China, Russia and North Korea are strengthening their militaries and relations. The free world should be prepared.
A few years ago, China treated North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a supplicant and the country itself with benign neglect. North Korea has enormous economic problems, and Mr. Kim’s megalomania has made the country a pariah on the global stage. It was only through the brazen testing of missiles and nuclear saber-rattling that Pyongyang was able to garner any attention.
Similarly, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan in September 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping did not treat Russian President Vladimir Putin as an equal. Mr. Xi’s conduct underscored China’s dominance, as Moscow’s war against Ukraine was faltering. Russia’s economy struggled to counter Western sanctions and its lack of success irritated Beijing.
By the end of the year, Moscow had already started to intensify its trade with Pyongyang. Russia needed ammunition after its failed blitz on Kyiv and subsequent retreats from other Ukrainian territories. North Korea exchanged war materiel for Russian technology, bolstering its armament and space industry.