[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] M [/yt_dropcap]oon Jae-In is the new President of South Korea, elected with 41.4% of votes. The leader of the Democratic Party, who is the current president, had already been considered favoured in opinion polls, especially compared to Hong Yoon-Pyo, the leader of the Liberty Korea Party who, however, got 23.3% of votes.
The election of the leader of the Democratic Party, namely the Minjoo Party, puts an end to the multi-annual centre-right political hegemony represented by the old Saenuri Party, which last February, following the impeachment and dismissal of former President Geun-Hye Park, split off and changed its name to Liberty Korea Party.
The turnout rate was particularly high, with 77.2% of people who cast their vote.
However, who is the 66-year-old lawyer who has a long history as human right lawyer and civil rights defender?
He has already had significant political experience as Chief of Cabinet of former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun. He was also a member of the South Korea’s Parliamentary Assembly and finally founded the progressive daily newspaper Hankyoreh.
At political level, the new South Korean President wants, above all, peaceful reunification with North Korea.
He is reproposing the Sunshine Policy adopted by two former South Korean President, namely Kim Dae-Jung and Roh-Moo Yun, who still seems to be the reference point for Moon Jae-In.
Moreover, the newly-elected President has also declared he is a “friend of America”, especially because it spared South Korea from the experience of war Communism and because it long sustained its economic growth.
In essence, the new South Korean leader wants a rebalancing of relations between South Korea and the United States and, in particular, South Korea’s full autonomy with regard to the reunification policy with North Korea.
Obviously, the very idea of reunification between the two Koreas is based on autonomous enhancement and upgrading of South Korea’s military system and on a project for economic merger between the two old regions – a tragic relic and memory of Cold War in Asia, the region in which there was the fiercest and longest clash between the United States, the USSR and China.
As Park Geun-Hye said in 2014, reunification would be an “economic bonanza”.
That idea was supported both by Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who were both interested in defusing the regiona militarily and, above all, in creating an economic and financial success case in the Pacific, so as to support both China’s growth and Japan’s economic cycle.
The only one that explicitly opposed said idea in 2014 was Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party.
The issue, however, is complex, considering that North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities have led to a long sequence of UN Security Council’s Resolutions, ranging from No. 1718 to 1874 and 2087, as well as a set of harsh economic sanctions.
North Korea needs to give priority to its nuclear and military potential compared to the reunification project, as it is the only guarantee for the stability of its ruling class.
Conversely, South Korea needs to internationalize the Korean issue, so as to permit a reunification which, in its plans, would enable North Korea to redress its economy and create a productive boom that would make the reunited Korea a big and stable “Asian tiger”.
South Korea thinks of reunification mainly as an extraordinary opportunity for its economic growth.
Moreover, this would also be in US interest.
Obviously, North Korea’s progressive destabilization would endanger China, which has 1,420 kilometres of terrestrial borders with North Korea, as well as the Russian Federation, which has 17 kilometres of terrestrial borders with North Korea and 22.1 kilometres (equivalent to 12 nautical miles) of maritime borders.
If the polarity between China and the United States loosened, exactly in relation to the future of North Korea, this would be the primary strategic key to reunification between South and North Korea.
Russia would be the natural reference point for restructuring the North Korean nuclear and missile potential, which would become a guarantee for security throughout the South Pacific region.
On the economic front, South Korea’s new President is well-known for his fight against the chaebol, namely the large industrial conglomerates which have so far produced both South Korea’s economic growth and the many corporate restrictions and impediments that prevent it today.
Furthermore, South Korea records a very low birth rate, which naturally weakens its economic momentum, and a welfare crisis that, for the first time since the 1950s, makes the ghost of mass poverty loom large.
Hence currently the political and economic dialectics in South Korea lies between the “protected” and the “marginalized”, in a two-thirds society where poor people increase and the protection for those who are still at work decreases, matched by a parallel increase of the unemployed, the old “reserve production army” stabilizing wages at their lowest level.
As stated by the new President, on the geopolitical front, South Korea shall “learn to say no to America”, especially with regard to the THAAD missile defence network, which, however, should be largely paid by South Korea.
In addition, South Korea should “take the lead in the flow of events” regarding the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
Translated into current language, South Korea could start a series of talks with North Korea so as to make it lower the military guard and, above all, put its defence directly into the hands of the national government – and not only of the relationship between South Korea and the United States.
Would it be enough? Yes, if the rejection of the THAAD system is followed by a series of economic and military measures to reassure North Korea.
Said measures would make the Russian Federation and China enter the Korean strategic framework and both countries are expected to rebalance the system, while the United States loosens its grip on South Korea.
From an economic viewpoint, the reunification of the two Koreas is supposed to cost a sum ranging between 25 billion and 3.5 trillion US dollars. The target should be the possible doubling of North Korea’s GDP four years after reunification.
And again, bearing these calculations in mind, reunification should cost additional 50 or 67 billion US dollars.
Hence, South Korea cannot bear these costs on its own and should raise at least 50% of the funds needed abroad.
Another scenario to be considered is the one which seems to be the most likely today, that is North Korea accepting the minimum number of domestic economic reforms needed to preserve the status quo indefinitely.
The second scenario – again for North Korea – suggests a short-term economic collapse that would entail huge costs both at humanitarian level and for securing North Korea’s nuclear, biological and conventional weapons, with a possible mounting of tensions in South Korea, which could not solve North Korea’s implosion on its own.
A further possible scenario is a war between the two Koreas, which would trigger off unimaginable tensions in China, Russia, and Japan.
Obviously, at least since the 1990s, South Korea’s ruling class has assumed the primary criterion that – even avoiding the most dangerous and unfortunate choices – reunification will be a very slow process, in which no South Korean government will do anything to favour an economic, strategic or political crisis in North Korea.
Furthermore, 67% of people in South Korea believes that the two Koreas should be reunited, but 56% of South Koreans think that their country would lose, rather than benefit from the reunification process.
At geopolitical level, reunification could entail the strategic autonomy of Korea, with the North Korean armed forces leaving South Korea, thus eventually playing China against the United States and the other way round.
North Korea, however, is a buffer zone China needs to avoid an even closer alliance between South Korea and the United States.
China does not want reunification through the North-South war – the worst scenario for China – while the best scenario for it is the current status quo between the two Koreas preventing the humanitarian crisis in North Korea, which would spread to the Chinese territory, while South Korea keeps on recording high investment flows to China.
Hence, China backs North Korea, but only to a certain extent and it accepts the cost for maintaining the two Koreas, instead of envisaging reunification which would be China’s worst economic and security scenario.
In all likelihood, a reunited Korea would be a new Vietnam for China, as well as a non-compliant power and a strong economic competitor.
In the future, we can even imagine a maritime block between the United States and Japan, which would rebalance a continental block between China, Russia and the reunited Korea, while the United States should anyway succeed in persuading South Korea to avoid the military alliance with China.
Even from this viewpoint, in the future, the United States will tend to record a sequence of crises in the Korean region, both working on the assumption of a slow reunification, which would in any case make its armed forces leave the Korean peninsula, and working on the assumption that the status quo is maintained between the two Koreas, which is the situation in which the alliance between South Korea and China is optimal, thus also ensuring a faster and more stable reunification.
Obviously, the stability of the Korean Peninsula is essential also for Japan’s security.
For Japan, the best scenario would be a status quo between the two Koreas leading to North Korea’s gradual denuclearization.
As a second option, Japan prefers Korea – also reunited – to remain friendly to the United States and, of course, to Japan, as well as economically open and enabling the US forces to keep on staying in the region.
South Korea wants to get closer to China as much as Japan shall get closer to the United States so as to preserve the balance of strategic potentials in the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of the old “co-prosperity area” of the Japanese Empire.
For Russia, the option is primarily economic: between 2000 and 2004 bilateral trade between Russia and North Korea grew by 36% and that between Russia and South Korea by 23%.
As to the two Koreas’ issue, the Russian Federation would like to reach a highly unlikely result: a united Korea in which Russia can make the South relinquish its security relationship with the United States.
More rationally, Russia wants a reunification maintaining the United States in the region and paradoxically keeping China away from it.
Nevertheless, in all likelihood, a reunited Korea would still be a primary asset for China, but only the US economy – together with the other major ones – could bear the cost of reunification, albeit slow.
Taiwan: The First and Oldest ‘Thorn’ between China and the West
Over three hundred and fifty years ago, when the West lost its first war with China over Taiwan, the technological level between the two sides was fairly even. But the Dutch, then the most dynamic colonial power, paid a heavy price for misbelieving “China might have invented gunpowder but we possess superior guns.” Today, the world is witnessing China’s rapid rise and the US is in decline. The question is, will Taiwan once again bust the Western (aka US) superiority myth?
In 1662, the West fought its first war with China and lost. The Sino-Dutch War, as it is called now, was fought when a Chinese admiral dared the Dutch East India Company to give up its little under half century ‘rule’ over Taiwan. The defeat resulted in the island falling under Chinese rule for the first time in history. It is not so important to know it was China’s first great victory over Europe’s most dynamic colonial power. In the words of the Dutch historian, Tonio Andrade, what is more significant is the first Chinese victory over the West broke the myth of Western superiority as it had been achieved on the basis of “Chinese advantage in strategic and tactical culture.” (Emphasis added) The Chinese victory also broke another myth which the Western historians held on to until as recently as in 1970s, i.e., the Chinese might have invented the gunpowder but didn’t know how to use it as weapon, Andrade, the author went on to add.
Fast forward to the present-day tensions in the Taiwan Strait. As China embarked on the path of Reform and Opening-up, relations between Beijing and Taipei too started improving in the early 1980s. Seen as a remarkable political development on both sides of the Taiwan Strait in 45 years, the KMT government in Taipei declared in 1991 “an end to the war with the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.” However, since the election of Chen Shui-bian as president in 2000, political headwinds in Taiwan have been moving in the opposite direction to Beijing. Alarmed by Chen’s backing of demands for Taiwan’s independence, Beijing was quick to pass anti-secession law a year after Chen was reelected in 2004.
In 2016, following Donald Trump’s victory in US and the victory of Ms. Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan’s president respectively, Beijing’s fear of Taiwan declaring itself an independent country has reached unprecedented levels. In fact, Beijing is feeling seriously threatened by the US role in creating conditions for Taiwan to declare independence. Immediately upon assuming office, President Trump held telephone conversation with the Taiwan president – something which no other US had done in the preceding forty years. This was the beginning of a new trend in US-China relations and which grossly undermined the “One China” policy.
During the past decade (between 2007 and 2019), the US warships made over one hundred trips through the Taiwan Strait. No wonder Beijing has been describing Taiwan as “the most important sensitive issue in Sino-US relations.” According to New Strait Times, in 2020, the year of Coronavirus pandemic, the cross-strait faced its worst crisis in the past two decades. Without denying that the PLA fighter planes crossed maritime border with Taiwan, China however dismissed Taipei’s claims of “incursions” by the mainland. Beijing even maintained its warplanes, bombers and anti-submarine aircrafts “conducted normal exercises on September 18 and 19 respectively and that the median line never existed.”
However, according to experts, the median line is the unofficial airspace boundary between Taiwan and China, and was demarcated by US Air Force General Benjamin Davis Jr. in 1955, before the US pressured both sides to enter into a tacit agreement not to cross it. Media reports originating from Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore claimed the forty or more PLA incursions last October, were prompted by two US top officials visiting Taipei during August-September period last year. “U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach arrived in Taiwan on Thursday for the second visit by a high-level American official in two months. The first visit was by the US Health Secretary Alex Azar in August 2020.” The visits by Krach and Azar respectively were first highest-level US Cabinet visits to Taiwan – in gross violation of the US commitments to China – since the US switched formal relations from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979.
This year, especially within hours following President entered the White House, the new US administration lost no time in announcing “our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid.” Two days earlier, the State Department invited and officially received Taiwan’s unofficial ambassador in Washington to Biden’s inauguration – the first envoy from the island present at a presidential swearing-in since 1979. Both the statement of commitment to Taiwan and the presence of Taiwanese envoy at the presidential inauguration respectively were interpreted by strategic affairs experts in Washington and Beijing as moves to provoke China towards making a strategic mistake leading to military conflict.
Further, Taiwan has returned as “thorniest” issue in US-China relations under President Biden – since perhaps it is easier to violate “One China” policy than to either rally European allies against China or to announce a decisive Washington position toward Beijing. As President Biden gears up to embark on his maiden in-person visit to shake hands or bump elbows with his European allies, the US administration has further escalated tensions over Taiwan. Last Sunday, a bipartisan contingent of three US Senators – Tammy Duckworth and Christopher Coons, both Democrats, and Dan Sullivan, a Republican – briefly visited Taiwan on a US military aircraft. According to media reports, the Chinese Defense Ministry described the visit as “extremely vile provocation.” Reuters citing Chinese sources said China believes that “Biden administration is challenging one-China principle and trying to achieve the so-called goal of ‘using Taiwan to control’ China.”
Experts in Beijing point out, Biden is accelerating the pitch of what started under Obama and was intensified by Trump, i.e., to use “the US economic and military might to pressure Beijing and force it to accept US hegemony in the region.” Elsewhere, first the joint statement following Biden-Suga summit in April and then in late May the statement released after the summit meeting between European leaders and Japan’s Prime Minister Suga, are being interpreted as “belligerent stances towards Beijing initiated and encouraged by President Biden.” The EU-Japan post-summit statement called for “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Similar to several moves initiated by Trump and Biden challenging one-China policy, the EU-Suga joint statement too is the first time that Taiwan has been included in such a statement.
A scholar in Tianjin, who writes a column for ftchinese.com, the daily online Mandarin version of the Financial Times, thinks Biden has intensified the so-called Thucydides trap. In a recent article, he has actually put forward a solution for Beijing to not only avoid falling into the trap, but also steer clear of having to choose between using force to reunify with Taiwan and being forced into military conflict with the US by striking first. To sum up Li Yongning’s rather long thesis, he prescribes that China fight out Thucydides trap with economic growth and people’s prosperity. To prove his point, Li flashes the example of de-escalation of hostility between China and Japan. Remember until a few years ago, heightened tensions between the two over Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands. Of late, especially since the middle of Xi Jinping’s first five year tenure, belligerent provocations between Beijing and Tokyo have almost ceased.
How did China under Xi achieve this? According to Li, Xi’s strategy to strike peace and tranquility with Japan was simple and practical. “China’s GDP exceeded Japan’s in 2010 and by 2019 it became 2.8 times more than Japan’s, which put an end to Sino-Japan competitiveness. Likewise, once China achieves one and a half times or twice bigger GDP of the USA, the China-US competitiveness will be rendered as joke,” Li contended. In 2017, in PPP terms China had already exceeded the US economy. Li cited a Brookings Institution report which predicted China’s GDP will cross America’s in 2028. “Once China reaches there, higher GDP will act as shock absorber for all Sino-US conflicts,” Li wrote.
China’s know-how on becoming the oldest society in the world
For decades, China had a “one-child policy” that permitted families to have only one child. A few years ago, this restriction was changed to a “two-child policy”, and now the Chinese government has allowed the Chinese people to give birth to three children.
The main reason for this is the concerningly low birth rate and the impending demographic crisis. China is still the country with the largest population (1.41 billion), but UN forecasts indicate that India will soon surpass it, since India has a much higher birth rate.
Statistics show that last year approximately 12 million babies were born in China, which is the lowest birth rate China has had in many years. For instance, in 2016 when the “two-child policy” was implemented, the number of newborns reached 18 million.
Chinese demographers argue that it will be difficult for China to boost birth rate in the near future because the number of women in the reproductive age is decreasing. This was caused by China’s “one-child policy” that was in force from 1979 to 2015.
Chinese families could give birth only to one child, and many families chose to “spend” this quota on a boy, since in China boys have traditionally been valued more than girls. If a family were told they were expecting a girl, the mother would often decide to have an abortion.
This caused an unexpected outcome – the number of men exceeded the number of women. Although it was not allowed to find out the sex of the baby during pregnancy, there were several ways to do so which lead to numerous late abortions. That is why currently there is a disproportion between the number of men and women in the Chinese society.
As a result, modern China is overproducing men and is in a grave lack of women. Statistics indicate that there are 35 million more men than women – leaving many men with no chances of finding a spouse.
Moreover, the beliefs and values of the Chinese people have also changed over the years, i.e. many women wish to pursue a career first and only then to establish a family. The recent years have seen a rapid decline in marriages in China.
These trends are particularly prevalent in Chinese cities, leading demographers to predict that the gap between the situation in cities and the situation in the countryside will only widen in the future – people in the countryside still prefer larger families, while city dwellers have a hard time giving birth to a single child.
“Now, we are allowed to have three children. The problem, however, is that I don’t even want one child,” a user of the Chinese social media network Weibo wrote in his account.
Many are asking the question – will the “three-child policy” change anything if the “two-child policy” wasn’t able to do so? That’s why people are happy about the government’s decision to provide other incentives and motivations in this regard.
For example, education costs – which were twice as high in two-children families – will be cut, people will see additional support on tax and housing issues and working women will be granted more rights. In addition, the government also has plans to educate young Chinese people on the issues of marriage and love – now, state propaganda will not only deal with shaming the West, but also teach people how to love correctly and “make children”.
This leads to believe that the Chinese government has taken quite a peculiar approach to identifying mistakes in their previous policies, but it isn’t truly admitting these mistakes – as is the case in all authoritarian regimes. If the previous plan fails, simply improve it a bit and relaunch it anew.
The “one-child policy” has led to one-and-a-half generation where there are six people from the non-working population for each person in the working population, i.e. the person’s parents and two sets of grandparents. This is the Chinese Communist Party’s know-how.
Global Health & Health Silk Road: The Other Side Of Picture
The new world order is a twisted maze of political, economic and cultural ambitions. China’s obscure political economy presents an unparalleled challenge to those unfamiliar with the cultural and historical undercurrents driving Beijing’s global movements. Following the onset of the CoVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the global society observed one of the hasty economic convulsion since World War II. Nearly all nation states sealed their borders and placed global supply chain and trade in limbo as the spread of the virus continued unabated. As Beijing’s flagship investment project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was similarly disrupted. The BRI initiative has formed the cornerstone of President Xi’s approach to strategic diplomacy and challenged the traditional concept of development. Key rhetoric underlying the initiative, such as “the community of common destiny for mankind”.
Nevertheless, there is a “Digital Silk Road”, and “Space Silk Road”, so it should come as no bombshell that China is also building a “Health Silk Road”. China’s HSR first appeared in a speech given by President Xi in 2016. At the first BRI Forum 2017, a Beijing Communique of Belt and Road Health Cooperation and Health Silk Road was signed by China, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, OECD, GAVI and other participating countries. Since then, China made a significant move towards the consolidation of its role as a major player in global health. Similarly, it is no secret that China is making a boost for global health leadership during CoVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic spread across the world, China sought to provide aid packages and medical assistance to partner states within the BRI under the name of “Health Silk Road”. The ongoing CoVID-19 pandemic is not only going to fundamentally transform the global politics, but also the foreign policy priorities of many countries. Since the outbreak, the CoVID-19 pandemic has exposed the significant weakness of public health infrastructure of developed and developing countries alike.
There is widespread understanding among scientists, heritage and history writers that one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, black death, originated in China and spread along the old silk road to central Asia, northern India and Europe. It exhibited a blueprint that is as old as human history, – when people and goods travel, so do viruses and bacteria. Today, there is some speculation about whether CoVID-19 circulated along the “new silk road”, and it has been criticized that the BRI contributed to the spread of the virus. These kinds of debates are pointless because, even without modern means of transport like trains, cargo-ships, and planes, the plague can reach the most remote places in the world and kill a large portion of the global population. Highly criticized for covering up and not preventing the virus from turning into a global pandemic, China is making an efforts to reinstate its persona as a symbol of support, strength and leadership. Opponents have also alleged that Beijing rationalized itself as a global health champion at a time when Washington had abdicated its responsibilities.
Regardless of misgivings, China has been promoting the institutionalization of health cooperation within HSR framework by organizing and sponsoring a number of health-themed forums. For example, the Silk Road Health Forum, China-Central and Eastern European Countries Health Ministers Forum, China-ASEAN Health Forum, and the China-Arab States Health Forum. Beijing also initiated a series of supportive programs on disease control and prevention in alliance with its neighbors in Central Asia. All these efforts were made as part of China’s broader global health diplomacy and leadership before the CoVID-19 pandemic hit the world. With the spread of CoVID-19 across the world, the Chinese government extended support to countries from East Asia to Europe. It has given 20 million dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) for assisting developing countries in coping with the pandemic, build up their epidemic-prevention abilities, and building a stronger public health system. China also handed out concessionary loans and played a coordinating role in multilaterals like G-20, ASEAN, the SCO and the African Union, established itself in a leadership position by promptly responding to the crises and catering to the needs of the countries all over.
In contrast with the advance economics, what China has contributed to the global pandemic combat becomes even more admirable. Statistics show that China has provided considerable amount of medical assistance to the rest of world, including approximately 70.6 billion face masks, 225 million test kits, 115 million pairs of goggles, 340 million protective suits, 96,700 ventilators, and 40.29 million infrared thermometers to 200 countries and regions in 2020. China’s medical professionals have also played a vital role in the global pandemic battle by contributing their knowledge and experience on the frontlines in many virus-impacted countries. China has shared medical best practices with a multitude of international organizations, including the ASEAN, EU, African Union, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Caribbean, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as some of the hardest-hit countries such as South Korea, Japan, Russia, the United States, and Germany.
Concisely, with all these notable endeavors and substantial contributions, is it still premature to presume that China has taken over the leadership role in terms of global health? China’s engagement in global health, especially during CoVID-19, has positioned itself as a johnny on the spot in global health leadership. The HSR undoubtedly will allow China to re-establish its national repute on the international stage, in particular by contrasting it with the inelegant responses of the United States and other European nations. China’s global aspirations, efforts to present itself as a global health leader should not be considered as surprise. It is still too early to tell the magnitude to which China’s global health sprint will transform its international profile, but there is no reason to be cynical that it will be revolutionary. As an old Chinese saying goes, it takes a good blacksmith to make good steel.
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