Trilateral Cooperation between Russia, North and South Korea

The Korean theme at the Eastern Economic Forum-2018 is the most notable. The "summit" plenary session with the participation of the five NEA countries leaders  devoted to it a lot of time.This is not accidental, because a moment of truth came for Russian policy towards the Korean Peninsula. It is time to choose whether we will actively pursue our line or adapt ourselves to the strategy and tactics of other countries, taking into account common geopolitical interests. Georgy Toloraya, participant at the EEF-2018, Executive Director of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, Director of the Asian strategy center at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke about the perspectives of Russian-Korean cooperation.

The current Eastern Economic Forum could become either a turning point in Russia's policy towards Korea, or not. However, never in history South Korea was not so well-disposed towards cooperation with Russia. And North Korea is ready for a trilateral cooperation. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, speaking at the forum, in addition to President Moon Jae-in’s "nine bridges" added several more directions, including cooperation in the Far East and prospects for the fourth industrial revolution. Something has already been done in these directions - more than 40 Korean companies came to Russia after the announcement of a new course, but according to both sides more efforts are needed. We need a positive experience: in the field of agriculture, shipbuilding - this is the most actively developing branch of cooperation with South Korea, creating a medical cluster and so on.

During the forum an interesting idea was also expressed about creating a kind of cooperation cluster between Russia, North and South Korea. It could be located between the city of Rajin and Vladivostok, including the Chinese territory, and thus becoming a combination of logistical, industrial, agricultural and trade opportunities. This idea also echoes Russian thoughts about participation in the Enhanced Tymangan Initiative in order to create a transport ring, including Rajin, Hunchun and a number of Primorye zones.

Trilateral cooperation

The topic of trilateral cooperation (Russia-North Korea-South Korea) gets a new development today thanks to the tensions easing on the Korean peninsula, positive expectations for the inter-Korean dialogue and the upcoming meeting between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on September 18-20 this year.

As never before, South Koreans positively speak about the opportunities for cooperation in a trilateral format. They are also echoed by the North Koreans. Despite the sanctions that impede this interaction, DPRK and South Korea are convinced that today serious opportunities exist for establishing partnership relations with Russia. South Korea has a reservation here - if the Americans "allow" to do this.

First of all, this concerns railway projects, in particular, the restoration of the Hasan-Rajin project. During the EEF were held the first tripartite talks at the level of deputy ministers for this project, agreements were reached to continuie the dialogue.The fact is, that because of sanctions and fears of the counteragents the Hasan-Rajin railway practically does not function, and there is a talk of how to turn this route into a project connected with the transit of containers from South Korea and other APR countries to Russia and Europe. Moreover, on the agenda is the seemingly frozen project of the gas pipeline through the territory of North Korea to the South, as well as the energy bridge project, which could link three countries and possibly China.

The trilateral cooperation has a great geopolitical significance. It can not only bring prosperity and profit to all the involved parties, but also contribute to a more active dialogue between the two Koreas, creating a peaceful atmosphere on the Korean peninsula, which is extremely important for Russia.

I would also include China in this triangle, as it is also interested in promoting the negotiation process, in the development of regional cooperation. And with the current scenario Russia and China will not compete, as someone predicts, but coordinate their actions on the Korean peninsula.

American Pressure

Certainly, not everything depends on these four countries. A powerful American factor remains, that prevents the development of positive trends. First of all, this is due to the pressure of sanctions. During the session at the EEF, Vladimir Putin, having approved Trump's "innovative" approach to solve the nuclear problem, did not express optimism that the DPRK would surrender to pressure and disarm unilaterally.

Russia must comply with those sanctions that are introduced by the UN Security Council, and are recognized in an international format. But they do not interfere with many of the abovementioned projects. It is possible that one has to face unilateral sanctions. We have already seen this in the case of some Russian companies, sanctioned for their relations with the DPRK, and in some cases this has been done more as a warning, but not for some real sins.

Nevertheless, Russia needs to be consistent and defend its national interests - in any case, not to join the new sanctions against North Korea, which complicate relations not only with North, but also with South Korea, and undermine Russia’s positions in the region.

Being a professional pessimist, I do not believe that the Americans will allow the South Koreans to move along the path that would be beneficial to Russia. But in one way or another the US has an urgent need to establish inter-Korean relations, as well as the US-North Korean dialogue. Perhaps, thanks to the efforts of Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, on this track there will be if not a breakthrough, but at least a return to the negotiation process. This will ease the situation for the South Koreans, and maybe, will push them to a more active position toward Russia too.

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