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Moon and Putin on North Korea and Economic Cooperation

By Juni Kim

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Moscow earlier today for a three-day state visit to Russia, the first such visit by a South Korean president since 1999. In a first-time feat for a South Korean president, Moon addressed Russia’s lower parliamentary house and emphasized Russia’s key role in helping achieve peace on the Korean peninsula.

He is set to hold a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow, where a number of agreements are expected to be signed. The two had previously met when Moon attended the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok last September, where both leaders highlighted their two countries’ shared economic and security interests. Much has changed in the time since with North Korea’s surprise diplomatic warming in early 2018 followed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s summit tour. When Moon and Putin meet tomorrow, Kim and North Korea’s intentions will certainly be a top discussion point for both leaders.

Both countries’ leaders have previously mentioned the role trilateral relations with North Korea can play in integrating the country into the economic infrastructure in Northeast Asia and building peace on the peninsula. In his remarks at the Eastern Economic Forum last year, Putin commented, “We could deliver Russian pipeline gas to Korea and integrate the power lines and railway systems of Russia, the Republic of Korea and North Korea. The implementation of these initiatives will be not only economically beneficial, but will also help build up trust and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon reiterated the importance of trilateral relations in his address this morning to the Russian parliamentary State Duma stating, “When a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is established, economic cooperation between North and South Korea will become regularized and expand to trilateral cooperation involving Russia.”

When Moon met with Kim Jong-un for their first inter-Korean summit in April, Moon handed Kim a USB thumb drive with an economic roadmap to show the North Korean leader an enticing alternative option to Kim’s nuclear program. Part of the plan included the before-mentioned integrated pipelines and railways with Russia, and Moon’s summit talking points likely include reemphasizing Russia’s potential role in helping integrate North Korea into the regional economy. Much to the ire of many American observers, Russia embraces such opportunities to act as a facilitator for peninsula relations, and Russian officials have stated that both Moon and Kim received invitations to this year’s Eastern Economic Forum.

North Korean issues aside, both Moon and Putin are expected to highlight the economic relations between South Korea and Russia. In 2017, both countries saw a large 40% increase in bilateral trade, which Moon previously commented on as “just the beginning” in South Korea-Russia trade. For Moon, increased trade and economic cooperation with Russia fits into his administration’s New Northern Policy, an initiative started by the president to push for joint economic projects with China, Russia, and other Northeast Asian countries. During last year’s Eastern Economic Forum, Moon proposed “nine bridges” of economic cooperation with Russia including gas, rail, sea routes, shipbuilding, working groups, and agriculture.

In lighter matters, Moon is also expected to attend the FIFA World Cup during his visit and watch the South Korean team play against Mexico on Saturday. Moon shared his congratulations to the Russian team earlier today during his address to the State Duma.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Miguel Sala’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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