South Korean officials say North Korea has likely been invited to join Russia and China for the first time in trilateral naval exercises that experts see as a response to newly cemented strategic cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly proposed the joint naval exercises during a visit to Pyongyang in July, according to South Korean lawmaker Yoo Sang-bum. Yoo said National Intelligence Service director Kim Kyou-hyun was briefed on the proposal during a closed-door meeting on Monday.
China and Russia have held joint naval exercises every year for more than a decade, but it would be the first time North Korea has been invited to participate. The development follows reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this month to discuss possible arms transfers.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a press briefing on Thursday that she had no information on proposed drills with Russia and North Korea.
David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia-Pacific Strategy, told VOA that the proposed naval exercises appeared to be “a direct response” to what he called “JAROKUS”, or “the new Japan-Republic of Korea-United States Security,” using an acronym for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
He said the agreement, reached at a summit in mid-August during the presidential retreat at Camp David, outside Washington, is “arguably the most important security agreement in North Asia -Is in the 21st century and probably within the last seven decades”.
Maxwell said members of the Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang “authoritarian axis” may also feel the need to counter other US-led security alliances, including AUKUS (Australia, UK and United States). States), the QUAD (Australia, India, Japan and the United States). United States) and NATO.
The United States, South Korea and Japan have conducted several joint ballistic missile defense drills this year in response to North Korea’s missile launches.
At Camp David, the three countries agreed to hold annual trilateral multi-domain exercises and exchange real-time missile warning data. They also committed to consult if necessary on military responses to common threats.
Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation, said the joint Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang drills “will be pretty preliminary” at first as the three militaries learn to share information and communicate with each other.
“That doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to stop,” he said. “It would be the start of a whole series of naval exercises and land and air exercises” in which the countries would most likely cooperate.
China and Russia have held annual naval drills since 2012, according to the Chinese Defense Ministry. The two countries’ militaries began training together in 2005, and in 2018 Beijing sent its ground troops and aircraft to participate in Russia’s Vostok exercises, according to RAND.
In July, Beijing and Moscow held North/Interaction-2023 military exercises in the Sea of Japan. It was the first exercise they conducted near Japan.
Reports of the trilateral naval drills came just days before Kim was due to travel to Vladivostok, a port city in Russia’s far east, to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, September 10-13. There, he should meet Putin to discuss possible arms deliveries.
The New York Timesciting US and allied officials on Monday, said Putin would likely ask Kim for artillery shells and anti-tank missiles for his war in Ukraine, while Kim would likely ask for satellite technology and nuclear-powered submarines.
In North Korea on Friday, the official KCNA news agency said the country held a “submarine launching ceremony” on Wednesday which it said would boost its naval strength. Kim said equipping the Navy with nuclear weapons was an urgent task as he inspected what KCNA described as the “Hero Kim Kun Ok” tactical nuclear submarine on Thursday.
Aid to the Russian army
Patrick Cronin, chief security officer for Asia-Pacific at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said North Korean weapons could “help Russia’s military persevere in an essentially stalemate war in Ukraine. “.
But even without North Korean weapons, he said, Putin is likely to benefit from trilateral naval exercises because they would “help divert international attention away from Ukraine” by “raising security concerns for states States and their allies in Asia”.
Mao, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said at a press briefing on Thursday that possible arms talks between Moscow and Pyongyang were matters that concern both countries, and she declined to comment further. .
But other experts believe that China will also benefit from anything that prolongs the war in Ukraine.
“The upside for Beijing…is that it depletes US arms stockpiles and makes it harder for the US to meet its arms commitments to Taiwan,” said Dennis Wilder, who served as the council’s director. National Security for China in 2004-05.
“It also keeps significant US forces focused on Europe and away from the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
RAND’s Bennett said the United States and its allies had “depleted much of our stockpile of weapons, sending them to Ukraine without adequately replacing anything.”
“We no longer have a war capability in two major theatres,” he said. “What will we do if all of a sudden we have three major wars? including the war in Ukraine and potential conflicts in Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a press briefing on Tuesday that Russian weapons were also depleted.
Calling the Russian approach to North Korea an act of desperation, he said Moscow deemed it necessary only because the United States and its allies “continued to crush Russia’s defense industrial base”.