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The North Korean strategic issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Currently North Korea has turned from a regional threat into an unpredictable global strategic player. This implies that, in the future, we will need to reasonably deal with a Korean power which, however, is anything but irrational in its global choices.

Portraying Kim Jong Un’s Korea as a Shangri-La led by an unreliable man is not the truth and does not facilitate the solution of the Korean problem, both in North and South Korea.The fissile material now held by North Korea can be used to build six to thirty nuclear weapons, but what is the North Korean strategy in the use of this atomic arsenal, which is also growing steadily at a yearly pace of 18%, according to the latest data? According to experts, four reasons are used by North Korea to maintain and manage an autonomous nuclear threat which, from a regional area, has a strike range capable of hitting the United States and hence Europe.

The first one is the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea with a view to obtaining international concessions at diplomatic or more directly political levels. What concessions? Certainly the first would be an internationally recognized geopolitical status, perhaps in a stable correlation with South Korea. A status which would enable North Korea to expand its political and economic area in the whole South-East Asia, possibly in connection with the old regional alliances: maybe even the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), dissolved in 1977, the old ” zoo of paper tigers “, as a British diplomat defined it – a zoo which, however, might be rebuilt around the two Koreas.

Currently a network of credible and multilateral alliances must be recreated so as to shut in and stabilize the North Korean strategic system, thus protecting South Korea and ensuring to North Korea the stability of its regime. Or a good solution could also be the new alliance recently proposed by China for Central Asia, with Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan: a grouping created to counteract the loss of Russian rayonnement in the region, which could be extended to the coasts of North and South Korea so as to incorporate them within a context of reasonable and, above all, credible checks and balances.

Through Xi Jinping, China has warned the Asian regional powers against building new military alliances, proposed over the last few years especially by the United States. Nevertheless China, with its recent Conference on Interaction and Conference Building Measures in Asia (CICA), has a primary interest in neutralizing and strategically surrounding the offers of military alliance that US President Obama has proposed to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The tensions that China is facing in Eastern Asian seas and in the regional ones of Vietnam and Myanmar are such as to force it to create external (and independent) alliances compared to the old Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which plays a specifically terrestrial role.

North Korea could even adhere to the SCO and hence China would certainly control, along with the Russian Federation, the North Korean missile and nuclear potential; or it could adhere to a new tripartite alliance, with Russia and China, where the North Korean geopolitics should dissolve in a wider and well-controlled context.

With a view to preventing the North Korean escalation from going on, it is important to include North Korea in a strategic framework capable of using its power projection and, in particular, securing the borders and stability of the North Korean regime.

Without these credible assurances, North Korea will have a vested interest in managing its role as international free rider, which maximizes the political effects of its nuclear tests and hence makes an agreement with it more difficult and expensive for the other international players.

It is a way to “raise the price” of its collaboration and to focus worldwide interest on its country.

Not to mention the border with South Korea.

For the North Korean leadership, the Korean Demilitarized Zone around the 38th parallel is a constant threat and the last, hateful, relic of the Cold War.

The armistice of July 27, 1953 froze a strategic factor which, today, has no longer international motivations.

The issue does no longer lie for the United States in covering up their presence in Japan and the Pacific. There is no longer need to stop the Soviet expansion into the Pacific on the edge of China.

Today everything has changed, and we must invent new political mechanisms to put an end to the Cold War phase in the Korean peninsula, which is no longer the Russian strategic “tooth” in the South China Sea, as was the case when the link between the USSR and Maoism became problematic.

Hence either an international committee is established for defining a definitive border between the two Koreas, or North Korea is continued to be granted the role of global strategic free rider – a role that North Korea can no longer play with increasing doses of military power and nuclear threat, otherwise it would no longer be credible.

This is certainly not the panacea for North Korea’s economy.

Hence, thanks to a global and innovative strategic vision, we must break the North Korean military spiral which,   paradoxically, is directly proportional to its domestic economic crisis.

The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), established on the basis of the 1953 armistice, has now a mere role of communication between the two Koreas, so as to establish reliable relations between them.

Nevertheless, it is not certainly a body which can define a credible geopolitical project – this is not its purpose.

The second of the four aims of the North Korean nuclear build-up is to internationalize the crisis of the Korean peninsula (and of the region) so as to lead to the US or Chinese mediation.

Financial integration between (South) Korea and China – the free trade agreement between the two countries signed last year – is regarded as a threat by North Korea.

Actually North Korea is not entirely wrong: the above stated agreement envisages the creation in Shanghai of a stock market of securities directly traded in the two currencies, namely the won and the renminbi. It also envisages that the South Korean government may issue bonds and securities of its own sovereign debt directly in denominated in the Chinese currency – securities which can be later sold on the large Chinese financial market.

Therefore we can imagine a way to internationalize the North Korean sovereign debt on the Chinese or Russian markets, so as to stabilize the North Korean economy, thus making the Chinese and Russian strategic assurances stop the North Korean nuclear race.

A new Treaty between North Korea, South Korea – which is experiencing a period of financial deleveraging of foreign investors, or a capital flight which is also a form of economic war – the United States, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation and, inevitably, the now useless European Union.

This group of countries should also be joined by Japan and the Indian Federation.

This Committee should establish: a) the internationally recognized border between the two Koreas, thus explicitly putting an end to the alleged hegemony claimed by both countries over the entire Korean peninsula; b) a joint North and South Korean Committee for economic development; c) a military committee supervising the North Korean military nuclear development, with the possibility for Russia – as was the case with Iran – to manage part of the fissile material; d) an international agreement for managing the North Korean nuclear material, which would be reached in the region by Russia and China.

Obviously with the guarantee of the North Korean national sovereignty.

For international analysts, a third reason for creating and expanding the North Korean nuclear arsenal would be the response to possible military attacks threatening the existence of the North Korean Party and State.

This is still a commitment of the Conference we propose, which should explicitly deny any political and military thereat against the North Korean regime, by gradually accepting it into the mainstream of international alliances and organizations.

A normalization which is good for everyone: for the United States, which will save on the deployment of their forces in the Asian region; for China, which will rebuild a preferential relationship with North Korea; for Russia, which could have an interest in developing economic and strategic relations with North Korea .

For Russia, which sets great store by trade with South Korea, the security of the North-Asian system must be ensured by a wide network of multilateral partnerships in various sectors: energy security, nuclear energy, transport safety, food safety and, finally, a multilateral guarantee on information security.

This is the right basis to start.

Finally, the fourth reason analyzed by experts to justify the North Korean significant nuclear build up is to offset, with nuclear weapons, the inevitable structural and conventional weakness of North Korea in relation to the United States and South Korea, two powers which, at various levels, are far superior to North Korea in terms of updating and quantity of their conventional forces.

We could even imagine a series of confidence building measures, managed by the Conference we have proposed, designed to simultaneously reduce the North and South Korean military potential and, hence, reshape the US strategy throughout the Pacific region in relation to North Korea.

This can be done if there is the political will and the effective presence of Russia and China. It is worth trying.

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

Twists and Turns in US -China Trade War

Gen. Shashi Asthana

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s stopover at Beijing on 08 October may not have been a pleasant experience, more so in the backdrop of accusation of US Vice President Pence about  China attempting to interfere in U.S. elections. The agenda of North Korean denuclearisation, where US and China were broadly agreeing earlier, seems to have taken a back seat, and improvement of relations doesn’t seem to be realistic in near future. The ongoing trade war continues as both sides dig their heels despite being the biggest trading partners of each other, because it is also linked with global dominance, strategic and military posturing, diplomatic and information offensive.

 China Braving Threat to its Vulnerabilities

China is putting a brave front despite being badly hit at some of its most vulnerable spots in the tit-for-tat trade war with both sides spiralling the slapping of tariffs on a wide range of each others’ trade items. Taiwan, which is another sensitivity of Beijing is witnessing visit of US officials after Taiwan Travel Act was signed by President Trump, with a promise to arm it further with latest weaponry. US continued military posturing in South China Sea, along with the appearance of UK warship ignoring Chinese repeated warning is another concern.   A recent injection of over $110 billion by China into its banks and hardly any financial benefits coming out of BRI partners incapable to repay anything is tightening its financial freedom for global dominance. Some of its BRI partners want to get out of the ‘Debt Trap’ by refusing/reducing Chinese investments is adversely affecting Chinese dream project (BRI), after five years of its announcement like Philippines.

Not a Smooth Sail for US

US on the other hand cannot be celebrating either, with China digging it heals and refusing to give up either in trade war or South China Sea. On North Korean front, the policy of good optics continues with Kim managing to get a lot of goodies from South Korea (presumably at their cost), during the last summit of North and South Korea. Kim in fact has been an outright winner, managing to get another Summit with President Trump, which helps him in convincing his countrymen of his sound leadership, as well as boosting his status internationally. US sanctions on paper continue, but after the chest thumping at Singapore Summit, his friends like China automatically relaxed the sanctions on North Korea, without any worthwhile denuclearisation/reduction in his nuclear/missile arsenal. US realises that knocking out China financially is the key to its global dominance; hence is unlikely to soften up to China. US also faces another challenge of keeping its allies like Japan and South Korea satisfied while negotiating with North Korea and asking ASEAN to make choices of partners, besides continuing with CAATSA hurting some of its strategic partners who could be helpful in balancing China.

It will take some time to see that whoever has greater resilience to withstand the economic stand-off and appetite to take setbacks will have an upper edge, which seems to be US at this point of time. As per IMF assessment, China’s GDP size will be 1.6 per cent lower in 2019 than it otherwise would be, if the US slaps tariffs on all Chinese imports.

How is India affected?

The Indian economy has survived some global slowdowns earlier and should be able to sail through the present one. The bigger problem is the sanction under CAATSA in dealing with Russia for urgently needed military hardware like S-400 and Iran for cheaper crude oil being paid in rupee terms, for which India has adequate refineries. The US option of buying shale oil does not suit India as it does not have adequate refineries and will have to purchase finished product in dollar terms. The port of Chabahar is also crucial for India for connectivity to Afghanistan and CAR. The silver lining is that US being our strategic partner will like to have well equipped Indian Forces to balance China and Indian connectivity to Afghanistan, in case Pakistan does not serve their strategic interest. On both counts I am hopeful that US will find a way out not to hurt its strategic partner.

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East Asia

The talks held in September 2018 between Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In less than one year three meetings have been held between the North Korean Leader and the South Korean President, Moon Jae-In.

In the initial meeting the two leaders had decided to put an end to the state of war between their two countries. They had also reaffirmed the goal of denuclearization of the entire peninsula, with the consequent destruction of the nuclear potential of South Korea and of the United States, in particular. They also decided to create an inter-Korean Liason Office between the two sides of the Demilitarized Zone and to bring together the families dispersed between the two Koreas. Finally, the idea was to create new communication infrastructure – railway lines, in particular – a project by which Russia has always set great store.

Indeed, Russia is betting many of its cards on a reunification between the two Koreas, capable of enabling it to keep its excellent relations with South Korea – which are essential for the economy – and to also support North Korea, which is Russia’s unavoidable strategic goal.

Now the two Koreas are dealing on their own, without the US brokerage and intermediation with respect to South Korea, although President Donald J. Trump has recently stated that President Moon Jae-In is his official “delegate” for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The United States is scarcely interested in the internationalization of the North Korean economy. It only wants denuclearization, while Kim Jong-Un wants denuclearization to develop his country’s economy and maintain its geopolitical and national autonomy.

A serious problem – both in talks and in the final or working documents – is also to define an effective mechanism to check denuclearization.

Indeed, between September 17 and 19, 2018, the signing of the Joint Declaration of Pyongyang has not fully clarified the mechanism of checks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong-Un’s idea is to organise these checks with a series of “experts” appointed by the friendly powers, while the South Korean idea is to accept the maximum possible denuclearization to start the long process of reunification.

The two respective Defence Ministers, however -namely Song Young Moo for South Korea and Rho Kwang Chul for North Korea – have just signed a separate document from the rest of agreements.

In that text confidence-building measures between the parties are put first, with North Korea’s acceptance of dismantling a launch pad and a site for checking jet engines, with the presence of yet unspecified, but friendly international experts. From IAEA? We have some doubts, in this case.

Subsequently North Korea could also dismantle the Nongbyon site, if the United States does the same in South Korea.

It should also be recalled that most North Korean missiles are built to be launched by mobile vehicles, not from fixed bases.

In short, North Korea wants the United States to remove the nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan while, in the recent talks with North Korea, the United States thinks of a bilateral treaty regarding only the Korean peninsula and, at most, some classes of North Korean missiles.

In the US mind, the planned reduction of North Korean long-range missiles could be even equivalent to a nuclear and conventional decrease of its troops stationed in Guam.

On the basis of a new future agreement, both Koreas (and God only knows how and to what extent the North Korean conventional military potential would be useful for a South Korea unified with North Korea) would also define maritime and land buffer zones, as well as a no-fly zone over the old border, with a view to avoiding clashes or accidental air battles.

This is already partially clear, but much work shall be done to define all the details.

There would also be plans to cover or reduce artillery batteries along the coast.

Obviously, should these talks run aground, the only concrete political result would be the progressive divergence between South Korea and the United States, precisely on the problem of the peninsula’s denuclearization.

Furthermore, over and above the aforementioned sites, North Korea will dismantle the site of Dongchang-ri, in addition to the site of Yongbyon, while Kim Jong-Un is also very interested in the building of fast railway links between South and North Korea.

The two Koreas will get the industrial site of Kaesong back in shape and the old tourist project concerning Mount Kumgang back in track, besides planning new joint economic and tourist areas.

The inter-Korean agreement regards also collaboration for medical and environmental issues, as well as for the protection from epidemics.

In other words, both Koreas think of an economy of compensation between them, which could also develop at a later stage and become a need for the development of both countries.

An economic-political symbiosis that could get the United States out of play and later reinstate Russia, which is increasingly interested in the South Korean economy, as well as finally favour China, which has no intention of leaving the Korean peninsula to the hegemony of North Korea alone.

At the end of the Treaty, there is also the project of a joint participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and a joint candidature for the 2032 Olympics.

A few days ago, North Korea also expressed its intention to join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – a sign that the internationalization of the North Korean economy is now a certainty.

Hence it is a de facto peace treaty between the two Koreas.

If North Korea continues along this line, it is very likely that South Korea will gain a tactical advantage over the sea while, if the relations between South Korea and the United States remain as they currently are, there should be no significant changes in bilateral relations between the USA and South Korea.

However, what is the current state of relations between the United States and North Korea?

In fact, while the inter-Korean relations are all in the framework of effective confidence-building measures, the clear purpose of the fourth round of talks between the two Korean leaders is to preserve a strong US engagement in the whole negotiation process.

Kim Jong-Un wants to engage the United States for his global economic projection and he certainly does not want to remain tied to a regional economy, albeit open and “reformed” according to China’s rules.

For North Korea, the procedure is simple: at first, bilateral talks with the US support for South Korea; later peace between the two Koreas and finally what is only interesting for the USA, namely denuclearization.

It is not even unlikely that the United States does not accept this timing, but it is also unlikely that it realizes the strategic and economic aspects of this timing.

North Korea wants a fundamental agreement with South Korea because: a) it is an unavoidable asset for the modernization of its economy; b) it is the fundamental strategic factor to have the support of both Russia and China, who want to avoid North Korea’s hegemony over the peninsula, but also want to keep it as a rampart for US forces in South Korea; c) it is only through South Korea that North Korea will eventually be in a position to be connected to the Chinese maritime economic and strategic system and reach up to the Mediterranean.

In fact, if the relations between the United States and North Korea improve further, the site of Yongbyon could be dismantled definitively.

Hence currently Kim Jong-Un wants to thoroughly test the US goodwill, rather than South Korea’s goodwill, in developing a long or very long-term peace policy.

In Kim Jong-Un’s mind, there is in fact a key factor: the US behaviour in the phase in which Muammar Gaddafi accepted its proposal to dismantle his nuclear project.

Kim Jong-Un thinks that not even the story of Saddam Hussein is a guarantee for the US long-term reliability and for the stability of its leaders’ word of honour.

This is the real important factor in the strategy of the North Korean Leader.

Moreover, the US immediate reactions to the last meeting between the two Korean leaders have been fast and positive, both by President Trump and by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And North Korea’s autonomous foreign policy has been seen also recently, with the 70th Anniversary military parade.

North Korea’s military parade and its important national celebration, was attended by Li Zhansu, ranking third in the internal power hierarchy of the Communist Party of China (CPC); by Valentina Matviyenko, President of the Russian Federal Council, the third elected office in the Russian Federation; by a very significant figure, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritania, and finally by Hilal al Hilal, deputy-General Secretary of the Syrian Baath Party.

With peace, North Korea will significantly develop its already multiple economic and political relations with Africa, which will be essential for its new economic development.

At the military parade staged on September 9, there were also authorities from Iran, South Africa and Singapore – which is the never forgotten model of the Chinese “Four Modernizations” -as well as other 60 delegations from “friendly” countries.

At economic level, in August, shortly before the big military parade of the 70th Anniversary, there was the International Fair of Razon, which hosted as many as 114 companies of which 52 North Korean ones.

The North Korean product lines mainly included pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, textiles, electronics and cosmetics.

However, there were many Chinese large companies selling their products in North Korea despite the UN sanctions.

As from September 17, there was also the Autumn Fair which brought together 320 commercial companies from Russia, New Zealand, Australia and China.

This is in fact the new paradigm of North Korea’s foreign policy.

The dollar has also grown in the exchanges with the North Korean currency, both on the official and on the “parallel” markets.

If all goes well at geopolitical level, the North Korean project will be to further improve its light industry, in addition to the diversification and quantity of products, with a view to trying its own autonomous way on the market world, as was the way of the nuclear system.

It should be recalled that this was also Kim Il-Sung’s project.

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China’s Imprint underneath the Pyongyang Joint Declaration

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On September 18, the leaders of two Koreas met each other in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. The world media focused on the meeting during which the two sides issued the “Pyongyang Joint Declaration”. If we see the Panmunjom Declaration serving as the cornerstone of the dialogue between two Korea, it is necessary to say that this joint declaration took a substantial step to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that is vital to the regional peace and beyond.

Literally speaking, the Pyongyang joint declaration highlighted the key issues as follows. First, both sides are determined to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Second, they will work together to improve their relations with a view to the existing state of war, as the defense chiefs from the DPRK and ROK earlier signed a comprehensive agreement aiming to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Third, they will promote the peace talk process of the Korean peninsula. Given that Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, it would be seen as a political declaration that would mark a starting point for peace negotiations. If all goes well, a peace treaty would be sealed and then comes normalization of DPRK-US relations after it achieves complete denuclearization.

As a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, China always supports the DPRK and ROK as well in improving their relations through dialogue and consultation and promoting reconciliation and cooperation. This is the consistent and persistent position of Beijing, which has been playing a responsible role in politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue and achieving the long-standing peace of the region.

In effect, prior to the leaders of two Korea met each other this week in Pyongyang, they have closely contacted their respective allies or strategic partners. Among them is China, dealing with both sides – Pyongyang and Seoul – in a unique way. It is true that China is the largest trading partner of the ROK while it is equally the only legal ally of the DPRK as well as its largest ideological partner now. If we review the bilateral relations between China and North Korea since last March, Kim Jr. has paid three significant, though unofficial, visits to President Xi of China. For example, during his March 25-28 visit, both sides vowed to continue their traditional solidarity in terms of their shared ideologies and common strategic interests. Xi especially proposed to strengthen the close ties between the two ruling parties. As he said to Kim, “party-to-party and state-to-state relations are the common treasure to both sides. And safeguarding, consolidating and developing China – DPRK relations are unswerving guidelines for China’s foreign policy and security strategy.

During his second meeting with Xi in Dalian summer resort, Kim vowed to terminate all the nuclear tests and to follow denuclearization if the United States took corresponding measures with good wishes. Then following his meeting with Trump in Singapore on June 12, Kim came to Beijing again on 19 to meet his Chinese counterpart. Xi confirmed China’s “3-no change” policy towards the DPRK, that is, political solidarity between the two parties remains unchanged, the friendship between the two peoples remains unchanged, and China’s support of a socialist Korea remains unchanged. Essentially, they serve as the foundation of the strategic consensus between Beijing and Pyongyang. In return, Kim reiterated his permanent shutdown of all nuclear tests and facilities if the US would respond sincerely and responsibly.

Given all the analysis above, it is understandable to conclude that China’s long-standing adherence to the goal of denuclearization of the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation is fully reflected in the Pyongyang Declaration. Meanwhile, China’s stance remains evident since it claims that the Korean issue must be resolved eventually by the Korean people rather than any external power. Therefore, peace not force is the only acceptable way. Also, as China and Russia have repeated that no coercive change of the regime by outside power is tolerated, North Korea can be confident and comfortable to proceed the permanent shutdown of the missile engine test site with international experts observing; and then a complete denuclearization is not too far in the future.

Here is necessary to argue that China has never claimed to play an exclusive role in the Korean Peninsula. Instead of that, China has always encouraged the DPRK to talk to the United States and other relevant parties. Since Kim has agreed to make a trip to Seoul for further talks and to meet the US high-ranking officials in Pyongyang soon, the summit between Kim and Moon marks a leap forward toward peace.

Yet, as the lessons in history show, it is better to approach realistically the Korean issue simply because it has involved too complicated concerns and memories and the overlapped interests. Therefore, we should be ready to accept trial and challenges lying ahead. China has insisted on diplomacy which means that all parties concerned should be brought to the negotiating table under the mandate of the UN Security Council.

Now, Beijing has navigated the course of denuclearization proactively to protect two sides’ common core security stakes when Kim reportedly promised to give up his nuclear program if the United States and South Korea respond to his proposal with good will. Due to this reason, China will do what it can to help ensure “no change of regime by force and denuclearization at the same time in the Korean Peninsula”. This is China’s influence or Beijing’s imprint on the Korean denuclearization issue and the regional peace.

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