North Korea's nuclear and missile programs pose "an existential threat" to the Indo-Pacific region and a direct threat to regional peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Thursday during the East Asia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.
His remarks came after a New York Times report that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to travel to Russia later this month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss an arms trade. Moscow is seeking more weapon supplies from Pyongyang to be used in its war on Ukraine.
In return, Kim is interested in Russia providing advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, according to the report.
South Korean officials and analysts say if North Korea is able to receive such advanced technology from Russia, it would elevate the threat level posed to South Korea and its allies.
“North Korea's nuclear and missile development is a serious violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Yoon said. "It is an existential threat that can target and strike all nations participating in today's meeting.”
Yoon is in Indonesia this week attending the East Asia Summit, a premier forum for strategic dialogue in the Indo-Pacific region that includes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
“North Korea wants high tech military technologies with which they can build satellites, nuclear submarines, miniaturized nuclear warheads,” said Jaechun Kim, who is dean of Sogang University’s Graduate School of International Studies. “It also needs intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] technologies, such as atmospheric reentry and multiple-warheads technology.
“Russia will not give them all, but it can give some. Transfer of such technologies will pose significant threats not just to South Korea but also to the United States,” Kim told VOA on Thursday.
Others suggest the Southeast Asian bloc has some leverage over North Korea to dissuade it from providing arms to Russia for it to use against Ukraine.
Nine of the 10 member states of ASEAN maintain diplomatic ties with North Korea, except for Malaysia.
“A promise from ASEAN and its members that if North Korea provides Russia with military assistance for its war in Ukraine, North Korea would be sanctioned by ASEAN and its members, with the possibility of being expelled from ASEAN,” said former Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, who was the special envoy for Six Party Talks from 2003 to 2006.
“On the positive side: If North Korea does not provide military assistance to Russia, ASEAN will work with the U.N. to lift certain sanctions affecting the people of North Korea and, thus, provide more economic development assistance to North Korea,” DeTrani told VOA in an email.
Professor Park Won-gon, who teaches North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, said the United States, South Korea and Japan should “put more emphasis on ASEAN” to stop North Korea from further provocation.
“We all see in the past couple of years that the United Nations Security Council could not simply do anything meaningful to stop North Korea's nuclear development because Russia and China have exercised their veto powers,” he told VOA.
North Korea’s founding anniversary
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, North Korea’s official name. Scheduled celebrations include a military parade.
China said a delegation led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Guozhong will visit North Korea to participate in related events.
“We, the Korean government, are closely monitoring major issues related to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including exchanges between China and North Korea,” said South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lim Soo-suk in a briefing on Thursday. “We hope that China-North Korea relations will move toward contributing to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”
Some observers, including Park, said the relatively “lower level” of the Chinese delegation is a reflection that a closer military alignment between Pyongyang and Moscow is “bothersome” to Beijing.
“Comparing to five years ago when DPRK celebrated the 70th anniversary of its establishment, China sent a permanent member of its Politburo — which is a very high position because all of the permanent members of Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo are equivalent to the prime minister’s level,” he said.
In 2018, China dispatched its third-highest ranking official, Li Zhanshu, to North Korea.
Other Seoul-based experts said North Korea seeks separate strategic goals from China and Russia.
“From Kim Jong Un's point of view, the idea is to build economic cooperation with China and the military with Russia, as seen from the last Victory Day and the coming September 9 event,” Professor Yang Moo-jin from the University of North Korean Studies told VOA.
In July, Kim personally received Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as Pyongyang celebrated its self-proclaimed “Victory Day.”
Lee Juhyun contributed to this report.