The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Kim Jong-il in Russia


Published : Aug. 22, 2011 - 18:59

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It does not take genius to guess why North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is visiting Russia. Kim desperately needs economic aid, with his country gripped by a chronic food crisis, which has been aggravated by recent floods.

Also of great concern to Pyongyang watchers is whether or not he is attempting to balance China’s growing influence on his country by forging closer ties with Russia ― the kind of diplomacy his late father, Kim Il-sung, conducted during the Cold War era. Kim’s Russia visit is being made on the heels of his tour of China in May.

Pyongyang watchers say Kim has not gained as much aid from China as is needed to get through the food crisis, adding that food aid will be at the top of the agenda when he meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

North Korea has been sending out urgent calls for food aid in the past. In response, the United States and the European Union have recently committed themselves to food shipments for humanitarian purposes. But the food shortage has yet to be mitigated substantially, with South Korea withholding rice aid in response to North Korea’s unprovoked hostilities.

For Kim, economic gains are up for grabs, given that an earlier Russian proposal to provide South Korea with natural gas via a pipeline is still on the table. North Korea would gain $100 million each year from the proposed pipeline construction. Also on the table is the proposal to extend the trans-Siberian railroad to South Korea.

Kim’s Russian visit will provide him with an opportunity of weighing the potential economic gains from the mega projects against the risk of opening the North to the outside world, be it marginal, by approving the projects. Moreover, it goes without saying that either of the projects can hardly be launched until after Kim changes his desire to reinforce the security of his regime as well as the communist state with nuclear weapons.

Against this backdrop, Kim may be tempted to pit Russia against China, as his father did in an attempt to gain economic and military assistance during the Cold War. But before deciding to walk a tightrope between the two, he will have to understand they do not need North Korea as much as they did before communism collapsed.