South Korea assumes the role of Russia’s strategic partner

FROM RIA NOVOSTI

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti foreign news commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) – South Korea, the closest military-political ally of the United States in Asia, seems willing to become Russia’s strategic partner.

Although developments in the Caucasus have been sharply criticized in the West, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spoke pragmatically about promoting relations with Russia during his visit to Moscow late last week.

Strategic partnership provides for economic cooperation and close diplomatic, political, security and defense ties. The joint Russian-South Korean declaration on the results of Lee Myung-bak’s visit consists of 10 points reflecting bilateral accords in different fields and includes a common assessment of Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia.

In the declaration, the sides expressed their concern over the recent situation in Georgia and their support for using peaceful means and dialogue to settle the problem.

President Lee Myung-bak is considered a conservative yet pragmatic pro-American politician. Evidence of that is his decision to open the South Korean market to beef imports from the U.S. contrary to public protests. He has also initiated talks with the U.S. to revive the close military ties eroded during the 10-year rule of Liberal Democrats, who had worked to ease tensions in relations with North Korea.

The current Seoul authorities are busy tackling economic problems, and business ties with Russia apparently influence Lee Myung-bak’s political priorities.

The South Korean president likes to speak about his visits to the Soviet Union even before diplomatic relations were established with South Korea, when he was Hyundai’s CEO. He says he has been willing to take part in developing Russia’s East Siberian and Far Eastern resources since then.

When he was in Moscow last week, Lee Myung-bak met with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. They agreed that South Korea would participate in projects in Russia’s Far East within the federal program of economic and social development of the Far East and the Trans-Baikal Territory approved for 1996-2005 and up to 2013.

According to the South Korean government, the two countries’ striving for peace and security in Northeast Asia, their proximity to each other, and their mutually complementary economies hold promise for their relations established in September 1990.

Lee Myung-bak was accompanied to Moscow by a group of leaders of major South Korean companies. One of them, Hyundai-KIA CEO Chung Mong-koo, told journalists upon his return to Seoul that Russia could become a global automotive leader. He said the Hyundai assembly plant in the Kamenka industrial park near St. Petersburg would produce 150,000 cars annually beginning in 2011.

The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding in the gas sector stipulating the delivery of 7.5 million metric tons of Russian natural gas to South Korea for 30 years beginning in 2015. This is approximately 20% of South Korea’s annual natural gas consumption.

The South Korean leader is fully aware that stable relations and cooperation with Russia would be impossible without political rapprochement. Besides, Seoul needs to balance the interests of Russia, the U.S., China and Japan in order to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the region.

The Korean authorities believe that Russia as the legal successor of the Soviet Union can influence North Korea in the event of problems with its nuclear program.

South Korea is working jointly with Russia, the U.S., China and Japan to convince Pyongyang, which tested its nuclear weapons in October 2006, to terminate its nuclear programs. This dialogue has stalled because of the upcoming presidential elections in the U.S., and North Korea has reportedly resumed its nuclear programs.

Russia and South Korea have agreed to strengthen cooperation to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

They have also agreed to consider civilian nuclear cooperation and upheld Russia’s initiative on setting up an international uranium enrichment center so as to prevent nuclear proliferation and ensure uninterrupted supplies of nuclear fuel to international players.

Strategic dialogue between Moscow and Seoul should strengthen mutual trust. Consultations will be held at the level of deputy foreign ministers, with First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov representing Russia and his colleague, Kwon Jong-nak, speaking on behalf of South Korea.

South Korea needs to promote relations with all of the above-mentioned four countries, but its relations with them differ in scale and intensity.

According to South Korea’s diplomatic vocabulary, it has “strategic allied relations” with the U.S., “mature allied relations” with Japan, and “allied relations of strategic cooperation” with Russia and China.

In other words, South Korea’s relations with Russia, although not as close as with the U.S., should help maintain the balance of regional forces and create a positive precedent of global importance. This can be interpreted as one more proof that unipolarity in international affairs is untenable and unviable.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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