July 24, 2024

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Japan and South Korea have sounded the alarm over deepening military collaboration between Russia and North Korea after Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un signed a far-reaching strategic partnership that included mutual assistance against “aggression”.

North Korea’s official news agency on Thursday released the text of the agreement, which included a pledge to deploy “all means at its disposal without delay” to provide “military and other assistance” in the event that one of the signatories was invaded or in a state of war.

The agreement added that such intervention must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognises member states’ right to self-defence, said the Korean Central News Agency.

Putin on Wednesday said the strategic partnership could also include “military technical co-operation” and vowed to support Pyongyang in resisting UN Security Council sanctions, which he called “illegitimate actions”.

Speaking in Hanoi at the end of his two-day trip to Asia on Thursday, Putin said Moscow might supply high-precision weapons to North Korea in response to advanced western military support for Ukraine.

The deepening ties between Russia and North Korea have raised alarms across the region and in the west, where officials have accused Pyongyang of supplying Moscow with munitions for use in Ukraine. Putin on Wednesday thanked Kim for his support of Russia’s invasion, which Kim has called a “sacred fight”.

South Korea’s foreign ministry on Thursday expressed regret over the strategic partnership, saying co-operation between Russia and North Korea “should not undermine regional peace and stability” and warning that their co-operation on military technology would violate UN Security Council resolutions.

“We will sternly respond to any act threatening our security with the international community, including our allies, after conducting thorough analysis on [Putin’s] visit to North Korea and their comprehensive strategic partnership agreement,” the ministry said.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi also opposed the partnership, saying Tokyo was “seriously concerned that Russian President Putin did not rule out military technology co-operation with North Korea” in consideration of “the security environment surrounding our country and region”.

The strategic partnership marked one of Moscow’s strongest commitments in Asia, recalling a 1961 cold war treaty between the Soviet Union and North Korea that promised mutual defence.

In Hanoi, Putin waved off South Korean criticism of the pact, saying it would only threaten Seoul if it planned “aggression” against North Korea.

Putin’s visit, his first to Pyongyang in 24 years, followed Kim’s trip to Russia’s Far East in September, when the North Korean leader toured Russia’s most advanced space rocket launch site. Putin on Wednesday invited Kim to make a return trip to Moscow.

The two leaders have sought to strengthen commercial and military ties following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine as Kim looks to rebuild his country’s ailing economy.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said North Korea had provided “an enormous amount of ammunition” to Russia and warned that “authoritarian powers are aligning more and more”.

“They are supporting each other in a way we haven’t seen before,” Stoltenberg said during an official visit to Ottawa. “When they are more and more aligned — authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China, Iran, Russia — then it’s even more important that we are aligned as countries believing in freedom and democracy.”

China’s response to the pact was muted, with the foreign ministry saying it was “a matter between two sovereign states”. But analysts believe Moscow and Pyongyang’s increasingly cozy relationship is a source of discomfort for Beijing, which is loath to lose influence over North Korea.

While the tightening of ties between Kim and Putin does not pose an immediate threat to China, Beijing also does not want to see any escalation on the Korean peninsula, analysts said. China is also sensitive about being perceived as part of a trilateral arrangement with Moscow and Pyongyang that would arouse suspicions from the west.

China’s President Xi Jinping in April dispatched Zhao Leji, the third-ranking member of the Chinese Communist party’s leadership group, the politburo standing committee, to Pyongyang, in the highest-level meeting between China and North Korea in nearly five years.

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a think-tank in Seoul, said the Russia-North Korea strategic partnership was modelled after the South Korea-US mutual defence treaty. Under the agreement, Moscow and Pyongyang have “completely restored their military alliance of the cold war era”, he said.

“It symbolises Moscow choosing Pyongyang over the international non-proliferation regime and Russia’s obligations as a member of the UN Security Council,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga

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