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Tension between North Korea and the United States

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he tension between the United States and North Korea is still mounting. In fact, in mid-May, some North Korean executives accused the US intelligence services of having made an attempt on Kim Jong-un’s life. Allegedly the operation started with CIA selecting a North Korean citizen, who had already had contacts with the South Korean intelligence services, and who had to use highly poisonous chemical substances against the North Korean leader.

In addition, the attacker was supposed to have had links with a Chinese company, namely Qingdao Nazca Trade Co.

It is also likely that the attempted assassination of the North Korean leader may be the result of an internal struggle for power in the country, but obviously – at a time of very high international tension – the North Korean propaganda lays emphasis only on the United States.

However, the new South Korean President Moon Jae-In – a human rights lawyer – has repeatedly stressed that he plans to work with President Donald Trump. Nevertheless he has also stressed that he is anyway open to negotiations with North Korea without any conditions, which is certainly not what the United States wants from him.

Nor does it seem to us that the United States is building an effective strategy for dealing with North Korea and solving the tension regarding the North Korean nuclear missile system.

The issue can be solved neither with the rhetoric of “human rights” and the improbable and universalistic spreading of bipartisan democracy, as is usually the case with the US Democrats’ Presidencies, nor with a substantial block of relations with the countries of the “axis of evil”, possibly pending a very dangerous military operation which, however, will never come.

This is the latest typical attitude of the Republican Presidencies.

As is well known, the operations for assassinating the political leaders disliked by the United States were blocked by Congress in the 1970s, but nothing prevents direct actions against enemy Heads of State from being still carried out, with the collaboration of the intelligence services.

This is the sign of a severe conceptual and political mistake: a political system never depends solely on its leader, but it is a complex structure that is rapidly recreated if the supreme leader falls.

Saddam’s Iraq was not “bad” because Saddam Hussein was an evil man. Iran is not a member of the “axis of evil” because it is led by some extremely cruel Shiite Imams – not to mention the fact that Iran is not the world sponsor of Islamic terrorism, which is indeed strongly supported by the traditional US Sunni friends.

Psychologism and personalism are two very serious mistakes for those who want to deal seriously with global strategy and foreign policy.

Moreover, Fidel Castro’s assassination designed by CIA would have not destroyed the Cuban Communist regime, but would have made it even more radical vis-à-vis the United States.

Currently, however, which are the real strategic direction, consistency and aim of the North Korean nuclear system?

This is the only question we really need to ask, both to start realistic negotiations and to understand the geopolitical goals of the North Korean military system.

As to biological weapons, the relevant North Korean structures are the three Biological Research Institutes, included in the network of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as an Institute for Medical Research within the National Defence Academy.

Besides these three Institutes, there are as many as sixteen specialized bodies dealing with the various fields of research on and for bacteriological weapons.

With specific reference to chemical weapons, they are currently estimated at 5,000 tonnes of material.

The bodies involved in this defence sector are supposed to be 25-50, employing at least 5,000 people.

Finally, as to nuclear weapons – the best known part of the North Korean military apparatus – the institutions and political organizations controlling them are, manifold, complex and interdependent, as is often the case with North Korea.

According to a source of the South Korean intelligence services, North Korea’s nuclear sites are approximately one hundred, while other sources talk about 150 entities and sites linked to North Korea’s nuclear-military research with a total of 9,000-15,000 employees.

The Research Institutes involved in North Korea’s nuclear project are 13, while the uranium currently available is estimated at 26 tonnes extracted from at least 10 mines.

Other sources talk about 33 kilos of Pu-239 and 175 kilos of enriched uranium, which should be the equivalent of 6-9 Pu-239 weapons and 13-18 enriched-uranium warheads.

Too few to be a global threat, as some US analysts believe, but enough to keep South Korea in check and, above all, Japan and the US bases in the South Pacific region.

Currently North Korea has thirteen different types of missiles, with the latest ones (Pukguksong 1 and 2, Hwasong-12, 13 and 14) that can reach targets up to 12,000 kilometres from the launch site.

Hence another future goal of the North Korean missile system is to put the North American Western territory – hence the US Pacific coast – under strategic threat.

Although there exist US and South Korean military forces specialized in   disrupting the sites for weapons of mass destruction, technically the distribution of nuclear, bacteriological and chemical resources in North Korea is such as not to facilitate the success of the debunking operations in the North Korean sites.

Operations that would be very difficult also in the event of the North Korean regime collapsing.

Just think what could happen with infiltrations from South Korea to destabilize the North Korean sites.

Hence, should North Korea collapse, the only solution for stabilizing the peninsula lies in China’s Armed Forces and policy.

In case of North Korea’s implosion, China wants only three things: regional stability, as well as the creation of a buffer State between its own territory and South Korea (which would probably also implode) and, ultimately, the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, with the subsequent expulsion of US forces from South Korea.

This would result in the rapid acquisition of most North Korean nuclear and bacteriological-chemical structures by the Chinese military forces.

The Sino-Korean border is long and China could set up refugee camps and, above all, military bases to go deep into North Korea.

Certainly, the tension between North Korea and China is now palpable – hence, in the future, China may not be the ideal broker between North Korea and the West.

However, while the bilateral situation between China and North Korea is worsening, the one between Kim Jong-un’s regime and Russia still seems to be good, if not excellent.

The United States is wrong in not considering important the role played by Russia in the North Korean system, while it has long been asking for the Chinese support to settle the Korean issue with a good agreement.

All three powers, namely China, the United States and the Russian Federation, have a clear interest in denuclearizing the entire Korean peninsula.

Furthermore these three countries regard the North Korean nuclear proliferation as dangerous because it creates instability and triggers off further proliferation in other South Asian regions.

However, it would be enough to start negotiations with North Korea based on the acceptance of the status quo, enabling IAEA inspectors to return to North Korea for their nuclear monitoring activity and finally organizing economic and humanitarian support for the North Korean population – not to mention the definition of a series of industrial and financial projects to redress the North Korean economy and put it back on track so that the country could be stabilized permanently.

North Korea should accept the block of any further nuclear or biological-chemical weapons; a nuclear, biological and chemical cooperation treaty with China and Russia; a peace treaty with South Korea and the official recognition of the current borders between North and South Korea.

Moreover, according to Russia, the North Korean issue must be solved immediately to avoid nuclear proliferation, as well as the US military presence in South Korea and in the other Pacific Asian regions, and finally making economic cooperation between Russia and South Korea more effective.

As we already know, both Russia and China want the denuclearization of the entire peninsula, but only in a peaceful manner and through political negotiations.

Obviously, China intends to avoid any regional military clash on its borders, which would have catastrophic consequences for its economic and geopolitical projects – just think of the new Silk Road designed by Xi Jinping.

For Russia, military tension between the two Koreas or between North Korea and Japan would certainly be a severe danger, but not such as to directly threaten its territory.

In fact, if the shield represented by North Korea were to disappear, China would have the US Army on its borders, with all the obvious consequences this entails.

Furthermore, if North Korea imploded, China would have to be directly involved in the creation of a buffer State to avoid both South Korea’s contagion and the direct confrontation with the US forces.

For Russia, military tension between the two Koreas would mean a further worsening of the confrontation with the United States in other Pacific regions. Russia mainly wants to resume the six party talks, while Putin is likely to send a special envoy to North Korea in the near future.

Hence, while President Trump does not explicitly rule out the military solution to the North Korean issue, neither Russia nor China will be of any use.

Indeed, Russia will see in the new South Korea only the expansion of the North American strategic network, which it considers the main danger to its strategic autonomy.

However, not even North Korea wants to prompt a US intervention and, in fact, in its leaders’ texts and speeches, it emphasizes the use of missiles to block the Japanese actions and, above all, those starting from the Guam US base.

Hence, reopening the six party talks, with a new format attaching priority to Russia’s and China’s participation; reaffirming the legal acceptance of North Korea and opening up the North Korean regime to the Chinese, European and Russian economies.

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

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident

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modi xi jinping

Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.

Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020

One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.

It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.

The LAC as an idea

Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.

The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.

In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.

Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.

What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?

One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.

The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.

For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.

Post-Galwan engagement

Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.

The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.

By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.

Diplomacy is gone with the wind

All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.

The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.

India’s diversification of fronts

Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.

Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.

Economic ties, yearning to decouple

Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.

Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.

But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.

The broader picture

The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.

Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’

The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.

India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.

Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.

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