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How to solve the North Korean military and strategic issue

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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 “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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