The ICAS Lectures

No. 2002-1011-IKA

The Winds of Change in the East Asia:
Russia's Role for Peace and Security
in the Korean Peninsula

Iskander K. Azizov

ICAS Fall Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
October 11, 2002 12:00 PM - 5:50 PM.
U.S. Senate Russell Office Building Room 418
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992

Biographic Sketch & Links: Iskander K. Azizov

The Winds of Change in the East Asia:
Russia's Role for Peace and Security in the Korean Peninsula

Iskander K. Azizov
Counselor for Asia & Pacific Affairs
Embassy of Russian Federation

AZIZOV: Thank you, Professor Kim. Thank you for inviting me to speak before such a distinguished gathering, and this is my first experience with ICAS, of course. Thank for that, too.

It will be difficult to speak before this audience after the magnificent presentations by the two predecessors, and I would especially like to emphasize that as a Sinologist, I was very impressed with the presentation by Dr. Chung. It was just very scholarly and very thoughtful. I think thought-provoking would be the best term to use in this case.

As for my presentation, it will have a much narrower focus, inevitably so, because the topic I was given presupposes that turn of thought. Allow me to be a little bit more expansive on the issue of our relations with the two Koreas and give you some historic background so as to contrast with the present day state of affairs.

When slightly more than 12 years ago, the plane with the then-Soviet Foreign Minister aboard took off from the Pyongyang International Airport, it appeared from that particular moment onwards Moscow would be unable to walk through the maze of the Korean Peninsula issues. The relations with the ROK, though drawn closer as a result of the split with the DPRK, would not be consummated, so to speak, nonetheless for a few more years to come and the estrangement for North Korea was all but evident already at that time. As Chairman Wau (?) would perhaps put it, Moscow at that moment was ...... in Korea. This reminder is prompted not by the desire to highlight technical errors of the Soviet leadership. They operated, after all, at that time under the greatest possible strain domestically. Rather, it is intended as ....... a brief exposť of where we were viz a viz Korea and where we are now.

During the first half of the 1990s, Russian foreign policy was faced with a multitude of new challenges, extending from terrorism to Yugoslavia, and of course it was ...... internally to view the Korean peninsula, although still very important, with any urgency. Moscow also, at that time, as is common knowledge, changed politically with regard to the relations with the two Korean states. In the democratic and initially quite ideological parties in Russia, the newly found ........ friends were in, and the North Koreans were out of war. Resulting loss of trust by the North Korean leaders, however, entailed (?) the waning abilities of Moscow to influence the Korean situation and objectively reduced our importance in the eyes of the South Koreans.

As a result, other players on the Korean chessboard tended to neglect the interests of Russia as unable to have a say in Pyongyang or leave (?) Pyongyang at that time. This was a situation that could not persist. From the more than century-long history of our moment in the Korean peninsula affairs, Russia has learned that every major development in the Korean peninsula has a direct bearing on its national interests in ..... The sometimes bitter history of our relations with neighbors and one big neighbor in particular taught us a lesson that we have to accept those neighbors as they are today - not as they might be ideally some time well into the future if peace and stability is our No. 1 priority. And this is precisely the case with our interest in the Korean peninsula. Of course, Russia is in favor of eventual peaceful unification of Korea. However, the realization of this grand scheme is primarily the affair of the Koreans themselves. Russia does not have any particular need or wish or - and wish to interfere in this process. It all essentially boils down to that of a facilitator and of a constructive promoter of an Inter- Korean rapprochement and resultant reduction of tensions between the two Korean states.

To be more specific, we seek a better security regime in and around the peninsula ...... through coordinated political and diplomatic efforts of all states concerned; sustained reconciliation, dialect and cooperation within the North and the South, with the prospect of peaceful establishment of a unified Korean state friendly to Russia; of course, non-proliferation of the WMG (?) and the scale-down of all conventional forces to the levels of reasonable sufficiency; the forging of mutual multi-lateral economic operations in and around the peninsula; promotion of a favorable regional environment conducive to socio-economic development - or I would say even rise (?) of Russia's Far East region.

In short, Russia is search of a win-win situation in northeast Asia premised on a win-win development of events in Korea.

These goals of course cannot be achieved without normal, good neighborly relations with the two Koreas. After a spectacular start, Russia's relations with the South Korean state in the 1990s gradually matured. Although I would be quite frank with you - developing not without hitches as is inevitable in any or for any newly formed partnership. From the pragmatic viewpoint, it became clearly necessary at that time to sort out relations with the North and normalization of relations with North Korea was essential from the point of view of preserving the regional security.

Restoring North Korean's leadership trust in Russia was by no means an easy task. Since the end of the 1980s - since the event of Perestroika and Glasnost, Pyongyang had been regarding the reference in Russia as a threat to the North Korean system. It took some time and diplomatic efforts to make Pyongyang realize that Russia was genuinely interested in peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and, accordingly, a stable development of North Korea itself.

Here I would like to emphasize one point. Unlike many of Japanese, South Korean and American colleagues, we have started discerning traces of change in North Korea since autumn of 1994 and what was precisely in the mid-90s, the basis for rapprochement from our side was laid. We had started at that time to publicly recognize at various official levels the need to develop balanced relations with both Koreas. In the autumn of 1994, the new North Korean leadership changed its attitude toward Russia as from a hostile state to a friendly country with which it was willing to develop relations regardless of differences in ideology or social systems. This rapprochement process became particularly active since late 1998, exactly the time when North Korea .... began to undergo changes, left overwhelmingly unnoticed until North Korea's diplomatic offensive of the last three years.

We believe that the North Koreas chose Russia as their test case for opening to the outside world for some obvious reasons. On the one hand, Russia was and is a familiar traditional partner. On the other, Moscow is a member of the U.N. Security Council, of the G..... Group. All in all, that it is an authoritative country which could help North Korea reach out. Both official talks to prepare a new basic treaty - by the way, we signed it in February of the year 2000, instead of outdated 1961 Military and Political Alliance Treaty -- and unofficial visits to Moscow of Kim ......, the No. 2 figure in the North Korean state, played their role. It was not however until President Putin's coming to power that Pyongyang finally made up its mind.

We believe that Pyongyang at that time could not fail to notice the strengthening of ties between Russia and China which was and still is North Korea's only military and political ally. While China provided economic assistance and geo-political support, Russia was probably considered by Pyongyang an indispensable diplomatic supporter who could help break the ice of international isolation around the DPRK. That coincided with Russia's desire to increase its say in the Korean affairs and help its neighbor come to terms with the world outside.

The announcement in April of the year 200_ of an unprecedented Inter-Korean summit, provided the opportunity for us to exert more active positive influence on the Korean situation. Probably it was at this time that the decision of President Putin's historic July trip to Pyongyang was made.

Now, after three summits between President Putin and Chairman Kim ..... in Pyongyang, Moscow and the last one in Ladivostock (?), Russia is in a new position viz a viz Pyongyang. After a decade' hiatus, the relations became close and even intimate as evidenced by Chairman Kim's visits to the Russian Embassy and audiences he gave to President Putin's envoy for the far eastern region, Mr. Polikovsky (?).

Bilateral political dialogues intensified at all levels between local and federal authorities - or rather in the case of DPRK, between local and central authorities, and between executive and legislative branches. The volume of bilateral trade last year, although still very, very modest, nevertheless reached $110,000,000. This is a 10% increase that was due mainly to the efforts of Far Eastern enterprises of Russian and the DPRK.

Overall, we have to take note of that. Economic cooperation, however, lags far behind political context (contacts?). It should be substantially increased. With the far- reaching and serious economic transformations underway in North Korea, mutually beneficial endeavors are now possible. Moreover, a solution for the issue of the DPRK's debt to Russia looks very near which enables the two sides to launch substantive discussions of financial and economic terms of implementation of bilateral economic and investment projects. We see some promising spheres, for instance, rehabilitation of the now idle power plants, ore processing, mining concerns, lumber business. Last autumn a team of 200 Russian experts undertook an exhaustive survey of North Korean railways. We believe that there are some good opportunities for us to foster cooperation with in .... Now we are with the North Koreans in the process of very active expert talks to explore all those opportunities.

I should emphasize that the ties we now have with them are qualitatively different from Soviet times. The Soviet Union was of course DPRK's ideological, political and military ally, as well as an economic donor. You know that there was a system of friendly process, so to speak, in Soviet-North Korean trade. Whereas the main area of Pyongyang's cooperation with modern Russia is diplomacy and economic matters. Moscow helps the DPRK to accommodate itself to the realities of the contemporary world.

As for the ROK, Russia's relations with this state are about to reach the stage of complementary cooperation. We like those terms. You know, we have strategic cooperation with the Chinese, we have creative cooperation with the Japanese, and now we are talking about complementary cooperation with the ROK. This state of affairs manifests itself in the very active exchanges at the political level. First of all, we do have those exchange visits - foreign ministers consult regularly on various international and regional issues, and keep each other apprised of major steps towards enhanced stability and security in the peninsula. The Russian ...... high appreciates the sunshine policy launched and upheld by President Kim. It is to be hoped that this line would be continued well into the future as it represents the best possible course of action for both Koreas, for northeast Asia and the world at large.

The rapprochement between the north and the south will draw close (?) a solution of nuclear, missile and conventional issues in Korea to which Russia has never been oblivious. It is especially gratifying that the two Koreas embarked on a very serious endeavor to reconnect their railways, displaying willingness to tackle the so far seemingly intractable problem of confidence building in the DMZ. Trade between Russia and South Korea is of course far in excess of that with the DPRK and amounts to $2.8 billion as per last year. The issue of Russia's debt to the ROK has been successfully tackled. Given that Russia's economic upturn continues at the pace of 6% per year and South Korea goes on displaying renewed vigor of its corporations (?) after the Asian financial crisis, the future of bilateral trade and economic cooperation appears quite promising.

In the process of fostering relations of trust and interaction with both Korean states, Russia has regained some of its positions in the Korean settlement process. These are of course very limited results. Yet I should draw your attention to the fact that they were achieved during the period of a relative stalemate alongside all the major tracks (?) of the Korean settlement.

Now that the north and the south appear to firmly pursue mutual engagement, Pyongyang and Tokyo agreed to resume the normalization talks and the United States, true to its word, conducted a round of dialogue with the DPRK, although an inconclusive one - seemingly inconclusive one, it would perhaps be a bit easier for Russia to follow its course in Korea. At least, at the very least, it is possible to start sorting out problems associated with the project to link Korea's railroads with the Trans-Siberian Railway.

As was indicated by Russia's Minister of Railroads in Berlin on September 25, the time has come to think about an international consortium to develop and implement the project. Granted, there are many political, technical and financial issues to be clarified before such a venture becomes operational. For instance, there is a need for Russia and the two Koreas to have at least the first tripartite meeting to sort out all those aspects. But all in all, things have started looking up in our minds. Let us hope that it is not only for a while - rather, I should put it - for a very little while.

It is Russia's firm belief that the gigantic railways enterprise would be her best contribution to lasting peace and stability in northeast Asia. The odds are of course great, but we are determined. And thank you very much for your attention.


AZIZOV: I should say we are very much supportive of the M....... approach to tackle not only the Korean peninsula issues per se, but also much larger issues pertaining to northeast Asia in general. We have been trying to inject this ...... multi-lateralism for many years to come. As you know, we have started discussing ...... gas pipeline project with the Chinese and the South Koreans for I think about five years. Now we are in the process of having a final stage of a feasibility study on that particular project. There are other projects. For instance, recently I have come across a piece of information coming from Tokyo saying that a team of Japanese experts advised the Foreign Ministry .... and the Cabinet that given present-day technology, modern technology, it is quite feasible to have a gas pipeline from S...... to the Japanese islands. So the economic and I would say technological potential and capabilities to tackle this very important issue of northeast Asia development are there, are in place. We have to tackle the political aspects of those issues. Therefore, Russia is very much supportive of Prime Minister K......'s idea to have six-country talks on the issues of northeast Asia. But we proceed from the understanding that all the countries concerned should be in agreement. There are a few countries the positions of which are not yet clear. But generally speaking, we treat this idea very favorably. And we will support it. We have stated it many times at various official and unofficial levels.

On top of the gas projects, I should say that railway issue might also be viewed for the reason of confidence building measures in the Korean peninsula and around it, in the surrounding area. It will require very close - I think practically, in real time terms, a cooperation within the authorities of all states concerned, which will greatly, of course, decrease the element of hostility. When you are in the same business with your partner, although you might be a competitor to him at the same time, you nevertheless would hardly be openly hostile. And that is precisely the result we desire - to decrease the level of built-in hostility which is a remainder of the previous Cold War period.


AZIZOV: Of course I cannot speak for the North Korean leadership. We have not been entitled to. It's up to them. But if you ask me personally, in my personal capacity as an expert, I believe that they are very much sincere, and in fact, this is their long-term policy, to reach out to the outside world. I have tried to inject this message already in this paper I've just read for you. We have started to take note of the changes way back in 1994, immediately after the demise of Kim .....'s father. And naturally, that was not an easy thing to do, to proclaim a hostile, newly democratic Russia a friendly state. But they did that. For us it was very important. I believe that it went unnoticed by the general international community, or maybe it was ignored. But for us it was a very interesting augury for the things to come.

Now if you ask me - if they are serious or not. I should say that they are very much serious. The recent developments around the S........ project, although perhaps are indicative of some lack of competence on the part of some officials in North Korea, but this very situation proves that they are serious. If you are not serious, you want to deceive, you will have everything in place in a perfect way. But the situation around S.... as we all know is not so perfect. It's far from being perfect. But there are other signs of profound change in North Korea. I have been talking to some of the American experts who recently visited North Korea. I haven't had the chance myself for many years. And they can compare the situation with what it was about seven years ago when the problem with food supply became very acute. Looking from the ....... Hotel, they saw that the city was well lit now. There are more cars in the streets. The people after the first of July are very active shopping, which was not the case before, of course. So there is a positive change in the DPRK, and our belief is that they will continue.

You had mentioned that there is no, perhaps, consistency in the way we tackle this issue of opening up. But first of all, if you might recall the history of all the socialist countries opening up to the international community, it has never been that much consistent. It was not smooth sailing from the very beginning for any of those countries, even for the ones who are now the best candidates to be enrolled in NATO and the European Union, European countries. So you have to give them this ground, you know, and have to watch the developments very carefully. We are pretty sure that there will be many more events to come.

QUESTION: In your opinion, is there a constructive method which the countries surrounding North Korea are willing to support ...... rebuild its ...... structure, before it is forced to open up? I guess I'm looking at it from a very personal level. Instead of forcing a government to almost have an attitude of defeat and ........ surrounded by so very many powerful countries, does it not make sense to somehow entitle (?) them to rebuild their own structure so that they can somehow negotiate on an equal footing ..... And is there any other way to assist them to build their own country before they actually come as somewhat of an equal partner ......... Or is it more like the major countries ..... like China and Japan ..... Is it more like ..... unilateral pressure on North Korea to just open up and ...... I guess my thought is - in the current world affairs, in dealing with North Korea, what is the balance on the approach of these big nations around Korea - are they using a unilateral approach or is there ...........?

AZIZOV: Here again, I cannot speak for any other great power except for Russia, only for Moscow. I have tried to make clear from my presentation that we do not only diplomatically support them, acting as a guide on their way toward the international community, but we are also in the business of rehabilitating our economic cooperation which has remained idle since the early 1990s. There are a few projects now, but there are difficulties. We believe one of them is the issue of their debt to us. We have completed the study of all the possible versions to tackle this issue, and we have found a few. Now we have ongoing discussions with them on that particular subject.

I may not go into many details here, but I would give you a general feel, so to speak, of what we have in mind. We have in mind such a solution that could enable not only us and them, but also the South Koreans, and ideally, in the future, third (?) countries to participate in the development of the North Korean economy. That's how we view this particular issue. If we are successful and if we have a mutually acceptable solution - we are pretty close to it, in fact, then we will proceed down the road of rehabilitating, at least starting, if you wish, full scale cooperation with them.

As for the rest of the great powers, I just can't speak for them. It is up to them to decide. But what we do all the time is we consult. We recommend. We give a piece of advice to all the great powers concerning their relations with the DPRK. Sometimes we are even asked to do it.

This page last updated 8/15/2003 jdb

ICAS Fellow
ICAS Speakers
& Discussants
Fall 2002