Patrick Maurus. BABELIO
Patrick Maurus, professor emeritus at the Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco), is one of the rare French academics to frequently travel to North Korea, including to remote regions. Translator of Korean works, he is also the author of several works, including Les Trois Koreas, updated in 2023 by Maisonneuve & Larose/Hémisphères (20 euros, 184 pages).
How do you perceive the rapprochement between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia, as illustrated, on September 13, by the meeting between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the Russian president, Vladimir Poutine ?
It is a logical development that arises from old alliances, the existence of a common enemy – the United States – and the memory of the liberation, after the surrender of Japan in 1945, by Soviet troops. Stalin’s soldiers, who occupied the north of the peninsula, stayed too short a time [ils quittèrent le pays un an après la partition, en 1948] to provoke rejection from Korean nationalists.
Today, North Korea is experiencing difficulties. Its economy has been slowing down since it completely closed its borders to protect against the Covid-19 pandemic, and due to international sanctions. But it has nuclear and ballistic capabilities that the rest of the world is forced to take into account. And Pyongyang now considers itself in a position to negotiate, without risk of compromising the independence and self-sufficiency which remain the ideological ferments of the regime. The country needs the support of its two big neighbors, China and Russia, but it is no longer in a position of beggar.
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The divisions in the international community that arose following the Russian invasion of Ukraine are favorable to it: Moscow is establishing a rapprochement with Pyongyang; Beijing too, carried away in its confrontation with Washington. In Northeast Asia, the strengthening of military cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan, under American leadership, has had a catalytic effect. In this part of the world, relationships are governed by brutal realism, rather than ideology. It is no longer communism that cements relations between Chinese, North Koreans and Russians. Regional ties also come into play: with the Chinese, along the Yalu border river, and with the Russians in the Vladivostok region, located near the Korean special economic zone of Rason. Siberia, which is seeing its inhabitants move west, has been invested by Pyongyang for three decades. The DPRK finds a solid source of income there thanks to the tens of thousands of logging workers it sends there. Added to these foreign currencies are those obtained by workers sent to construction sites in the Middle East and Eastern Europe – despite a series of resolutions adopted [à partir de 2017] by the United Nations Security Council, aiming to prohibit their presence.
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