North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time later this month, the Kremlin has announced, in what will be the first summit between the two countries in eight years since 2011. The provision of aid to North Korea and the repatriation of some 10,000 North Korean workers are expected to be discussed. If the regime’s workers return home by the end of this year as per the United Nations Security Council resolution, it could deal a huge blow to the country’s economy. Russia, which has been against imposing sanctions on Pyongyang, has supplied the regime with some 4,000 tons of refined oil every month.
Pyongyang seeking closer ties with Moscow since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit suggests the regime’s intention to counter the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and explore a “new path” by winning Russia’s support. Kim has also sought strengthened relations with socialist China, in an apparent effort to leverage the regime’s ties with Beijing in the ongoing nuclear talks.
With the North Korea-Russia summit just around the corner, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun visited Moscow to urge the country to join the international efforts to sanction Pyongyang. In the meantime, Washington and Tokyo seem to be solidifying their alliance. The United States has reportedly proposed that it will disclose to Japan some of the details of its advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which signals an improved U.S.-Japan alliance unlike that of Seoul and Washington. U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are scheduled to meet with each other at least on three occasions by June.
While the diplomatic game is getting intense in Northeast Asia, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration is still obsessed with finding ways to resume inter-Korean economic projects. Voices of concern are rising within the U.S. government and the people that the South Korea-U.S. alliance will weaken. Moreover, the Seoul-Tokyo ties are at the worst of times. A weaker alliance with Washington may affect not only military and security areas but also the country’s economy. Therefore, we should not lower our guard when North Korea tries to get closer with China and Russia. Otherwise, South Korea may find itself overlooked in this diplomacy game, yet again.