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The “Third Neighbor Policy” of Mongolia: Romantic or Realistic?

Wang Li



On July 10, the president-elect Kh. Battulga was inaugurated at the State House in Ulan Bator, where he vowed to resume the “third neighbor policy” for safeguarding Mongolia’s independence and freedom. Although Mongolia’s role in the world affairs is marginal, the people living on land-locked country have been well-known for their great dream.

It is true that the nomadic tribes did create the largest Mongol Empire in human history by very controversial means between 1227 and 1294. Yet it is generally accepted that Mongolia as a unified entity had been non-existent until 1992 when the former Soviet Union was disintegrated. The milieu in that Mongolia is located has never changed, for its neighbors—China and Russia—are two formidable powers in any real sense.

Yet, the idea of the “third neighbor” is a facet of foreign relations of Mongolia referring to its building relationships with countries other than Russia and China that historically had a sphere of influence extending to the country. While Russia and China are the neighbors physically that Mongolia shared borders with only, the “third neighbor” was first put forward by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker during his meeting with Mongolian leaders in 1990. For sure, it refers to the U.S. as a third neighbor with a view to endorsing the Mongols’ first move toward democracy. Since then, the idea of “third neighbors” has been picked up by Mongolian policy- makers from time to time and eventually become formalized in its foreign policy and legislation. This reveals their desire to have more the “third neighbors”, primarily the United States, Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey.

Actually, it is more than a symbolic gesture for Mongolia, since 2003, it has been involved into military drills with the United States and other NATO members. In 2010, Mongolia sent its contingents to Afghanistan under the command of NATO while it was invited to participate in the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago with individual partnership and cooperation program status. By contrast, although Mongolia was granted the status of the observer member in 2004, it has never applied for a formal status like India, Pakistan or Iran. As a senior diplomat of Mongolia stated in 2013, “Mongolia’s third neighbor countries play a crucial role in its foreign policy.”

Yet, this rhetoric is never realistic in practice. First, that Mongolia has tried to balance its relations with Russia and China on one hand with relations with other major powers is not an easy task for the elites in Ulan Bator. True, this is not a new tactic in diplomacy, but it seems that Mongolia has missed the point that its giant neighbors would never accept the involvement of the third neighbor(s) into their strategically proximate areas. Then Mongolia argued that the third neighbor policy simply echoed the age-old sentiment of the Mongols to look beyond the two neighbors, like it did in history to adopt Buddhism from India over Chinese Confucianism and Russian Slavic religions. Yet, it reflects their consciousness of looking broadly in geopolitics rather than cultural affinities.

Second, neither China nor Russia has interfered into Mongolia’s domestic affairs in the post-Soviet political reforms and power transition from one-party rule to a liberal democracy. In effect, China and Russia have helped Mongolia tackle its severe economic hardships after the sudden end of Soviet investment and subsidies. In 2012 when Mongolia became a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), it met no challenge from Moscow and Beijing. Since the third neighbor policy is used frequently, it does cause misperceptions with its two neighbors. Economically, no country including Mongolia likes to put all their eggs into one basket. Yet, China and Russia have large impact on the Mongolian economy in an overwhelming way. For instance, President Putin said, “The natural geographical proximity of Mongolia, Russia and China make it possible for us to implement good long-term projects in infrastructure, the power sector and the mining industry. We have what to discuss with each other. Naturally we deem it important, expedient and useful to start a permanent dialogue.”

Essentially, the third neighbor policy, though dynamic, is an effort on the part of Mongolia to balance the influence from China and Russia. To that end, the foreign policy-makers in Ulan Bator have stretched out to look for key players globally that have greater geopolitical impact on Mongolia, Russia and China. As the challenges ahead are so great, the ruling elites of Mongolia do not have room for oversights. On one hand, Mongolia under ex-President Elbegdorj made the proposal of a “Russia-China-Mongolia trilateral cooperation” in 2014, with Xi‘s endorsement and Putin’s acquiescence, there was little standing in the way of trilateral cooperation. For Mongolia, this trilateral initiative meshes well with Elbegdorj’s focus on being involved landlocked country into global diplomacy. On the other hand, Mongolia has failed to deepen its cooperation with Russia despite making major inroads elsewhere in the world. In 2013 alone, it signed 63 bilateral agreements, including with the U. S., EU, China and Japan. Yet, it did not manage to sign any new agreements with Russia.

To certain extent, the unique geopolitical opportunity Mongolia presents makes it a vital strategic partner for those wanting to hedge against the influence of either China or Russia, or both. This encourages some groups of the Mongolians to pursue unrealistic or even adventurous goals. In addition, its rich natural reserves and vibrant economy also attracts the recession- stricken West to be eagerly involved in landlocked country. Yet, it has been dependent on Russia militarily while it is evidently too close to China, its largest trade partner and foreign investor. Since relationship with China is likely to determine Mongolia’s future, the leaders in Ulan Bator feel uneasy about this, clearly trying to avoid being embraced too closely by China or by Russia. Given this, what Mongolia primarily wants is the Western help to shield it from the overwhelming influence of its neighbors and to yield enough diplomatic room when engaging with any sides.

On September 29 2015, then President Elbegdorj, a Harvard-educated politician, addressed at the UN General Assembly. He cited Mongolia’s recent history, along with its geographic reality and the uniqueness of the chosen path of national development, to advocate neutrality. He said that “Mongolia has pursued a peaceful, open, multi-pillar foreign policy. This stance enabled us to declare Mongolia in a state of permanent neutrality. Therefore I am convinced that Mongolia’s status of permanent neutrality will contribute to the strengthening of peace, security, and development in our region and the world at large.”

Frankly speaking, the declared status as permanently neutral is a new initiative on the part of Mongolia, and equally is a logical extension of the “third neighbor” policy rather than a real departure from it. From the geopolitical and legal perspectives, permanent neutrality takes the long-time desire to balance two overbearing neighbors by turning to virtual neighbors; and to a next step by permanently declaring Mongolia to remain in between these two neighbors, not siding with one or the other, and not aligning militarily with any outside party to neutralize any notion of threats against these neighbors emanating from Mongolia.

The proposal of “permanently neutral” by Elbegdorj elicited the debates on its ends and means. Yet it is self-evident that since the future will likely hold ever-closer economic ties with China, the neutrality declaration may assuage Russian fears that Mongolia might become a staging ground for aggression toward Russia in the future. In a similar manner, Mongolia lacks of desire to forge any kind of geostrategic ties with China. Thus neutrality would offer a quasi- guarantee that Mongolia will not turn into a Russian buffer state against China in a military sense. Choinkhor Jalbuu who is director of the Mongolian Geopolitical institute and former ambassador to Washington argued incisively, “Having permanent neutrality doesn’t mean isolation from inter- national community. Put it simply, it is a position that Mongolia will not join any side against any country.”

Oddly enough, now the president-elect Battulga argued for the resumption of “third neighbors” policy. But the question is that does he want to dance with wolves romantically or he will realistically embrace Mongolia’s tenet as an actively engaged member of the international community. This is very the path chosen by the people of Mongolia rather than by others.

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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East Asia

Ice Silk Road: From Dream to reality

Mahdi Torabi



Authors: Mahdi Torabi, Vahid Pourtajrishi

The history of Silk Road backs to thousands years ago. The aim of creation of this route was linking China to Europe through Middle East. Growth of Chinese enterprises and industries which was started since middle of 20th century increased the significance of expanding the link routes between China and Europe following expansion of China’s export to West. Silk Road seems to be the main option in such condition as an ancient route which has been designed and created for this purpose.

But the main existing problem on this way was existinglimitation on capability of the classic Silk Road for transportation of high volume of freight from China to Europe.

In fact, the issue of increase this capability was the essence of Xi Jinping’s initiation of his “One Road One Belt” Doctrine which was declared by him as one of the significant elements of Chinese foreign policy.

According to the Xi Jinping’s defined policy for the new Silk Road, this route has to be expanded to some new routes on the ground and sea.  But it has to be mentioned that China has not been the only state who follows Jinping’s policy toward Silk Road. Many of other states, especially those who are located on China – Europe rote try to increase role on this high interesting route.

Through these states, we can point to Turkey and Russia as the most important ones who have shown their will to participate highly in this project.

Turkey introduced its Baku – Tbilisi – Kars (BTK) Corridor to create a new Silk Road which connects Istanbul to China by passing Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Ankara’s initiation in introducing a new combined route was a revolution in the regional and intercontinental transport orders.

But beside of all defined merits for this route, some disadvantages like high cost of transport or existence of not suitable weather conditions for move of ships through Caspian Sea on winter. That’s why;relating released reports on establishment of BTK by Turkey and its partners created a shock among experts in international transportation.

While many of experts recognized this route as the last alternative for the classic Silk Road, Russia could come over its geographical problems with sea ices of Arctic to establish Northern Sea Route or Ice Silk Road which was just an inaccessible dream for Moscow till few years ago.

Passing through Arctic that is fully covered with at least 150cm diameter pieces of ice might was just like a joke or far dream before end of Cold War and there was no strong logic behind of such assumption.

By start of the Cold War and fast growth of the nuclear technology in 60s to 90s, we can say that development of many nuclear related technologies like construction of reactors, enrichment and producing nuclear armament in one hand andexpansion of maritime industries especially in military section got in force by USSR.

But the main reasons for focus of Moscow on Arctic back to significance of natural resources in this region which composed determinants and important part of USSR’s boundaries.

While latitude of Scandinavian states and Canada is closed to Arctic, but no one of these states has not been successful enough to use the potential opportunities of this region like Russia.

Since Vladimir Putin’s seize of power in 2000 and his plans for reconstruction of Russia’s economy, discover of new routes to access world markets was adopted on the agenda of the Russian government. Finding new costumers for the huge resources of oil and gas was one of the main attitudes of Russia in Moscow’s new economic planning. That’s why Russia began to expand and execution of its significant and mega plans in this regard like establishment of Turkish Stream gas pipeline.

Despite all adopted policy by Russian government, the main problem was Makinder’s concern in his theory of “Heartland” to access the warm water. According to Makinder, the only available link route between Russia and the southern warm water was Iran. That’s why; Russians always have been looking for a way to access free and warm waters by Iran.

But by achieved impressive growth of technology during past decades, it seems Russia has found a safer way to access free waters instead of Iran and that is use of its territorial waters of Arctic that is able to link this country to Europe on one hand and connects Russia to East and China from on the other hand.

As we know, required technology for using the Northern Sea in international transit of freight have always been in hands of Russia and US. But this route has never been as interesting one for US because of its easy access to the free waters on one hand and end of Cold War on the other hand. That’s why there has been not enough interest for US to invest much in expansion of international transit route from Arctic region. US has only one icebreaker in North Sea and Arctic that is built in 1976 and was used for costal patrol in this region during Cold War era.

We try to investigate the probable causes for establishment of the “Ice Silk Road” by Russia in the following:

Expansion of the oil fields of Arctic and oil export increase

Russia got succeedto transport its first oil cargo in 2017 from Hammerfest in Norway into BoryeongPort of South Korea successfully. This shipment was a 200 million dollars LNG cargo which was transported by “Cristophe de Margerie” tanker carrier within just 19 days. It means Russia got succeed to save the time for 30% rather using Suez Canal as the common path of this route.

Russia has invested in development and expansion of the gas field of “YamalPeninsula” more than 27 million dollars and China also has announced its readiness for investment in this mega project. It is worth mentioning that the order of development this project issued by Vladimir Putinpersonally and this demonstrates the level of priority and significance of this project for Moscow. Margarie ice breaker tanker could sliced the huge ices of Arctic with at least 120 cm thickness and passed Arctic within just six days. But it is clear that possibility of such shipment will get very harder during winter season and needs high-developed ice breakers. That’s why, Russia has decided to produce new generation of these ice breakers to remove this obstacle.

Following this policy, Dimitry Rogozin, the deputy of the Russia’s prime minister in his interview with TASS News Agency declared decision of his country to build three new nuclear ice breakers.  He said: “Rosatom [state civilian nuclear power corporation] has now been instructed as part of private and state partnership to think over the algorithm of financing three icebreakers rather than one and then we will make navigable the entire Northern Sea Route. We will be able to lead whatever vessels for any customer by transit through the Northern Sea Route: caravans with goods from Asia to Europe and we will be able to export our hydrocarbons in the form of liquefied natural gas not only to Europe but also to Southeast Asia,” Rogozin said in an interview with Rossiya-24 TV Channel, describing the plans of developing Russia’s icebreaker fleet.

“In 2019, we will commission [the shipyard’s] dry dock. Just imagine the dimensions: 484 meters long and 114 meters wide. Two aircraft carriers can be built there at a time,” the vice-premier said, describing the new shipyard.

Simultaneously, shipbuilders in northwest Russia are building three current-generation icebreakers: the Arktika, the Ural and the Sibir, Rogozin said.

Simultaneously, shipbuilders in northwest Russia are building three current-generation icebreakers: the Arktika, the Ural and the Sibir, Rogozin said.

According to the vice-premier, these icebreakers will be commissioned for operation in 2019-2021 and “will help ensure an all-out escort [of vessels] through the ice from Yamal Peninsula towards the West.”

“Yamal LNG Project” is under construction in Yamal Peninsula and is counted as the most significant maritime project of Russia in energy sector. This mega project includes 200 wells, one airport and 15 tankers (2016) which will be able to export at least 2 million cm liquid gas. According to experts, this amount will be increased to 50 million cm in a year (the Ministry of Roads and Urban development of Iran).

On the other hand, China is one of the most important strategic customers and trade partners of Russia especially in oil section. According to the experts and analysts of energy section, China will be the consumer of 17% of energy resources of the world till 2050. That’s why, if Russia increases the amount of its oil productions, Moscow would become the first oil partner of China instead of the Middle Eastern oil exporters like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran.

Transit of freight from China to West (the Ice Silk Road)

According to Dimitry Rogozin, transit of freight from Far East to West using Arctic and Northern Sea will be one the main aims of Russia to establish the North Sea Route. Export of the Russian productions into South East of Asia is one of the other significant aims of creating such route. As Rogozin declared, the new generation of the nuclear ice breakers will be able to carry two aircraft carriers. So the approximate area of the each mentioned freight carrier will be something around 55176 m2 and this dimension will be more than 5.5 hectares!

Furthermore, creation of the new route will be 25-55 percent shorter than the Suez Canal path which links China to Europe to each other.

It is worth to mention that one of the significant exports of Russia from this route will be the mineral extractions like gold, uranium and diamondin worth of more than five billion dollars.

Reduction of China’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil

China is one of the key players and investors in Yamal project and has invested more than 12 million dollars in this mega project. Except this, the Silk Road Fund has fulfilled 20% of the total project cost. But it has to be asked why China follows this project while Beijing fulfills its required oil from Middle East?

In fact, the energy market of Middle East and its stability is under doubt because of existing many problematic factors like anti – Iranian sanction, fire of war all over the region, the issue of illegal immigration of terrorist groups and etc. that’s why such market could not be counted as a stable and permanent energy market for China as the greatest industrial country of world.

So, it seems the Chinese officials have decided to find a more stable alternative to fulfill its energy needs instead of Middle East. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the existing strategic partnership between China and Russia in this way. Also, by creation of Ice Silk Road, it will be more logical for China to fulfill its required energy resources from Russia regarding the issue of short geographical distance between the two countries rather Middle East.

A the end, we have to say that creation of Ice Silk Road is minded as a game changer not only in foreign trade relations of Russia but also will be a revolution in international trade between East and West especially in aspect of trade corridors. It could affect highly on the both classic and new routes in Silk Road like the passing corridors from Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and many other states that have enjoyed their geo-economics privileges on this route.

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East Asia

China’s military doctrine with President Xi Jinping

Giancarlo Elia Valori



Which is President Xi Jinping’s military doctrine and his  “warfare rationale”?

With a view to well understanding the evolution of Chinese warfare studies to date, however, we need to study the tradition of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the vision that the Communist Party of China (CPC) had in the history of warfare doctrine.

Firstly, for China, the different terminologies used within NATO and, more generally, in Western military doctrines such as “global strategy”, “national security strategy” or “national defense strategy” are not separate concepts or ways of thinking, but are all subsumed in the Chinese general notion of “military strategy”.

Again in Chinese terminology, in simpler terms,the strategy “guidelines” are the political-military policy lines developed by the CPC leadership.

In these policy lines we can perceive the geopolitical threat that the CPCthinks to be closer and hence the likeliest type of future war that China must absolutely be ready to wage and fight.

The initial evaluations of the Chinese handbooks are the equivalent of the Western strategic assessment, while the analytical ones refer to the Chinese Armed Forces’ capabilities in relation to “present and future wars”.

According to China’s current strategic thinking, the science of military strategy is the study of warfarelaws and of the laws on the conduct of war, as well as the analysis of war predictions and the study of the most probable type of war in the future – all analyzed on the basis of past, present and future scenarios.

Our analysis, however, needs to begin at least with the military philosophy of Deng Xiaoping, who was the first Chinese leader to break with the philosophy of Maoist “people’s war”, in which the missing technology was replaced by the large dimension of masses in arms.

It is worth noting that, in Mao’s mind, all thiswas the policy line for being prepared to resist a nuclear attack with a subsequent invasion – a nuclear attack carried out, in all likelihood, by the USSR or the United States.

Indeed, the Two Worlds of Mao’s doctrine on foreign policy – the Third World was the world of Poor Countries, which were bound to be globally directed and led by Communist China.

Conversely, in Deng’s opinion, there was a shift from the primary perception of a global threat to the theory of local and “limited war” around China’s borders.

Deng Xiaoping’s “policy line” on war and defense envisaged above all land conflicts on the Northern and Eastern borders (the “Northern enemy”, namely the Soviet Russia, as Deng called it), but also sea clashes and surprise air attacks, with the subsequent necessary countermoves of the People’s Liberation Army.

What wasmissing in Deng’s military thinking – and that was Mao’s legacy – wasa specific doctrine of the nuclear weapon that – as Soviet Marshal Shaposhnikov also taught us – was “a weapon like the others”.

Jiang Zemin – after Deng – when the Four Modernizations (the last of which was exactly the military and technological one) redeveloped Deng Xiaoping’s model by envisaging “limited warfare under high-technology conditions”.

In that new context – the first real theoretical departure from  “Mao’s policy line” on war – Jiang Zemin envisaged  two primary intervention areas, the one near Taiwan and the one against all US networks in the Pacific, while the fall of the USSR made the traditional Chinese defense against the “Northern enemy” basically useless.

This was the first real maritime dimension of the Chinese doctrine, after Mao Zedonghad thought about an almost entirely terrestrial defense, on the basis of his Long March.

As early as the 1950s, however, the internal documents of the Central Committee identified the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and obviously Taiwan and even Japan, as future areas of Chinese invasion or hegemony.

Hence, in technological terms, Jiang Zemin’s new war meant a clash based on intercontinental missiles, fine electronics, multi-dimensional battlefields, sensors and intelligence.

The Central Military Commission, namely the highest Party’s body for defense matters, officially accepted Jiang Zemin’s policy line in 1992.

It is easy to imagine what the Chinese military decision-makers were observing and studying at thetime: the war in the Balkans; the first Gulf War of 1990-1991; the war in Rwanda; the “ten-daywar” between Slovenia and the Republic of Yugoslavia; the beginning of the Algerian jihadist insurgency; the outbreak of war in Somalia; the clashes in Georgia; the conflict on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and some other minor conflicts.

The Chinese study of military doctrine always refers to concrete cases. In China’s traditional philosophy there is nothing resembling the Aristotle’s or Kant’s “categories”.

Hence, according to China and “Jiang’s policy line”, the war was bound to be won always by means of elite troops and preventive operations, although China has always refused to be the first to start a military clash- even a solely nuclear one.

The new local wars theorized and studied by Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin were supposed to be “quick battles to force quick resolutions”.

Instead of making the enemy enter deep into the Chinese territory – as Mao Zedong thought – and later holdingand gripping it as in a vice of masses in arms, Deng’s and Jiang’s new doctrine envisaged operations deep into the enemy’s territory.

Therefore emphasis was laid on very advanced technological preparation and on the elite troops’ abilities, as against the great masses of Mao’s time, as well as on undercover operations, the tactical and strategic element of surprise and deep combined actions.

Beyond the myth of all-out nuclear war -in which also  Mao believed and which, however, was a paper tiger –  Jiang Zemin’s new military policy line focused on the maximum lethality of weapons, on tactical precision and on the encirclement and tacit overcoming of the enemy, as well as penetration beyond the lines.

Later the CPC’s military and strategic thinking focused on the Revolution in Military Affairs, which the United States had developed in the early 1990s.

It should be recalled, however, that the first theory of Revolution in Military Affairs had been developed by Marshal Ogarkov in the Soviet Union, by laying emphasis on the robotization of the battlefield and the increasingly important role played by space technology and satellites as weapons in themselves and for tactical and strategic intelligence.

Jiang Zemin revised those Western and Soviet concepts and added a series of considerations on the political and social dimension of the conflict, but always in a framework of “regional war under conditions of high-technology and  computerization”.

After China had studied the war in Kosovo, the specific doctrinal concept was developed in 2004.

Chinahad also well studied the theories of “non-violent warfare” developed by Gene Sharp in the United States and later implemented them thoroughly in the “color revolutions” of Georgia and Ukraine, as well as in the case of OTPOR! in Serbia.

Specific emphasisis laid – although not explicitly – onpsychological warfare in the current Chinese military doctrines.

As clearly stated in the 2004 White Paper, China’s IT and cyber warfare consists mainly in “inflicting a heavy toll on the enemy, even the conventionally superior one, through a variety of tools ranging from the destruction of its satellites and missile systems to the use of electromagnetic pulse weapons to hit enemy ships or aircraft and even its civilian IT networks”.

At the time, the idea of ​​Chinese political and military decision-makers was the shift from “mechanization to ICTs  and computerization” leading to multiple asymmetric, non-contiguous and non-linear wars in the strategic clash region.

If we consider the provincialism characterising many “White Books” of the European Armed Forces at the time, what stands out is the vitality of the Chinese strategic thinking, certainly devoid of semantic ambiguities or pacifist concerns.

Conversely mechanization was the specific aim of the 2008 White Paper, when the CPC’s central power still supported the idea of ​​training the best military elites on the field and also acquiring the Command, Control and Intelligence (CCI) IT networks,in addition to acquiring the weapon systems most suitable for the 2008 new doctrine, which followed the doctrine of the official documents of 2004 and subsequent years.

According to the Chinese decision-makers, ICTs and computerization werethe Achilles’ heel of the weapon and command systems of Westerners or anyway of China’s possible enemies.

The “web” was supposed to be the PLA’s first attack frontin a situation of limited warfare or global confrontation.

Therefore, the Chinese decision-makers did not only seek  an efficient network for the Chinese CCI, but also a specific doctrine for the “electronic warfare” and the signs that it would be greatly developed in the following years.

Many of you may remember that, in those years, the Western interestin the Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) emerged.

In the Chinese official doctrines from 2007 to 2010, we could note that specific attention was paid to the role that the Chinese Armed Forces could play in assisting the Chinese economy and society and in supporting the population during natural disasters.

In this regard, we cannot certainly forget the role played by the PLA against sabotage, internal subversion and factionalism with respect to the Party and the Chinese nation.

Hence we can envisage an internal military role of the Armed Forces which is far subtler and more careful than the usual one prevailing in Western countries – a role which is also predictive and proactive, not just ex post.

As you may have realized, all these considerations show that there is very clear submission of the PLA to the Party, but also the creation of a specific political role for the Chinese Armed Forces.

A role that is played through the Central Military Commission which,since 1990,has increased its importance within the CPC hierarchy.

It is in this political and strategic context that the global threats to the Chinese status quo really change: the USSR collapsed in 1991 – hence there is no longer the danger of a great invasion from the North, as the CPC’s leadership   had feared during the clashes on the UssuriRiver in 1968.

The Ussuri River war broke out when, a year before, the “Red Guards”  had besieged the USSR Embassy in Beijing and hence the USSR attacked the Chinese border guards right on the Ussuri River.

The USSR threatened the use of nuclear weapons against  China, but the United States threatened heavy repercussions against the Soviet Union if this happened.

Thiscurrently well-known data coming from the US archives make us imagine how natural was for China at the time to accept the US proposal for a new opening towards the United States to clearly oppose the Soviet Union.

It should also be noted that Mao’s famous theory “on the correct handling of contradictions among the people” was, in fact, an appeal to compromise with the Soviets, who supported the “Parliamentary way” – as also the Parties  depending on the USSR did – while China wanted a greater “anti-imperialist” and anti-colonialist struggle.

Other military resultswere also achieved between China and the Soviet Union in that political and ideological juncture: Khrushchev refused to actively respond to the US Marines’ operations in the Lebanon, besides refusing to support China when it began bombing the island of Quemoy still  occupied by Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang, and later making it clear to everyone that the Soviet Union would never grant a nuclear bomb prototype to China.

This is the real military plot of a now very famous discussion – apparently scholastic and obscure – between the two Marxist powers of the world.

Therefore in 1991, the “Northern enemy”, namely the USSR, no longer existed and the fear of the great invasion had waned.

However, as the Chinese decision-makers rightly thought,  the no longer bipolar world increased – and certainly not  diminished – the likelihood of regional conflicts.

Nothing to do with the pacifist dreams or delusions not only of the unaware public, but also of Western decision-makers.

The sanctions imposed on China by the United States after the Tiananmen Square events; the ongoing Anglo-American controversy on human rights in China; the US support to Taiwan during the 1996 crisis, when the United States sent two aircraft carriers to the Formosa Strait, and the Tibet issue – as well as the Xinjiang issue, which is currently mounting between the US and European media influencers – and finally the commercial tensions between the United States and China, are all factors which made us think – in those years, but also at a later stage – that China’s “far enemy”, namely the United States, would remain – in fact – the only real enemy.

It was the US technology show in the two Gulf Wars of  1991 and 2003which definitely convinced the Chinese decision-makers of the new IT turn and direction the CPC’s National Armed Forces had to take.

Nevertheless the moment of truth came for China when the United States created the casus belli in Kosovo. For the Party’s and PLA’s decision-makers that proved how the United States wascapable of creating difficult situations by manipulating both diplomacy and the military equilibria of a wholeregion.

But what is President Xi Jinping’s current political-military vision?

In the official documents,Xi Jinping’s “policy line” regards not so much the analysis of new threats or the most  abstract doctrinal issues, but rather the list of things that the PLA must absolutely accomplish in a short lapse of time:

  1. a) to improve the ability of simultaneously coping with a wide range of internal emergencies and tactical or non-tactical military threats, which could endanger China’s sovereignty at terrestrial, sea and air levels;
  2. b) to support the harsh and specific protection of the unification of the Motherland – an essential factor for achieving the great Belt and Road Initiative;
  3. c) to ensure China’s security “in new contexts” – and here reference is obviously made to the protection of the financialand industrial system, besides the political one;
  4. d) to ensure the protection of China’s interest overseas – the truly new strategic asset of China as global economic power;
  5. e) to improve the efficiency of strategic nuclear and cyber deterrence, as well as the PLA’s possibility of successfully launching a quick and highly dissuasive nuclear counterattack;
  6. f) to increase the PLA’s participation in international peace-keeping operations – a full recognition of China’s role also at military level;
  7. g) to strengthen the protection of the Chinese homeland against separatism and terrorism;
  8. h) to improve the PLA’s ability to fully carry out its tasks during environmental and health crises – as was the case with the bird flu crisis in 2003 and in the following years.

Hence, with a view to winning a cyber regional war – the PLA’s first political and strategic goal – the utmost protection of strategic surprise is needed, also on the part of the CPC itself – in addition to the protection of China’s interest overseas, another primary goal of the Chinese leadership.

Moreover, the defense of interests “in other fields” refers to China’s expansion at the maritime, space and cyber levels.

An expansion going well beyond the territorial limits of China and of the areas such as Hong Kong and Macao.

In fact, China is currently looking for new military bases abroad, namely Chongjin in North Korea; Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea; Sihanoukville in Cambodia;Koh Lanta in Thailand;Sittwe in Myanmar; Dhaka in Bangladesh; Gwadar in Pakistan; Hambantotaportin Sri Lanka; the Maldives and the Seychelles islands; Djibouti; Lagos in Nigeria; Mombasa in Kenya; Dar es Salaam in Tanzania;  Luanda in Angola and Walvis Bay in Namibia.

Certainly this program of military expansion and strategic repositioning under President Xi Jinping implies a series of anti-corruption actions that have also heavily affected the PLA, especially its highest ranks.

Therefore President Xi Jinping thinks that highly technically and operationally advanced Chinese Armed Forces are needed. They must above all be strongly and exclusively subjected to the Party, which has also been undergoing an anti-corruption probe for many years.

Mao Zedong’s Chinese dilemma “Reds versus Experts” is back again, but this time in the new global horizon imposed by Xi Jinping’s Presidency.

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East Asia

Korea after the Olympics: Temporary Truce or Permanent Peace?

Georgy Toloraya



Thanks to the “New Year’s” initiatives of Kim Jong-un – to which South Korean Moon Jae-in responded for his own reasons – significant progress was made in the inter-Korean dialogue at the highest level during the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (the possibility of an inter-Korean summit is even on the table), although the main achievements thus far have been in terms of good PR rather than concrete agreements. That being said, the possibility of reducing the threat of an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula, and of an eventual reconciliation of the two countries, is now closer than ever before.

However, this process makes the denuclearization of North Korea an impossibility. In fact, it does quite the opposite, effectively acknowledging Pyongyang’s status as a nuclear power. The North will not discuss the nuclear process with the South, as Seoul cannot provide any security guarantees. The only country that can is the United States, but Washington is not looking for compromises. The United States sees negotiations with North Korea purely as a discussion of the terms of Pyongyang’s capitulation and the surrender of its nuclear trump card. Put simply, North Korea, as a country that has spent generations building its international identity and influence on the basis of its nuclear weapons and which uses nuclear weapons as a guarantee of its security, has no plans to do this.

The last thing Washington wants is a rapprochement between North and South Korea, as this would hamper its immediate goal of eliminating the nuclear potential of North Korea (as well as the longer term objective of toppling the entire regime). What is more, the reconciliation of North and South Korea could be interpreted as a reduction of the military threat in its own right. In this case, the United States would have fewer opportunities to build up its military potential in Asia, which is directly primarily against China. For this reason, the United States does not want to allow “liberties” on the part of its junior partner in the union. Donald Trump is actively and unambiguously against a détente and is keen to step up the pressure as much as possible, including “twisting the arms” of his allies and partners if doing so serves his purposes. Washington is not limiting itself to demanding compliance with the sanctions agreed within the framework of the United Nations. With a view to weakening the North Korean regime, Washington is trying to ensure that the draconian sanctions imposed unilaterally by the United States are supported by other countries, the tacit threat being that repressive measures will be employed against dissenters. This is a shameless use of pressure, the likes of which we have not seen in modern history.

Russia and China are in a particularly vulnerable position and are accused, often without grounds, of violating the sanctions. From their perspective, these are demands to comply with the plans of the United States to implement a blockade on North Korea and suffocate the country’s regime though financial and economic means. The hopes harboured by the United States that events will develop in this way are based on a lack of understanding of the North Korean reality, a projection of its own ideas about how the economy and society should function. There is no way that a blockade will force North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme wholesale, although such a measure could make the country more acquiescent in terms of restrictions and monitoring activities. But such a scenario is unacceptable for the United States, as it is the recognition of North Korea’s nuclear status.

Donald Trump hopes to intimidate North Korea with demonstrative military preparations and a public discussion of a possible armed conflict. Such provocations are likely to intensify after the “Olympic truce,” particularly against the background of joint US–South Korea military manoeuvres, which will quite rightly cause concern in the North. Although these manoeuvres should probably not be seen as a dress rehearsal for a future invasion; everyone understands the scale of the disaster that would befall the region if this were to happen, especially considering the nuclear potential of both North Korea and the United States.

The danger is that, even if Trump is bluffing and has no intention of actually starting a war, his allies and enemies (and even his subordinates, in order for Trump to get what he wants) have to take these plans seriously. But such a policy could lead to the American military machine inadvertently falling into the abyss of a “limited” and then all-out global war by accident, oversight or fatal confluence of circumstances.

It is entirely possible that the United States will increase pressure on North Korea after the Olympics in order to anger the country’s leadership and provoke it into a sharp reaction, for example carrying out further nuclear tests. Pyongyang is likely more than ready to perform more tests, and has the technical need to do so (for submarine-based missiles, for example). Even if Pyongyang cannot be coaxed into starting a war, the United States may artificially create the necessary circumstances by engineering a casus belli situation (which was the case with the Gulf of Tonkin incident).

It must be recalled that China and Russia are being blackmailed with the possibility of a military catastrophe, which would help the United States pursue several goals at once. First, to try and force Moscow and Beijing to take more decisive measures against Pyongyang (perhaps even with a view to changing the North Korean leadership). Second, to put China (and Russia, although its stakes in this particular game are not as high) in an uncomfortable position, no matter how events unfold. Continued support of Pyongyang would undermine China’s image around the world, and not only in the eyes of pro-American countries. On the other hand, if China “abandons” North Korea at the insistence of the United States, then its reputation among friendly and undecided states will be seriously damaged. The latter will see China as a country that cannot be trusted or counted upon, and the United States will continue to be regarded as “global hegemon”. The United States will use Russia’s supposed violations and unwillingness to cooperate to discredit the country’s leadership.

It would appear that Russian diplomacy must be deployed as a countermeasure in several areas, including jointly with China.

First, strengthening coordinated actions between Russia and China on the Korean issue, including in their relations with third countries and international organizations, particularly the UN.

Second, intensifying contacts with Pyongyang in order to develop a unified course of action with other players and persuade North Korea to act with greater patience and flexibility (Track II, or informal, diplomacy is also important here).

Third, applying consistent and well-thought-out pressure on Washington to abandon its aggressive plans, and explaining that going through with these plans would violate Russia’s national interests and provoke an appropriate response.

Fourth, carrying out persistent work and developing cooperation with the North Korean leadership in order to encourage a warming of relations between the North and the South and avoid excessive concessions to the United States that would go against the logic of a rapprochement.

Fifth, concretizing and refining (step-by-step) joint proposals put forward by Russia and China on the development of a “road map” and actively promoting it in contacts with all partners and international organizations, including promoting the concept of six-party talks.

First published in our partner RIAC

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