Today's Prospects for Russian-South Korean Relations

The Republic of Korea will remain ready for dialogue and cooperation with Russia despite their differences

A series of events related to the consequences of Russian and Chinese bomber training flights over the Sea of ​​Japan gives us cause for reflecting on the relationship between Russia and the Republic of Korea and how it may change in the foreseeable future. From a formal point of view, the strategic partnership between the two countries remains; by 2020, bilateral trade is set to increase to $30 billion. According to statistical data, Russian-South Korean trade has experienced growth over the past years, which generally justifies the expectations. A surge of activity has been observed in other areas - science, education, culture and tourism. Vladivostok has become one of the more popular destinations of overseas tourism for many citizens of the Republic of Korea, especially since they don't need a visa for a short visit.

Moscow and Seoul are both interested in cooperating more on various issues on the regional political agenda. For example, the centre-left administration of Moon Jae-in is ready for dialogue with our country, and, as noted by many observers, his Democratic Party has demonstrated much greater interest in Russian foreign policy initiatives than their opponents, the conservatives. Such initiatives include an updated version of the Russian-Chinese road map to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, against the background of constant friction with Japan and certain difficulties in the dialogue with China and the United States, relations between South Korea and Russia look more amicable, and are characterised by a constructive agenda. At the political level, the Republic of Korea so far refrains from participating in the “containment” of Russia, guided by its own interests.

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Georgy Toloraya
Moscow hopes that Seoul will play a more active role in the "peaceful, political settlement, working out reciprocal steps in this process". The parties agreed that this remains "the only possible way to make progress in resolving the problems existing in the sub-region".
Expert Opinions

At the same time, recent statements by Seoul about the so-called “violation of the airspace” have provoked a negative reaction in some circles of South Korean society. Of course, the “regrets” of some radical citizens of this country that the plane was not meaningfully shot down “for the edification of others”, are not typical or widespread in South Korea. However, a number of observers who sympathize with the Conservatives, who are now in opposition to the ruling Democratic Party, have already made statements like “Russia and China are increasing their interaction, violating our airspace during their manoeuvres. This means that Seoul and Washington need to work closely together in the military-political sphere, which the Moon administration does not do. ” It should be noted, that the right-conservative segment of South Korean politics is generally oriented towards the preservation and development of a military-political alliance with the United States. Given the current realities, there is a high probability that, in the event of a conservative resurgence in Korea, the new administration may tighten its approach towards Russia under the pretext of "Moscow’s permissive attitude towards the DPRK".

At the same time, a considerable number of liberal politicians and observers have drawn the attention of their audience to the fact that, despite loud statements about the inviolability of close relations between South Korea and the United States, the Americans themselves prefer to play only “a one-way street game”. In relations between the two countries, there is still the problem of redistributing costs to maintain the American military contingent in the southern part of the peninsula. As the recent visit of John Bolton to the Republic of Korea showed, Washington tries to make Seoul meet most of the defence obligations in this area. Hopes that the United States would provide all possible diplomatic support in resolving the political crisis in Japanese-South Korean relations have not come true. To date, the US seeks to maintain its "neutrality" in this dispute, without supporting any of the parties.

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Lee Jae-Young
Lee Jae-Young, President of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), spoke about the prospects of trade relations between Russia, South Korea and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), as well as the importance of diversification policy in the face of increasing protectionism, in an interview with www.valdaiclub.com on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum-2018 in Vladivostok.
Expert Opinions

In this context, we can notice that Seoul is not inclined to exaggerate the political scandal surrounding the Russian-Chinese military aircraft exercises. It is noteworthy that Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, has abstained from making public statements about the incident. This is important, because in South Korea, foreign policy remains predominantly a presidential prerogative, and the impact on it of other subjects of South Korean politics is not so great.

There have also been some unrealistic attempts to build up an “anti-Russian camp” with the participation of South Korea, the presumable loss of Seoul's interest in various bilateral cooperation initiatives, or that “Asia turns its back on Russia”. In addition, today the agenda related to the Japanese-South Korean dispute, as well as the launch of short-range missiles by North Korea, significantly overshadow the topics associated with Russian-Chinese exercises. At the same time, the difficulties that arose should not affect the attempts of Russia, China and the Republic of Korea to coordinate joint activity in providing security both on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The emerging regional situation in Northeast Asia is such that it is more advantageous for Moscow and Seoul to maintain a dialogue rather than burn bridges.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.