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East Asia

The missile issue in North Korea

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]n April 15 last, North Korea celebrated the 105th birth anniversary of Kim-Il-Sung, the “Eternal Leader” and founder of the new republic of North Korea.”The Day of the Sun” was the opportunity to remember the Eternal Leader, who has always been compared to this bright star, but it was above all the optimum time for a missile test.

The launch was carried out in the morning of April 16, just a day after the huge military parade in Pyongyang and, particularly, few hours before US Vice-President Mike Pence was due to arrive in Seoul, South Korea, at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia.

The medium-range KN-15 missile targeted to the Sea of Japan was launched at around 7:18 a.m.

The missile blew up almost immediately, but the political fact – also represented by the massive show of strength, displaying a bevy of new missiles and launchers during the giant military parade the day before – is that, as stated by the North Korean Deputy-Foreign Minister, Han Song-Ryol, “there will be ever more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.”

We do not know whether the fall of the missile carrier was caused by a fault of the North Korean planning or by a US cyber-warfare action, as many Western sources maintained.

The Deputy Minister also added that any further US pressure would be interpreted as an act of war and as an opportunity for final bilateral confrontation between North Korea and the United States.

Shortly before the statement made by the North Korean Deputy-Minister, while speaking from South Korea, Mike Pence had said that the “the era of strategic patience” of the United States vis-à-vis Kim Jong-Un’s regime was over.

The matter here is not about anger or patience. The issue is eminently geopolitical and – never as in these cases – multilateral.

In the days before the “Day of the Sun”, the US President had sent a naval squadron to the Korean peninsula, made up of the 97,000 ton USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, accompanied by a missile cruiser, the Lake Champlain, and two destroyers, the Wayne Meyer and the Michael Murphy.

The geopolitical and military significance is clear: the United States penetrates into an area in which North Korea can easily launch missiles or anyway carry out military actions.

And, if it did so, the North American naval squadron would be able to launch a counterforce strike of considerable importance and accuracy.

An aircraft carrier, however, has scarce offensive potential, because its aircraft are still vulnerable to the strikes of the North Korean military forces, while US-South Korean joint operations have always favoured a scenario of ground attack from the coast.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier will perform exercises with the Australian forces and, in the near future, with the Japanese marines.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, however, is a US strong sign of strength that must not be overlooked: it carries 60 aircraft and 5,000 marines but, while it is true that the naval group can hit several strategic centers in North Korea, it is equally true that the North Korean response must be taken into account and it will certainly not be negligible.

However, as already said, the US-North Korea confrontation can never be interpreted in bilateral terms. The issue at stake is control over the China Sea and Southeast Asia – regions that no major Asian nation wants to leave only in US hands and the United States would be very naive to interpret the tension with North Korea as a “gunfight at the O.K. Corral”.

China, the only power having a full vision of the balance of power in the region, has recently asked the United States to immediately open direct diplomatic negotiations with North Korea.

Furthermore China has not changed its relationship with North Korea since the last contact between Trump and President Xi Jinping.

However, as some US Defense officers maintain, the issue does not lie in forcing North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile program, considering that weapons “cannot be disinvented”

In a new US strategic horizon, the issue would rather lie in dissuading North Korea by granting some kind of geoeconomic asset, thus also gaining support from the major countries of the region.

Nor the issue at stake is only the survival of the North Korean regime, which would probably remain stable, even after an enemy nuclear strike.

Moreover, are we really interested in a regime change in North Korea? Is it not enough to have experienced the disasters of the “Arab springs” or Syria? Regimes have always changed on their own.

Indeed, the real issue is the strategic relationship between China, the Russian Federation, Iran and, of course, North Korea.

Currently Russia is the most linked to North Korea, as often reported by the agencies of the North Korean regime.

Even over the last few months the Kremlin has strongly reduced the North Korean economic crisis and it is expanding the Hasan-Rajin railway network between the two countries – a project from which South Korea withdrew in March 2016.

At energy level, Russia supports North Korea also during the recurrent crises of commercial relations between China and North Korea, with oil and gas transfers from Siberia to Rajin, starting from Vladivostok.

The Russian oil has often been processed in North Korean plants and it has brought hard currency to North Korea, as well as particularly enabling it to resell to China precisely the Russian oil by-products.

At least 10,000 North Korean workers have already been posted to Russia, with a view to developing the Siberian infrastructure.

In this case, the Russian strategic idea is to become a strategic partner both for South Korea and North Korea, thus playing a unique role between the two countries that no naïve naval group can play in the long run.

Moreover, Russia blocks any illegal migration between North Korea and its territory, thus ensuring to Kim Jong-un strong demographic stability, which is essential for the country.

Paradoxically, another crucial fact for relations between Russia and North Korea is the presence, in South Korea, of the US THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense) anti-ballistic missile system, which is seen by Russia both as an incentive for North Korea to continue the missile program and as a real threat to the Russian-Korean relations in the North of the Peninsula.

For China, the relationship with the North Korean regime is even more complex.

China is linked to North Korea by the Sino-Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of 1961 and China imports and exports approximately three-quarters of North Korea’s production.

Hence China does not seek the collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime because, obviously, it does not want a flood of migrants on its borders, nor a peninsular reunification led by South Korea, which would mean thousands of US soldiers close to its national territory.

Instead of sending military ships, President Donald J. Trump would do well to discuss with Russia and China the future of North Korea, by reconciling all interests: the interest of Japan and South Korea, which do not want a strategic threat on their borders, as well as the interest of Russia and China, which have a geoeconomic interest and want a friendly country directed towards the South China Sea.

As Napoleon used to say, it is geography which guides and directs military strategy.

Gunboat diplomacy is also a relic of the nineteenth century or of the time when the United States forcibly opened new markets for their goods, as when Commodore Perry opened Japan to international trade in 1853.

Nevertheless also China supports and votes the resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear activities and expands its relations with South Korea, thus playing a broker role that could be essential in the future.

As is the case with the Russian Federation.

North Korea, however, has never made concessions to its big neighbouring country, namely China.

In 2006, for example, it informed China of its nuclear test only twenty minutes in advance and so far there has been no official meeting between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping.

China, inter alia, does not want a North Korea increasingly dependent on foreign aid, while international sanctions block the North Korean-Chinese trade despite the increase of North Korea’s production.

Hence a North Korean economic growth to absorb Chinese exports would be ideal for the CPC leaders, who have always set their relations with Pyongyang in view of making the two economies homogeneous.

This is only part of North Korean goals, since the country wants integration in the Asian coastal economic context without strategic “godfathers”.

The relationship between North Korea and Iran is even more complex.

Iran has always used the North Korean companies for acquiring the materials subject to sanctions, especially in the military sphere.

For no reason Iran will leave North Korea to its fate, while the economic relations between Iran and South Korea strengthen significantly as time goes by.

Certainly, still today the flow of funds from the Shiite theocracy to the atheist kingdom of the Korean Peninsula is focused on missile and nuclear technologies, but Iran exports large oil quantities also to South Korea.

Nevertheless, reverting to the military parade of April 15 last, it is worth recalling it had begun with an unusual climax of accusations between the United States and North Korea.

And exactly on April 11, North Korean leaders had declared that their country was ready to respond with a nuclear strike to any US conventional or non-conventional threat.

And, as it has been happening for years, China tries to pour water   on the fire of tensions between North Korea and the United States.

North Korea, inter alia, has an army of approximately one million people and seven million reservists, with a thousand ballistic missiles including six hundred SCUD B, C or D missiles and four hundred Nodong missiles – an adapted version of Scud missiles – while it is supposed to have some dozens of Musudan Taepodong missiles, which are the most suitable for an extra-continental attack.

North Korea has 2,100 military vehicles, 4,000 tanks, 600 warplanes, 72 submarines and three frigates.

The ready-made nuclear warheads are supposed to be twenty, with 5,000 tons of nerve agent available.

For cyberwarfare, in the now famous “Unit 121”, North Korea has 1,800 hackers, probably trained by China, Russia and Iran.

Hence, instead of sending the current version of Commodore Perry, the United States could agree with China and Russia to define, in North Korea, an economic system open for special economic zones in Pyongyang.

Some work well, some others worse, but this is the main card to play so as to pool efforts between the United States, China and Russia in relation to North Korea.

Moreover, it would be reasonable to hold a new round of negotiations, quite different from the Six-Party Talks which have already taken place.

As is well-known, they were discontinued in 2009 following the dispute on the check and verification criteria and some missile launches by North Korea.

Now, on the one hand, it would be necessary to create such a linkage between the military structure and economy, in North Korea, as to ensure the stability of its political system and, on the other, to support the economy in exchange for verifiable and rational reductions of its nuclear apparatus.

But can this be the line of an America like the current one?

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. “

East Asia

The Korean Peninsula needs more peace talks rather than game drills

Wang Li

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Authors: Wang Li & Yang Yi-zhong & Chen Yiling

Although military drill is legitimate and often conducts internationally, it is still required to be transparent and cautious. That means the participants involved should publicly announce the game not be directed against any third party, if not having the pre-talks before the drills. For example, the Chinese military participated in Russia’s the Center-2019 drills and a large-scale Vostok-2018 strategic exercise. But both sides announced their aims to fully test and improve the capabilities of the Chinese troops in joint operation and logistics with a view to improving the strategic coordination between the two militaries.

However, this is not the case of the United States and its ally South Korea on the Korean Peninsula although the latter often display its reluctance to follow the dictate of the U.S. military command. It is sure that hostile behavior or policy like regular military drills against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would lead to serious consequences. At the Xiangshan Security Forum in Beijing of this October, a top officer of DPRK armed forces put it, although Pyongyang has worked to build lasting peace but that the situation has relapsed into a “dangerous, vicious cycle” of exacerbating tensions because of the regular military drills of the U.S. and ROK forces.

Since 2018 when the DPRK-U.S. joint statement was issued, there is no progress in improving bilateral relations between the two sides. Pyongyang has insisted that it is completely because of the U.S. anachronistic and hostile policies against the DPRK and also the ROK (South Korea) has adopted a “double-dealing attitude” in continuing to carry out military drills with the U.S. and buying advanced military equipment. Under such circumstances, Pyongyang has no other choices but conducted missile tests in recent months, including that of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and broke off the latest working-level nuclear talks with the U.S. Understandably, DPRK’s top negotiator for the talks blamed the U.S. for the breakdown with accusing Washington of “bringing nothing” to the negotiating table. In addition, the DPRK officially accused the U.S. of using sanctions in order to enforce disobedient countries to their knees. Yet, sanctions draw only resistance and counteraction from those affected countries, without providing any help in solving the issues. Therefore, the DPRK must stand up to such attempts without giving in to any external pressure.

Consider this, people wondered why the United States and its allies have been so hostile and even often ridiculous in dealing with the DPRK which is one of the isolated and economically most poor states in the world. Actually China and Russia have supported the U.N.-endorsed sanctions against the DPRK, but they have opposed to any attempt on the part of the United States and its allies to change the ruling party and regime of Pyongyang regardless of the dire consequences. As the close neighbors of DPRK, China and Russia have vowed that they would never allow the chaos occurred in the Korean peninsula. Given this, Pyongyang has demonstrated its willingness to conduct negotiations with the United States and its brotherly counterpart the South Koreans. True, China and Russia have provided the necessary humanitarian aid to the DPRK but they also proposed two-suspension formula of the Korean issue, that is, the two sides simultaneously suspend their nuclear tests and military drills. Unfortunately, due to the United States’ arrogance and stubbornness, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has never been improved substantially.

Now the tension on the Korean Peninsula reappears again and even more dangerous move is that the DPRK’s supreme decision-making body lashed out at planned U.S.-ROK military drills with a stern warning the United States will face a greater threat and harsh suffering if it ignores Kim Jong-Un’s end-of-year deadline to salvage nuclear talks. Obviously the DPRK is deeply concerned with the annual U.S.-led military drills which are supposed to cause a “vicious cycle” in relations between the two sides. It is arguable that the United States with the most powerful arsenal in the world should have better behave itself with prudence at the sensitive time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula could return to the dangerous starting point due to the joint military drills. Here is no reasons to defend the DPRK’s menacing rhetoric but it does have the sound line to recognize the legitimate concerns with its own security.

This paper holds that despite the disappointment of those closely watching the tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the failed summits, yet diplomatically, the door between Pyongyang and Washington is still open. Although the United States and DPRK presented their own narratives on the disagreement, they didn’t finger point at each other as what they would have usually done. Actually, Trump has spoken of Kim favorably and Pyongyang’s tone on the impasse of the talks was soft. Everything indicates that both countries look forward to the next meeting though undecided. Past experiences tell that challenges are inevitable when the two sides discuss the issues that involve their core interests and grave concerns. Yet, it is obvious that both sides will benefit from sincere dialogue. As the success of diplomacy can’t be based on false promises and on breach of faith, it supposes that there is no reason to regard the chance of peace for the Korean issues failed. At the least, the two sides have no intention to reject the dual-tracks and two suspensions proposals by China. It has also reflected Beijing’s role on the Korean Peninsula issue is irreplaceable since Kim made four trips to China in just ten months and Trump praised Xi as a highly respected leader due to his help to mediate with Pyongyang.

If we look into the past summit talks between Trump and Kim, they faltered due to the American rejection of Pyongyang’s demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for the partial dismissing of its nuclear capabilities. Following that, Kim responded with intensified testing activities but also indicated he would “wait with patience until the end of the year for the United States to come up with a courageous decision.” Curious enough, the United States indicates that it will consider changing plans to conduct joint military drills with South Korea if that helps support diplomatic efforts to restart a dialogue with Pyongyang.  As U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “We always have to remain flexible in terms of how we support our diplomats to ensure that we do not close any doors that may allow forward progress on the diplomatic front.” His remarks were greeted cautiously by Pyongyang although it still demands for a cancellation of the upcoming exercise. Yet, this was finally realized when the United States and South Korea decided on November 17 to postpone the planned military drills.

For sure, it is still too early to tell what would happen on the Korean Peninsula in terms of the deeply-rooted suspicions and the hostile groups on the both sides? But we should have confidence in the prospective meetings between the United States and the DPRK in the near future. In effect, Pyongyang and Washington have agreed that lifting sanctions is a key part of denuclearization that needs to be negotiated sincerely and constructively as well. At this crucial moment, it might be time for China to resume its role as expected. It seems that China is ready to extend its help as it has reiterated to both Washington and Seoul that Beijing is willing to continue to play a constructive role on the Korean Peninsula issue.

Briefly, it argues that the Korean Peninsula needs more peace talks rather than game drills. Equally a stable Korean Peninsula surely benefits the peaceful rise of China and the harmony of the Asian-Pacific region. This is the essence of diplomacy in light of its continuous negotiation, sincere persuasion and necessary compromise.

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East Asia

It’s when not if China’s Middle Eastern tightrope snaps

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.

China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.

It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.

All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.

Israeli intelligence reportedly predicted last year that Iran’s gradual withdrawal from an agreement that Mr. Trump abandoned in May 2018 would ultimately take Iran to a point where it could create a nuclear military facility within a matter of months. That in turn could provoke a regional nuclear arms race and/or a pre-emptive military strike.

That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord. 

The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.

China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.

Even so, China is expected to next month take its first delivery of Russian gas delivered through a new pipeline, part of a US$50 billion gas field development and pipeline construction project dubbed Power of Siberia.

Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.

The Russian pipeline kicks in as China drastically cuts back on its import of Iranian liquified petroleum gas (LPG) because of the US sanctions and is seeking to diversify its supply as a result of Chinese tariffs on US LPG imports imposed as part of the two countries’ trade war.

China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.

Following months of quietly reaching out to Iran, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told a recent security dialogue in Abu Dhabi that there was “room for collective diplomacy to succeed.”

Mr. Gargash went on to say that “for such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states.” Pointedly, Mr. Gargash did not put Russia and China on par with Western powers in that process.

The UAE official said the UAE envisions a regional order undergirded by “strong regional multilateralism” that would provide security for all.

Mr. Gargash made his remarks against the backdrop of a Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a multilateral security arrangement in the Gulf that would incorporate the US defense umbrella as well as an Iranian proposal for a regional security pact that would exclude external players.

Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.

The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of the burden.

Potentially, Mr. Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.

 “China gets 91 percent of its oil from the Straight, Japan 62 percent, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships…,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

China has not rejected Mr. Trump’s position out of hand. Beyond hinting that China could escort Chinese-flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, Chinese officials have said that they would consider joining a US-backed maritime security framework in the region that would create a security umbrella for national navy vessels to accompany ships flying their flag.

Chinese participation would lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive regional security arrangement in the longer term.

China’s maritime strategy, involving the development of a blue water navy, suggests that China already de facto envisions a greater role at some point in the future.

Scholars Julia Gurol and Parisa Shahmohammadi noted in a recent study that China has already “decided to take security concerns in the (Indian Ocean) into its own hands, instead of relying on the USA and its allies, who have long served as the main security providers in this maritime region… If tensions continue to escalate in the Persian Gulf, Beijing may find it has no other choice but to provide a security presence in the Middle East.”

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East Asia

Implications of French President’s Visit to China on the International Arena

Mohamad Zreik

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French President Emmanuel Macron pursues a policy of opening up to China and solving problems that may arise peacefully and diplomatically. France and Germany are the main pillars of the European Union, and the French opening to China is a European recognition of the importance of China’s role internationally.

Last Monday, the French president paid a three-day official visit to China amidst the US-China trade war. The French president has previously promised to visit China once a year throughout his term. These official exchanges between China and France strengthen China’s international standing, and prove the theory that China is a peaceful country seeking cooperation and opening up to the world.

Fifty-five years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, a bilateral relationship based on respect and friendship despite some differences in regimes or strategic alliances. The Chinese model is mainly based on people-to-people communication and peaceful cooperation, and these are the main pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

Despite Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement in 2015, Beijing and Paris have kept their promises to contain global warming, a positive point in the bilateral relationship. The French president considered that China and France should lead the climate agreement. Cooperation between the two countries has emerged considerably in the industrial sector, such as the development of nuclear energy, aerospace, and the automotive industry. Academic cooperation between the two countries has also been boosted through student exchange programs and the high demand for Chinese language learning in France, which was previously rare.

Commenting on the importance of trade exchanges between China and the EU, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce showed that trade between China and the EU exceeded 322.5 billion US dollars in the first half of 2018, up 13 percent year on year. Chinese Ambassador to France Zhai Jun recently expressed that China and France are to expand cooperation in agriculture, energy, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

From the ancient city of Xi’an, the French president announced that an alliance between Beijing, Europe and Paris should be established for a better future for the world, and Macron stressed the need for a balanced relationship between China and Europe. The French president praised the Belt and Road Initiative and called for its activation in order to enhance the trade role of Asia and Europe.

France was the first Western country to recognize the People’s Republic of China. In a meeting with French ambassadors, the French president stressed that the West is in a moment of decline and China is progressing at a tremendous speed. During his visit to China, the French president took advantage of the trade war between the United States and China and worked to develop France-China trade relations, increase French trade partners to China, and promoting the French tourism, agriculture and services sectors.

France is seeking to strengthen Sino-European relations because of its great benefit to the European economy, but it is contrary to the Western orientation. China is also a beneficiary of good relations with France, because France has influence in Africa and many regions in the world and is a permanent member of the Security Council and it is a developed country at the military, technological and technical levels. China’s cooperation with a powerful country like France will bring many benefits and opportunities.

China’s great economic, technological and military progress indicates that China has become an important country in international relations, and it is in the interest of any country in the world to establish good relations with China. The best evidence is that France is seeking to establish good relations with China, as well as the European Union countries to make their relationship with China distinctive.

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