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The China-Russia-North Korea Triangle After Kim Jong-un's Turn to Diplomacy
Region: Asia
Theme: Security
Location: Korea, North
Published July 29, 2019
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The triangle of Beijing-Moscow-Pyongyang has great significance for the geopolitics of not only Northeast Asia, but the globe. It played a critical role in the 1950 launching of the Korean War, when the Cold War took shape. It became the subject of much speculation in the 2000s, when the Six-Party Talks offered hope that the post-Cold War framework could become one of trust based on shared interests in peace and stability and joint prosperity focused on Northeast Asia. Today, it is again worthy of close attention, as diplomacy has intensified in an atmosphere of increasing polarization. Various alternatives for the future of this triangle have recently been suggested.

The options offered for the emerging China-Russia-North Korea triangle include the following. One, a North Korean defection centered on a deal with the United States and an understanding with South Korea allowing for gradual inter-Korean integration with economics in the forefront. Two, a Chinese sphere of influence, which Russia is too weak to resist and North Korea prefers to the danger of regime change through Korean integration and U.S. demands for openness and human rights. Three, a balanced triangular alliance, where North Korea resumes playing off its allies in Beijing and Moscow without having to take the side of either, but this time without a serious split between the two great powers. Four, maximum autonomy of Pyongyang carving space among the five states most concerned with its destiny, leaving this triangle with no more significance than the triangle with the U.S. and South Korea. Fast-moving, diplomatic developments in 2018-2019 provide some evidence for assessing these alternative outcomes.

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