The degree of regional integration in the Northeast Asia (NEA) region is relatively low compared to Europe and North America. In reality, institutionalization of regional integration in the region is at the very beginning stage. Moreover, there are significant threats, such as the territorial disputes among Japan and other countries in the region, the differences in perception of history, North Korea's nuclear test and missile, which makes regional cooperation more vulnerable.
NEA’s energy consumption is high as 31.1% of the world compared to 3.2% of its share of reserves and 10% of its share of production. Food production is not enough although 53% of the world's population lives in this region whereas its shares of arable land is about only 29%. In particular, the three countries of NEA import 90% of food and energy consumption. of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that Korea ranks 140, Japan-131, China-118 among 150 countries in terms of supply capacity of ecological resource. Unlike the three countries of NEA, Russia is the richest country of energy and ecological resources, in particular more abundant in the Russian Far East, the border with NEA region. If there were not the boundaries of the nation-state, it will occur massive migration to the resource-rich region. It has shown that there are huge potential of division of labor and resource moving through natural economic territory. Therefore, it is required to change the spatial background that links the movement of the regional division of labor and cooperation which becomes the new engine of economic development.
Russia held the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Vladivostok and Putin establish the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East for the purpose of the cooperation with neighboring countries of Asia-Pacific. Recently, Russia and North Korea linked Rajin-Khasan railroad, the first step of TKR-TSR connection, which increases the value of the border region through the Tumen River. At the same time, Russia has improved relations with North Korea. Relief of 90% of the Soviet-inherited debt is good example for the symbolic event of their close ties. On the other side, China tried to have exit to the East Sea for a long time and actively participate in the development of Rajin-Sonbong region which is an attractive geostrategic transit point for the shipment of goods from and to landlocked North-eastern three provinces of China.
The Greater Tumen Initiative (GTI), originally known as the Tumen River Area Development Program (TRADP) supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is a unique intergovernmental economic cooperation mechanism in NEA and it will become international organization till 2016. The Rajin port becomes a crucial and essential part of the Tumen River Area Development and it encompasses areas within China, Russia, Mongolia and Korean Peninsula.
Cross-border regional cooperation is one of the best way to reduce conflicts among the countries of NEA. Escaped from closed peninsula, Korea dreams of true interaction and communication with the countries of Eurasia, and Russia began turning her attention to the Asia-Pacific. Korea and Russia have geographically fateful relations, thus two countries should become genuinely strategic partners that enables to create a new cooperation model, eventually leads to unify the Korean Peninsula peacefully. Meanwhile, Russia played regional moderator role in NEA and balanced the power in the region. Korea helps to increase its balancer role in Korean Peninsula.
The policy-makers in both countries, including support of various media opinion leaders, open a new stage of environment for the cooperation. During the last 25 years since diplomatic relations, Korea and Russia have achieved visible results in all areas, including politics, economy, culture and society. Despite these achievements, both countries face many more challenges and tasks, for which Korea and Russia need to work together and find a wise approach. Successful implementation of the triangular cooperation among ROK-DPRK-RF requires a trust relationship among parties, supports from neighboring countries, and full access to the international financial market. Besides politics and economy, alternative approach should be based on the humanities exchanges and cooperation between the two countries. We have to consider a variety of programs for youth and university students of two countries, which is essential for the future development of bilateral relations. Such programs and activities should be discussed more frequently.
Sang-Joon Lee(Professor of Russian Area Studies)