By Zhao Long
DPRK top leader Kim Jong-un visited Russia last week, during which he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and toured many places in the Russian Far East. This visit together with the previous Russian visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are normal transactions within the scope of their respective bilateral relations, which are exploited by politicians and media of some countries to back up the so-called theory of "new authoritarian axis". The author believes at least two motives lurk behind this hype.
The primary motive is to increase the legitimacy of the US-Japan-ROK military alliance.
It will help lend supportability for the US, Japan and the ROK to replicate the triangular military alliance by brutally embedding the bilateral exchanges between China and Russia, China and the DPRK, and Russia and the DPRK into the discourse logic of the trilateral linkage among them.
Since the further escalation of the Ukraine crisis last year, Western media have begun to publicize the arguments like "convergence of China, Russia and the DPRK incurring a new Cold War pattern on the Korean Peninsula" and "the most severe moment since the end of the Korean War". In tandem with this, the US, Japan and the ROK have significantly increased strategic alignment activities, and the leaders of the three countries have met on multilateral occasions including the NATO summit. In particular, the trilateral leaders' summit at Camp David in August 2023 marked the first meeting of the three parties beyond the multilateral platforms, which defined the institutionalized measures for future political, military security, economic and technological, and people-to-people cooperation among the three countries.
A secondary motive is to awaken the Cold War memories of neighboring countries.
Amid the increasingly intensified major country competition and geopolitical conflicts, some forces spare no effort to preach the new Cold War pattern in Northeast Asia, with the aim of awakening the Cold War memories of the Korean War in neighboring countries and forcing them to take sides in order to alleviate their own sense of insecurity by exaggerating the tense atmosphere.
While bloating the so-called "China-Russia-DPRK convergence posing real threats", they also don't forget to bad-mouth the prospects, saying that the cohesion of the three countries is significantly inferior to the mutual trust and cooperation degree reflected by the other triplex at the Camp David summit, exposing the ambivalence of peddling panic and self-boasting within them.
Nevertheless, these groundless and illogical opinions are clearly unconvincing.
First, such opinions do not conform to the bilateral relation logic of the concerning countries.
In recent years, the development of the bilateral relations between China and Russia, China and the DPRK, and the DPRK and Russia has been built on the basis of equality and mutual benefits, with no linkage or dependency among the three parties, nor confrontation or aggression against any third party.
As made clear in the Joint Statement on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era between China and Russia, the bilateral relations between the two countries differ from the kind of military-political alliance seen during the Cold War. Instead, the two countries transcend such a model of state-to-state relations, adopting an approach of no-alliance, no-confrontation and no-targeting of any third party. As friendly neighbors connected by mountains and rivers, China and the DPRK also have firmly supported each other on issues concerning their core interests and major concerns and maintained close coordination in the international multilateral arena. The two countries neither have nor need to establish a common imaginary enemy to promote their traditional friendship and partnership.
Second, such opinions do not meet the general expectations of regional countries.
In the Spirit of Camp David joint statement of the US, Japan and the ROK, the agendas involved in their cooperation not only cover affairs of the Korean Peninsula, but also those of ASEAN, Pacific island countries and other Indo-Pacific regions, and even peace and prosperity of the world. They also talked about the South China Sea issue in a strong and forceful rhetoric, and planned to launch the Indo-Pacific trilateral dialogue mechanism and regularly hold trilateral joint military exercises.
It is not difficult to find through careful observation that the forcible binding of China, Russia and the DPRK can not only endorse the establishment of the US-Japan-ROK military alliance but also woo ASEAN and Pacific island countries to cooperate in containing and suppressing China by creating panic. However, at the recently concluded 43rd ASEAN Summit and Leaders' Meetings on East Asia Cooperation, most countries stressed upholding the centrality of ASEAN and refused to take sides or become a proxy of major power competition. The joint communique of the ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meetings also emphasized the principle of no-alliance, indicating that regional countries refuse to return to the Cold War-style confrontation pattern.
Finally, such opinions are not in line with the security concept and development concept advocated and practiced by China.
Undoubtedly, confronted with increasing regional activities of hegemonism, unilateralism and power politics, many countries including China, Russia and the DPRK do have a consensus against the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, as well as small cliques targeting specific countries. The alliance security model guided by the polarizing "friend or foe" mentality is not in line with the Global Security Initiative advocated by China, especially its vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.
Furthermore, promoting the US-Japan-ROK supply chain early warning system (EWS) by clamoring for the threats of China-Russia-DPRK linkage is basically also part of their "decoupling and breaking chains" or so-called "derisking" against China, which will inevitably only further aggravate the regional security and development dilemmas. China’s Approach to Global Governance points out that development is the eternal pursuit of mankind and the shared responsibility of all countries. China prioritizes achieving complementary advantages and coordinated development through bilateral and multilateral cooperation and maintains regional peace and stability on the basis of development.
In short, cherishing twisted world outlook and security concept, politicians and media of certain countries willfully distort the three sets of bilateral relations among China, Russia and the DPRK, misleadingly fueling the speculation of the recurrence of so-called southern and northern triangle opposition in the Northeast Asia. Such typical behavior resultingfrom the Cold War mentality brings nothing but harm to maintaining peace and stability and promoting common development and prosperity in the regions.
(The author is Assistant Director of the Institute for Global Governance Studies and Senior Research Fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies)