金正恩此行最重要的意義，是利用俄羅斯的軍事和先進技術對抗「美帝國主義」。 北韓仍然認為美國是一個損害其國家安全利益的「帝國主義」國家。 因此，平壤的核子計劃不僅旨在震懾美國，還旨在威懾美國的盟友，特別是南韓和日本。
第五，儘管日本首相岸田文雄表示有興趣「隨時」會見金正恩，以實現沒有核武的世界，但北韓尚未作出積極回應。傳媒報道指出，北韓和日本在3月和5月就一些被北韓扣留的日本人命運舉行了會議。東京對據報被綁架到北韓的約17名日本人的命運深感擔憂。 然而，如果北韓將日本視為歷史上的「帝國主義」國家，只要平壤將東京視為美國領導的東北亞聯盟不可或缺的組成部分，那麼雙方關係將繼續不穩定。 畢竟，金正恩在軍事上轉向俄羅斯，其中一個目的便是制衡日本逐漸增強的軍事實力。
The Kim-Putin meeting and its geopolitical significance
The five-day visit of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Russia and his historical meeting with the Russian counterpart Vladimirovich Putin at a cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on September 13 had immediate geopolitical significance for the security of Northeast Asia.
As the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong Un led a delegation composed of Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, Marshals of the Korean People’s Army Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, Minister of National Defence Kang Sun Nam and O Su Yong as well as Pak Thaae Song, and other secretaries of the party’s Central Committee. During their meeting, Putin warmly greeted Kim and added that both countries had friendly and “comradely goodwill” relations. Putin emphasized the importance of good neighbourly relations and the need for both sides to develop the well-being and prosperity of their peoples.
In response to Putin’s remarks, Kim expressed his gratitude to the Russian side for arranging his successful visit to Russia. Moreover, he conveyed “the militant respect and warm fraternal greetings” of the people in DPRK to all the Russians, who according to Kim built up a powerful Russia and defended the “strategic interest” of their country.
According to the western media reports, Kim and Putin met for five hours during which Putin said he would help Pyongyang to develop satellites. This move was not surprising given the fact that North Korea in early 2023 failed to launch a spy satellite.
Kim then visited different places where he expressed in public his deep interest in the Russian military and advanced technology, including warships and fighters.
Prior to Kim’s visit to Russia, the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu had visited North Korea in July during which Kim Jong Un showed the Russian visitors Pyongyang’s missiles program, including the Hwasong intercontinental missile.
During the Kim visit to Russia, media reports pointed to the deep interest shown by Moscow on the North Korean artillery shells and guns, especially as Russia’s war in Ukraine is dragged on with the prospects of encountering a large-scale Ukrainian military counteroffensive.
From the perspective of the balance of power, the Kim Jong Un visit to Russia and his meeting with Putin had tremendous geopolitical significance.
First, given the fact that socialist North Korea is committed to building up its twin policies of achieving Juche (self sufficiency or autonomy) and the military first, the arms deal that will very likely be finalized between North Korea and Russia will consolidate Pyongyang’s regime internally and externally. Internally, North Korea will be able to use the lucrative revenues from its arms deal with Russia to cope with its internal economic development and military build-up. Having a large stockpile of ammunition, Pyongyang grasps a golden opportunity of the stalemate in the Russo-Ukrainian war to boost its exports of military weapons, thereby strengthening its military industrial complex on the one hand and fully utilizing its arsenals to enhance economic profits on the other hand.
Although it was speculated that North Korea is keen to receive food aid from Russia, media reports have pointed to Pyongyang’s decline of the Moscow offer. If so, it means that North Korea is ideologically committed to achieving its Juche or self-sufficiency without any overreliance on its neighbours, including Russia and China.
Second, from the perspective of achieving the balance of power, Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic move that is tilted toward Russia has several implications. He shows a tendency of being less dependent on China for North Korea’s economic development and modernization. It must be noted that although he visited China in January 2019, there was no sign that North Korea is following the China model of economic modernization. Ideologically speaking, Pyongyang prefers to adopt a far more cautious approach in its economic modernization, seeing the Chinese model as perhaps too capitalistic while resisting the sanctions from the United Nations and the US in a resilient and successful manner.
Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic turn to Putin has another immediate geopolitical significance. Abandoning the dialogue with the US, unlike the honeymoon period between Pyongyang and Washington in the past when Kim met US President Donald Trump three times, Kim is now seeing Russia as North Korea’s most reliable military ally. Russia’s satellite technology can be usefully exchanged for North Korea’s artillery, from North Korea’s strategic perspective. Indeed, improving the North Korean ability to launch spy satellite will enhance its own military capability, especially in time of military conflicts in Northeast Asia. Hence, a win-win situation can be forged between Pyongyang and Moscow during the Kim visit to Russia in September 2023.
The most important impact of Kim’s visit is to utilize the Russian military and advanced technology to counter the US “imperialism.” North Korea still perceives the US as an “imperialist” country detrimental to its national security interest. As such, Pyongyang’s nuclear program aims at deterring not only the US but also other US allies, notably South Korea and Japan.
In brief, Kim’s new diplomatic initiative targeting at a military alliance with Russia has dual purposes: checking China’s influence on North Korea on the one hand and checking the US and Washington’s allies in Northeast Asia on the other hand.
Third, given that some media reports pointed to South Korea’s military weapons being found in Ukraine, North Korea may deliberately forge a military alliance with Russia for the sake of balancing Seoul’s influence in the Russo-Ukrainian war. South Korea under President Yoon Suk-yeol has demonstrated a tendency of not only more pro-Washington but also more supportive of Japan than his predecessor Moon Jae-in. As such, Kim Jong Un’s diplomacy of shifting to the Russian military aid can also be seen as a balancing act against South Korea.
Fourth, while some analysts have pointed to the rise of a so-called “axis” between North Korea, Russia and China, they have exaggerated their unity and ignored their differences over the Ukrainian war. Beijing has demonstrated its tendency to distance itself from the Russian involvement in the Ukrainian war and its intention of acting as a potential arbitrator who can perhaps bring about dialogue and hopefully peace between Moscow and Kiev. However, the North Korean provision of artillery to support Russia in the Ukrainian war is going to make it more difficult for Beijing to do so.
After all, Russia is keen to maintain the Ukrainian territories it occupied, such as the four republics that claimed separation from Ukraine. Interestingly, North Korea supports Russia’s decision to annex four Ukrainian region and its “sacred fight” in Ukraine. Hence, while China acts as a more neutral arbitrator in the Russo-Ukrainian war, North Korea clearly sides with Russia, meaning that the claim of an “axis” between Beijing, Pyongyang and Moscow was unconvincing without evidence.
Fifth, although the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has expressed his interest in meeting Kim Jong Un “at any time” for the sake of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, North Korea has not yet responded positively. Media reports have pointed to meetings between North Korea and Japan in March and May over the fate of some Japanese people who were deducted by North Korea. Tokyo is deeply concerned about the flight of some 17 Japanese who were reportedly abducted to North Korea. However, if North Korea sees Japan as a historically “imperialist” country and so long as Pyongyang regards Tokyo as an indispensable element of the US-led alliance in Northeast Asia, both sides will continue to have a rocky relationship. After all, Kim Jong Un’s shift to Russia militarily has an objective of balancing the increasing strength of the Japanese military.
In conclusion, Kim Jong Un’s historical visit to Russia and his important meeting with Putin marked a watershed in North Korea’s balance-of-power strategy. Pyongyang aims at not only balancing the US “imperialism,” but also checking the influence of China on North Korea and lessening its own reliance on the Chinese economic assistance. Unintentionally, China’s attempt at being an arbitrator in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict is being hindered to some extent by North Korea’s staunch support of Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian war. Russia is going to consolidate its occupied territories in Ukraine, while Ukraine supported by the western allies is determined to fight back. Kim’s diplomacy of shifting to rely more on the Russian military technology has the clear objective of balancing the US and Washington’s allies in Northeast Asia, notably South Korea and Japan. At a time when South Korea is moving closer to the US and Japan, it is not surprising that Pyongyang’s policy of leaning to Moscow also aims at balancing Seoul, militarily speaking, especially as South Korea has been constantly conducting joint military exercises with the US as a deterrence to its northern socialist brother. The relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo remain difficult, even though Japan has shown its interest in the denuclearization of Northeast Asia in exchange of massive economic assistance. North Korea’s historical perception of Japan as an “imperialist” country and the ongoing discussion on the plight of abducted Japanese are the thorns in Pyongyang-Tokyo relations. Overall, North Korea’s new policy of leaning to Moscow has tremendous geopolitical implications for Northeast Asian security. It remains to be seen whether the pro-Moscow military policy of North Korea will perhaps build up a pro-Russian faction within the North Korean leadership in the long run.