Connect with us

Politics & Security

Russian 'Militant Friendships' with China and North Korea Menace Japan

Vladimir Putin sent the Russian navy on patrol with Chinese warships near Hokkaido and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has heaped praise upon Kim Jong Un.



Russian Defense Minister Shoigu (front left) and North Korean Workers' Party General Secretary Kim Jong Un visit Pyongyang's exhibition of its arsenal of weapons. The exhibition was held by the North Korean Ministry of Defense on July 26 in Pyongyang. (©KCNA via Kyodo)

Japan's Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada believes that the world has entered a new era of crisis. He says that the Russian invasion of Ukraine "shook the very foundation of the international order, including in Asia."

Japan's Defense White Paper was published at the end of July 2023. It states that Russia's military activities in the Indo-Pacific region, together with its strategic coordination with China, are a major security concern.

The document was written under the supervision of Minister Hamada. It also describes Russia's aggression against Ukraine as a serious breach of international norms.

This is what it states:

The situation in which a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which is supposed to take primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, openly engages in military actions challenging international law and the international order, claims innocent lives, and repeatedly uses language and actions that can be interpreted as threats involving nuclear weapons, is unprecedented. 

Cover of Defense White Paper 2023 . (Website of the Ministry of Defense)

Armada of Warships

In recent weeks, there have been further reminders of the threat posed to Japan by Russia.

Japan's defense ministry says that five Russian warships - as well as a number of Chinese vessels - were active in the sea near Hokkaido in July. Apparently this was part of a joint patrol.

This suggests a worrying escalation in the military collaboration between Beijing and Moscow. As we reported on JAPAN Forward, in 2022 ships from the Russian and Chinese navies jointly circumnavigated Japan. At the time, former Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi warned that the operations were "intended to be a demonstration against Japan."

The most recent show of force also included destroyers, frigates, and supply boats. In previous exercises, Chinese helicopter crews engaged in take-off and landing practice from the deck of a warship.  

In a further challenge to Japan's Self-Defense Force, Russia announced in March that it has deployed a missile system on Paramushir. That is one of the Kuril islands which has long been held to be part of Japan's Northern Territories.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un escorts Russian Defense Minister Shoigu to a banquet on July 27. (©KCNA via Kyodo)

Praise for North Korea 

In late July, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea. 

Kim Jong Un gave his visitor a personal tour of his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. It included a barrage of Hwasong intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

Mr Shoigu said the North Korean army is "the strongest in the world," according to state media. The same media also said the two sides met in a "cordial atmosphere overflowing with militant friendship." Minister Shoigu handed Jong Un a personal letter from Vladimir Putin

Intriguingly, on this occasion, North Korean state media made no mention of two females who have frequently appeared alongside Kim Jong Un of late. One is his daughter, who is thought to be about ten years old. And the other is his powerful sister, Kim Yo-Jong. Kim Yo-Jong also claims she relishes the prospect of war with the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

China's Envoy

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military parade on July 27. Joining him are Russia's Defense Minister Shoigu and Li Hongzhong, a member of the CCP's Political Bureau. (©KCNA via Kyodo)

A high-ranking Chinese official named Li Hongzhong also went to Pyongyang. But his attendance was symbolic rather than a clear sign of cooperation with North Korea. That is according to Hong Min director of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Mr Min says the North Koreans claim to have reached a "consensus of views" and achieved a "united front" with Russia. 

"However, in the reporting of the Chinese delegation, there were no expressions indicating close ties. There were only customary expressions of traditional friendship. The difference appears to be a result of Russia's proactive approach compared to China's more cautious stance." This is according to a report that Hong Min wrote which was published in the Korea Times.

Nevertheless, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is not technically an ally of North Korea. This is noted by Fyodor Tertitsky, a senior research fellow at Kookmin University in Seoul.

He says that Moscow's policy on North Korea has largely consisted of backing Beijing.

"In terms of its rhetoric on North Korea's nuclear missile program, Moscow follows China's lead, condemning it when China does so, and showing more understanding when Beijing does the same. At the UN, Russia voted for sanctions agreed upon with China, and vetoed those that China didn't like," says Mr Tertitsky.

Trilateral leaders US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeol are pictured together on May 21, 2023. The three will meet again in August near Washington, DC. (©REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Tension With South Korea

Furthermore, Mr Tertitsky observes that the invasion of Ukraine has created tension between Russia and South Korea. 

He says: "Before the war, Seoul's approach could have been described as: "We are US allies. But as far as that alliance allows, we would like to get along with Russia." After the start of the invasion, Seoul was quick to speak up in support of Ukraine, prompting Russia to add South Korea to its list of so-called unfriendly countries." 

Japan was also added to Russia's unfriendly country list in March 2022 and the government of Fumio Kishida has been a strong supporter of Ukraine.


As a result of these shared concerns, the relationship between the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea is "very, very strong." This is how Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder described it on Tuesday August 2.

He also said that the US intends to work closely with its two "staunchest allies" for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

A trilateral summit involving President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japan's leader, Prime Minister Kishida, is set to be held at Camp David on August 18.

Meanwhile, the White House has described the primary focus of the event as North Korea. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the leaders will also discuss the challenge to global peace and stability posed by Russia. 


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his other articles and essays.

Our Partners