China is cautiously watching Putin and Kim form a new “alliance”.

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As Russian President Vladimir Putin cruised the crowded streets of Pyongyang in a luxury Mercedes-Benz alongside his North Korean host Kim Jong Un this week, the autocrats’ most important partner was watching from the sidelines hundreds of miles away in Beijing.

Five years ago, Xi Jinping was offered the same revealing trip with Kim when he became the first Chinese leader to visit Pyongyang in 14 years. At the time, the two leaders pledged to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation, but the language paled in comparison to the dialogue New partnership “Breakthrough”. Which Kim and Putin attacked last week.

In a wide-ranging treaty that includes political, trade, investment and security cooperation, between North Korea and Russia Pledge Use all available means to provide immediate military assistance in the event of an attack by the other party.

Putin said that Russia and North Korea had strengthened relations to a “new level.” Meanwhile, Kim described the new “alliance” as a “watershed moment” in bilateral relations.

the A new historic defense agreement Agreed upon between the two nuclear-armed regimes It shook the United States and its Asian allies. Japan expressed “grave concerns” about Putin’s pledge not to rule out cooperation with Pyongyang in the field of military technology. South Korea responded by holding an emergency national security meeting and said it would now consider sending weapons to Ukraine.

In contrast, the reaction of China, the main political and economic sponsor of both Russia and North Korea, was almost muted.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the treaty, describing it as a bilateral issue between Russia and North Korea.

However, analysts say that given the official reticence, China is likely to watch cautiously.

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The deepening ties between two wayward autocrats threaten to create new uncertainty for President Xi, who needs peace and stability in Northeast Asia as he grapples with a host of domestic challenges, especially a slowing economy.

Liu Dongxu, an assistant professor who focuses on Chinese politics at Harvard University, said Beijing is concerned that Moscow’s aid to Pyongyang — especially in military technology — will further empower and embolden Kim’s erratic regime, which has accelerated its nuclear weapons buildup and missile programs. Significantly. City University of Hong Kong.

“When it comes to the North Korea issue, China aims to control the situation and prevent escalation, but it also does not want North Korea to collapse completely either” — a scenario that Beijing fears would allow the United States to expand its control into its territory. Leo said doorstep.

Previously, Russia was largely aligned with China on the issue, but its desperate need for North Korean support for its grinding war in Ukraine threatens to undermine the delicate balance.

KCNA/Reuters/Archive

Kim Jong Un takes Chinese leader Xi Jinping on a tour through the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 21, 2019.

Russia received more than 10,000 shipping containers – the equivalent of… 260,000 metric tons Munitions or munitions-related materials – from North Korea since September, according to the United States statement In February. Both Russia and North Korea have rejected this claim.

While the United States has accused China of supplying Russia with dual-use goods to bolster the warring state’s military-industrial complex, Beijing has refrained from providing direct military assistance to Putin and has stayed away from supporting Kim’s nuclear and missile programs.

“If Putin provides more support to North Korea on nuclear issues, including some technical assistance, it will become more difficult for China to control the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” Liu said.

The mutual defense agreement signed by Kim and Putin dates back to a 1961 treaty between North Korea and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That deal was replaced by another that provided much weaker security guarantees after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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But the North Korea-China Mutual Defense Treaty, which was also signed in 1961, remains in effect after being renewed several times.

The China-North Korea Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance is the only formal military alliance treaty that China has signed with another country, although Beijing does not recognize it as such and remains deliberately vague on whether China is obligated to automatically come over to the North. Defending Korea at the outbreak of war.

Likewise, it remains unclear what Russia and North Korea are willing – or able – to do for each other under the new defense agreement.

The new treaty comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as Kim has escalated his fiery rhetoric and scrapped a long-standing policy seeking peaceful reunification with South Korea. After the end of the Korean War in 1953, no formal peace treaty was signed between the two Koreas, leaving them technically at war.

But the political message of the agreement is loud and clear. Motivated by a shared hostility toward the United States and its allies, the two authoritarian states seek to undermine and create an alternative to the Western-led global order — a goal shared by China.

Speaking after his meeting with Kim, Putin expressed his anger against what he called “the imperialist policy of the United States and its henchmen.”

Alexander Ryumin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Putin and Xi attend a concert together in Beijing on May 16, 2024.

A month ago, Putin and Xi succeeded in achieving this Similar criticism in the United States During the Russian President’s visit to Beijing. In a sweeping joint statement, the two “old friends” took aim at what they described as a global security order defined by US-backed military alliances – and pledged to work together to confront it.

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Western observers have warned of the increasingly loose alignment of interests between China, Russia, North Korea and Iran A senior American military commander It has recently been likened to a new “axis of evil.”

As Moscow and Pyongyang deepen their alliance, Beijing will be careful to keep its distance, Liu said, adding that “China certainly does not want to be seen as part of a new axis.”

But despite Xi’s absence, China was the elephant in the room throughout the Putin-Kim meeting.

“Any such meeting would also include a discussion of China,” said Edward Howell, a lecturer in politics at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, who focuses on the Korean Peninsula.

“Russia will be fully aware that China does not want to be excluded from any substantive negotiations related to North Korea, especially since China is more important to North Korea than Russia.”

China does not feel it can control the pace and extent of deepening engagement between Russia and North Korea, said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank.

“But they know that China plays an irreplaceable role for both Russia and North Korea,” she added.

China remains the largest trading partner of both Russia and North Korea, providing a crucial lifeline to economies subject to severe sanctions. Beijing also provides significant political support and diplomatic cover to international outcasts.

“China does not believe that an alliance between Russia and North Korea would be a betrayal,” said Liu of the City University of Hong Kong.

“Neither country has the capacity to betray China. They still need to rely on China despite their alliance.”

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