Russian ties can prop up China stance on North Korea

By Chen Xu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/25 22:33:02

The second stage of China-Russia military exercises started in the Sea of Okhotsk on September 18 after the first phase war games - "Maritime Cooperation-2017" - in the Baltic Sea from July 21 to 28.

The exercises being held at a strategic location have drawn the attention of the media. First, it is the first time the Chinese Navy has appeared in the Sea of Okhotsk. Second, China and Russia have organized joint anti-submarine drills for the first time, revealing their military hardware to each other. Third, the Sea of Okhotsk was on the frontline of US-Soviet confrontation during the Cold War. The strategically located water body is not very far from the Kuril Islands disputed between Japan and Russia and the Korean Peninsula. China and Russia have said the joint military exercises are a routine annual event aimed at consolidating strategic partnership, and not directed at third parties in the region.

However, during continued flux on the Korean Peninsula, strengthening of Sino-Russian military ties will inevitably acquire a special meaning.

With concerns growing around North Korea's missile program and nuclear ambitions in recent years, the US is setting up a missile defense system with cooperation from Japan and South Korea in the name of dealing with potential threats from North Korea. In this process, the deployment of THAAD in South Korea is an important part.

At the same time, the US is strengthening bilateral and trilateral alliances with Japan and South Korea to build a complete and unified containment system in Northeast Asia. This will weaken China and Russia's nuclear counterattack capabilities and lead to serious regional strategic imbalances, which will squeeze the policy space of China and Russia in Northeast Asia. In the sense of geo-security, US presence in the region not only threatens China's core interests, but also makes Russia face the threat of US pressure from two fronts.

Therefore, the common interests of China and Russia in Northeast Asia are to strategically join hands to balance the US alliance system, make up for the lack of Sino-Russian cooperation after the Cold War, pivot toward a new strategic balance, and help maintain security and stability in Northeast Asia.

Over the past two months, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has undergone profound changes. North Korea's nuclear program once again broke through the "critical point." Pyongyang successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and carried out the most powerful nuclear test so far. The UN Security Council has slapped unprecedented sanctions on the country through Resolutions 2371 and 2375.

On the other hand, joint military exercises between the US and South Korea have intensified. On the Korean nuclear issue, China and Russia share a common stance on denuclearization, peace and stability, dialogue and consultation, dual track negotiations and opposition to comprehensive sanctions.

So far, only Russia has expressed support for China's "suspension for suspension" and "dual track" proposals. Russia has also vetoed the US proposal of a full oil embargo on North Korea.

Therefore, when Sino-US cooperation has a limited effect, China and South Korea are in opposition, China needs Russia's support to consolidate its position over resolving the nuclear issue. Sino-Russian joint military exercises reflect the common position, determination and ability to safeguard security and stability of the Korean Peninsula.

Although China and Russia share a common stance on the Korean nuclear issue, they have different interests. From a geopolitical security perspective, the North Korean nuclear issue poses a different degree of security threat to both powers. The nuclear test site lies near the Russian Far East but close to the core of China. As for the policy space, Russia has traditional influence on North Korea, which gives North Korea the opportunity to seek a balance between China and Moscow. Since 2012, relations have been warming between Pyongyang and Moscow when Sino-North Korean ties started getting colder. If the Korean nuclear issue intensifies, Beijing and Moscow need to strengthen strategic coordination to narrow Pyongyang's strategic space.

Military relations are the core of the relationship between the two countries. In recent years, under the framework of comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, Beijing and Moscow have made progress in improving military ties, arms trade and technological cooperation. This Sino-Russian joint military exercise will strengthen bilateral trust and strategic cooperation to deal with the complex situation in the region. This will significantly contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Center for Northeast Asia Research, Shandong University.

Newspaper headline: Russian ties can prop up China stance on NK


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