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The geopolitics of North Korea’s nuclear capacity

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According to many nuclear experts, the detonation of a hydrogen bomb in the Punggye-ri site, in Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea is not a realistic fact.

In fact, the reported 5.1 magnitude quake connected to the detonation is, however, of low intensity for this kind of tests – hence it is not possible that it was caused by a H detonation.

Many experts believe that, for North Korea, the announcement of the hydrogen bomb detonation is a clear falsehood or it is an improvement – or possibly an enhancement – of the now classic North Korean nuclear weapons.

It is worth noting that China protested formally, with specific reference to the nuclear fallout of the test, and that Pungyye-ri is less than a hundred kilometres away from the Chinese border. China maintained it would support any UN action, along with South Korea, which has already requested it in the framework of the Security Council.

It is also worth noting that Kim Jong-Un has never visited the People’s Republic of China, while in October 2015   Liu Yunshan, a CCP leader – the first in four years – went to Pyongyang on the occasion of the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean Workers’ Party. Furthermore, on that same occasion, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping sent a telegram of congratulations for the 70th anniversary of the Party ruling in North Korea.

Liu is a member of the CCP Standing Committee of the Politburo, but the relations between the two countries have grown cold especially after Kim executing his uncle Jang Song-Taek, who was a well-known and stable point of reference for Communist China.

It is worth recalling that, for Kim Jong-Un, the nuclear issue is not just a “matter of image” – just to put it in Western terminology.

The strategic connection can be identified in the system of the Six Party Talks on the Korean nuclear program, which had begun officially in 2003, and were later aimed at the almost complete scrapping of the North Korean nuclear potential. Those Talks included the United States, China, South Korea, obviously North Korea, Japan and the Russian Federation.

In 2009 North Korea decided to put an end to those negotiations and the significant fact is that, in 2012, Kim Jong-Un announced that North Korea would cease nuclear tests and accept the IAEA inspections if the United States supplied food to the country.

The subsequent year China tried to revive the Six Party Talks by sending a representative to North Korea, thus creating the opportunity for a new round of negotiations at informal level.

On the contrary, the United States want North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program before resuming the Talks and then re-discuss all the bilateral and multilateral issues at stake.

Hence we are approaching the strategic core of the issue: Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea wants to reopen a new phase of its international relations, also with this H-type “test”, which will probably be the result of a miniaturization of “traditional” nuclear charges for North Korea.

China is no longer a reliable partner for Kim Jong-Un. In 2015, for example, a Korean band had to leave the Chinese territory without being able to play – and these are very important signs in the Communist international ritual.

Nevertheless, again in 2013, China opened a new free economic zone, known as Gomenvan, near Dandong.

This means that, for China, North Korea is still a strategic asset.

But not so much as to necessarily support it to the point of “losing face” at international level and favouring – in a period of reduced GDP growth – a “sister” country which, however, has always shown its willingness to play alone.

In short, North Korea’s strategic equation is now clear and we can see it from different viewpoints: a) North Korea wants to deal directly with the United States, as it has often shown it wished to do.

Moreover, b) North Korea’s geopolitical axis is a direct mediation with the United States, thus estranging China, which otherwise would absorb North Korea in its networks of interests with the United States, by de facto colonizing it. Above all, however, for the North Korean regime the issue lies in removing Japan from negotiations and from any sphere of influence over North Korea.

Many years ago, Robert Gallucci – a dear friend that I still miss – succeeded in understanding the North Korean geopolitical axis and operated consequently within his US administration. We talked passionately about it in Paris until three o’clock in the morning.

If the United States could create a link with North Korea, without involving but only informing China; if the United States succeeded in excluding but not weakening Japan, without worsening the already complex situation in this country, and if these signs could be correctly understood in North Korea, this would really be the beginning of North Korea’s peaceful integration into the mainstream of Asian nations.

For China, North Korea is an unavoidable “buffer zone” – hence the coldness between China and North Korea will never be completely solved or overcome.

Therefore signs shall be given to North Korea that this process will lead to a dual result: 1) to accept a reduced nuclear arsenal which, however, has already been made useless due to the great potential of North Korean chemical weapons deployed on missile carriers and 2) to support a domestic economic evolution which does not affect the current power system.

It is an activity of great diplomatic and intelligence art, which is no longer used today.

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 “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. 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 “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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The case for more middle power involvement in the reshaping of the post-pandemic world

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The past year was the year of the pandemic, although initially 2020 was seen more as a year of increased great power competition. The pandemic took us off guard and revealed that generally a good handling of the crisis requires a combination of national self-sufficiency and global action, perhaps in dosages that have to be more balanced than what we thought before. A certain reimagining of how the world and each country should function naturally took place, but a more systematic process of transforming our governance toolbox (not because of COVID-19, but of what the pandemic has revealed about some major failures in our global “engines”) is necessary. Here, I make the argument that we should pay more attention to what the middle powers can bring to the international table.     

Despite expectations, 2020 was not a great year for the hegemon and the potential successor. China was the originator of the pandemic and this has been reflected in its popularity ratings. The international image of the country took a big hit, the commercial dependence on products made in China determined many to ask tough questions about the future of trade, and Beijing was sometimes put on the same level with Russia as a reactionary/resurgent power. Despite the mask diplomacy and the robust economic recovery, China has been seen more as a source of problems than as a potential solution to global woes. Moreover, the country did not count much in the symbolic race for a vaccine, although, with Sinovac, things might change in the future, depending on its effectiveness. The US also had to deal with a couple of major issues/headaches: a very poor handling of the pandemic that resulted in record numbers of American getting infected or losing their lives, extreme political polarization that did not avoid pandemic subjects (e.g., the wearing of masks, the lockdowns), a severe economic fallout, and a very contested presidential election in which the rules of the democratic games were challenged by the president himself. The icing on the cake was the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection that further damaged the American image abroad and cemented the idea of the American decline already announced by the inward-looking approaches and decisions of the Trump administration. 

The idea that, once Trump is gone, international politics will go back to business as usual will not be borne out by the facts. The consequences of the Trump years will not go away easy or soon. President Biden has already committed that, in his first day in office, he will sign executive orders for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to end the Muslim travel ban. These are not small steps, but many other details remain to be solved out, starting with the new approach towards the WHO (will the US leave the organization and, if not, what changes Washington will ask for?) or the reform of the WTO so that it does not become a museum institution with little influence on how the next stages of globalisation will look for. Moreover, as others have argued, Trump has put the China topic front and center on the US and international political agenda, so that issue cannot be ignored. Beyond employing different tactics than those characterizing the whimsical behavior of Trump, Biden will have to offer a substantive answer on how to deal with a rising power whose action is not as predictable as it was and that will claim a bigger role at the table than currently allocated (in a decade or so, potentially event the main seat at the table).

We like it or not, we are more and more caught by the language of power in international politics, we started to consider more carefully the relation between absolute versus relative gains, we look more carefully at the main international players, potential alliances and at how the new era of globalization and economic evolutions more broadly could change an emerging balance-of-power logic. Fortunately, we are far from the Cold War nightmare, but nothing guarantees that we will not end up in a situation that is perhaps even more unstable than the one that ended with the 1989 revolutions and the disintegration of the USSR. The times of crisis usually test our instincts, and this applies not only to the constructive side: fear and uncertainty, the game theory has shown so well, can very well generate suboptimal results. This is why we need safeguards that the post-Covid-19 situation will not bring to the fore the worse in us as citizens of the world.

One of the few clear safeguards we can consider is the role of middle powers. We already know that, in times of transition of power and hegemonic weakness, international public goods can still be provided by a coalition of states that have obvious stakes in the preservation of the system and are ready to act to make sure that international norms and practices are not destroyed by the vacuum of power. The likes of Canada, Denmark, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan or New Zealand can join hands and offer their agreed take on the hottest international topic: how to maintain honest international cooperation and ensure that we have the proper global institutions that will mitigate the health, economic, social, and political consequences of the pandemic. We already saw individual actions: the cooperation within MIKTA, an informal middle power partnership between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia aiming to support global governance, an alliance which accounts for almost 10% of global trade; or the statement of the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi that countries around the world need to make concerted efforts to promote multilateralism. But these steps should be more systematic and coordinated: we are in need of a bigger, louder platform.

We know very well that multilateralism has issues, that international organisations have problems: the pandemic has made all this too clear. However, we do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reckoning and the rethinking will have to go beyond the interests and involvement of the great powers, in order to generate trust and the buy-in of the other relevant players. We really need honest brokers for the post-pandemic world, to prepare us for the next ones and for whatever lies in store for a debacle-prone future. A few months ago, the Lowy Institute rightly focused on the role of middle powers in the current crisis and made reference to a coalition of competent middle powers to offer a safer ground for the recovery. I would dare to say that this is true, but even more important would be a coalition of generous and enlightened self-interested middle powers, that recognize that their position of strength is also a by-product of the current international order that their consolidation is tied to refurbished, not overhauled global agreements. My call is as much a realistic assessment as it is a hope that there is an alternative to zero-sum great power competition in the post-2020 era.

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The Growth of Soft Power in the World’s Largest Democracy

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Power in the field of foreign affairs has previously always been well-known and understood as “Hard Power”. This is used when speaking ofa nation’s economic and military power. Hard power is portrayed in the form of tangible force such as coercion, threats to use physical force or even economic sanctions, etc. On the other hand, a relatively newer concept, Soft Power, is now gaining momentum. Soft Power is a more subtle form of power and is popularly defined as the use of affirmative or positive appeal to create a better reach and image of the country in terms of international relations. Soft power, thus, aims to improve on the older beliefs of hard power and strives to attain influence by constructing a better picture, creating stronger connections, formulating global regulations and utilising the soft power reserves that help build the nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.

The term was first coined by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, who initially established three primary sources of soft power: political values, culture, and foreign policy. Within these three sources, the further subdivisions of soft power are diverse in nature and numerous in quantity.

Soft Power and Governments

At the core, Soft Power is a concept that deals with being appealing to its people. Hence, there has to, almost necessarily, be a societal approach. Governments cannot do more here than act as a vehicle for the process. Nonetheless, governments today are facilitating the creation and dispersion of positive thoughts and depictions of their States. This includes fine arts, movies, music, culture, ideologies and spiritualities, etc. Naturally, almost every country has activities and ideas that are unique to its land and its people and thus, Soft Power has a plentitude of factors that are important in mapping Soft Power sources.

It is often also believed that people in a diaspora often tend tobe more religious or patriotic than those in their homeland. Their presence abroad and representation of Indian culture adds to a country’s Soft Power. Hence, governments can also build on this and use it to their advantage and increase the influence on the diaspora to exercise more freedom in the strengthening of their soft power. Thus, it is the governments which must act as catalysts to promote and package these traits well on a global scale; this must be done in order to create a favourable picture of the country and its people to boost international relations and its own standing in foreign policy.

Soft Power and India

In a country with such a vast history as well as such rich culture, heritage and traditions- at first sight itself, one can see how India has a surplus of these aforementioned qualities and the Government of India, too, recognises and acknowledges the potential this carries with respect to soft power resources. Hence, with just a little effort- this can be utilised optimally to boost international influence.

As explained by Mr. Dhruva Jaishankar, the Director of the U.S. Initiative at ORF, in his piece on The Brookings blog- presently too, India’s rise in the world, both politically and economically, has added fresher perspective to India’s soft power resources and its employment for protecting and promoting all of India’s interest globally. The cultural diversity in terms of languages, religions, heritage and well as the presence of progressive civilisations in the past gives India an almost inexhaustible reserve of soft power to dig into. From folk music and dances to historical sights and myths, from Indian cinema to the diverse cuisine, every aspect of India can contribute immensely to the nation’s soft power resources.

A few more specific examples of this can be yoga, Yoga Day, River Ganga, all the religious tourism sights such as temples, etc.; all of which have worldwide appeal. For example, in Russia and other Indophillic countries, there are Indian films which the older generation there still remembers till date, because our values were considered close to Soviet values; similarly so with African countries, because their societies had more conservative values like ours back in the day. When popular singer Akon flew down to record a Hindi song for a movie, it created a stir. However, some lesser-known information is that in his home country, Senegal, almost everyone can speak Hindi quite fluently and they love Bollywood, to the extent that they have all grown up watching and loving it.

The authors of the chapters in ‘The Magic of Bollywood: At Home and Abroad’ too, shed light on the impact that Bollywood songs and films add as an agent ofsoft power.All of this contributes immensely in the countries’ mutual foreign policy, relations, etc., because of a feelings of closeness, familiarity or relatability that it creates. Today, companies across the world want to employ certified yoga instructors. Even relatively conservative countries like Saudi Arabia have an accelerated demand for yoga instructors now; whereas, a few years ago, it would have been interpreted and believed to be incorrect or not suitable to their culture or values.

India is also looked upon favourably in the international market owing to its political values and foreign policy. It is seen as a safer avenue for investors than non-democratic countries like China, North Korea, etc. because of its stand with respect to political stability, upkeep of human rights, non-intervention and other such factors that convince those residing outside of the country and thus, result in the strengthening of bonds. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Indian politician and Member of Parliament, has also time and again reiterated the importance and far-reaching characteristics of Soft Power in his writings and speeches, calling it one of India’s most valuable assets.

Conclusion

As mentioned in the Diplomatist, Monish Tourangbam rightly observes that “New drives like ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Incredible India’ have been associated with India’s nation-branding and the promotion of its image in the international community.”He also added that “The success of Indian institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in outer space explorations, and in launching satellites for other countries, have catapulted India’s regional and global image. More collaborations should not only be initiated but also sustained between Indian universities, both public and private with its counterparts in Asia and Africa, with a focus on providing affordable but quality education.”This is of extreme significance because of the growth in India’s positive image due to such images- not just outside the country but also in the minds of Indian citizens at home.

Because at the end of the day, soft power is the power that your culture and image hold in the minds of people in your country but mainly those all around the world. It complements hard power; despite many political scientists and foreign affairs experts arguing that it cannot replace it entirely; such as Mr. H.H.S. Viswanathan at IIM, Tiruchirappalli, who also concluded with the same in his lecture in 2019 during a series by the Ministry of External Affairs. Usually, Soft Power is strongly believed to be of paramount significance when it comes to nation-building, development and promotion. Some even argue that it makes Hard Power more acceptable, in a way.

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Corona Vaccine: A Diplomatic Tool

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Photo: Xinhua

Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of prevailing governance set ups but it also brought the bright face of so called failure systems. Covid-19 has hit across the world and damaged political, social and economic life of entire globe but very few of them used their leadership and technical skills to overcome the catastrophe and succeeded. The most victim of covid-19 was china but few western and Asian states also faced the traumatic situation. New Zealand was the first state which declared it corona free zone under the leadership of NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and later on at somehow china controlled the epidemic spread while Pakistan under the leadership of Imran Khan also used effective Smart lock down policies to save the valuable lives and reduced economic shocks. On contrary to this, the largest democracy India and U.S completely failed to cope up with the situation. During the 2020, major powers like china and Russia provided its medical and technical support to the far distant poor states particularly African and Asian nations and win hearts of the people. Now, 2021 is a year for vaccines and hope of a return to normalcy.

China, the first and foremost state hit by the coronavirus a year ago, just approved its first homegrown vaccine for general use and have endeavors to inoculating 50 million high priority people before early February. According to the centers for disease control and prevention, more than 4.8 million people in the United States have received vaccine dose. In the same way, states like china, Russia and U.S are going to use it a diplomatic tool. Vaccine makers are boosting their productions to produce it on large scale to fulfill the other state’s requirements. Due to outbreak of Covid-19, china had to face the bad music in international affairs but Chinese efforts reflect a desire to revamp its international image.

In May 2020, during a speech Chinese president Xi Jinping positioned Chinese vaccine development and deployment plans as a’’ Public Good ‘’health and further he added that it will be china’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries. In the result of this, Chinese vaccine trials have been conducted in different African, Middle East and Asian states.  The covid-19 pandemic has clearly offered a golden opportunity to china to advance itself as a reliable and inevitable actor of global governance. The Chinese government eventually is going to use vaccine doses as a strategic tool to strengthen their international relationships. A senior researcher for global health at the Washington-based council, Yanzhong huang expressed his views that

‘’The vaccine could be used by an instrument for foreign policy to promote soft power and project international influence’’

The African governments are expressing interests in Chinese vaccine, BBIBP-CorV, developed by the china national pharmaceutical group and china could use vaccine access to bolster economic and political influence in Africa and other regions which are securing enough vaccines. Thus, the vaccine diplomacy would help china to frame itself as the solution to the outbreak rather the cause of it. China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa serves to be a high reward venture. It sinopharm’s vaccine bore fruits and restores the normalcy of life across the region, china will be praised.  Recently, Sinovac biotech,drug Maker Company based in Beijing, has signed deals with Brazil and Turkey to provide respectively 46 million and 50 million doses. Sinopharm a state owned company is also active to provide the vaccine but deals are less open. China’s global vaccine campaign is in stark contrast to the ‘’America First ‘’ approach which just focuses on vaccinating its own citizens. So, china is in better position to use the vaccine to serve its foreign policy interests. The role of leaders in projecting vaccine as diplomatic tool is vital and Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed that china’s vaccines are for sharing particularly with the poor nations. It is very evidently that how much china is interesting to build its trust among those states that are part of the development projects like BRI. Most of the countries including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the priority list. In addition to this, Beijing also offered $ 1 billion dollar loan to Latin America and the Caribbean for access to its corona virus vaccine. Indonesia is another state which received 1.2 million vaccine doses from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac. Chinese state owned media played very significant role in projecting vaccine a diplomatic tool and showed china as a responsible player leading global efforts to fight the pandemic.

The ambitions of china in projection of soft image are very evident as it wants to realize the world that how much china has capabilities to perform its duties to govern the world affairs. Undoubtedly, the role of Chinese leadership, state owned media and drug maker companies in the pandemic is very influential to shape the pro-Chinese narrative.

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