After meeting with two officials form the government of the DPRK, US President Donald Trump has confirmed that the 12 June Summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore will take place as originally scheduled. This comes in the wake of confusion over Trump’s letter from last week declaring the summit cancelled amid inter-White House arguments between Trump and anti-summit Cabinet members John Bolton, Michael Pence and Nikki Haley. Trump further confirmed that “regime change” will be off the table during the course of negotiations and that he has been convinced of the DPRK’s sincere intentions to de-nuclearise.
When making announcing that the summit was indeed back on, Trump also noted that he was displeased with a recent successful meeting that Kim Jong-un held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavorv. This effectively confirms that the US is angry with the fact that even when the Singapore summit’s official status was ‘cancelled’, the peace process nevertheless moved on as DPRK continued to work with fellow Asian partners for peace through prosperity including the South Korean government, China and Russia. It can further be surmised that many in the US are unhappy that other superpowers are happily engaged in a positive peace process while US officials have dithered about their own commitment to a peace process that Washington has approached with overt pessimism and at times an obstructionist attitude.
During Kim’s meeting with Lavrov, the DPRK head of state told the Russian Foreign Minister,
“I appreciate that the government of Putin opposes the U.S. domination [of the world]. We are always ready to negotiate with the Russian side on a deep unification on this issue”.
It would appear Trump or his advisers got the signal which is clear from Kim’s statement that the other powers working to bring peace to Korea have a different approach to the US. The approach taken by both Russia and China is one which intends to aid Korea’s development rather than humiliate Pyongyang as John Bolton indicated was Washington’s firm intention. For his own part, Trump’s remarks are a further sign that he feels the US is being ‘upstaged’ in the peace process by the DPRK’s neighbours.
Lavrov’s meeting with Kim represented Russia’s most most high level meeting with any DPRK official since the beginning of the peace process. As one of the DPRK’s neighbours, Russia is in a crucial position to not only push for a rolling back of sanctions on Pyongyang, but to help create new economic opportunities for pan-Korean connectivity to Russia. In so far as this is the case, it is important to remember that long before the current peace process was even discussed and while Beijing and Pyongyang were still going through a frosty period in relations, Vladimir Putin proposed a Russia/North-South Korea Transport Corridor that is already quietly taking shape thanks to Moscow’s warm relations with Pyongyang, Seoul and Beijing.
In September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. As Vladivostok is the closest major Russian city to the Korean border, it was an appropriate forum for Putin to propose a planned tripartite economic cooperation scheme between Russia and the two Korean states. South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the meeting and expressed his enthusiasm for the project while a delegation from the DPRK (North Korea) expressed an equal amount of enthusiasm but stated that their participation in the project would be delayed until various security risks could be adequately addressed.
Earlier in May of 2018, the DPRK’s period of hesitation in respect of the project appeared to come to an end as it was announced that Russia and the DPRK will build a highway linking the DPRK to Russia. Currently, the roads between the Russian and DPRK borders are small and in poor repair. Because of this most trade between Russia and the DPRK must pass through China whose road links to the DPRK are far more advanced.
This road is the key element in bringing Putin’s tripartite economic proposal to life and will help to create a new transport corridor linking the south coast of the Korean peninsula with Russia for the first time in contemporary history. In addition to a Russia-Korea transport corridor, the project will also likely include a new Russia to Korea pipeline. While South Korea continues to purchase more energy from Russia, the division of the Korean peninsula had prohibited an easy natural gas pipeline route from Russia into South Korea. With the rapid rapprochement of the two Korean states it will soon be possible for Russia to have a clear pipeline and transport route into both Korean states, something that will be to the economic benefit of all three state partners. While Russia maintains historically strong diplomatic and economic relations with the DPRK, Russia’s trade with South Korea continues to rise while Presidents Putin and Moon maintain a warm relationship.
This new reality of a forthcoming highway linking South Korea to Russia via the DPRK will itself play an important role in integrating the Korean peninsula into China’s One Belt–One Road trading and global logistics initiative, in which Russia continues to be a key partner. This is yet a further example of how the Korean peace process has helped to foster a revived spirit of pan-Asian cooperation on the win-win model of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
While Russia has emphasised its seemingly voluntary “inability” to convince either side about whether a Trump-Kim summit should go ahead, in reality, Moscow is well aware that the biggest stumbling bloc to such a process was and perhaps remains the infighting in the Trump White House which has pitted expressly anti-peace neocons against Donald Trump’s personal desire to “strike a deal” with Kim Jong-un, one which Trump’s followers indicated could earn the US President a Nobel Peace Prize before the would-be/will-be summit was even held.
Now that Trump has re-confirmed that the summit is back on, as was widely expected, it exposes much of the American efforts in the peace process to be surplus to requirements as the two Korean states and their neighbours have been working to create forward momentum in the peace process while the US publicly dragged its feet.
In this sense, as the Asian authored, owned and executed peace process continues to move forward in spite of the counter-productive mixed signals from Washington. Russia’s goal in the peace process is therefore two-fold. Like China, Russia is lending its weight as a superpower towards pushing the US and other possibly sceptical parties to realising that the de-nuclearisation is merely the beginning rather than the end of the peace process and that crucially, the DPRK’s legitimate security concerns regarding American militarisation of Korea must be fully addressed in order for the peace process to be deemed successful. Furthermore, while negotiations about de-nuclearisation and the pacification of Korea as a whole continue, Russia will be working ever more intensely with both of its Korean state partners in order to being building a Russia-Korea Transport Corridor that will help to produce peace through prosperity in the wider region. Such a Russia-Korea Transport Corridor can then be easily harmonised into China’s One Belt–One Road.
At the conclusion of Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Kim Jong-un, the Russian Foreign Minister invited Kim to Moscow. If Kim travels to Moscow, this would represent only the third time Kim has travelled abroad during his leadership of the DPRK, as thus far he has only had two visits to China for meetings with President Xi Jinping, while Kim’s meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in cannot be called “foreign visits” in the traditional sense. Thus, Russia is in a crucial position as one of the DPRK’s three neighbours to help facilitate a peace process that opens up new literal and metaphorical corridors for future trade between all regional parties to the peace process.