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Russia-NK military ties could lead to sanctions, Seoul says

Seoul warns that Russia's support for NK's nuclear missle programs could significantly strain bilateral ties

Sept. 21, 2023 - 15:11 By Ji Da-gyum
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un examine a launch pad during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome outside the city of Tsiolkovsky, about 200 kilometers from the city of Blagoveshchensk in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, on Sept. 13. (AP)

South Korea will consider imposing unilateral sanctions as a viable course of action should concrete evidence of illicit military cooperation between North Korea and Russia be confirmed, Seoul's vice foreign minister said Thursday.

Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin emphasized that Russia's potential transfer of technologies to enhance North Korea's weapons of mass destruction would constitute a "serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions" if confirmed.

"This is an act that has heightened the direct security threat on the Korean Peninsula, and as such, we cannot simply turn a blind eye to it," Chang said during a plenary session of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

"Naturally, it is expected to have a significantly adverse impact on relations between South Korea and Russia."

South Korean lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about the security implications of Russia's potential transfer of technologies for North Korea's development of weapons in exchange for North Korea's provision of weapons to support Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The high-stakes summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on Sept. 13 has been pointed out by the international community as the venue to facilitate such reciprocal deals prohibited by UNSC resolutions.

"If concrete evidence of such significant military cooperation between Russia and North Korea were to be confirmed ... we would be able to coordinate in imposing sanctions with the Western bloc and like-minded countries, including the United States, Japan and the European Union," Chang said. "We would, of course, consider levying unilateral sanctions."

Chang elucidated that the necessity for responses arises from the ineffectiveness of UNSC resolutions, particularly in light of Russia's disregard, as one of the five veto-wielding permanent members on the UNSC.

Chang's comment came after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol addressed the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, where he warned that South Korea, in alignment with its allies and partners, would not stand idly by should any illicit reciprocal exchanges between Russia and North Korea take place.

Chang noted that South Korea will receive a briefing from the Russian delegation on the summit in question this week. In a recent media interview this month, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko stated that Moscow is willing to provide South Korea with detailed information about Kim's trip to Russia should the South express interest.

Speaking at the National Assembly, Chang also elucidated the reasoning behind South Korea's dual-track foreign policy approach toward China and Russia, which have closely aligned with North Korea.

Chang emphasized that South Korea is "speaking out about what needs to be addressed in the given circumstances," particularly in cases where there are indications of illicit military transactions. He defended Yoon's speech at UN, which openly criticized Russia.

The Yoon government, meanwhile, has opted to extend an olive branch to China by promoting high-level exchanges, exemplified by the upcoming participation of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Hangzhou.

Han's presence at the opening ceremony unequivocally demonstrates South Korea's commitment to "well-managing the South Korea-China relationship," according to Chang.

Chang further elaborated that Seoul and Beijing have been in the process of resuming and enhancing communication, in contrast to Russia. Both countries have jointly worked toward cultivating a "healthier and more mature" bilateral relationship.

As part of these efforts, high level talks between senior officials of South Korea, China and Japan are scheduled to be held in Seoul on Sept. 26 with the aim of holding the first trilateral summit between the three nations since 2019.

Chang also stressed that the three countries have reached a consensus on the significance of holding the summit, adding that the more pressing and critical concern currently revolves around coordinating a schedule for the summit.

"We believe it would be possible to hold a summit sometime by the end of this year or early next year, and other countries generally share a similar viewpoint," Chang said. "Furthermore, we believe that if the summit proceeds smoothly, there is a fairly high likelihood of President Xi Jinping visiting South Korea."