Scholars in both the academic and policy realms have long reflected on the implications of the growth in Sino-Russian relations. Several topical aspects (such as defense) as well as regional facets of the relationship (namely, Central Eurasia) have been the cause of cautious and highly guarded cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. The North Korean security crisis is arguably one of the strongest areas of China-Russian policy convergence. Meetings between Chinese and Russian diplomats almost invariably yield expressions of solidarity over Korean security. They have on occasion led to the espousal of specific policy proposals, namely the “road map” to North Korean disarmament.
The degree of Beijing and Moscow’s influence in the Korean security crisis, however, is anything but equal. The end of the Cold War had a profound influence on Northeast Asia’s security architecture, mainly because the Soviet Union’s demise spelled a loss (for Moscow) of a substantial amount of influence in regional security. In absence of a bipolar struggle between the USSR and the United States, China obtained more freedom to maneuver in the region’s security environment. Thus from the Russian perspective, cooperation with China is vital to Moscow’s recovery of its bygone influence in the Asia-Pacific.
Nevertheless, the Kremlin insists that it has an important independent role to play in the Korean security saga. In light of Russia’s absence from any mention in the April 2018 Panmunjom Declaration’s proposed negotiation formats, Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov declared that there was no way Moscow could be excluded from regional negotiations. Supporting his case, Morgulov argued that while the Soviet Union had not been a combatant party in the Korean War, the Soviets still participated in signing the armistice that ended the better part of violent hostilities in 1953.
Today, as Stephen Blank contends, Beijing and Moscow are closely aligned on Korean security. In Sino-Russian cooperation over Korea, however, Moscow largely finds itself depending on China to lead the way, as Moscow lacks the ability to substantively influence the outcome of the Korean security crisis.