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What Does Russia-China-North Korea Joint Naval Exercise Mean?

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On September 4, 2023, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, during a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late July, suggested holding a Russia-North Korea-China trilateral naval exercise .[1] Seoul claims that this step by Russia was taken in response to the “Ulchi Freedom Shield” military exercise held between South Korea and the United States (US) on August 21-31, 2023 .[2]

According to the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking for new supporters in the war in Ukraine. In this context, North Korea is seen as a very favorable actor North Korea is thought to be able to supply Russia with military ammunition. [3] It is noteworthy that North Korea-Russia relations have recently gained momentum . In fact, Kim Jong Un hosted Shoigu at a large military parade in Pyongyang on July 25-27, 2023. During these meetings, Pyongyang pledged to expand military cooperation with Moscow. [4] In recent weeks, it was reported in the press that Kim Jong-un and Putin exchanged letters.

Amid deepening nuclear tensions in the Asia-Pacific, Kim Jong Un is seeking to break out of diplomatic isolation and form a united front against the United States. In this sense, Moscow is seen as a strategic actor for Pyonyang According to American officials, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet with Putin in Vladivostok this month in order to support Russia in the war in Ukraine and to provide Moscow with more weapons .[5] Kim Jong-un will allegedly offer to send Russia artillery shells and anti-tank missiles in exchange for advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, as well as food aid .[6]

According to The New York Times, both leaders will be on the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, scheduled for September 10-13, 2023. Kim Jong-un is also scheduled to visit Pier 33, where naval ships of Russia’s Pacific fleet dock. [7] At such a time, Russia’s proposal to organize joint naval exercises with North Korea and China can be interpreted as a sign that a new front will open in the region against the West. The fact that North Korea will participate in an exercise with Russia and China for the first time may be a development that will disrupt the regional balance of power.

Military and political ties between Moscow and Pyongyang have increased since the war in Ukraine. However, extending this cooperation to naval exercises is a development that will shake the balance of power in many respects. Commenting on this issue, Shoigu confirmed that Russia is considering joint exercises with North Korea “We are discussing this with everyone, including North Korea. Why not? These are our neighbors… Of course it is being discussed.” he said[8]

The joint military exercises and even patrols in the Pacific by Russia, China and North Korea can be interpreted as an effort to establish a new axis in the region vis-à-vis the Western powers. These three actors have started to make moves that will change the balance of power in the Pacific. In recent years, Russia has started to show off in the Pacific, especially through naval exercises. If Russia, China and North Korea decide to act jointly in the region’s seas, it would be very damaging for the United States and Western powers.


[1] “Russia Proposed Three-Way Naval Exercise With N. Korea, China: NIS”, Korea Times, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2023/09/103_358482.html, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[2] Aynı yer.

[3] “Russia Likely Proposed North Korea Participate İn 3-Way Naval Exercises With China, According To South Korea”, Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/world/russia-likely-proposed-north-korea-participate-3-way-naval-exercises-china-according-south-korea, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[4] “Russia Proposed Three-Way Naval Exercise With N. Korea, China: NIS”, a.g.e., (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[5] “Kim Jong-un and Putin Plan to Meet in Russia to Discuss Weapons”, NY Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/04/us/politics/putin-kim-meeting-russia-north-korea-weapons.html, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[6] Aynı yer.

[7] Aynı yer.

[8] “Russia Proposes Joint Naval Drills With North Korea And China”, FT, https://www.ft.com/content/807b232b-1652-4574-8368-ad7ced8d66d4, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.