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Tension between North Korea and the United States

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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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Freedom, Sovereign Debt, Generational Accounting and other Myths

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“How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnosed in his well-read ‘No Asian century’ policy paper. Sino-Indian rift is not new. It only takes new forms in Asia, which – in absence of a true multilateralism – is entrenched in confrontational competition and amplifying antagonisms.  The following lines are referencing one such a rift.

At the end of 2017, Brahma Chellaney, a professor with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, wrote an article titled “China’s Creditor Imperialism” in which he accused China of creating a “debt trap” from Argentina, to Namibia and Laos, mentioning its acquisition of, or investment in the construction of several port hubs, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Piraeus in Greece, Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya in recent years.

These countries are forced to avoid default by painfully choosing to let China control their resources and thus have forfeited their sovereignty, he wrote. The article described China as a “new imperial giant” with a velvet glove hiding iron fists with which it was pressing small countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, he concluded, is essentially an ambitious plan to realize “Chinese imperialism”. The article was later widely quoted by newspapers, websites and think tanks around the world.

When then United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Africa in March, he also said that although Chinese investment may help improve Africa’s infrastructure, it would lead to increased debt on the continent, without creating many jobs.

It is no accident that this idea of China’s creditor imperialism theory originates from India. New Delhi has openly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India regards as an integral part of its territory. India is also worried that the construction of China’s Maritime Silk Road will challenge its dominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Based on such a judgment, the Indian government has worked out its own regional cooperation initiatives, and taken moves, such as the declaration of cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea and its investment in the renovation of Chabahar port in Iran, as countermeasures against the Chinese initiative.

Since January, India, the United States, Japan and Australia have actively built a “quasi-alliance system” for a “free and open Indo-Pacific order” as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In April, a senior Indian official attending the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue reiterated the Indian government’s refusal to participate in the initiative.

The “creditor imperialism” fallacy is in essence a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced. Such an argument stems from their own experiences of colonialism and imperialism. It is exactly the US-led Western countries that attached their political and strategic interests to the debt relationship with debtor countries and forced them to sign unequal treaties. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proposed and implemented in the context of national equality, globalization and deepening international interdependence, and based on voluntary participation from relevant countries, which is totally different from the mandatory debt relationship of the West’s colonialism.

It is an important “Chinese experience” to use foreign debts to solve its transportation and energy bottlenecks that restrict its economic and social development at the time of its accelerated industrialization and urbanization. By making use of borrowed foreign debts, China once built thousands of large and medium-sized projects, greatly easing the transportation and energy “bottlenecks” that long restrained its social and economic development. Such an experience is of reference significance for other developing countries in their initial stage of industrialization and urbanization along the Belt and Road routes.

In the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up, US dollar-denominated foreign debt accounted for nearly 50 percent of China’s total foreign debts, and Japanese yen close to 30 percent. Why didn’t Western countries think the US and Japan were pushing their “creditor imperialism” on China?

Some foreign media have repeatedly mentioned that Sri Lanka is trapped in a “debt trap” due to its excessive money borrowing from China. But the fact is that there are multiple reasons for Sri Lanka’s heavy foreign debt and its debt predicament should not be attributed to China. For most of the years since 1985, foreign debt has remained above 70 percent of its GDP due to its continuous fiscal deficits caused by low tax revenues and massive welfare spending. As of 2017, Sri Lanka owed China $2.87 billion, accounting for only 10 percent of its total foreign debt, compared with $3.44 billion it owed to Japan, 12 percent of its total foreign debt. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest creditor since 2006, but why does no foreign media disseminate the idea of “Japan’s creditor imperialism”?

In response to the accusation that China is pursuing creditor imperialism made by India and some Western countries, even former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote an article in July using data to refute it.

Most of the time, the overseas large-scale infrastructure construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative are the ones operated by the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises under the request of the governments of involved countries along the Belt and Road routes or the ones undertaken by Chinese enterprises through bidding.

It is expected that with the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial parks under the Chinese initiative, which will cause the host country’s self-development and debt repayment ability to constantly increase, the China’s creditor imperialism nonsense will collapse.

An early version of this text appeared in China Daily

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Arrogance of force and hostages in US-China trade war

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Even before the ink on the comments made by those who (just like the author of these lines) saw the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires as a sign of a temporary truce in the trade war between the two countries had time to dry, something like a hostage-taking and the opening of a second front happened. The recent arrest in Canada under US pressure of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, is unfolding into a full-blown international scandal with far-reaching consequences.

Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States where she is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran, namely by making payments to Tehran via the UK branch of the US bank HSBC. The question is, however, how come someone is trying to indict a Chinese citizen according to the norms of American law, and not even on US territory to boot?

China’s reaction was extremely tough with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoning the Canadian and US ambassadors in Beijing and demanding the immediate release of the detainee, calling her detention “an extremely bad act.” First of all, because this is yet another arrogant attempt at extraterritorial use of American laws.

Other countries, above all Russia, have already experienced this arrogance more than once; suffice it to mention the cases of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, or of the alleged “Russian hackers,” who, by hook or crook, were taken out to the United States to face US “justice”.

Enough is enough, as they say. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is usually careful in his choice of words, said that while Russia is not involved in the US-China trade war, it still regards Meng’s arrest as “another manifestation of the line that inspires a rejection among the overwhelming majority of normal countries, normal people, the line of extraterritorial application of their [US] national laws.”

“This is a very arrogant great-power policy that no one accepts, it already causes rejection even among the closest allies of the US,” Lavrov said. “It is necessary to put an end to it,” he added.

One couldn’t agree with this more. But first, I would like to know who really is behind this provocation, even though China’s reaction would have been much anticipated. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou sent US markets into a tailspin and scared investors, who now expect an escalation of the trade war between the United States and China.

The point here, of course, is Washington’s displeasure about Huawei’s activities, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the US Justice Department has long been conducting a probe into the Chinese company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran.

There is more to this whole story than just sanctions though. The US accuses Huawei (as it earlier did the Chinese ZTE) of the potential threats the company’s attempts to use tracking devices could pose to the security of America’s telecommunications networks. The United States has demanded that its closest allies (primarily Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it has set up a system for jointly collecting and using Five Eyes intelligence) exclude 5G Huawei products from their state procurement tenders.

I still believe, however, that the true reason for this is not so much security concerns as it is a desire to beat a competitor. Huawei has become a world-renowned leader in the development and application of 5G communications technology, which looks to the future (“Internet of Things”, “Smart Cities”, unmanned vehicles and much more.)

Since technology and equipment are supplied along with standards for their use, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle going on to phase out the 5G standard developed by Huawei from global markets.

As for the need “to put an end to this,” the big question is how. Formally, detainees are extradited to the United States in line with national legislation, but at Washington’s request (which often comes with boorish and humiliating pressure from the US authorities and is usually never mentioned in public).

Add to this the US Congress’ longstanding practice of changing, unilaterally and at its own discretion, already signed international treaties and agreements as they are being ratified – another example of “arrogance of power” as mentioned before.

The question could well be raised at the UN Security Council, but its discussion is most likely to be blocked by the US representative. However, there is also a moral side to the assessment of any political practice the work on international legal norms usually starts with.

If China and Russia, as well as other countries equally fed up with the “arrogance of power” submit a draft resolution “On the inadmissibility of attempts at extraterritorial use of national legislation by UN member states” to the UN General Assembly, it would most likely enjoy the overwhelming support by most of the countries of the UNGA, maybe save for just a dozen or so of the most diehard advocates of Washington’s policy…

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Will China Save the Planet? Book Review

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Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades.  Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.

Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change.  At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks.  After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously.  It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences.  The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.

Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production.  China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization.  In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments.  China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.

There is much to applaud China for in its efforts.  Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.”  By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”

Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth.  The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system.  Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.

Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle.  She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself.  It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today.  As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.

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