Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are getting closer — and China has reason to be worried

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are getting closer — and China has reason to be worried
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Putin, Kim
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024.

  • Russia entered into a new security pact with rogue state North Korea. 
  • It’s an alliance likely being viewed with caution in Beijing, say analysts. 
  • China is anxious to avoid a flare-up on the Korean peninsula, they say. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently signed a defense pact to protect against what they characterized as the malign forces of US imperialism.

But it’s not just the US’ allies in East Asia who appear alarmed by the new alliance between the authoritarian leaders.

Anxiety appears to be growing in a state that’s emerged as both Russia and North Korea’s most important international ally: China.

A muted response

China’s response to the pact, which saw Putin and Kim pledge to defend each other’s countries if attacked, was revealingly muted.

“The cooperation between Russia and the DPRK is a matter between two sovereign states. We do not have information on the relevant matter,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

Analysts say that the alliance is likely being viewed warily by China’s leader Xi Jinping, who fears his power will be eroded in the Korean peninsula.

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China had emerged as the “biggest loser” from the security pact, Danny Russel, who was the top US diplomat for Asia in the Obama administration, told The Associated Press.

“Apart from irritation over Putin’s intrusion into what most Chinese consider their sphere of influence, the real cost to China is that Russia’s embrace gives North Korea greater impunity and room to maneuver without consideration to Beijing’s interests,” he said.

An important ally

China has long been North Korea’s most important international ally, providing trade, diplomatic support, and military aid to Kim Jong Un.

It’s the only country in the world with which China has a joint defense pact.

But in recent years, the relationship has become strained. North Korea has defied attempts by the international community to compel it to dismantle the nuclear weapons it menaced its neighbors with.

Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destabilized relations between Beijing and Pyongyang further.

Kim and Xi
Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un watch a large group callisthenics and art performance at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, DPRK, June 20, 2019.

Russia is leaning on North Korea for supplies of badly-needed artillery for its forces in Ukraine, and in exchange, Russia appears to have shared with North Korea the satellite technology Kim has long coveted.

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It’s a dynamic that’s upset the delicate balance of power in the Korean peninsula.

An emboldened Kim Jong Un

Russia’s extra military power could embolden Kim to act more erratically and aggressively. While China is willing to prop up North Korea, it’s also keen to restrain Kim.

With China’s economy experiencing a rare downturn, Xi is anxious to avoid a flare-up in the Korean Peninsula and the Kremlin’s new partnership with North Korea has reduced China’s leverage.

“The dilution of Chinese leverage means Kim Jong Un can disregard Beijing’s calls for restraint,” Russell told the AP, “and that is much more likely to create chaos at a time when (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping desperately wants stability.”

However, it’s not just the impoverished North Korean regime that’s reliant on its partnership with China. Russia has grown increasingly dependent on its own relationship with China since it invaded Ukraine.

Amid sanctions and international isolation, China has continued to provide Russia with vital diplomatic support and, according to the US, dual-use goods for Russia’s armaments industry.

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Like Russia and North Korea, China wants to damage US global power, and though it’s stopped short of providing Russia with weapons, its support remains crucial.

This means that China has enough influence over both Russia and North Korea to exert control over their new alliance.

Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank, told CNN that Beijing appeared unable to control the pace of Russia’s new alliance with North Korea.

However, “they do know that China plays an irreplaceable role for both Russia and North Korea,” she said.

China has considerable influence over both countries. It may have to use that influence sooner rather than later.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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