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How to solve the North Korean military and strategic issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]hy does North Korea want to currently reach such a nuclear threshold as to threaten Japan, South Korea, the Southern Asian seas and, obviously, the US bases in the Pacific, as well as the North American mainland?

Because it fears to be invaded from the South or from the sea, with an integrated action on its coast by South Korea and the United States, with the Japanese support off the coast.

The North Korean Republic fears to be invaded because it is close to countries which are also obliged to support and influence it, not through the Marxist-Leninist ideology but with geography, namely China and Russia.

Hence it fears that the price of support will become too high for the country to be able to pay it without a “socialist” regime change, such as that of Deng Xiaoping’s China, or with Russia’s statist nationalism.

These countries are such as to influence North Korea by helping the Juche (self-reliance) regime at increasingly higher, and ultimately unsustainable, strategic costs for the country.

Furthermore, one of the ideological foundations of the North Korean regime is its very clear autonomy from the rest of the world – hence, as much as possible, also from Russia and China.

Moreover, after Kim-Jong Un’s rise to power, North Korea has turned the primary national and international policy line from Songun (“military first”), which was his father’s and Kim-Il Sung’s policy, into a directive called Byungijin, namely the parallel development of economy and defense.

Since the beginning of Kim-Jong Un’s reign significant reforms have been implemented: the downsizing of common farms, fewer checks on the distribution system and greater availability of money have enabled peasants to retain a larger share of crops so as to give rise to a small-scale free local economy.

It is worth recalling that agriculture was the focus of Deng Xiaoping’s “First Modernization” in China.

At military level, however, the Byungjin policy line envisages that, in strategic planning, preference be given to nuclear weapons: the civilian or military nuclear technology is cheaper than the conventional one, which also depends on a separation between “gun workers” – as Mao Zedong called them – and “plow workers”.

Too much military labour force takes men and women away from the production system and this does not certainly go in the direction desired by Kim-Jong Un.

Furthermore always portraying the leader of an “enemy” country as a madman – as the West has being doing since Hitler’s times – is really an act of madness on our part.

The effects of the timid economic reform are obviously very slow and cyclical and this is the reason why the friendly China did not allow North Korea to be admitted into the new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank in 2016.

It is also worth recalling that Xi Jinping, whose PCC is monitoring the situation in North Korea closely, has not yet paid any official visit to North Korea’s capital town.

While North Korea’s nuclear armed forces are worth only 2-3% of GDP per year, according to the most reliable Western indirect estimates, the development of missile and nuclear weapons is an almost compulsory economic-strategic option for Kim-Jong Un, who wants an internal economic reform following the pathway of China’s “Four Modernizations”, but does not certainly want to lose power or change its nature.

Hence for North Korea it is the globalization of a regional threat: the North Korean regime wants to directly threaten the United States in the Pacific and on its national territory. It wants to force the traditional allies such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan to defend it also beyond their national and local interests and it finally wants to oblige Westerners to help its economy and allow its steady expansion, with the unconventional threat.

Missile explosions and the new thermonuclear weapons, such as the one detonated on January 9, 2016 – which North Korea declared to be miniaturized, and hence potentially threatening even for long-range targets – suggest that, once finished the phase of the 5+1 negotiations and international agreements, North Korea now wants to make its status as nuclear power be accepted as a simple fait accompli.

And the new small wealth secured by savings on conventional forces will be used exactly for this purpose, considering that the new North Korean leadership is clearly no longer interested in negotiating a new strategic set-up with countries that are ever less interested in solving the problem.

Or with countries which are particularly interested in the “usual curse” of the State which does not comply with international rules, invented by others alone.

Or with countries which are only interested in “showing their flag”, as is the case with the recent US naval mission in the Korean regional sea, which, however – as the New York Times has recently revealed – had no particular characteristics of deterrence vis-à-vis North Korea.

How could we rationally oppose the new strategic North Korean posture, which is developing its non-conventional technologies along three directions: the dual space technology, submarine nuclear missiles and the ground handling of mobile launching bases?

Either the unstable South Korea is armed with nuclear technologies, which would make North Korea’s weapons increase significantly, or the South is protected with THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) – as has already happened – or, finally, a new agreement is negotiated with North Korea.

How can this be done? The possible courses of action I envisage would be the following: a) a guarantee for developing the Special Economic Zones, the seven areas which attract regional capital into North Korea with great difficulty; b) the political and strategic act of recognizing the North Korean government’s legitimacy, thus putting an end to the old and trite memory of that war in Asia, which – however – was triggered off by two parallel mistakes by General MacArthur and Communist guerrillas in the North; c) North Korea’s entry into a new Regional Security Union that would stabilize Japan’s, the Russian Federation’s, China’s, South Korea’s and the United States’ interests; d) the establishment of an International Fund for the Development of the Korean Peninsula, to which all the local countries that wish so may adhere; and d) a multilateral treaty, with the usual guarantees, putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear escalation and preserving its status reached at the time of signature, as well as envisaging credible sanctions in the event of North Korea infringing the Treaty.

Hence, if we do not follow Bob Gallucci’s line, who – as a typical Italo-American – says that the “North Korean issue is not like good wine” which improves by aging, we will not manage to get out of this situation, getting enmeshed by a theatrical strategy that only serves media and does not solve anything, or by the even worse choice of threatening North Korea militarily.

This gets us away from Russia and China which already have their disputes with North Korea, but are essential to bring peace to the region.

And this also makes North Korea’s policy even more aggressive and its rearmament faster.

Hence, as Bob Gallucci teaches us, we must negotiate with North Korea multilaterally, because the plurality of actors sitting at the same negotiating table does not enable North Korea to threaten us or wring concessions from the United States alone. Furthermore North Korea will feel how important, decisive and definitive are the pressures of friends or opponents in the same round of negotiations.

Paradoxically, in a recent essay, Bob Gallucci says that “the United States and North Korea want the same thing.”

Which one? The regime change. The United States believes that there should be a political and strategic change in North Korea and the same is wished by North Korea for the United States vis-à-vis itself.

Also South Korea, concerned about the possible nuclear war against North Korea, does not like solutions based on a show of strength that would destabilize South Korea as a NATO attack on the Warsaw Pact would have destabilized the Federal Republic of Germany, which was mainly thinking of reunification – exactly what many people still want in South Korea.

Furthermore, in Bob Gallucci’s opinion, doing business with North Korea is better than threatening sanctions, which are often politically useless and easy to circumvent or, sometimes, even harmful.

Therefore, within a multilateral approach, it is currently still necessary to: (a) stop the substantially useless North Korean nuclear program, because the political goals of that operation are reached with negotiations; b) initiate political normalization, which is also a goal of the North Korean regime that has no interest in being regarded as the global rogue State; c) provide some economic assistance, and, in exchange for it, d) be provided strategic reassurances on the security of the region by North Korea.

Furthermore, if North Korea were to win its current “war of nerves” with the United States, the future scenario could be that of Japan’s nuclear rearmament and widespread insecurity of South Korea, which could also turn to China for its strategic projection – hence the nuclear balance will disappear in the geopolitical heart of Asia.

It is not an acceptable perspective, at least for us.

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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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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