The Future of China-Russia-North Korea Relations

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Russia invaded Ukraine for the second time, eight years after annexing Crimea in violation of international law in 2014. In this framework, the Moscow government initially separated the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic from Ukraine, known as Donbas region, recognizing their “independence.” Later, like Crimea, it held a referendum in these nations and announced that it had annexed them to its own territory. Furthermore, Russia has declared that it will respond to any potential attack on these regions with all available means, including nuclear weapons. These events accelerated Finland and Sweden’s ongoing membership process in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which perceived a security threat from Russia and strengthened the search for solutions to the nuclear threats made to the West.

Of course, they are not the only consequences of the Ukrainian War. Moscow reduced its energy supply in response to Western sanctions placed on Russia as a result of the war. According to the data of 2021, Russia alone provides 14% of the world’s energy supply.[1] Therefore, Russia’s use of the energy card in response to sanctions exacerbated the pre-Ukraine War energy crisis.

While these events unfold in Eastern Europe, North Korea continues to conduct missile tests as an isolated state. However, Pyongyang’s increased missile tests since September 2022 have raised regional and global concerns. In this context, on September 23, 2022, the United States of America (USA) deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korean waters.

Following North Korea’s missile tests, artillery rounds were fired, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula reached a new height with mutual warning shots.[2] Thus, the Pyongyang administration started to display an even more aggressive attitude against the increasing pressure of the West.  This has caused it to become even more isolated from the international community from which it was already isolated.

Another country that faces serious difficulties in the international system is China. China has had turbulent relations with the United States and its allies for a long time, owing to its growing economic dominance on the one hand, and its stance against the West on on the other. As is well known, the “trade wars” that began during the previous administration of US President Donald Trump constituted a pivotal point in US-China relations. Furthermore, the 2017 restructuring of the 2007 Quadruple Security Dialogue (QUAD)[3] and the establishment of AUKUS in 2021 have exacerbated polarization in the Asia-Pacific. Furthermore, claims that China brought dissident Chinese to China to be prosecuted through the police stations it established abroad,[4] that it intervened in the Canadian elections in 2019 and 2022,[5] and reports that it employed former Western fighter pilots[6] are all factors that have contributed to the polarization.

As a result of all these developments, signs of rapprochement and solidarity are observed in the relations between China, Russia and North Korea. Since the start of the Ukraine War, China has indicated in its remarks that it understands Russia’s security concerns and has deepened both commercial and political connections with the Moscow administration by signing various accords. For example, China and Russia signed an agreement on September 7, 2022 to free their trade from the shackles dollar.[7] This is related to the Moscow administration’s aim of reducing the power of China and the US in the global system by learning from the sanctions it has faced. As a result, the two countries, who have long emphasized the multipolar system, increased their efforts and resolved to act cooperatively. In addition, the said agreement can be interpreted as an example that positively affects the relations between the parties.

Another example is the meeting of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu with the new Russian Ambassador to China on October 1, 2022. During the meeting, Ma stated that thanks to the strategic guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two states maintain their development momentum and that their comprehensive strategic coordination is operating at a high level. Ma also underlined that this is a good example for modern major state relations.[8] Therefore, the parties promised to deepen their relations and increase strategic partnership coordination. [9]

Russia-North Korea ties are also in the tendency of becoming closer in the changing global context. As a matter of fact, Russia and China did not support the resolution condemning North Korea’s military activities in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on November 5, 2022.[10] While fears that the Pyongyang government would conduct another nuclear test have grown, Beijing and Moscow’s support of North Korea has indicated that the three nations’ relations have expanded.

In conlusion, North Korea-China-Russia relations are developing due to the difficulties and conflicts experienced by all three states in the international system. The isolation of Russia as a result of the Ukraine War, the Taiwan problem that China has not yet settled, the growing economic power of the US, and North Korea’s military operations, which are increasing by the day, compel the three nations to cling to one other. As a result, it can be assumed that the Pyongyang-Beijing-Moscow trio will continue to act together.

[1] “Energy Fact Sheet: Why Does Russian Oil and Gas Matter?”, IEA,, (Date of Accession: 09.11.2022).

[2] “North and South Korea Exchange Warning Shots Along Disputed Sea Boundary”, CBS News, /, (Date of Accession: 24.10.2022).

[3] “What is the Quad, and How Did It Come About?”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 08.11.2022).

[4] “China Accused of Illegal Police Stations in the Netherlands”, BBC,,

[5] “PM Justin Trudeau Accuses China of Interfering with Canada Election”, The Economic Times,, (Date of Accession: 08.11.2022).

[6] “Australia Moves to Block Pilots from Training Chinese Military”, Aljazerra,, (Date of Accession: 09.11.2022).

[7] “Russia’s Gazprom, CNPC Agree to Use Rouble, Yuan for Gas Payments-Gazprom”, Reuters, /, (Date of Accession: 07.09.2022).

[8] “Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu Meets with New Russian Ambassador to China Igor Morgulov, Promising to Push Bilateral Relations to a New Level for a New Era”, Global Times,, (Date of Accession: 01.11.2022).

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Us Confronts China, Russia at UN over N. Korean Missile Launches”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession: 05.11.2022).

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.