The joint air patrol between Russia and China – the first of its kind – was a further major development in the strategic partnership between the two countries. These have been getting closer for years, despite Western fantasies about an eventual break.
However, the most interesting thing about this is Russia’s violation of Korean/Japanese airspace over the Dokdo islands, which are disputed between those two countries – and the consequent apology, delivered exclusively to Korea. This means China is implicitly taking taking Korea’s side in the dispute, so the Dokdo overflight is as such not so much a provocation as an endorsement of its claims.
Is this wise? Well, both South Korea and Japan are highly advanced economies – 1st and 6th in terms of knowledge intensity, respectively. They both have the potential to offer a counterweight to Russia’s relations with China should relations with the US-EU deteriorate even further. There are no other countries in the world that quality – India is too backwards, Israel and Singapore are too small, etc.
However, South Korea has some key advantages over Japan. First, it does not have any territorial disputes with Russia, which are a dragnet on Russo-Japanese relations. Second, Korea has much better relations with China, so Russia developing stronger relations will it will not cause consternation in China like doing so with Japan or Vietnam would. Third, Japan’s concern over the rise of China precludes any substantive transformation of its relationship with the US, and so long as Russian relations with the US remain in the gutter – as they probably will – there is little hope for a major opening up in relations with China. Korea had historically good relations with China, the Korean War regardless, and its major goal lies in containing North Korea and perhaps, eventual reunification – it is not invested in the rivalry between China and the US. Finally, of the major three Far Eastern nations, it is Korea that is arguably closest to Russia in a variety of spheres from personality (brusque northern) to economic structure (domination by industrial conglomerates; large role of oligarchs & state control).
I allow that the kremlins decided to put their entire bet on South Korea as their hedge against China’s potential position of dominance on the logic that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
While for obvious reasons I can’t professionally gauge the popular Korean reaction, at least one Reddit user claims the reception is positive.