Closer Russia-North Korea ties may create opportunity for US, China 

washington — The recent defense pact between Russia and North Korea could present a diplomatic opportunity for the United States and China to work together for stability on the Korean Peninsula, an issue of mutual interest to both countries, some experts say.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Monday that China would be “somewhat anxious” about enhanced cooperation between Russia and North Korea, adding that Chinese officials have “indicated so in some of our interactions, and we can see some tension associated with those things.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters after the Russia-North Korea summit last week in Pyongyang that concern about the new defense agreement between the two countries “would be shared by the People’s Republic of China” — China’s official name.

During their keenly watched summit, Russian President Vladmir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a comprehensive strategic partnership treaty, vowing to challenge the U.S.-led world order.

Under the treaty, the two countries, which share a short border along the lower Tumen River, are now required to provide military assistance using all available means if either of them is attacked by a third country.

High-precision weapons

Putin further raised the stakes in this newly cemented relationship, saying he is not ruling out the possibility of Russia providing high-precision weapons to North Korea.

According to some experts in Washington, China’s frustration with its two neighbors could make room for a Sino-American effort to dissuade Russia and North Korea from moving forward with their nascent defense pact.

Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, told VOA’s Korean Service earlier this week that there is a way for the U.S. to find “some common ground” with China on this issue.

He explained that it is in China’s interest not to see the transfer of Russia’s advanced, offensive military technologies to North Korea, which could be destabilizing on the Korean Peninsula.

“That opens up a common ground for the United States to deal with China to limit any destabilizing transfer of technology to the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Joseph DeTrani, who served as the special envoy for six-party denuclearization talks with North Korea from 2003 to 2006, told VOA’s Korean Service on Wednesday that the U.S. and China need to come together on this issue.

DeTrani said North Korea has to be on the list of “the issues of mutual concern” between the top two powers, as the U.S. pursues dialogue with China on subjects such as artificial intelligence and trade.

Dennis Wilder, who served as senior director for East Asia affairs at the White House’s National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, was more cautious about the possibility of U.S.-China coordination.

Wilder told VOA’s Korean Service this week that the current state of U.S.-China relations makes Beijing averse to working with Washington on North Korea.

“No, they have no interest in joining with us, considering how they feel we are treating them,” Wilder said. “I very much doubt that the Chinese would be interested. A far possibility would be that they might want to share information, but that would be the only place.”

No ties to call on

Robert Gallucci, who was the chief U.S. negotiator during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, offered a similar view.

“We don’t have a relationship with Beijing right now that we could call on,” he said earlier this week.

Gallucci told VOA’s Korean Service that China will not appreciate the possibility of its influence on North Korea being undercut.

Gary Samore, who served as the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration, told VOA’s Korean Service via email on Wednesday that China might have a limited influence on what is happening between Russia and North Korea, although Washington and Beijing share an interest in keeping things calm on the Korean Peninsula.

“I expect that Beijing will discourage any military assistance from Russia to North Korea that could be destabilizing,” he said. “Whether Putin or Kim Jong Un will respect China’s wishes, I can’t say.”

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA’s Korean Service via email earlier this week that “in principle, China welcomes Russia to consolidate and develop traditional friendly relations with relevant countries,” without referring to North Korea.

Meanwhile, Washington is holding out hope that Beijing can still leverage its historical ties with Pyongyang to drive a solution.

“We urge Beijing to use its influence to encourage the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to refrain from destabilizing behavior and return to the negotiating table,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

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