For months, US and South Korean intelligence agencies have warned North Korea is supplying ammunition to Russia’s dwindling stocks as it wages war with Ukraine, in exchange for possible technical assistance with Pyongyang’s escalating nuclear-armed missile programme.
Both Russia and North Korea have denied the accusations, but the sight of Vladimir Putin rolling out the red carpet for Kim Jong-un as he visited the Vostochny cosmodrome in September intensified international concern about their relationship.
“North Korea’s provision of weapons to Russia will only prolong the war in Ukraine and increase the number of casualties. In addition, if Russia offers military technologies to North Korea in return, it would threaten the security of the Republic of Korea and regional peace,” said Mr Yoon.
Russia-North Korea military cooperation was “a grave violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a provocative act that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia and Europe,” he said, adding that Seoul, Tokyo and Washington intended to “actively respond”.
Some analysts have predicted a developing Russia-North Korea-China axis could act to increasingly undermine global freedom and democracy and challenge the current US-led world order.
However, Mr Yoon countered the three countries have “divergent interests” and it would not work to Beijing’s benefit to align itself with Moscow and Pyongyang. China had an important role in “promoting freedom, peace and prosperity in East Asia”, he said.
“China is likely to take into consideration that pursuing trilateral cooperation with North Korea and Russia, which have blatantly violated the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions as well as other international norms, will not be helpful for its international reputation and standing,” he added.
Since entering office last year, Mr Yoon, a conservative former prosecutor, has made a reinforced military partnership with the US, and enhanced ties with Japan, as part of his defence strategy against North Korea’s evolving nuclear threat.
The pariah neighbouring state has test-launched close to 90 ballistic missiles since his inauguration, including intercontinental range weapons capable of striking the US.
Insecurity on the Korean Peninsula
There are concerns the Ukraine war and Middle East conflict could stoke further insecurity on the Korean Peninsula or even prompt Pyongyang to make a rash move against the South, miscalculating that major powers are already overstretched.
South Korea has repeatedly warned the North could be capable of a “Hamas-style” attack across the border.
Mr Yoon indicated his trip this week would be an opportunity to build relations “in digital and AI technology, cybersecurity, nuclear energy, the defence industry, biohealth, space, semiconductors, offshore wind power, clean energy and maritime affairs.”
With South Korea the first country in Asia to sign a post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement, there will likely be discussions on the ongoing process to upgrade it.
Last year, bilateral trade reached $12.12 billion [£9.72 billion], while Korea’s investments in the UK reached nearly $2 billion [£1.6 billion].
The occasion also marks the 140-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between the UK and Korea – an era not only of trade cooperation but of helping each other in times of crisis.
In a poignant addition to his schedule, Mr Yoon will visit the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and meet pensioners who served during the 1950-53 Korean War.
“When the Korean War broke out, Britain’s young soldiers did not hesitate to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend Korea’s freedom. Thanks to this help from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea achieved rapid economic growth in a short period of time and built a free and democratic society,” said Mr Yoon.
“My upcoming state visit will serve as a catalyst for Korea to emerge as one of the United Kingdom’s global strategic partners.”