“In the same trench”: N. Korea signals equidistant diplomacy with Russia, China

Posted on : 2023-01-30 16:41 KST Modified on : 2023-01-30 16:41 KST
The latest comments out of North Korea in regard to the war in Ukraine point to a change in tone when it comes to Russia
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the vice department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee, attends a ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam, on March 2, 2019. (AP/Yonhap)
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the vice department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee, attends a ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam, on March 2, 2019. (AP/Yonhap)

North Korea disputed US claims of providing weapon support to Russia while defending Moscow in a stance that differs from Beijing’s “neutrality” on the war taking place in Ukraine.

Analysts suggest that amid its ongoing confrontations with Washington and Seoul, Pyongyang is advancing its relationship with Moscow as part of an “equidistant diplomacy” strategy with China and Russia.

On Sunday, a statement published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and credited to Kwon Jong-gun, director general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of US affairs, claimed, “Had the US not infringed upon the just security interests of Russia and accelerated the eastward advance of NATO step by step, the present situation of Ukraine would not have been created.”

“It is an absurd and sheer sophism as it is an extension of the illogical, deformed and gangster-like way of thinking of the US, which frequently introduces nuclear strike means into the Korean peninsula under the pretext of providing ‘extended deterrence’ against ‘provocation’ of someone,” the statement said of the US pledge to continue providing Ukraine with weapons.

Kwon went on to say, “The US again talked about the groundless rumor of ‘arms dealing between the DPRK and Russia’, in a foolish attempt to justify its offer of weapons to Ukraine.”

“The US is working hard to supply such offensive weapons as MBTs to Ukraine at any cost in disregard of the just concern and criticism of the international community. This is an unethical crime aimed at keeping the international situation unstable,” the statement said.

Shortly after the US announced plans to provide Ukraine with support with Abrams tanks, Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo-jong issued her own statement on Friday evening.

“The US, which has exposed the whole continent of Europe to the grave danger of war and caused big and small concerns, is now further crossing the red line,” she said.

“Lurking behind this is the US sinister intention to realize its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia,” she insisted.

Kim also said, “The US and other Western countries are wrecking the global peace and the regional security while handing military hardware running into astronomical sum of money over to Ukraine in total disregard of Russia's concern about security. Therefore, they have neither right nor justification to slander sovereign states' exercise of the right to self-defense.”

“We will always stand in the same trench with the service personnel and people of Russia who have turned out in the struggle to defend the dignity and honor of the state and the sovereignty and security of the country,” she said.

A former high-ranking South Korean official in the area of foreign affairs and national security said, “It’s quite symbolic that North Korea used the expression ‘standing in the same trench,’ which is unusual in the context of relations with Russia and which it doesn’t use very often even in connection with China.”

“This is basically an even clearer statement of its approach since the eighth WPK congress [in January 2021], where it announced plans to pursue ‘strengthen through our own efforts’ by breaking off relations with South Korea and the US and stepping up cooperation with fellow socialist countries like China, Russia and Vietnam,” they added.

Pyongyang has been stating this position clearly since shortly after the war in Ukraine broke out. At a UN General Assembly meeting on March 2 of last year, which took place immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, North Korea was one of just five countries — including Russia — that cast opposing votes, even as traditionally Russia-friendly countries like China and Cuba abstained.

“China has been implementing UN sanctions against North Korea to some extent,” explained Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “In contrast, Russia is being sanctioned by the international community like North Korea has been.”

“Since before the war in Ukraine began, North Korea has been attempting to work around the sanctions by connecting its railways with Russia’s, and it also has ample reason to support Russia in order to earn foreign currency by sending workers to the Donbas region after the war,” he said.

Koo also suggested that North Korea “may have drawn a lesson from the reality facing Ukraine, which trusted in ‘security guarantees’ when it agreed to denuclearization in 1994.”

“A clear-cut expression of support for Russia could be intended as a warning to China, which has been at least nominally implementing UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning the North,” he said.

“In that sense, we could see the North as attempting to adopt an ‘equidistant diplomacy’ strategy toward China and Russia for the first time since the 1960s as it uses Russia to fill in the gap left by South Korea and the US in its international negotiations,” he added.

By Jung In-hwan, staff reporter

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