Russia-South Korea Dialogue: Opening New Horizons?

On June 22, 2018, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Professor Georgy Toloraya, Executive Director of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, spoke in an interview with about the results of the meeting, economic cooperation between the two countries and the role of Russia in solving problems on the Korean peninsula.

The June 22 summit on is the third meeting of Vladimir Putin with Moon Jae-in, and such intensive contacts between the two countries did not happen for a long time. There is a very positive trend: after the liberals came to power in South Korea, the strengthening of bilateral partnership began. With conservative administrations in Seoul this was not the case, and for a lot of things, first of all on the security issues of the Korean Peninsula, Russia and South Korea looked differently.

Today our positions are very close. The leaders of the two countries exchanged compliments on how the negotiation process is going on the Korean direction. Although the gratitude and compliments should be addressed to Kim Jong-un, we must acknowledge that Moon Jae-in did a lot to ensure that both the inter-Korean dialogue and the dialogue between the United States and North Korea really happened, which laid the foundation for a new direction to solve the region's problems.

During the talks Moon Jae-in said that South Korea values Russia’s role in this settlement, respects its interests and is grateful for its assistance, although in reality at this stage little depends on Russia. Now no one needs Moscow’s mediation services. Although the Korean problem remains in the top five foreign policy interests of the Russian Federation, the process goes on without Russia’s participation.

The situation around the Korean peninsula began tense after the Korean War and the division of Korea, when the USSR supported North Korea and its leader Kim Il-sung. We should not leave in the past those problems, which have developed in this connection, including the threat to Russia’s security. The North Korean problem is one of the most acute in the world, and here, of course, a political solution is needed. The main thing is that whether it really takes place. In the period of conservative administrations, South Koreans were the most difficult partners, for some reason they were confident of the imminent disintegration of North Korea. They tried to press оn Pyongyang, trying to get support from Russia, although Moscow saw the situation in a different way, offering a dialogue in the interests of all parties.

The process that Russia has long been calling for, began only now, according to the road map proposed last year by Russia and China. Nowadays, few people remember this, but this concept played a serious role at the beginning of the diplomatic process that is currently being developed on the Korean peninsula in full, including the dialogue between the DPRK and South Korea, and the DPRK and the United States.

It is important that we could monitor this process, act as guarantors of those agreements that can be reached. Therefore, it is necessary to work with all interested partners: North Korea, South Korea, China, the US and even Japan.

With South Korea,we still have not communicated enough about this. The last summit is a good example of how are important mutual consultations and understanding, including Russia's economic interests.

During Moon Jae-in’s visit a number of documents were signed in Moscow - memorandums, agreements and statements. Although most of them are still recommendations in nature, there are a number of interesting projects - the creation of the Korean hospital in Skolkovo, joint work in the Arctic, interaction in the scientific and technical field, in the industrial sector, aircraft construction, space, peaceful atom. The future will show how this will be implemented.

As for concrete projects, the important Najin-Khassan project was officially mentioned as part of Moscow's efforts to create a system of trilateral cooperation and the construction of a Eurasian transit corridor that will connect South Korea with Europe through the territory of North Korea. And it is also important, that South Korea seems to be even ready to support this project in spite of the difficult situation around it because of sanctions.

Moreover, the South Koreans actively promoted the creation of a free trade agreement(FTA) between the two countries. This is quite logical, because Russia already has FTA with such Asian countries as Vietnam, but with South Korea it's not so simple: Russia is not ready to lower duties or provide preferential access of Korean automotive products to the Russian market, and South Koreans are not ready to open the market for agricultural products from Russia and the EAEU countries. So, the parties confined themselves by a statement that investment and free trade agreements will be prepared in the future. Of course, South Korea will insist on conclusion of an FTA agreement. However, it is still difficult to predict how soon this process will go on and how the agreement will be fundamental enough to open new horizons. Most likely, it will not play a big role in real business.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.