New Developments in Russia-South Korea Relations

Recent developments on the Korean Peninsula have raised new questions regarding regional diplomacy. Dhedra Danudoro offers a brief report on the current status of Russian-South Korean relations. 


South Korea – Russia Relations

During President Moon’s visit to Moscow on June 22nd 2018, he addressed the importance of the Korean peninsula’s denuclearization and bilateral economic cooperation between Russia and South Korea. President Moon’s vision for the future of the two nations was well received, as South Korea’s goals coincide well with Russia’s interests on the peninsula. Unlike most of Seoul’s Western allies, President Moon views Moscow as a crucial partner for his country’s strategic and economic development.

There are a few key reasons for this:

1) Russia’s bilateral relations with South Korea create a possible economic and political bridge with North Korea.

2) Cheaper energy imports from Russia could allow for cheaper energy imports, as South Korea is strategically located near far eastern Russia’s abundant resources. 

3) Moscow’s respect for Seoul’s sovereignty was well received and is viewed as a base for potential future collaboration.   

For example, throughout the 2017 THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system controversy, China took economic measures against South Korea. Whereas Russia, even though it expressed its disapproval, took no action. 

Korea and the Russian Far East

South Korea has long sought to invest more in the Russian far east, where many Koreans still reside. During the first half of 2017, South Korean investments in the region increased by 6% and are likely to increase in the future. Recent examples of progress include a meeting held on October 2017 between Chairman Song Young-Gil of the Korean Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation and Alexander Galushka of the Business Russia Association in order to discuss the ‘Nine Bridges’ plan which involves the development in nine different industries; natural gas, electricity, railroads, seaports, sea shipping routes, shipbuilding, agriculture, fisheries and medicine. In March 2018, an event was held known as Korean Investors Day. The participants, consisting of 75 companies (24 from Korea and 51 from Russia) discussed investment projects in the Russian Far East in industries such as shipbuilding, oil and gas, glass production, fishing, and agriculture. The event resulted with total revenues reaching $300 billion (USD).

As numerous projects between the two states go into motion, one of the most ambitious is the Rajin – Khasan Railway project. The Rajin – Khasan project is regarded to be a crucial project to three participants: Russia, South Korea, and North Korea. The project was put on hold in 2016 due to North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.However,the Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. Therefore, South Korea has taken small steps to resume the Rajin – Khasan project. South Korea’s Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation had already sent a team led by committee chairman Song Young-Gil to North Korea’s northeastern border region of Rason. 

The Railway will act as a soft coal transport and other goods, connecting Rajin, North Korea, and the Russian border city of Khasan on a 33-mile railway. Considered to be one of Russia’s biggest commercial projects, it received an investment of $300 million by Russian Railways. In addition, it is also considered as an important political move due to North Korea’s participation. If the project were to continue and succeed with North Korea’s participation, Russia would be the first nation to work alongside two Korean governments. 

The project is expected to boost the regional economy through free trade and economic cooperation in the Eurasian bloc through railways that link North Korea, South Korea, China, and Russia. Local consumers in South Korea alone could save up to 15% in transportation costs.

Conclusion

Russia’s role in North East Asia and the Korean Peninsula aims to mitigate the hostility Russia faces from the West by improving bilateral relations with other nations throughout the region. Aside from deepening existing ties with China, Russia aims to improve relations with nations such as South Korea, Japan, and India. In return, Russia hopes that it won’t be excluded from any political process that takes place throughout the region. Russia wants to ensure its full participation in any future political process dealing with the Korean Peninsula’s future. Furthermore, accomplishing the Raijin-Khasan project not only benefits one nation but all three participants. Russia would gain a positive reputation on the world stage if it cooperates with both North and South Korea. In addition, South Korea will gain an economic benefit through the first project connecting the nation to Europe and to the development of the Far Eastern Russia.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons