if the rapprochement between the two countries is tactical and temporary or if it reflects their long-term strategic goals.

Jang Ho-jin, South Korea’s national security advisor, also linked Putin’s visit to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. He said that when the war ended, Russia would have to decide who was more essential to it: the South or the North. At the same time, Jang does not suggest that Putin’s visit will automatically result in the formation of a trilateral alliance between Russia, China, and North Korea. Jang supported this idea by pointing out that Chinese and South Korean diplomats and military officials were in dialog in Seoul. This meeting was unrelated to Putin’s trip. Its convening was agreed upon in May by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Cooperation between Russia and North Korea, two sanctioned states, could destabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula, something Beijing absolutely does not want. Putin’s trip helps him demonstrate to the international community that Russia has reliable partners and friends. But Russia’s support may also help North Korean leader Kim Jong-un engage with South Korea and the United States more confidently. This may not be in China’s interest.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea reported that representatives of the Republic of Korea conveyed their concerns to China regarding the cooperation between Russia and North Korea during the security and foreign policy dialogue held on June 18.

“Our side expressed deep concern over the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korea amidst rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to a series of provocations by North Korea, including the launch of ballistic missiles, trash balloons, and the jamming of GPS signals,” the statement said.

South Korea informed China of its position that it would be unacceptable if this visit resulted in the weakening of peace and stability on the peninsula and the strengthening of military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang, which is allegedly taking place.

According to Seoul, the increase in tensions resulting from strengthening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea contradicts China’s interests. The Republic of Korea asked Beijing to “play a constructive role” for the stability and peace in the region.

Kim Hong-kyun, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Lee Seung-bom, Director of the Ministry of Defense’s Department of International Policy, represented the Republic of Korea at the dialogue meeting. Sun Weidong, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Zhang Baoqun, Deputy Head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the Central Military Commission, represented China.

China’s position on the subject is not yet known. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about the Korean Peninsula during Putin’s recent visit to Beijing, which is documented in the declaration. China has its own course. It is attempting to impede South Korea’s rapprochement with Japan and the United States within the context of trilateral cooperation, which is indirectly related to Russia’s contacts with North Korea. Russia may be aiding the Chinese efforts through consultations.


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