Isolated N Korea boosts Russia ties

Isolated N Korea boosts Russia ties
Choe Ryong Hae (R), a close aide of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, meets with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in this November 18, 2014.

North Korea and Russia appear to be joining forces to ease their international isolation as the former strives to strengthen the bilateral relationship in a frantic search for outside economic assistance and diplomatic support.

On Monday, Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the North's ruling Workers Party, wrapped up a weeklong visit to Moscow during which he delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin a hand-written letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The contents of the letter are unknown, but observers say it might include details of Kim's wishes to enhance overall relations including economic ties, and possibly his hopes to hold a summit with Putin soon.

Choe's visit came as the North was under increasing international pressure to improve its woeful human rights record. Last Tuesday, a UN human rights committee voted in favour of a resolution seeing to refer North Korea's human rights abuses to the International Court of Justice.

The North has been increasingly isolated, as Washington and Seoul maintain a tough stance over its nuclear weapons programme. Beijing has also appeared to distance itself from the wayward communist neighbour as it seeks to undertake a more responsible role as a regional power.

Pyongyang's overtures for enhanced cooperation with Moscow was apparently welcomed by Russia, which has been under criticism from the US and Europe for its annexation earlier this year of the Crimean Peninsula, an unprecedented event which critics argue hurt Ukraine's sovereignty and broke the stability that had been established since the end of World War II.

Local news reports said, citing sources, that the North Korean ruler expressed to Putin his wish to develop the bilateral relationship into an alliance. Analysts said that if the alliance is formed it would have a significant impact on the security landscape in Northeast Asia.

"Should North Korea and Russia form an anti-West, anti-US alliance, this would bring about a significant change in the contours of regional security," said Cheong Seong-chang, North Korea expert at the think tank Sejong Institute.

"Should it be formed, China's influence over North Korea would be drastically reduced while Russia's political influence in Northeast Asia would remarkably increase.

What's more, there is also a possibility of a Cold-War era confrontational relationship between the South Korea-US-Japan group and the North Korea-China-Russia group."

What agonizes Pyongyang most at the moment is the US move to adopt a human rights resolution that carries a much stronger wording about the North's human rights record.

Russia and China have been against the resolution, arguing that such international pressure on the North would be "counterproductive."

Some observers anticipate that the North and Russia could hold summit talks early next year, which will be Kim's first summit and his debut on the international stage.

Despite the long-standing traditional relationship with Beijing, Kim has yet to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has already met South Korean President Park Geun-hye for summit talks five times.

During a news conference last Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia was ready to prepare for contacts with North Korean officials including at the "highest-level" ― a comment that indicates Moscow's willingness to hold a summit with Kim.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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