China and Russia have lurched toward dictatorships of one-man rule, raising concerns about a new Cold War in the 21st century.
Xi Jinping was re-elected unanimously as China’s president on Saturday, and the following day, Russian President Vladimir Putin won another landslide election victory. Earlier, the rubber-stamp Chinese parliament approved a constitutional amendment that lifts presidential term limits, meaning Xi can stay on indefinitely. Putin is starting his fourth nonconsecutive six-year term as president, extending his rule until at least 2024.
If authoritarian systems take root in the two powers, without doubt, conflicts between the US and China and between the US and Russia will intensify. Both the Chinese and Russian leaders place top priority on making their countries strong and great, while US President Donald Trump also pushes “America First” policies.
Summits between South and North Korea and between the US and North Korea are expected in April and May, respectively, but China and Russia are inseparable from the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as they are closely related with the North in many ways.
Two opposing camps are expected to form: the US and Japan versus China and Russia.
It is the stark reality that the North Korean nuclear issue cannot be resolved without active cooperation from China and Russia. Although both countries oppose the North’s nuclear armament and its possible domino effect on East Asia, they would not be pleased with an abrupt collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. In addition, they are wary over growing US influence, among other factors.
Under their renewed leadership, China and Russia are certain to expand their influence on the denuclearization of the North, probably through diplomacy based on power. This could complicate and destabilize the situation on the peninsula.
China, which has arbitrated on North Korean issues in the past, is expected to kick into high gear its contact with Pyongyang soon.
Considering the question of denuclearizing the North is closely related to hegemony in East Asia, Beijing is keeping an eye on the US-North Korea summit and might try to play a certain role through its ties with the North. And yet it is questionable if it will be as influential as it was when it presided over the six-party talks of the past. Fundamental changes may be made to its North Korea policies, depending on how the North’s nuclear and missile programs will be dealt with.
If the US-North Korea summit achieves a breakthrough in the nuclear issue, President Putin is likely to spur Russia’s economic and energy cooperation with South and North Korea. In this case, there is a possibility of Russia pushing to ease or retract sanctions against the North at the United Nations Security Council.
Russia, which has often moved in step with China to keep in check the expansion of the US’ influence on East Asia, is likely to intervene in denuclearization efforts.
Therefore, the South Korean government must keep in mind that the North’s nuclear issue is more than just a matter between the two Koreas and the US, as it is likely to develop into a more complicated and difficult issue involving China, Russia and Japan.
The interests of the US, Japan, China and Russia are at stake with regards to the solution of the North’s nuclear problem.
The South Korean government needs to build up its diplomatic capabilities to find and expand common interests with Beijing and Moscow, while fending off their attempts to overpower their neighbors. What it has to do at the moment is to reinforce its solidarity with the US and Japan. It also has to strengthen its cooperation with other free democracies over the North Korea denuclearization issue.
About two months are left until the US-North Korea summit. For South Korea, diplomatic efforts for denuclearization are important and detailed strategies should be created.
The South should keep its US alliance as the bedrock of its diplomacy to protect its interests from a fight for hegemony in East Asia.