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The new North Korean satellite

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On February 7, 2016 (Juche 105), the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un orbited an earth observation satellite called Kwangmyonsong-4. This launch is part of the North Korea’s five-year plan for aerospace development – a project to which the North Korean leader attaches great relevance.

It is the other part – the most important and technologically independent part – of North Korea’s non-conventional military system.The three-stage carrier rocket blasted off from the Sohae Space Centre in the Cholsan County, North Pyongyan Province, at 9 a.m. local time on February 7 and entered its present orbit at 9.09:46 a,m., 9 minutes and 46 seconds after the lift-off.

The satellite revolves round the polar orbit at 494.6 km perigee altitude and at 500 km apogee altitude at a tilt angle of 97.4 degrees.

The satellite cycle is 94 minutes and 24 seconds.

Measuring equipment and telecommunications apparatuses were installed in the earth observation satellite called Kwangmyonsong-4.

Moreover, after the separation of the carrier stages, the third component of the missile was immediately broken apart into about 270 fragments, so as to prevent South Korea from discovering and recovering it, thus inferring its characteristics.

The first stage fell onto the area that North Korea had indicated to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the second reached up to the Philippines’s East coast.

The “Bright Star” satellite (this is exactly what its name means in Korean language) even flew over the stadium in which the Superbowl had taken place – one hour after the end of the sport event, in an area very close to the Silicon Valley.

The Unha rocket that launched the “Bright Star” into space orbit is also a version of Taepodong-2, the nuclear carrier which can hit targets up to 4,000-4,500 kilometres.

Hence it was an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which has immediately alarmed Japan, the United States and, of course, South Korea.

What is the use of the satellite structure, over and above demonstrating the high quality achieved by North Korean science and technology?

According to the news currently coming from North Korea, the satellite will monitor weather conditions and will explore forest resources and the availability of raw materials which are still interesting for the North Korean government.

The other satellite already in orbit is only calibrated to manage telecommunications.

Nevertheless, what is the use of the North Korean overall missile and nuclear strategy, in addition to obviously increasing the prestige and security of that regime?

We can rationally assume some motivations.

Firstly, it would be a military or technological action designed to obtaining special concessions at diplomatic and international levels so as to stabilize its political system.

North Korea is afraid of melting in the globalization of its geopolitical region – hence of losing strategic, military and economic privileges currently enabling it to have its large military build up.

Hence a large amount of missile and nuclear technology to offset the threat against countries, starting from South Korea, which maintain a certainly more relevant financial and production structure than North Korea’s.

Secondly, for North Korea the use of technologically-advanced weapons and the constant threat of their use mean forcibly internationalize the historical crisis of the entire Korean peninsula, still divided along the 38th parallel, so as to put this issue high both on the US and Chinese agendas.

My friend Bob Gallucci remembers all too well that the negotiations with North Korea in 1994 and 2003 were based on the comparative reliability and rationality of that regime, which could accept a reduction of its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the construction of a large nuclear power plant.

And, above all, in exchange for the recognition of its stability and political autonomy.

Gallucci’s deal failed also due to the US reluctance to accept a negotiating line with North Korea which, in fact, finally walked out of the final agreement.

North Korea still pays great attention to the US moves. Any action taken by the North Korean regime is always a coded message conveyed to the United States to clearly show that North Korea can negotiate seriously only at a specific condition: to be a full member of the Asian system, on an equal footing and with the same dignity as Japan’s and South Korea’s.

But only with the explicit mediation and brokerage of China, the United States and, above all, the Russian Federation, the only one which can really negotiate an effective agreement between North Korea and the major global and regional powers.

Only Russia can interact with the DPRK in order to instil confidence in the Korean counterparts on the reliability and stability of negotiations. Only Russia can guarantee the effects of a future agreement – also at militarily level.

Russia is far enough away not to worry the regional powers and it is reliable for North Korea which has never included it in the list of its enemies. It is a credible power both for the United States, which certainly cannot do much with the DPRK, and for China, which is not worried by this new guarantee role played by Russia on the Korean peninsula.

Moreover the DPRK has the primary need to stabilize its political regime, which has not the economic bases for a peaceful power projection.

Furthermore, North Korea’s military system is calibrated to prevent any direct internal political destabilization attempts made by external enemies.

In the history of military nuclear power, North Korea’s is the first case in which these defence technologies are used primarily to preserve its own internal political system.

Obviously North Korea’s nuclear power has also a compensatory function: to offset – with its non-conventional ABC weapons – the inevitable tactical and logistical weaknesses of its conventional military system.

A system which, however, must ever more shrink in volume to make available the resources necessary for the development of the economy – and it is well-known that the nuclear threat is cheaper than the traditional conventional build up.

The first DPRK nuclear test dates back to October 2006.

Right away, the UN Security Council issued a series of Resolutions which lasted until 2013.

Tough and consistent economic sanctions certainly increased the costs of North Korea’s nuclear program and were a good example for all the countries which wished to imitate the DPKR “isolationist” strategy.

In the specific case of North Korea, however, the sanction system did not lead to any significant results.

Indeed, in 2015 North Korea reaffirmed the goal of byungjin, namely the “parallel development” of domestic economy and nuclear deterrence.

In principle, sanctions slow down the military development we want to prevent, but do not stop it.

Just centralize – as North Korea has done – military and economic planning, as well as operate outside the international channels for the acquisition of “sensitive” technologies.

It is also worth recalling that the sanctions imposed on North Korea were calibrated for a “rational political operator”.

For the DPRK this meant that the benefits inherent in negotiating would be greater than the costs of an autonomous action and of a negotiating stalemate.

This was not the case: political systems do not always follow the political science rule of rational choice, but they are often interested in operating as free riders that gain more from the isolated refusal of the collective action benefits – according to Mancur Olson’s theory – than from the distribution of the profits resulting from the collective action itself.

It is always the same old problem mentioned by Glaucon in Plato’s Republic (Book 2, 360 b-c) whether compliance with the laws is intimately connected with the unavoidability of sanctions.

If sometimes we can avoid being subjected to the “hard yoke of the law”, it becomes also rational to operate as if the rules do not exist, as a free rider, if we consider that the benefit of the isolated action is much greater than the loss incurred in implementing the law.

In any case, the sanctions put in place by the United States on the DPRK have indeed increased the North Korean cost of any unlawful procurement of nuclear technologies abroad, but have not made it impossible.

This is because, at first, it is possible also for North Korea to act at the level of international law, for another very important reason: China’s non-cooperation.

Obviously China has no intention of negatively affecting its equilibriums with North Korea.

For China the DPRK is a future – albeit full – contributor to its economic expansion towards the West, with the Belt and Road Initiative, and China has no intention of destabilizing a region which would create unimaginable demographic, security, economic and strategic dangers for it.

North Korea is indeed a strategic “belt” for the defence against the “foreign dogs” of South-Western Chinese borders, as well as an unavoidable axis for the protection of its routes in the South China Sea.

Moreover China does not fear the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal since it knows all too well it could respond immediately and decisively to any possible attack from the North Korean territory.

Hence, with a view to persuading China, we need to shift from an old sanction regime to broader negotiations – hence to a partial recognition of a North Korean strategic and economic status in the Asian regional system and in relation to Japan (and Taiwan, too).

Moreover while, even within the 2003-2009 Six Party Talks between the DPRK, the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, sanctions had not the opportunity of creating a diplomatic thread in the short- medium term, the sanction system becomes ineffective and useless, since North Korea simply regards its existence as a cost, and the implicit threat inherent in sanctions loses its effectiveness.

If you can never know how to check the effects of negotiations, you might as well not hold them.

In order to start talking effectively with North Korea, we have to explicitly clarify – and hence we must, at first, really convince North Korea – that no one is interested in a regime change in the DPRK.

At a later stage, after a series of confidence-building operations, we must prevent North Korea from always using – as happened so far – the heaviest card in each strategic and negotiating sector.

The geopolitical rodomontade and vainglorious boast can be rational today, but it would become self-destructive and self-defeating for North Korea in the future.

Therefore we must ensure that a new regional security climate enables the DPRK’s leaders to implement a less muscular foreign policy.

We must not call for North Korea’s complete denuclearization, but we must consider in parallel North Korea’s non-conventional arsenal and China’s deterrence and the North Korean regime’s opening to global economy in positive terms.

Always with the Russian mediation and brokerage.

If all this does not happen, being a free rider will become a rational choice for the DPRK.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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East Asia

China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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