In the elections held on April 13, 2016 all the 300 seats of the Seoul National Assembly were renewed. 253 members of Parliament were elected with the typical British first-past-the-post system, the traditional mechanism by which the candidate winning 50% of votes + 1 or, alternatively, the candidate obtaining the majority of votes in a particular constituency, regardless of the percentage of his/her valid votes, is elected.
47 representatives were elected from proportional party lists, in accordance with Constitutional provisions. Against all odds, the elections were clearly won by the Minjoo Party of Korea.
The Minjoo Party, formally the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, is a political grouping of liberal-democratic culture, at least according to Western political science criteria.
It was created on March 26, 2014, as a merger of the Democratic Party with the preparatory committee of the New Political Vision Party. In fact, the old Democratic Party was fully absorbed in the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, while the preparatory committee was dissolved and has no relevant members in the new grouping.
The losing party is the liberal-conservative Saenuri Party, defeated by one single seat in the Assembly and in votes for party lists, while the Minjoo Party came third, in terms of total votes, behind the Saenuri Party in first place and the new centrist People’s Party in second.
The Saenuri Party, also known as the New Frontier Party, has a center-right political tradition and, until February 2012, it was known as the Grand National Party.
It was created in 2012 as a merger of the United Democratic Party and the New Korea Party. In fact, its earliest ancestor was the Democratic Republican Party under the authoritarian-Gaullist rule of Park Chung-Hee. In 1980, upon Park’s death, it was renamed Democratic Justice Party, under the rule of an equally authoritative leader, Chun Doo-Hwan. In 1993 it was officially called Democratic Liberal Party.
In 2002, this political group was reconstituted again and the already-created Saenur Party merged with the Advancement Unification Party.
Hence these elections mark a radical change of the South Korean institutional scene, with a hung Parliament which is no longer able to provide sound majorities, but is open to government bargaining.
A dangerous practice which comes after the South Korean Constitutional Court authoritatively dissolving the Progressive Party, a leftist grouping largely characterized by a Marxist-Leninist culture.
In 2012 the Saenur Party had won 152 seats out of the 300 available.
Nevertheless the candidate of this group, Ms. Park Geun-Hye, had won the presidential election despite the Saenur Party had recorded a decrease of its seats to 146 out of 292, exactly 50% of the Assembly votes.
Undoubtedly those elections had been affected by the decision of the Constitutional Court which, while noting that the electoral districts had led to an asymmetry of representation, reduced the size of most constituencies.
After 2013, when the Progressive Party was dissolved by decree, due to its alleged ties with North Korea, the decision of the Supreme Court led the Justice Party to be the only leftist organization on the South Korean political scene.
The Justice Party was later supported officially by the powerful union of trade unions, but its members were close to the left wing of the Minjoo Party in terms of programs and policies, while one of its leaders, Ahn Cheol Soo, walked out of the party and founded the new People’s Party in early 2016.
By constitutional law, the next presidential elections scheduled for 2017 are off limits for the current President Park Geun-Hye.
Let us see the possible candidates.
Firstly, there is Moon Jae-In, who had been defeated by the current President, who in mid-February was elected as leader of the main old opposition party, the aforementioned New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
His allies include the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, who, at least according to the polls, is currently the most popular presidential candidate.
Moon can rely on the Left votes of the South-Western province of Jeolla but, however, he is also capable of winning over the conservative votes in the city of Busan, currently ruled by the Saenur Party.
Also the leader of the Saenur Party, Kim Moo-Sung, comes from Busan. He is an old acquaintance of the National Assembly since he was elected five times.
However, which are the real themes of the South Korean electoral campaign and policy?
First and foremost, there is the maintenance and transformation of the Welfare State.
The old government has always supported the line of “maintaining and expanding welfare without raising taxes”, especially corporate income ones.
However, specific taxes on tobacco and cars were introduced last September, with a further restructuring of the income tax which, in effect, increases the tax revenue.
Therefore the idea that South Korean voters had of the government is that it raised taxes for the middle class and workers without expanding the Welfare State, which is currently weak.
Conversely Moon wants to raise corporate income taxes, especially on the chaebol, the business conglomerates which have always characterized the South Korean production system.
In fact the New Politics Alliance for Democracy focuses on the “Welfare State”, with Moon who wants free meals for all South Korean pupils and argues with the South Korean chaebol which, in his opinion, now epitomize a backward development model.
The Saenur Party has no clear position on these issues.
But the Party knows all too well that currently, in South Korea, the welfare cannot be expanded without raising taxes and, above all, without forcing the chaebol (such as Samsung) to pay higher taxes.
This could lead many businessmen to leave the country and set up factories in Vietnam or, even, in the North Korean Free Economic Zones, which have never taken off.
The latest polls show that South Koreans do not want a bigger Welfare State, but 52.8% of them want to directly increase the corporate tax, regardless of this new tax revenue being used for welfare purposes.
The problem lies in the fact that currently the South Korean economy and incomes are very polarized between the haves and the haves not, while the network of small and medium sized enterprises has not yet become the key to the new national economy.
In foreign policy, the Saenur Party is clearly conservative and has no intention of adhering to new negotiations, or even softening its position vis-à-vis North Korea’s actions.
On the contrary, President Park wanted a Summit with North Korea without preconditions, i.e. without Kim Jong Il giving up his “new militarist” line.
Paradoxically, but not too much, the South Korean conservatives have always been those having a more open-minded attitude towards their North Korean “brothers”, while the South Korean center-right leadership has always aimed at having a preferential relationship with China at economic, political and cultural levels.
Moon, however, is heir to the legacy of former President Roh Moo-Hyun, who has always advocated a compromise with the North Korean “brothers” at all costs.
China, however, does not like the correlation of forces between South Korea and the United States.
Hence we are witnessing a radical transformation of the South Korean political scene: for the first time in 16 years, the President’s party has lost the elections.
As we have already partially noted, this is due to the “hard line” against North Korea and the neo-liberal and free trade economic policy which for the Western political parties and alike is a one-way ticket in elections.
The Saenur Party won 122 seats out of 300 and, inter alia, many candidates have abandoned it during the campaign because they did not feel protected and safeguarded at organizational and electoral level.
As we have already seen, the Minjoo Party won 123 seats and, according to its leaders, the success of the opposition party results from South Korean slow growth.
Last year the GDP growth rate was a meager 2.6%, with youth unemployment which, last February, reached the “European” level of 12.5%.
The People’s Party won 36 seats, probably thanks to the positive effects of the mass demonstrations against the new particularly pro-business labour legislation which had been supported by President Park.
The Minjoo Party wants above all to create more jobs; it plans to increase the minimum wages and pensions and build affordable housing for young people.
As we have already noted, it is very likely for the issue of North Korea and its relations with South Korea to be the priority.
In terms of national security, the vast majority of South Koreans support President Park’s line, much in line with the US one, which would impose the immediate end of North Korea’s nuclear program and the end of its missile launches.
Nevertheless, all the opposition parties, including the center-right ones, emphasize the gap existing between President Park’s pro-American line and the pursuit of South Korean national interest, which coincides with an easing of tensions with North Korea.
However, while China does not want to undermine its relations with South Korea, certainly it cannot sever all its ties with North Korea, although it should be noted that the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has not yet found the time to visit the North Korean “comrades”.
This adds to the internal situation prevailing in South Korea: first and foremost, the division and the infra-electoral controversy between the two democratic progressive parties, which has favored the conservative-liberal party, although not to the extent it was assumed.
Secondly there is an explosive youth issue, that a South Korean sociologist summed up with the “three no” slogan: no work, no house and no marriage.
During the 2008 crisis, which severely hit also the fourth Asian economy, the old parties’ choice was to maintain and protect the traditional system of chaebol, the Korean version of the Soviet kombinat, without preparing the structural reforms which were immediately needed.
As we have already noted, 12.5% of young people are unemployed, but the South Korean average unemployment rate is 4.9%.
Young voters blame the Saenur Party: only 17% of young people under 30 show a preference for this party.
Hence the “Korean dream” has been shuttered, namely the 1960s idea that, by working hard, everybody would anyway have a good job and a good income.
Obviously, today this is no longer the case in South Korea. And politics reflects this with its main feature in these cases, namely uncertainty.
Nepal-China Boundary Treaty: An example of peaceful Himalayan frontiers
Chairman Mao: How is everything with Your Excellency? Have all the problems been solved?
King Mahendra: Everything is settled.
Chairman Mao: Fair and reasonable?
King Mahendra: Yes. We all agree.
Chairman Mao: It is good that we agree. There is goodwill on both sides. We hope that will get along well, and you hope we shall get along well too. We do not want to harm you, nor do you want to harm us.
King Mahendra: We fully understand.
Chairman Mao: We are equals; we cannot say one country is superior or inferior to the other.
King Mahendra: We very much appreciate the way of speaking.
This was a snippet of the candid conversation between founding father of People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong and Nepal’s the then king Mahendra on the historic Nepal-China Border Treaty day of 5 October 1961. A book titled ‘MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ has detailed this conversation. The conversation is mentioned under the topic of ”Talk with Nepal’s king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva and the queen’ (page 366 and 367) in the book.
This famous diplomatic book of Mao was compiled by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the Party Literature Research Center under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and was published by Foreign Languages Press Beijing on 1998.
This conversation, from the verbatim records, speaks volumes about the level of trust and the height of friendship between two neighbors Nepal and China.
Nepal-China boundary: An example of speedy settlement
Nepal and China boundary settlement has reached 59 years of its signing ceremony at Beijing. It is an extraordinary example of speedy settlement. Nepal and China formally established diplomatic relationship on 1 August 1955.
Few years later on 21 March 1960, Nepal and China signed Boundary Agreement. Nepal’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prashad Koirala signed it during the official China visit. The friendly diplomatic dialogue of Koirala and Mao is also included in the book ”MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ under the topic of ”The Sino-Nepal Border Must be Peaceful and Friendly Forever.”
On 5 October 1961, Nepal and China signed Boundary Treaty at Beijing during the state visit of the then king Mahendra. The 1414-kilometer-long border treaty protocol was finally inscribed on 20 January 1963.
The adjustment was made on equal footing by land-swapping with Nepal gaining more land than it gave. According to a working paper presented at ”International Cross-Border Conference on Border Regions in Transition (BRIT)-XII Fukuoka (Japan)-Busan (South Korea) 13-16 November 2012” by Nepal’s former Director General of Survey Department and the author of the book titled ‘Boundary of Nepal’, China had given 302.75 square kilometer more land to Nepal.
The paper says, ”the adjustment was made on the basis of ‘give’ and ‘take’ and the inclusion of some pasture land within Nepalese territory. With this principle, Nepal had given 1,836.25 square kilometer of land to China and Nepal had taken 2,139.00 square kilometer, as it has been added 302.75 square kilometer of Chinese territory into Nepal.”
Nepal-China border settlement is an excellent example of speedy border settlement compared to Nepal’s southern neighbor India. Since the formal diplomatic engagement of 1955, it just took around eight years to ink full-fledged technical border adjustment between Nepal and China.
Tragically, Nepal and India are at odds over the border demarked by 204-year-old Treaty of Sugauli. The recent issue of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura and new political map of Nepal unanimously approved by lower and upper houses of the federal parliament point to the long-pending friendly border settlements between Nepal and India.
Media myths on China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory
Nepal and India has not resolved much of their border tensions since long. Lately, there are some media reports, mainly from India, about so-called Chinese ‘encroachment’ of Nepal’s territory. There was report about missed pillar number 11. However, it came out to be untrue with the finding of the pillar. After field inspection and technical studies, Chief District Officer of Humla district, Chiranjibi Giri, made it clear that the rumored border encroachment from China was not the fact.
Similar incident was reported few weeks ago when Nepal’s leading daily Kantipur claimed China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory citing unverified Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry that has nothing to do with border issues. However, after formal clarification from Nepal Government, the report was found to be false and the biggest daily of the nation apologized.
There is a section in Nepal that desperately wants to draw parallel between factual Nepal-India border tensions with fictitious Nepal-China border rows. However, so far, this mission has proven wrong at times.
Nepal does not have any serious border tension with China. The only concern Nepal has it about China-India agreement to ‘boost border trade at Quiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass’ as said in the 28th point of the joint communiqué issued by visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on 15 May 2015.
Nepal has diplomatically protested about this agreement by two countries as Lipulekh falls in Nepali territory not only based on the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 but also the Nepal-China Boundary Treaty of 5 October 1961. Given China’s generosity and friendliness towards Nepal, it is not a big issue to address. Nepalese citizens are optimistic on China’s support on Nepal’s sovereignty over Lipulekh.
Why doesn’t China take India seriously?
India needs to formulate a long-term strategy on China, lest it be lurching from one crisis to another.
Amid rising anti-China sentiment in the aftermath of the bloody border clash with China, India has announced a slew of measures to curtail Chinese presence in the Indian economy. Building on previously imposed restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) from China, the latest round of regulations constitute banning over 200 Chinese apps and clamping down on Chinese investments in Indian startups. These measures, while drawing applause from Western governments such as the US and helping massage the nationalistic ego, have seemingly failed to irk the Chinese administration as much as India would have intended, let alone compel the PLA to pull back from the disputed areas along the long and undemarcated Indo-China border. In previous instances as well, India’s signalling to China of allying more closely with the United States in response to China’s aggressive posture on the border has failed to yield desirable results. This begs the question: why does not China take India seriously? The answer may lie in India’s China policy which can be described as reactive at best and incoherent at worst.
India’s Policy Conundrum
Although its geopolitical rise has been significant – next only to China, India still finds itself bereft of a world order concept or a guiding foreign policy framework. The lack of which, when it comes to dealing with China, has translated into a foreign policy muddle. Mohan Malik, for instance, points out that there are three schools of thought in India’s policy-making with regards to China – pragmatism, hyperrealism, and appeasement. Pragmatists maintain that India should balance China both internally (increasing its economic and military strength w.r.t. China) and externally (by forging alliances and enhancing interstate cooperation with other powers) while mitigating differences through economic and diplomatic engagement. Hyperrealists decry pragmatists’ optimism that increased trade and economic engagement can win over a territorially unsatiated China and instead argue for an unabashed encirclement strategy towards it with other China-wary powers. Appeasers posit that China is a benign and friendly power, meaning no harm to India and that it should be enthusiastically engaged. In trying to accommodate such plethora of views in dealing with China, successive Indian governments have found themselves muddling through one approach to another.
Current Government and Policy Flip-Flops
Following the Galwan clash, India appears to be hinting at a change of tack as evinced by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s repeated assertions that realism should shape India’s China policy and that peace and tranquillity on the border cannot be separated from the overall architecture of bilateral ties. India’s slashing of Chinese presence in the Indian economy suggests a move in that direction. China’s rather staid response to India’s manoeuvres stems from a general under appreciation of Indian resolve to follow through on such a policy initiative. China’s belief in Indian irresoluteness is not without basis either. The new dispensation led by Narendra Modi started off by trying to bring the “pragmatic” element more into play in India’s dealings with China. To this end, it resorted to a two-pronged strategy of bolstering strategic ties with other regional partners alarmed by China’s newfound boldness such as Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Australia among others and spurred up defense and strategic ties with the US, while simultaneously trying to improve relations with China by enhancing bilateral trade (which was already heavily-tilted in China’s favour). However, relations nosedived with the Doklam standoff in June 2017 which lasted for over three months. Cognizant of its power differential with China, and therefore not keen on antagonizing it any further, India broached the idea of organizing an informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s PM Narendra Modi. As the two leaders met in picturesque Wuhan, India had by then made up its mind to drop the “pragmatic” yet somewhat “confrontational” approach and decided in favour of going full throttle with appeasement vis-à-vis China. Following the summit, the Indian government scaled down its contact with the Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile and refused to back Australia’s bid to participate in the annual Malabar exercise. What exactly did India hope to achieve with such tactics is anyone’s guess as China continued to brazenly oppose India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and block India’s efforts to get Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar admitted to the UN Sanctions list – eventually relenting on the latter (courtesy of US pressure) while continuing to hyphenate India’s cause with Pakistan’s in the case of former.
A Long History of Fluctuating China Policy
As a matter of fact, the blame for such a vacillating policy cannot be squarely put at Modi’s doorsteps. Historical precedents abound where previous Indian governments too have struggled to come up with a comprehensive and coherent strategy on China. Notable examples include Jawaharlal Nehru’s flip-flops on China threat which not only cost India loss of territory but also resulted in a personal loss of face for Nehru. Some twenty-five years later, Rajiv Gandhi who showed remarkable courage in standing up to the Chinese challenge in a serious military provocation along the eastern flank of the LAC let go of the chance to articulate India’s long-term strategy vis-à-vis China and instead sought a quick return to normalcy in bilateral ties following his visit to Beijing in 1988. A decade later, AB Vajpayee, after having justified India’s nuclear tests as a response to Chinese nuclear weapons, ended up describing China as a “good neighbour” in his address at the Peking University only a couple of years later. Indeed, India’s foreign policy history is riddled with complacency on the part of successive Indian governments in dealing with its largest neighbour, and a continual cause of strategic concern.
It is clear that unless India does away with policy ad-hocism and sticks with a clear, long-term China policy,it would not be able to effect a change in China’s attitude towards itself. In this regard, Jaishankar’s recoupling of economic and trade ties with the larger border question is a welcome move, but a lot would depend on how determined India is to persevere through the demanding nature of realpolitik.
- Mohan Malik’s article on three schools of thought on India’s China policy: accessible at: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a591916.pdf
India-China Relations: A Turbulent Future?
On the 10th May 2020, Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a cross-border dispute in Sikkim. After built up tensions, a month later another clash began in The Galwan Valley. By September, shots had been fired for the first time in over 40 years. Such confrontations are the worst India and China have seen in recent years. Although face-offs between the two sides are not uncommon, border disputes do pose a challenge for Indian and Chinese security. Also, their economic relationship could be strained if the two rising giants do not resolve their territorial dispute. Therefore, this article looks at the recent tensions between the two states and considers what this means for the future of their bilateral relationship.
Where did it Begin?
The Sino-Indian war took place in 1962, when Indian and Chinese troops fought over the Himalayan territory of Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is located between Tibet, Xinjiang and Ladakh and territory was the primary cause of the war, as well as other issues including sporadic violence. China had gradually exerted its influence over Aksai Chin for four years before the war. At the time, India placed its forces along the border, but China’s strategy was to launch a full-blown attack. China’s standpoint was that the territory they were fighting over was deemed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and they should have sovereignty over it. As India’s strategy was one of defence, they were outnumbered and lacked sufficient weaponry. Therefore, they suffered heavy casualties with many of the army killed, wounded, missing and captured. The war lasted until China announced a unilateral ceasefire on 21stNovember 1962.India was left defeated and humiliated as it was never prepared for a war with China. Until 1962, India had always focused on the security threat posed by Pakistan and had the upper hand militarily.
Since the 1962 war there have occurred numerous infrequent stand-offs between Indian armed forces and Chinese armed forces along the disputed territory. There is a competitive nature between the two states whereby these stand-offs become an opportunity to militarily flex their muscles. Episodes occurred in Northern Ladakh in 2013 and Eastern Ladakh in 2014. In 2017, the situation escalated when China attempted to form a road that would extend its border into India. India opposed this and feared that if the road was built, China would have increased access to the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the ‘chicken’s neck’. This is a highly contentious area for India as they believe it is a strategic asset to them because it connects the North Eastern states to the mainland. The high-altitude stand-off lasted for over a month. In September 2019, another violent clash took place near the Pangong Tso (lake), an area that China has control over two thirds of. The most recent disputes involved pushing, shoving, fists, wooden clubs, and stone throwing. The skirmish in May resulted in 11 injured in total, 4 Indian forces and 7 Chinese forces. It was resolved by local brigadier-level sector commanders who were able to discuss the tensions and come to a resolution. However, the clash in June saw 20 Indian soldiers dead and up to 40 Chinese casualties. In late July, it was believed that troops were withdrawing from the border region. However, this remained incomplete and throughout August and September, Indian troops were continuing to deploy along the LAC. For over 40 years, no bullets were fired in these skirmishes because of the de facto border code that prohibits the use of firearms. However, this changed in September when the first shots were fired. The most recent disputes are believed to have been triggered by a disagreement over the location of Chinese observation towers and tents. It seems, tensions have been building since India’s revocation of Article 370 in 2019 and China’s resistance against India’s infrastructure plans in the borderlands.
A Turbulent Future?
In 2018, PM Modi and President Jinping agreed to maintain peace along the border at the Wuhan summit. India and China’s collective economies make up over 17% of the entire global economy. Also, China is India’s primary trading partner with annual trade worth $92 billion. They have attempted to increase cooperation and build confidence measures by undertaking joint projects including a training program for Afghan diplomats and reviving the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor. However, these efforts are undermined by the pervasive feeling of distrust between the two states and the echoes of Cold War history. Also, the summits and efforts of cooperation have not stopped the outbreaks of violence, nor have they solved any of the underlying issues. Underlying issues that strain the Sino-Indian relationship include nuclear weapons, China’s support for Pakistan, the situation in Tibet and India’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese navy making an appearance in Indian waters and Indian foreign policy. The Covid-19 pandemic has added pressure to Sino-Indian relations as the Indian general public blame China for the outbreak thus causing an anti-China sentiment. Both states have downplayed the recent stand-off’s as short-term and temporary incidents. However, if relations continue to sour over territorial boundaries and the border remains unresolved, this could compromise their economic relationship. To prevent prolonged crisis, China would need to withdraw its aggressive position voluntarily through peaceful negotiations with India. India could attempt a forceful removal of Chinese forces, but that would lead to increased escalation. Further, India should tread with caution as neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka and Nepal are becoming increasingly supportive of China. In other words, unless India and China find a way to trust each other, it is highly likely that they will be pushed to the brink of war once again.
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