О насVOSTOK Magazine - это первое независимое медиа об обществе, культуре, истории и политике стран Ближнего и Дальнего Востока. Мы пишем обо всем, что кажется нам важным и интересным.
Why is South Korea concerned with the situation in Ukraine? Why Moscow needs to be friends with Pyongyang? Who is trying to make the DPRK quarrel with Japan? Vostok Magazine gives answers to these and other questions.
The Ukrainian crisis is a burning issue that hasn't been leaving the front pages of papers for half a year both in Russia and in the West. First of all, the fact is that the events in Ukraine touch on us almost directly – everybody is concerned how the lives of common citizens will be affected by mutual sanctions. At the same time, the world sees this conflict as a diplomacy battlefield between Russia and the West. In the established situation it became clear: Russia is not a friend of America and not a competent part of the Western world. Thus, Asian countries had to make a choice. We have already discussed the Japanese actions in the current situation Today we're going to speak about the countries of the Korean peninsula.
It was extremely easy for the DPRK to decide who to support. North Korea is one of the eleven countries who have acknowledged the annexation of Crimea by Russia. It's worth noting that this action was taken by those who have no future with the US (Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, the DPRK, Nicaragua, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Venezuela). In March the DPRK's ambassador in Moscow, Kim Young Jae, commented on the Ukrainian conflict: "The latest alarming events in Ukraine, that were provoked by the conspiratorial scenarios of the US and Western countries and conducted under their instigation, show us who is the true initiator of all the bad in the world, who strives for the destruction of sovereignty and peoples' right for self-determination". North Koreans supported Russia exactly because they see the US as their archenemy, not because the DPRK and Russia have warm relations. Yes, Russia is the successor of the USSR which had supported the DRPK until 1991, however Yeltsin's Russia had practically no contacts with North Korea. Putin was the first Russian leader to visit Pyongyang (in 2000). Since 2003 Russia has been taking part in six-party talks about the DPRK's nuclear program. Russia has always condemned North Korean rocket launches, but nevertheless was never a supporter of strict sanctions against Pyongyang. Moreover, Russia delivered humanitarian aid to the DPRK from time to time, and in 2009 the contract upon the railroad reconstruction between Tumangan (Russia) and Rajin (North Korea) stations was signed. But there were no hints of more active interaction between the two countries until now.
While Europe and the US were thinking about the sanctions towards Russia, the latter was signing important agreements with North Korea concerning economical cooperation. In April Russia discarded the DPRK's $10 billion debt. That action possibly helped to reach the agreement on some very important questions. In June 2014 Russia and North Korea have started to perform calculations in roubles, moreover Russian businessmen now have a right to get multiple visa to the DPRK and to use mobile phones and the Internet on its territory. No country had managed to get such rights for their businessmen before, even North Korea's closest partner – China. The agreements will let Russian investors enter a market which had been practically closed for foreigners before. Some companies have already started to work on the territory of the DPRK. For example, limited company "Severnyye priiski" got from Pyongyang the right to extract gold in North Korea. We must note that economical cooperation with the DPRK might turn out to be perspective as there are extensive stocks of minerals (such as graphite, magnesite and tungsten) and a lot of cheap and educated (most of the population has at least secondary education) man power.
It is interesting that almost at the same time Japan has shown interest in North Korean market. May, 2014 was marked by a sudden "warming" in the relations between Japan and the DPRK. The countries brought back the problem of the Japanese kidnapped presumably by North Korean intelligence service in 1970-1980s and reached some agreement on that subject. A visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzou Abe to Pyongyang was also planned and it would have been able to improve the relations between the two countries and to increase the chances of the Japanese government to ease the conditions of supplying Japanese products to North Korean market. However, Abe's trip was canceled as such a visit would be in contradiction with the interests of the USA. And we must take into account that currently the US are Japan's the most influential partner. America asked Tokyo from now on to consult them on the questions of relations with North Korea. US Secretary of State John Kerry informed Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kishida Fumio about this decision by phone. It looks like Washington strives for total control after foreign policy of its "partners". And in case of Japan successfully does so, at least for now.
But things are different with another "younger brother" of the US – South Korea. Despite the fact that the US are the most important partner of the Republic of Korea, the South Korean government isn't eager to worsen its relations with Russia as it will have a bad impact on Korean companies. South Korea (unlike Japan) never imposed any sanctions on Russia. Most likely, Koreans did so out of economical reasons. The Republic of Korea thinks, actually, that they should not interfere in the conflict of Russia and the US because of Ukraine. So South Koreans try to be neutral as hard as they can. But, of course, they didn't acknowledge the Crimea's annexation (well, even powerful China didn't do it). In March-April South Korean mass media were full of messages about the "Crimea's intervention" by Russia, moreover, one of the most influential newspapers of the Republic of Korea – The Chosun Ilbo – published an article titled "Does Putin go Hitler's way?" and "Is the Crimea the second Chechnya?".
However, South Koreans never imposed any sanctions on Russia. And it seems they won't: the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye emphasizes her foreign policy on so-called "Eurasian initiative" that has no sense without Russia. President Park sees Eurasia as "one continent, creative continent, peaceful continent". Peaceful continent also implies the peaceful and open DPRK that doesn't threaten anyone with nuclear weapon. So the "Eurasian initiative" is really important for South Korea, as it can become the basement for the unification of two Koreas in the future. Russia that has been really successful in relations with North Korea lately thus becomes not only economical but also a strategic partner for the Republic of Korea.
The start of bringing the "Eurasian initiative" to life may be a joint railroad project of Russia and two countries of the Korean peninsula: South Koreans are ready to partake in the further implementation of the DPRK railroad modernization project (at this moment RZD (Russian Railways) company is modernizing the part of the track between Hasan (Russia) and Rajin (North Korea). In the future it can lead to the creation of a ground path between the Russian Federation and South Korea which will go through the DPRK. This project will become an important step in the development of mutually profitable cooperation between three countries.
South Korea understands that Russia is an important partner for it in the Asian-Pacific region, that's why it deliberately becomes close to the Russian Federation, even if the US are against it. If Russia continues to carry out a competent policy regarding the Republic of Korea and the DPRK, the cooperation of the three countries may lead to the "opening" of North Korea for economical partnership with close neighbors, which will be a step towards the reunification of Korea. At the same time the US are still one of the major partners of South Korea, and spoiling the relations with them won't do Koreans any good. So in this situation South Korea that is actually standing between the devil and the deep blue sea will try to hold its neutral ground.