BY DONG YON KIM (Op-Ed Contributor)
While South Korea fights with Japan over the economy and past history, the Sino-Russian alliance — joined by North Korea — is getting stronger, forming an unofficial trilateral alliance in the region. China and Russia intruded South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) last July 23; it was the first such instance of a joint intrusion. The Russian Air Force brought its top-notch AEW&C aircraft, Beriev A-50 which carries a dish-shaped antenna with a surveillance capability of 300 miles. The Russian and Chinese aircrafts stayed in the South Korean airspace for 24 minutes and out-bounded after the warning fire shot from the South Korean fighter jets.
Only two days after the Sino-Russian airspace intrusion, North Korea launched its short-range tactical missiles without notice. Two incidents could be viewed as separate, but there may be an element of causality. Based on the purported theory, Russia may have shared intelligence from the A-50 with North Korea before the launch of missiles. As is widely known among Intelligence experts, Russia has a history of sharing information with China, who then further shares with North Korea. Here it is also important to note the combat-readiness and ISR assets of South Korea.
In recent years, China and Russia has deepened their military-to-military relations. Last year, China has participated in the Russian large-scale war simulation exercise “Vostok”. Vostok sent a clear message that besides the U.S., Russia can simultaneously fight two different wars. During the exercise, China sent its most up-to-date naval intelligence ship to monitor the entire exercise logistics.
In June, a Russian Naval ship and the US Naval ship USS Chancellorsville had a near-collision incident in the sea of Philippines. After the incident, Russia blamed the U.S. for the entire matter and pinpointed the location of the incident in the South China Sea, whereas the U.S. claimed the Philippines Sea. Russia’s actions and claims concretely suggest support for China.
The recent joint air incursion into South Korea is no different, where China and Russia intruded Ieodo and Dokdo regions of South Korea. Ieodo is close to the South China Sea, caught in between the disputed Senkaku Island between China and Japan. Parallel, Russia has an ongoing dispute with Japan over the Kuril islands. Dokdo has a long history of dispute between South Korea and Japan, therefore reigniting the fight between the two as both countries scrambled their air forces to respond to the airspace violation.
Since 2007, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) linked their cooperation and bolstered the Sino-Russian alliance. SCO and CSTO have been the main security power source in the region, continuously flexing their muscles and spreading their ideology of peace through the Wanshou dialogue. Xi Jinping’s henchman Song Tao is the leading figure of this new initiative, aimed at weakening the U.S.-led alliance system in the region, including South Korea. While Russia and China have been undertaking a strategic maneuver across Northeast Asia, the U.S. has also parallel expanded its operational theater to the Indo-Pacific, although India still participates the China-driven SCO. Modi of India visited Bishkek for the SCO summit in 2019.
The George Bush administration executed Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in early 2000, proposed by John Bolton, which empowered the naval police action of America and its allies to deter the rise of declared “axis of evil”: North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. PSI successfully stopped 15 Scud missiles of North Korea to Yemen.
Currently, the Trump Administration is often criticized — including by own supporters — for the sluggish negotiation with North Korea. Kim Jong Un is not helping Trump’s popularity with constant missile launched. In order to achieve a breakthrough from this sticking point, the Trump Administration must look into the success of PSI for a solution. South Korea and Japan — both U.S. allies — have drifted further apart over economic and historical issues. South Korea even considers nixing the GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) with Japan as a revenge for Tokyo’s economic sanctions against Seoul.
Russia’s recent withdrawal from the INF(Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty) made the situation even worse in the region. The U.S. is now facing a dilemma in Northeast Asia. It is time to lead and bolster power in the region with a new security initiative. This new initiative could be the cornerstone of regional alliance like the NATO.
Such initiative must include short-term and long-term plans to gradually strengthen the security of the region, extending beyond Trump’s presidency. Short-term objectives should include enhanced surveillance and monitoring over North Korea with the U.S., Korean, and Japanese security chiefs promptly reacting to any security event. This may require establishing an International Counter-Communism Center (ICCC) which is a similar concept to DNI’s NCTC. Based on the ICCC’s consensual tactical response, the three countries can take action in the event of provocation.
The long term objective of the initiative is twofold: human rights-oriented and economic. The former objective should be to ban human rights abuses and inhumane activities in communist countries of the region. This initiative can coordinate with the United Nations and get the support of the international community. The latter will entail establishing a financial institution in Northeast Asia, which can cooperate with the US Treasury & FRB as well as the World Bank and the IMF. This economic initiative could complement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This new trilateral alliance, NEATO (Northeast Asia Treaty Organization) can expand to include Australia and New Zealand to empower the Indo-Pacific Theater.
About the Author
Dong Yon Kim is a North Korea Analyst of Chosun News Press and a retired ROK Air Force Officer.
This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).