04.12.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Following the visit of the US Secretary of State to Seoul: a new round of anti-Russian pressure

Following the visit of the US Secretary of State to Seoul

On November 8, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Seoul after the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo. It was the first visit to Seoul by the US Secretary of State since the Yoon Suk-yeol government took office in May 2022. Blinken last visited Seoul in March 2021 to attend a summit of the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit in 2023 came soon after, but we’ll discuss it and its outcome separately.

Agenda of the visit

On November 2, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink stated that discussions in Korea would “focus on addressing the security implications of DPRK-Russian military cooperation, extended deterrence, and joint economic growth.”

Recall: Washington and Seoul “suspect” that Pyongyang has given Moscow over a million artillery shells and that, in exchange, Russia is quite likely to transfer nuclear and ballistic missile technology.

The first person the U.S. Secretary of State met with was Cho Tae-yong, South Korea’s Deputy National Security Advisor. They most likely talked about the alliance’s expansion as well as contemporary regional and global concerns affecting the two countries. The fundamental issue, however, was Russian-North Korean cooperation. Blinken harshly condemned Pyongyang’s provocative actions on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the North Korea’s supply of military equipment and ammunition to Russia for use against Ukraine, as well as DPRK’s military aid to Russia. On the other hand, he stressed the importance of assisting Ukraine and praised the ROK for its assistance. Blinken also reaffirmed Washington’s “unwavering commitment towards the defense of Seoul.” The two sides highlighted the necessity of cooperation in solving global concerns, such as Middle East instability.

Blinken met with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin on November 9. The foreign ministers of the two nations reviewed the operation of the Seoul-Washington military alliance, economic security, North Korean, regional, and global issues.

Specifically, the parties “spoke about further actions that our countries can take with partners to intensify pressure on Moscow not to transfer military technology to the DPRK in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

Blinken paid a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic of Korea before meeting with Park. “Over the last year, the global comprehensive strategic alliance between South Korea and the United States has been firmly established,” Yoon Suk-yeol said at a luncheon he hosted for the US Secretary of State, adding that Blinken had played a big part in it. “Now is a time when U.S. leadership is becoming increasingly important due to instability in the Middle East, together with the issue of North Korea and its nuclear program, and the war in Ukraine,” Yoon stated. “As an ally of the United States, South Korea will work closely with the United States to defend core values and strengthen the rules-based international order.” Blinken responded that Washington aims to further solidify its alliance and strategic cooperation with Seoul and that Washington’s foreign policy is still centered on the Indo-Pacific area. Also, he showed Yoon his respect for his contributions to the development of trilateral relations including South Korea, the United States, and Japan as well as South Korea-Japan relations.

What topics did they discuss and what statements did they make?

Since no agreements or papers were signed during the visit, the primary source of information is the joint press conference between Park Jin and Antony Blinken. This is an extract covering the primary issues brought up.

An unbreakable alliance. Park stated that Blinken is a “good old friend of Korea,” and the more dangerous the situation becomes amid the “global polycrisis” in Ukraine and the Middle East, the stronger the ROK-US alliance gets. Looking to the future and well beyond military security,

NATO meetings are now regularly attended by the ROK, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and “as President Yoon has said, European and Indo-Pacific security are now truly indivisible.”

The three nations decided to formally establish their collaboration during the Camp David summit. Park referred to North Korea’s nuclear threat as the highest security danger among the three countries, and as such, the United States and the Republic of Korea would now gradually expand their advanced capabilities to exert deterrence against it. There has been a strict implementation of the Washington Declaration. For instance, the US-ROK Nuclear Consultative Group was formed, and the first ROK-US EDSCG meeting at the Vice Minister level took place. Additionally, for the first time in forty years, an American SSBN called to the port of Korea and a strategic bomber touched down, improving the frequent visibility of American strategic facilities. Real-time information sharing is also extremely important.

As part of the “global Korea” concept, the two nations committed to tackling unresolved global issues beyond the Korean Peninsula. However, descriptions of global issues vary. According to Park, in the Middle East, “we strongly condemn indiscriminate attacks on Israel,” but also “a humanitarian pause is necessary” due to civilian losses, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be resolved “based on the two-state solution.” According to Park Jin, ROK is ‘closely watching the situation in the Middle East, with the idea that the crisis in the Middle East can be relevant to the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.” If the alleged link between North Korea and the Hamas militant group in terms of weapons and tactics is confirmed, the North should be condemned accordingly.

North Korean topic. The DPRK is “urged” to immediately cease all activities, including the scheduled launch of its “so-called satellites,” and resume the process of denuclearization. Furthermore, the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to be committed to preventing the DPRK from developing nuclear weapons and missiles: “In partnership with the community of nations, North Korea’s illicit revenue streams will be more aggressively blocked.”

Regarding the inter-Korean military accord, “That’s what was discussed here today, but it’s obviously an agreement between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.” We are consulting on it, and I know that Austin, the Secretary of Defense, will carry on those discussions when he visits Korea this weekend.” Washington thereby throws the issue out of its hands, leaving Seoul to determine whether or not to cancel.

Denouncing Russia and its alleged military co-operation with the DPRK “We strongly condemn arms transfers from North Korea to Russia, which directly violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions, threaten peace and stability across the globe,” Park stated. Concern over the DPRK’s expanding and risky military cooperation with Russia was also voiced by Blinken. The United States is grateful for President Yoon’s unambiguous statement against the dangers of this kind of cooperation at the UN General Assembly. In response to reporters’ questions, Blinken restated that “the DPRK provide military equipment (note: equipment, not shells!!!) to Russia for pursuing its aggression in Ukraine. But we’re also seeing Russia provide technology and support to the DPRK for its own military programs.” Here, two points are crucial. First, Blinken effectively presented the unverified material as immutable fact. Second, Washington “confirmed” not only that the DPRK had supplied Russia with military equipment and armaments, but also that Russia had provided technical assistance for the advancement of North Korea’s military programs, an allegation for which there was not even circumstantial evidence.

In the end, the two parties “spoke about further actions that our countries can take with partners to intensify pressure on Moscow not to transfer military technology to the DPRK in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.” This will entail spotting any attempts by Russia to acquire weaponry from North Korea, keeping a close eye on Moscow’s technical and technological support for Pyongyang, and taking whatever action Washington and Seoul can to put pressure on Russia to prevent the transfer of Russian military technology to DPRK. We’ll have to see if they manage “to identify, to expose and to counter Russia’s attempts to acquire military equipment from the DPRK, and any state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.”

Notably, during the ministerial meeting in Tokyo, Blinken and other participating ministers “strongly condemned North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches, as well as arms transfers from North Korea to Russia, which directly violate relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

China and Iran. It may be interesting to note a kind of curious strategy. On the one hand, China was urged to play a constructive role, implying China’s concern with the intensification of DPRK-Russian military cooperation. According to Park and Blinken, the North’s development of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, as well as the two nations’ growing proximity and arms dealings, are not what China wishes to see.

According to Blinken, China has a special relationship with North Korea, and Beijing should pressure Pyongyang to stop its reckless and hazardous behavior. “South Korea and the US will make efforts to urge China to play a role in preventing these dangerous transactions from taking place,” said Park. Basically, China needs to briefly implement sanctions against the DPRK to “persuade North Korea, to cease provocations and return to a dialogue.”

On the other hand, “the international community, particularly the Republic of Korea and the United States, is gravely worried about the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees,” and it refers to China as well.

Third, there was an intriguing paragraph in Park’s speech: “The U.S. has been working to responsibly manage its relations with the country, an endeavor I strongly support. For us, based on mutual respect, we will endeavor to develop healthy, mature Korea-China relations. This was explained to the U.S. side.” So, Seoul continues to strive to keep a free hand on this front, even if Blinken has formally recognized “strategic convergence that our countries have in our shared approach to China, including with regard to the South and East China seas and the Taiwan Strait.” 

What the DPRK said about it

Even before the visits of the US Secretary of State and US Secretary of Defense started, North Korea criticized them.

Kim Myong Chol, a commentator on international affairs of the DPRK, issued the following article titled “Unwelcome guests’ confrontational visit bringing about a new war cloud on the Korean peninsula and Asia-Pacific region” saying that the US “provocative act reminds one of the visits of the warmongers for field inspection to ignite the second Korean war.

Kim made clear that nothing can cover up the miserable position of the US. “Whether or not a new geopolitical crisis hastening the end of the US will be created in the Asia-Pacific region entirely depends on the U.S. behavior.”

On November 11, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK released the following press statement, stating that “the irresponsible and provocative remarks of Blinken only escalate the dangerous political and military tension in the Korean peninsula and the region and, moreover, do not help relieve the U.S. of its ‘concern’.”

If the Secretary of State is truly concerned about the security of the “Republic of Korea” and the situation in Ukraine, he should pay close attention to the security concerns of the DPRK and the Russian Federation, and if he is truly concerned about the “violation of resolutions” of the international non-proliferation system and the UNSC, Blinken should sincerely pay attention to the international community’s concern over the US policy of “sharing nuclear weapons” with its allies and the double standards of the UNSC. The only way for relieving the US of its “concern” is to abandon the hostile policy and the Cold War mentality toward the DPRK and Russia

Pyongyang stressed that no matter what others may say, the friendly and cooperative relations between the DPRK and Russia aspiring after independence, peace and friendship will steadily grow stronger. The U.S. should be “accustomed to the new reality of the DPRK-Russia relations.”

According to the DPRK’s foreign ministry, the equal and reciprocal cooperation among the DPRK, Russia and China being “independent sovereign states” is playing a pivotal role in defending peace and stability not only in the Korean peninsula and the region but also in the world. It is stressed that “independent and sovereign states” will respond forcefully and in concert to any attempts by the US and its allies to undermine peace and stability. The US hostile strategy and Cold War mindset toward Russia and the DPRK must be abandoned, along with political provocations, military threats, and strategic pressure. Only then can the US side’s “concerns” be addressed.

What is the result?

Regarding the visit’s outcomes, what can be said? The author feels that Blinken’s visit was part of a pressure campaign against Seoul because most of his speech was anti-Russian, focused to a shift in Seoul’s approach to the Ukrainian problem. It is evident that Kiev cannot launch a “counteroffensive” in the absence of South Korean shells (American shells had already run out), and it is no coincidence that US charges against Moscow and Pyongyang started in July or August 2023, the same month that the shell shortage became apparent. Seoul is persuaded that it has the right to support Ukraine if the North supports Russia by using the unproved but voiced at the top level thesis about the North Korea-Russian arms deal.

But Seoul once more “missed an opportunity to cross a red line” while declaring support for the US on the North Korean track. There are few details available regarding the topics discussed by Blinken and Yoon during their “courtesy visit,” and the dinner’s remarks were solely formal. Neither is Blinken and Park’s huge press conference a replacement for the final document.

Blinken’s visit demonstrates that, in spite of his pro-American stance, Yoon Suk-yeol is attempting to guarantee a free hand on the Russian and Chinese tracks, in contrast to Minister Austin’s visit, where the parties’ proximity on the North Korean track was much more noticeable (Again, this will be discussed in one of the author’s upcoming texts). The question is, however, how long will it last?


Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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