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China, Russia, and North Korea – A New Stability? or a New Level of Threat?

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Recent reports have emerged suggesting that Russia has made overtures to North Korea and China for a possible three-way naval exercise in the Indo-Pacific. This move is seen by some as a means of strengthening the bond between these nations, which have been perceived as security challenges to the U.S and its allies.

Some say such an alliance is not necessarily indicative of war preparations. Instead, “experts” argue it may be a strategic move to counterbalance the growing defense pacts of the U.S in the region.

However, such experts have short memories, since the defense pacts that have been developing are the direct result of China’s aggressiveness towards its neighbors, its new and disturbing terrotorial claims, and its continual march towards the annexing of Taiwan.

The Indo-Pacific in recent times has become a hotspot for security tensions. China’s growing influence and territorial claims have prompted the U.S. to reinforce its alliances, while concerns surrounding North Korea’s nuclear capabilities continue to mount.

Yet, despite the initial alarm bells, a trilateral naval exercise may serve more as a diplomatic signal than an outright act of aggression. Bernard Loo, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, perceives this as a convergence of nations feeling the pressure of decreasing international partnerships.

A potential alliance of China, Russia, and North Korea could indeed create a formidable front against the U.S. and its allies. But ironically, it might also introduce a stabilizing element. The dynamic among these nations isn’t free from contention. Both China and Russia have interests in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, putting them at odds with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. As Collin Koh, another expert from the same institution, observes, there might not be a unified vision for North Korea’s actions within this potential alliance.

Moreover, any military exercises that may occur would likely have limitations. Their main utility would be for peacetime, with the geographical constraints of the region preventing a realistic war simulation.

While the immediate threat of a large-scale conflict seems unlikely, the implications of such an alliance cannot be ignored. Smaller nations in the region might find themselves coerced into choosing allegiances, a move that could alter the balance of power.

Further signs of changing geopolitical dynamics can be observed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent interactions with both Russia and China. Official communications suggest an unprecedented level of “strategic and tactical” cooperation. This rhetoric is coupled with North Korea’s increased alignment with Moscow and Beijing, a strategic tilt that seems to have been catalyzed by the “no limits” partnership declaration between Russia and China.

For North Korea, this tighter integration with Russia and China might offer tangible benefits like food, fuel, and possibly even COVID-19 vaccines. Such collaboration could be a lifeline for the isolated nation, as suggested by Drew Thompson of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

As the U.S. seeks to fortify its Asian alliances amidst deteriorating relations with Russia and China, it’s unsurprising to see these nations look to North Korea to fortify their strategic position. While this may not herald a new “axis of evil”, the evolving geopolitical contours in this region warrant close monitoring and thoughtful diplomacy.

On the surface, this appears to be a mounting war posture. One layer down, there may be very speculative silver lining. It remains to be seen whether this is a conclusion to the maneuvers of the Chinese Communist Party, or if it is just the next step in preparation for war.

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