The DPRK’s (North Korea) Pyongyang Times newspaper is an English and French language weekly aimed at conveying news to broad based international audiences, mainly outside of Asia. As is the case with most such outlets, the Pyongyang Times seeks not only to offer international news from a North Korean perspective, but at the same time seeks to subtly hint at Pyongyang’s own foreign policy aspirations in respect of multiple nations with which the DPRK is once again expanding relations after a period of intense isolation.
Last week, the Pyongyang Times published an article that offered largely unqualified praise of South Korea’s government and the peace minded feelings of a majority of South Korea’s citizens. This piece was itself a clear signpost of intent from the DPRK’s perspective in respect of a desire to accelerate positive steps towards peaceful connectivity across the Korean peninsula. With 2018 drawing to an end, the Pyongyang Times has published a new article offering a critical but realistic assessment of the state of America’s relations with both China and Russia, as well as an equally realistic assessment regarding the state of bilateral relations between China and Russia.
“The Sino-US and Russo-US spats grabbed the world headlines this year.
At present, China and Russia are in partnership with each other while crossing swords with the US.
As regards Sino-US relations, a trade war was fiercely waged between them due to the US’ extremist trade protectionism.
The US imposed 25 percent of tariffs on Chinese goods worth US$ 50 billion from last July, followed by China’s introduction of retaliatory tariffs which are equivalent to those of the US. In September, the US also slapped 10 percent of punitive tariffs on US$ 200 billion-worth Chinese exports.
Though the two countries agreed to a ceasefire at the recent G20 summit, experts are of the opinion that there is a faint prospect that the trade war will come to an end due to their divergent views.
Their friction rapidly escalated to diplomatic and military fields.
As to the US assertion that China intervened in the midterm election of the Congress, China refuted that the principle of noninterference in other’s internal affairs is its diplomatic tradition and proposed holding an impartial discussion for settling the issue to the US embassy in China and the US Department of State. When China arrested two Canadians on suspicion of menacing national security after a Chinese citizen was detained in Canada, the US hurled accusations against China while branding it violation of law.
In late September, the US announced that it would sell weapons worth US$ 330 million to Taiwan and dispatched a destroyer and strategic bomber on the pretext of “freedom of navigation and flight” to the controversial waters of the South China Sea. China strongly responded that such US moves are contrary to international law and the rules of international relations and they do harm to China’s sovereignty, security and interests.
The Russo-US relationship is still in deadlock.
Arguing that Russia intervened in presidential elections of the US and other countries, the US has put individuals of the Russian government and military on the sanctions list.
It continues to extend the term of sanctions on Russia under such pretexts as the assassination of a former Russian agent and the capture of a Ukrainian warship.
Recently, it declared that it will quit the INF treaty in 60 days unless Russia adheres to it in a complete and verifiable way, saying Russia’s cruise missiles are against the treaty, exacerbating the already high tension between the two countries.
Given that both Russia and China are subjected to sanctions and diplomatic pressure of the US, they are closely collaborating in the fields of military and economy.
China took part for the first time in Russia’s military drill which was codenamed Vostok-2018, held in the Trans-Baikal region from September 11 to 17. Foreign media said that it was geared to containing the US by dint of alliance.
Both countries attach importance to bilateral cooperation as member nations of the BRICS and the SCO. In a recent meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union, Russia expressed its willingness to boost relations of economic cooperation with China and other Asian nations.
It is their common viewpoint that they should continue to join efforts in order to develop the strategic partnership onto a higher level, establish new international relations centring on cooperation and co-prosperity together with the international community and safeguard regional and global peace and stability.“.
Although objective by international standards, the piece clearly reflect’s the authors grim assessment regarding the prospects of both a thaw in the US-China trade war (and other areas of dispute) as well as regarding any rapprochement in the long standing manifold antagonism between Washington and Moscow.
Apart from possibly hitting the truth like a hammer to the head of nail, the piece clearly reflects an official attitude in the DPRK that is grateful for China and Russia jointly proposing a relaxation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang (an issue the US has thus far refused to budge on). More importantly, the piece demonstrates that the DPRK sees a strengthening of ties with China and Russia as being of equal importance over the long term.
While both China and the Soviet Union sided with Pyongyang during the Korean War (aka Fatherland Liberation War), shortly after the war’s 1953 armistice, it became clear that while maintaining ties with both nations throughout the subsequent Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, Moscow was always a more overriding influence on the DPRK’s internal development than was its other partner China. After the collapse of the USSR however, China became the DPRK’s economic lifeline although today, with ties between Pyongyang and Seoul seemingly developing along an unstoppable positive trajectory, the DPRK is now looking for crucial partnerships in sustainable development rather than lifelines.
2018 saw Kim Jong-un meeting with Xi Jinping multiple times, thus braking the ice in a relationship that had previously been frosty and distant to the point of being stone cold. Likewise, Russia’s highly influential Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov headed one of many Russian diplomatic missions to Pyongyang as both countries look to renew ties that had always managed to remain positive even after 1991. Beyond this, both Moscow and Pyongyang are working to coordinate a perspective visit by Kim Jong-un to Russia in 2019.
Overall, while the DPRK’s talks with the US appear to have a touch and go quality in spite of consistently warm words about Kim Jong-un coming from the typically unpredictable Donald Trump, when it comes to stable foreign partnerships, the DPRK clearly wants to reinvigorate its alignment with both China and Russia and more importantly, seeks to do so by approaching both of its northern superpower neighbours simultaneously.
In order to more rapidly foster joint Sino-Russian friendship with the DPRK, Pyongyang has consciously decided to emphasise points of mutual interests that already exist between Beijing and Moscow, with the subtext being that forming a modern dynamic partnership for development with the DPRK ought to be one of the main areas of mutual interest. Just as it seems that both Seoul and Pyongyang have begun to emphasise the developmental and human-to-human contact elements of the peace process over and above the ongoing military de-escalation, so too does Pyongyang desire China and Russia to develop a similar mentality in respect of their perspectives on the peace process in Korea.
Far from being wishful thinking, even prior to the outbreak of peace in Korea in early 2018, China and Russia made it clear that they spoke with a single voice in respect of Korean issues. In the midst of the war of nuclear words between Kim and Trump during 2017, it was China and Russia that jointly proposed a so-called “double freeze” in hostilities in Korea – a policy that has in fact been largely adopted by all sides including the United States (though Washington has yet to credit China and Russia with authoring much of this current policy). The 2017 proposal for a double-freeze was of course followed but this year’s joint Sino-Russian call to lift sanctions on Pyongyang.
Therefore, the DPRK seems to be looking less to inspire new trends in Moscow and Beijing, but instead is using its international media voice to make it clear to the wider world that while the DPRK is engaging in friendlier relations with America than at any time in its history – its still sees its future as a key strategic partner to both China and Russia.