North Korea’s military strength is the strength of its nuclear potential. As the North Korean Foreign Minister stated at the ASEAN Forum in early August 2017, the United States must be “blamed” for wanting to bring “the nuclear war into the Korean peninsula”. He also reaffirmed that North Korea would never discuss the issue of its missile and nuclear arsenal at the negotiating table with the United States and its allies.
At the time China said that a critical point had been reached, but it could also be the beginning of new and more effective negotiations between North Korea, the United States, China and the Russian Federation.
It is therefore obvious that the two missiles launched by North Korea on July 4 and 28 last are certainly capable of reaching the US territory, but they were fired at such an angle as to avoid the impact on the ground.
It is further evident that North Korea launches missiles towards the United States because it wants to prevent it from permanently mobilizing for a regime change in North Korea.
On the other hand, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson maintains that -before sitting at the negotiating table – North Korea must not only put an end to the nuclear military tests, but even begin a genuine, stable and definitive denuclearization process.
Incidentally, although officially keeping NATO as a “nuclear alliance”, the US obsession with Europe’s denuclearization did not bring luck to the countries like Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey which had been heavily denuclearized by the United States between the end of the Second World War and the establishment of the Atlantic Alliance.
The Atlantic Alliance which, according to Lord Ismay, the first Secretary General of NATO, had “to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down”.
It is not possible to figure out what would have happened if Italy had had a small, albeit credible nuclear military system, but certainly the Mediterranean situation would be better today.
Turkey’s nuclear threat to the USSR would have changed and limited its Middle East policy. The nuclearized West Germany would have not experienced the penetration of the DDR intelligence services that later tormented it. The Netherlands would have had a role to play in the North Sea and Belgium would have had more stable and less factional governments.
Italy experienced all this, but that is another story.
Just to quote Henri Bergson, the philosopher who developed the concept of vital impulse (élan vital), the nuclear power is “the force that is not used.”
A force which, however, we must show to have and be able to use – not on the ground, because it is of no use, but in the decisive phases of foreign policy.
A country without nuclear power, however, is a country without a foreign policy and strategy.
Nevertheless, reverting to the ASEAN Forum held last July, all the Foreign Ministers present condemned the “missile tests and urged a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea”.
At this juncture, without imposing an either-or deal, we could say that North Korea cannot accept to resume the Six Party Talks, which began in 2003 and ended in December 2008, without clarifying a single and central point: maintaining a nuclear armament share for North Korea, but fully verifiable by IAEA.
And also without further ascertaining that the new IAEA agreement applies to both Koreas at the same time, so as to later foster North Korea’s economic integration into the regional system – hence including Japan, Vietnam (an old friend of North Korea) and obviously South Korea and India.
The economic and humanitarian instruments of the Six Party Talks were significant, also on the part of the United States: one million tons of heavy oil or oil equivalent – the expenses of which had to be shared among the six parties; support for North Korea’s energy spending and supplies; the US funding for the denuclearization costs; assistance to IAEA; 12.5 million tons of food – from 1995 to 2003 – with a view to alleviating the very harsh conditions of the North Korean population.
Hence support to North Korea is expensive, but it is better to help it now rather than triggering a military spiral that can only be solved by a limited and, ultimately, nuclear war, which is in no one’s interest.
Not to mention the damage that – hopefully in a very distant and even impossible future – the strategic wound between the United States, Russia and China could cause in Southeast Asia, as well as the block – also for the EU, the Asian region, India and the Gulf countries – of all the routes from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.
It would be one of the deepest global destabilizations occurred in the modern era, even worse than the two World Wars which Asia has always seen as regional conflicts.
Hence limiting the North Korean strategic pressure area and concurrently reducing the perception of strategic encirclement and impoverishment currently felt not only by the North Korean leaders, but also by the local population.
North Korea’s nuclear system, however, is needed: 1) to ensure the survival of the regime; 2) to support its military prestige and its weight, also at economic level; 3) to achieve an asymmetrical strategic superiority over South Korea.
South Korea has more and better trained armed forces, but it has a nuclear power system of which only the United States has the access keys.
Therefore it would be rational to shift from the rhetoric of North Korea’s total denuclearization – which is impossible to achieve and is strategically dangerous even for the United States – to a more rational “classic” negotiation for the strategic control of nuclear weapons, which we deem would be acceptable also for North Korea.
Since 2013 Kim Jong Un’s policy line has been to link economic development to nuclear projects, thus focusing all the North Korean Armed Forces’ efforts on the nuclear arsenal.
As all well-informed ruling classes do, the North Korean regime interprets its own choices on the basis of the recent history of the world’s leading strategic actors. Kim Jong Un knows all too well what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar El Gaddafi, although the Iraqi dictator had accepted the US “advice” and weapons to begin his ten-year war against the Iranian ayatollahs.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine is regarded by North Korea as the final break with the 1994 OSCE Agreement of Budapest, which mainly regarded Belarus’, Ukraine’s and Kazakhstan’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The agreement reached in the Hungarian capital city was guaranteed by the United States, Russia and Great Britain, while China and France had provided less precise assurances in separate documents.
Hence, against this general background, what does it mean and what is the point of sending an Italian general and MP to negotiate with North Korea?
What could Italy say to the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, considering that Italy is a country blindly repeating the US and EU strategic mistakes?
Surely it could say something if it had some autonomous residual voice in the matter.
For example could it inform of the fact that – in a new context of resumption of the Six Party Talks for a policy designed to control North Korea’s nuclear potential – Italy would take the initiative (in the legal sense of the term) and the lead for North Korean economic development, jointly with China, where Italy is operating well?
Do you believe that two – albeit titled – quisque de populo can convince both the United States and Kim Jong Un? Or that the funny TV comedian Razzi can be enough?
Italy could also ensure that an agreement with Russia, China and the United States is reached for the progressive reduction of North Korean nuclear potential – not to be destroyed, but to be used together with investments for a new Korean industrialization.
Do we really want to entrust Federica Mogherini or General Rossi, the Defence Junior Minister of former Renzi’s government, with the task of saying so?
Everything can be done, only to later maintain that North Korea’s missiles can reach the EU “ahead of time” – as French Defence Minister Florence Parly said. Furthermore the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has announced a new, unspecified “EU programme of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” – a programme which, indeed, has been existing since 2006, in line with and implementing the sanctions decided by the United Nations.
Let us simply look at data and statistics. In 2016 trade between the EU and Korea was worth 27 million euros.
The current share of European investment is very low.
The restrictive measures – namely those already taken between 2006 and 2016, without Mogherini obviously knowing anything about them – regard the sale of technologies somehow related to the nuclear system, as well as any kind of computer software, dual use techniques, luxury goods and financial assistance.
As always happens, sanctions favour two equally dangerous actions for those who impose them: the development of internal substitution economies – often with lower production costs than those already recorded on imported goods – and intensified trade with friendly countries, which are really glad to gain the new market shares abandoned by those who moralize at people’s expense.
In fact trade between North Korea and China increased by ten times between 2001 and 2015.
In April 2016, however, China temporarily stopped coal imports from North Korea, with the only exception of the amounts connected with the “people’s wellbeing”.
Formal prostration – namely a kowtow – to the sanctions decided by the UN and also approved by China.
China, however, supplies North Korea with much of its food and with 90% of its total trade.
Moreover, in the first half of 2017, bilateral trade between China and North Korea has been 37.4% higher than during the same period of 2016.
Since September 2015 both countries have opened a fast cargo and container line for Korean coal exports, while a high-speed rail line is already operational between the border towns of Dandong and Shenyan.
Dandong is the town through which 70% of China-North Korea’s trade transits.
Obviously, for China, the primary goal in the Korean peninsula is political and strategic stability.
China deems that if there were any clash between South Korea, the United States and North Korea, no one could be declared the winner and, above all, China would see a huge number of migrants coming from the North Korean border, which would destabilize its Southern region.
Who would take advantage of it?
Moreover, with its missile programme, North Korea wants to play for time in order to solve the issue of its geoeconomic equilibria. It must still dispel some reservations on the resumption of the Six Party Talks, with specific reference to South Korea’s denuclearization – as this is not the strategic equation between the two Koreas – but a genuine Peace Treaty between North Korea and the United States would be really welcome.
This is what Kim Jong Un really wants.
This would put an end to the armistice and would create the conditions for a new negotiation between the United States, North Korea, Russia and China.
South Korea would have a Protection and Military and Civilian Aid Pact on the part of the United States, also signed by the other four participants in the Six Party Talks.
After signing the future Treaty between the United States and North Korea, a further South Korean protection treaty, including nuclear protection, should remain in place. In a new geopolitical context it could become an autonomous Region of a peninsular State that would include some Northern Russian and Chinese areas.
Hence weaken, control and again weaken. A careful regional geopolitics knows how to operate on Korean tensions.
The mistakes made in the previous negotiations with North Korea are now evident: the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea was based on the fact that the Americans were asking North Korea to stop its nuclear programme – a request which, however, was met.
In 2002 it was discovered that North Korea has an uranium-enrichment programme.
At that juncture, Bob Gallucci – a still unparalleled expert of relations between North Korea and the United States – admitted that the US real aim was to stop the plutonium operations rather than the enriched uranium ones.
Two different things, two different strategic lines.
That was the solution.
Instead of hoping for an impossible collapse of the North Korean regime, it was better to let it have a share of operations – at the time even accepted by IAEA.
Obviously, after 1989, the collapse of Communist regimes in the world and of their reference parties in the “capitalist” West created an understandable tension in North Korea.
The regime had supported Yasser Arafat and North Vietnam. It had a very special relationship – also at nuclear technological level – with East Germany and actively supported Somalia and other “Socialist” African States. It loved the Soviet Union that helped it with nuclear power, which in fact began there in the 1950s. It also had good and unavoidable relations with China which, however, could not materially help North Korea at least until the 1970s.
Ceausescu was one of the family in Pyongyang, as many leaders of the “Mediterranean Eurocommunism” of the time.
Nothing is as it may seem.
North Korea’s Communism and Kim Il Sung’s, in particular, was a comprehensive and global platform for effective negotiations between the East and the West.
It is worth recalling that the Six Party Talks started in 2003 and ended on September 19, 2005.
The final text made reference to the procedures for North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korea clearly stated its desire to formally stabilize its relations with the United States and the other Western countries. Mention was also made of the creation of a peace organization for the whole Korean peninsula, which should be the first issue for a smart and brilliant Italian mission to North Korea. In 2005 North Korea accepted and implemented the Six Parties’ agreement.
Hence forget about the rhetoric of “human rights” – more or less accurately identified, which happens seldom – and the further vilain” rhetoric – as Shakespeare’ vilain who embodies all evils and hence must be destroyed.
The issue lies in thinking about the strategy and carry out the rational operations it entails.
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.
Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.
The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
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