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Donald Trump’s Asia tour: North Korea top on agenda

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As the longest tour of Asia by a US president in 25 years, US President Donald Trump has embarked on a 12-day trip to Asia starting on Friday the 3rd November during which he would five countries: Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. In his shuttle diplomatic voyage, President Trump is expected to show a united front with South Korea and Japan while pressing China to take a stronger line with Pyongyang.

Donald Trump has kicked off his 12-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region in Japan. Trump will then visit South Korea and China before traveling south to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Ahead of a trip to Asia starting from Japan, Trump urged Saudi Arabia to choose Wall Street as a venue for the initial public offerings (IPO) of shares of oil giant Aramco in 2018. He tweeted from Hawaii, “Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!” The Aramco IPO is expected to be the largest in history, raising around $100 billion in much-needed revenue for the Saudi kingdom. Saudi Arabia has posted $200 billion in deficits in the past three fiscal years due to the slump in global oil prices. Aramco, which controls Saudi Arabia’s massive energy assets, plans to list nearly 5 per cent of its shares in the stock market. Plans are to list the offering in the second half of 2018 on the Saudi stock market as well as an international exchange, with markets in New York and London vying for the offering.

The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program and missile tests. Trump flew first to the US state of Hawaii where he visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor – the scene of the 1941 Japanese attack that drew the USA into World War Two. He also took part in a briefing at the US Pacific Command.

Itinerary

On 5 November: Arrives in Japan. Plays Golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and professional player Hideki Matsuyama at Kasumigaseki Country Club; Bilateral meetings with Abe; 7 November: In South Korea for talks with President Moon Jae-in. Trump will also address the National Assembly; 8 November: Arrives in China for a series of events including meetings with President Xi Jinping; 10 November: Travels to Da Nang, Vietnam, and will participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit; 11 November: Travels to Hanoi, Vietnam, for talks with President Tran Dai Quang and other Vietnamese leaders; 12 November: Arrives in Manila, Philippines, to take part in a gala dinner for the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean); 13 November: Will attend the Asean summit in Manila and hold talks with President Rodrigo Duterte; 14 November: Trump will stay for the East Asia Summit, a wider regional gathering that includes the US, India and Russia.

Japan – first stop for Trump’s Asia-Pacific tour. The first two stopovers are Washington’s key allies in Northeast Asia: Japan and South Korea. They have both been rattled by a wildcard president who threatened to upend a global order the US had underpinned for decades. In Vietnam, Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Da Nang, apparently the key item of his tour, and make a state visit to Hanoi. His final engagement was scheduled to be a summit of South East Asian nations in the Philippine capital, Manila, on 13 November but the trip has now been extended by an extra day so he can attend the East Asia Summit. The last time a US president made such a marathon trip to Asia was when George HW Bush visited the region in late 1991 and early 1992.

Before Air Force One takes off for a Hawaii visit on Friday, the key challenges facing Trump on an odyssey that started in Japan on Sunday before stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. From Hawaii, he and First Lady Melania Trump headed to Japan and then on move to South Korea.

Donald Trump’s tour of Asia offers plenty to keep the US president cheerful, from lavish state banquets to honour-guard pomp and even a chummy round of golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Upon arrival in Japan, Trump resumed his characteristic aggressive rhetoric targeting his “foes” like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan warning them of destruction saying that they are on a suicide mission.

Target North Korea

Trump has previously exchanged some fiery rhetoric with North Korea over its ballistic missile tests but aides said earlier last week that he would not go to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the border between the South and North. He is, however, to visit Camp Humphreys, a US military complex south of the capital, Seoul. Trump’s visit to China was incorporated into his itinerary to make Beijing get North Korea on board.

The way the Trump government tells it, the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang is rapidly developing nuclear warheads and the intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry them to a US West Coast city such as Seattle or Los Angeles.

The White House counter-strategy seems to be assuring allies such as South Korea and Japan that the USA still has their back, while getting North Korea’s main ally, China, to economically pressure Pyongyang back to the bargaining table.

That’s a recipe for trouble at Trump-Xi talks from November 8 onwards. Many Trump’s officials believe that Beijing has to help solve the North Korea problem. Not be helpful, but solve the problem. And there’s no easy solution to this, certainly not one that China will find acceptable and low cost.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calculus is different. Beijing-Pyongyang relations have troughed, but a collapse of the hermit nation could send refugees spilling northwards and land American troops on China’s doorstep.

That’s where the fun stops. These are big tests for a commander-in-chief who does, on occasion, follow the teleprompter and stay “on message”, but at other times becomes frustrated and fires off salvos of brusque, early morning Twitter missives.  It also represents a grueling 12-day slog of speech-making, summits, and tricky sit-downs on a range of trade disputes – and the intractable policy headache of North Korea’s nuclear arms program.

While Trump has skimped North Korea in his maiden trip to the region of Asia Pacific, the trip is indeed focused on that country as he wants to deny nuclearization of that nation. He wants to make a united front among the regional powers including China against North Korea.

Trump has spoken of raining “fire and fury” on North Korea – rhetoric that nudges the region towards a potentially calamitous conflict. He may well tone that down a notch when addressing the National Assembly in Seoul on November 8. He may also be wise to offer some goodies. The US pull-out from TPP came as China was rolling out its multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” infrastructure development plan across Asia and beyond.  According to Ford, the expected Asia policy must provide a new “economic vision, post-TPP”. Simply renegotiating a bilateral trade with South Korea, and vaunting new ones with Japan and Vietnam, is not enough.

Challenge of Asia-Pacific policy: Asia last?

Fake news, fictitious threat perception concerning their security by the government makes both USA and Israel strong militarily. USA and Israel always fix their imagined foes trying to target and destroy them, though it remains a fact both cannot be destroyed because of their anti-missile shield and WMD.

Thus any country seeking nuclear energy and WMD to defend their nations and populations from possible enemy attacks is viewed as being the cause of destructive trouble for the super power of USA and Israel.  Of course that is only a known gimmick to threaten and bully the weak nations seeking WMD.

Thus Iran and North Korea are seen as their enemies because USA says they are developing nukes to destroy only USA and Israel. 

Former US President Barack Obama tried to “rebalance” the US’ defence and economic policy to counter China’s rise, including with a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that excluded Beijing.

Trump scrapped TTP almost as soon as he entered the White House in January. Amy Searight, a former Pentagon official, told Al Jazeera the “lack of any replacement with a proactive trade policy or economic agenda” has left Washington’s Asian partners feeling anxious.

Trump the property magnate is expected to unveil a new framework at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, on November 10. White House officials talk up plans for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Although big questions about the policy remain, a recommitment to rules-based economic fairness may be a solid message, Lindsey Ford, a former Department of Defense official, told Al Jazeera.  “It’s important for people to hear that America First does not mean Asia last; that American prosperity can go hand in hand with Asian prosperity,” said Ford, an analyst at the Asia Society Policy Institute, a think-tank.

Trump’s biggest challenge could be the one thing he cannot seem to change: himself.  He is prone to undiplomatic language that plays badly with buttoned-down Asian officials. Previously on Twitter, he accused South Korea of trying to “appease” its northern neighbour, and criticised Xi for not doing enough to rein in Pyongyang.

The trip is longer and tougher than his first foreign venture to the Middle East in May. He may get irked by Japanese resentment over a US military base in Okinawa, or rallies against the “war maniac” US president on the streets of South Korea. “Among government officials, there are going to be a lot of white-knuckles and held breath throughout the two days of his time in South Korea,” Scott Snyder, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

There is a risk of clashing egos when Trump meets Rodrigo Duterte, the hard-boiled president of the Philippines, on November 13. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend APEC, shifting the spotlight back on to the troublesome probe of election collusion. China is a safer bet.

US-China relations

Officially a communist nation pursuing Socialist policies indoors and a mixed agenda abroad, China has developed trade relations with US superpower along with it also shares the veto power on UNSC. USA has been employing many countries in Asia including those he is visiting now and India to contain the Chinese influence on the continent and beyond.

Neocons believes only economic ties could USA closer to Beijing. Trump’s stop in Beijing is being billed as a “state visit plus” to mark the importance of the dynamic between himself and President Xi, as well as relations between the US superpower and China’s fast-growing economy and armed forces.

In Beijing, the two leaders representing West and East respectively may be able to paper over the cracks by unveiling a few energy deals this month, but that would only be a “calm before the storm” and the “escalation of tensions” next year. The Trump government has high expectations from China, a fundamental reordering of the trade relationship, while China expects a relatively painless negotiation process.

Meanwhile, the two leaders are in different positions. Xi has just emerged from a glowing five-yearly Communist Party congress; Trump has low approval ratings of 34 percent and is battling a probe about election collusion with Russia. He faces condemnations form both Democratic and Republican pastries. Former CIA analyst Christopher Johnson compared Xi’s “strong position with no visible domestic opposition” to Trump’s routinely questioned style and legislative record. “This gives Xi a bit of a leg up” when bartering.

North Korea is not the only glitch. Trump rails against the United States’ “embarrassing” $347bn trade deficit with China, and has accused Beijing of manipulating its currency, rigging markets, and pilfering ideas from US firms.

WMD as deterrent

The US President Donald Trump’s two-week visit to the Asia-Pacific region as  the threat of a military confrontation with North Korea will be high on the agenda in Japan, South Korea, and China.

North Korea is developing its nuclear weapons to defend itself against any future US aggression so it doesn’t endure “the tragic situation of the war-torn non-nuclear countries which became the targets of invasion and plunder by the USA.

North Korea needs nuclear weapons as a deterrent to prevent “invasion and plunder” by the unilateral USA. It is indeed scared of US militarism and condemned the USA and its allies’ “crazy escalation of sanctions, pressure, and military threats” against the communist country that “will get them nowhere”.

The nuclear force of the DPRK has become a strong deterrent for firmly protecting peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the rest of Northeast Asia and creditably guaranteeing the sovereignty and the rights to existence and development of the Korean nation, using the acronym for the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

The Uriminzokkiri commentary denounced the military build-up near North Korea. “It is ridiculous for the US to try to browbeat the DPRK through such muscle-flexing as deploying nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines near the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity and flying nuclear-capable strategic bombers on it,” it said.

The USA has said it will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” the country. In response, Kim Jong-un’s leadership said it may conduct an atmospheric nuclear weapons test. North Korea dared USA to make the first military move.

In advance of Trump’s visit, three American aircraft carrier strike groups have been deployed to the region, a move military analysts have described as unusual. Stratfor, a US-based intelligence analysis company, noted in a report that the US Air Force also will send a dozen F-35A stealth fighter jets to a base in Japan in early November.

The gathering is a rare occurrence – the last time three US aircraft carrier strike groups convened for a combined exercise was in 2007 – and will give the United States a powerful force within striking distance of North Korea,” Stratfor said.”Taken together, these developments suggest that the United States is preparing for a confrontation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Washington is gearing up to start a war with Pyongyang,” a report concluded.

Michael T Clare, a professor of peace and world-security studies at Hampshire College in the US, wrote: “There can be only two plausible explanations for this extraordinary naval buildup: to provide Trump with the sort of military extravaganza he seems to enjoy; and/or to prepare for a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea.”

Tensions remain sky high after North Korea’s sixth and most powerful underground nuclear test in September, and a flurry of ballistic missile tests in recent months.

Will there be a war on the Korean Peninsula?

Absolutely there is no chance for a direct US war with North Korea, a close ally of China and Russia – another veto member.  Russia and China would reject any US proposal in UN for a war with NK. USA would not dare attack North Korea on its own or under the NATO banner since Russia and China might as well enter the war, making it a beginning of an official WW-III.

There could be possible triggers for war with North Korea that need to be carefully watched. The first possible trigger is a declaration of war by North Korea, especially since the USA has made clear it has not declared war. This won’t happen because Russia and China would not support it. The idea that countries would formally declare war against each other, before commencing hostilities, is a relic of the early 20th century. Although remnants of the practice remain, it was largely outdated by the Second World War as the military advantages of surprise as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the Nazi attack on Soviet Russia, made clear.

The second possible trigger is the North Korea threat of a possible detonation of a nuclear device in the atmosphere over the Pacific. Although the aesthetics of such an act would shock the world as humanity has not seen a nuclear airburst since that done by China in 1980, this would not be the beginning of hostilities. However, if Kim explodes it in international territory, such as the high seas, he faces different rules, such as when Australia and New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice after French atmospheric testing caused radiation pollution to fall on them, downwind. It was for this reason of pollution that most of the global community concluded an international agreement prohibiting such atmospheric nuclear testing. The third possible trigger is the North Korea threat to shoot down aircraft in international airspace as in, mirroring the territorial sea, 12 nautical miles/22.2km out from the land. Previously in 1969, North Korea did shoot down an American spy plane, killing all 31 members aboard when it was operating in international airspace. At that point, President Nixon did not respond with violence due to a fear of how the Soviet Union and China would react.

Interestingly, upon arriving Tokyo, Trump has asked Japan to attack North Korea by firing missiles to that nation. Japan is yet to respond to US demand. .

After the Second World War, the UN seeking global peace hoped that all members would refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, to which Declarations of War by individual states would become redundant. However, when the North Korean armed forces advanced over the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, without a declaration of war, it was shown how in vain this hope was. The response to this act of aggression by North Korea was the 84th resolution of the Security Council (when the Soviet Union was absent from the vote) to defend South Korea under the UN flag but with the leadership of the US.

Today, the situation is even more complicated as the North Korean rhetoric of declaring war is not uncommon. Following the 2013 sanctions approved by the Security Council against North Korea for their nuclear test, Kim Jong-un promised a pre-emptive strike against the USA with its nuclear weapons. This was followed by a “Full War Declaration Statement”. This was all part of their assertions that North Korea had scrapped the armistice that ended the first Korean War in 1953.

To show their determination in 2013, North Korea also cut the hotline that enabled direct communication between North and South Korea. Although the hotline was reconnected a few months later, when South Korea closed down the joint Kaesong industrial complex following Kim Jung-un’s fourth nuclear test in early 2016, North Korea condemned the act as a Declaration of War, and then cut the hotline again.

Cutting the hotline is more dangerous than the rhetoric. Hotlines prevent accidental war. South Korea, which has a hotline to China, has been trying to have its hotline to North Korea reconnected. However, the line that is really needed is one between North Korea and Washington. Such best practice has been evident since 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the two superpowers recognised the necessity to be able to talk directly, at short notice, whenever required so as not to stumble into nuclear war.

Today, war planes of both USA and Russia keep flying over very close to  each other’s space. Russian military aircraft have flown over 60 times close to Alaska or down past the edge of Western Europe in the past 10 years have shown, no matter how unpleasant such acts may be, such planes may be intercepted and followed, but they may not be shot down if they do not cross into territorial airspace. To ensure that no mistakes are made in this carefully choreographed sabre rattling, certain rules need to apply – primarily, the planes should not be invisible.

If Kim decides to take down one of the American planes flying in international airspace, as his grandfather Kim Il-sung did in earlier times, he would be gambling against the odds that President Trump will not respond with violence.

However, if USA would declare war on North Korea is a trillion dollar question. Will Trump order the Pentagon to attack North Korea disregarding the worst, devastating consequences?

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Russia and the end of North Korea’s Tong-mi bong-nam strategy

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North Korea’s decades old strategy of ‘Tong-mi bong-nam’ (Engage the United States, Block South Korea) and its rare variant ( ‘Tong-nam bong-mi’ or Engage South Korea, Block the US) of breaking the Washington-Seoul axis by alternatively cooperating with one in order to isolate the other so as to manoeuvre its way through it has seen a shift recently as Pyongyang moves closer to Russia.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since the election of the conservative President Yoon Seok-youl, who has adopted a “Kill Chain” strategy to preemptively target the Kim regime in the face of an imminent nuclear threat. Cooperation has been restricted to calls for reunion of families across the border along with disarmament linked “audacious”  economic aid in order to denuclearise Pyongyang, which stands at the cusp of its worst economic crisis post the pandemic. However, surprisingly, North Korea has not only rejected the offer but has declared itself a nuclear state by adopting a law which rules out the possibility of denuclearisation by allowing Pyongyang to conduct preemptive strikes to protect itself. With a possible nuclear test on the cards, the Russian hand behind such bold moves cannot be overlooked.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has emboldened North Korea in more ways than one: it has not only challenged the invincibility of the Western powers whom Pyongyang defines as “hostile” but has also created demands for North Korean weaponry for a sanction pressed Russia to continue the war, promising to fill Pyongyang’s coffers with much needed foreign reserves. While North Korea has denied these claims, its increased proximity with Moscow is too conspicuous to gloss over. The most significant consequence however has been a change in North Korea’s policy towards Seoul and Washington.

Efficiently using it to challenge Seoul’s participation in any peace negotiations since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, the strategy of Tong-mi bong-nam was employed again in 1994 when faced with recurrent famines and massive food shortages, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearise under the Agreed Framework and eventually normalise its relationship with the US. The idea was to extract economic aid while isolating Seoul after tensions soared over the latter not sending official condolences on Kim il-Sung’s death. 

The strategy was reversed in South’s favour  when relations with Washington soured after it imposed a fresh series of sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation programme in April 1998 and North Korea positively responded to Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy which resulted in the historic June 15 summit of 2000, where the  the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time post the division in 1945. President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” comment further worsened US-North Korean ties which led Pyongyang to not only break off contacts with both the US and South Korea but also withdraw from the NPT in January 2003. Although South Korean efforts and North Korea’s mounting economic crisis  succeeded in bringing Pyongyang to the Six Party Talks where Seoul argued that North’s security concerns be taken into account before pushing for denuclearisation, Washington’s rigid stance that North Korea denuclearises first  resulted in a stalemate. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 inviting more stringent sanctions and eventually withdrew from the Six Party talks in 2009. After successive conservative governments which favoured a hard stance towards North Korea virtually stalled negotiations, President Moon Jae-in’s friendly approach resulted in a major breakthrough in Inter-Korean relations in the form of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration which called for phased disarmament, at a time when Pyongyang’s economy was at its lowest in the past two decades and tensions with the Trump administration soared high. The breakdown of the 2019 Hanoi Summit between North Korea and the US finally ended cooperation.

The above cases illustrate how efficiently North Korea has used Tong-mi bong-nam as a manoeuvring tool where negotiations were undertaken only during times of economic crisis while nuclear proliferation continued to remain a priority to achieve  reunification of the peninsula in a way favourable to Pyongyang. Moreover, Kim Jong-un has learnt from the case of Gadaffi’s Libya that engaging the West in denuclearisation would only provide limited respite while possession of nuclear weapons not only creates a strong deterrence against attacks by much powerful adversaries but also fuels nuclear nationalism thus reproducing regime legitimacy even at its weakest moments. Hence, he has nipped all chances of achieving complete denuclearisation in the bud. While China has so far played a major role in moderating Pyongyang’s aggression by prioritising regional stability considering its own geopolitical and economic interests over countering the US; Russia’s bold violation of UNSC sanctions by not only trading with Pyongyang but also demonstrating active interest in  employing North Korean workers and labelling the bilateral relationship as being of “mutual interest” speaks volumes about the greater latitude it is willing to provide its anti-American ally in pressing forward with its agenda.

Though Tong-mi bong-nam has served North Korea’s interests by aiding it in extracting economic benefits while dodging commitments over complete denuclearisation, it has simultaneously acted as the only window for Seoul and Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang. As its raison d’être, namely North’s economic and diplomatic isolation, wanes with Moscow’s support; the hope for denuclearisation might be lost forever specifically as the US and South Korea continue to  seek “overwhelming” military response to resolve the crisis which might lead to unimaginably dangerous consequences. The need of the hour is to multilaterally engage with both Russia and North Korea on disarmament and lift sanctions in a phased manner while ensuring that the two abide by their commitments.

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The SCO seeks for a new role in the post-Ukrainian crisis world

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During the Samarkand summit which was held during September 15-16, the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) signed the landmark Samarkand Declaration, advanced Iran’s accession, start the process for Belarus to become a full member, while approving Bahrain, Maldives, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Myanmar as dialogue partners. Additionally, the SCO issued groundbreaking statements and documents, marking the first time that member states have jointly spoken out on emerging issues, such as climate change, supply chain security and international energy security. All of these progresses verify that the SCO has come of the age over the past two decades. There is no question that the SCO is now the largest regional cooperation organization in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives in its member states, accounting for about 25% of the global GDP—and those states have a powerful intellectual and technological potential and a considerable part of the global natural resources.

As one of the two leading drivers of the SCO, Russia has played the tremendous role in its development and solidarity of all member states in principle and in reality as well. This year, despite the Ukrainian war drags on for over 200 days, Russia still acted influentially to promote Iran’s “earliest possible accession” to the SCO legally and Belarus’s beginning the accession process. As President Putin said during the summit, “There are many more countries that seek membership in or association with the SCO. All are welcomed because the SCO is a “non-bloc association and rather working with the whole world.” It is also true that in a very complicated international situation, the SCO is not “marking time,” but rather continuing to develop and build its role in addressing international and regional issues—maintaining peace and stability “throughout the vast Eurasian space.”

Echoing the coming changes in global politics and the economy which are about to undergo fundamental and irreversible changes, it is obvious that there are new “centers of power” emerging, and the interaction among them is inclusively based on universally recognized principles of the rule of international law and the UN Charter, namely, equal and indivisible security and respect for each other’s sovereignty, national values and interests. Given this, this article aims to argue what role the SCO would be able to play in the next twenty years?

The SCO holds tremendous potential for the future of international community and particularly in the fields of ensuring energy security and food security. Accordingly, the latest joint statement proposes to avoid excessive fluctuations in the prices of international bulk commodities in the energy sector, ensure the safety and stability of international food and energy resources’ transportation channels, and to smooth the international production and supply chain. To insure these ends, the statement also underlines adherence to the principle of technology neutrality as it is the key to encourage the research and application of various clean and low-carbon energy technologies. Given this, the Samarkand summit is a milestone both in the development of the SCO and building of a SCO community with shared future. Accordingly, the SCO will adhere to the principle of not targeting third parties as the Final Declaration states that the SCO seeks to ensure peace, security and stability. In reality, SCO members intend to jointly further develop cooperation in politics and security, trade, economy, finance and investments, cultural and humanitarian relations “in order to build a peaceful, safe, prosperous and environmentally friendly planet Earth.”

In the overall terms, China has played the significant role in joint promoting of the SCO as Russia admitted that in unison with the Chinese side, the existence of a unipolar world is impossible. Moscow and Beijing have agreed that it’s an impossible situation when the wealthy West is claiming the right to invent rules in economy, in politics and the right to impose its will on other countries. The foundation of the unipolar system has started to seriously creak and wobble. A new reality is emerging. Now it is more apparent that the obsolete unipolar model is being superseded by a new world order based on the fundamental principles of justice, equality, and the recognition of the right of each nation and state to its sovereign path of development. Put it more precisely, strong political and economic centers acting as a driving force of this irreversible process are being shaped in the Asia Pacific region.

Echoing the consensus among the SCO member states and their partners in the Eurasian domain, President Xi spoke at the summit that the successful experience of the SCO has been based on political trust, win-win cooperation, equality between nations, openness and inclusiveness, and equity and justice. They are not only the source of strength for the development of the SCO but also the fundamental guide that must be followed strictly in the years to come. Given that under the volatile world, the SCO, as an important constructive force in international and regional affairs, should keep itself well-positioned in the face of changing international dynamics, constantly enhance strategic independence, consolidate and deepen solidarity and cooperation, and build a closer SCO community with a shared future.

More specifically, China has not only presented the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, but also carried out the initiatives with real actions. In addition, the SCO greets the new round of the largest expansion of the SCO membership has consolidated its status and influence as the most populous regional cooperation organization with the vastest territory in the world. The expansion fully demonstrates that the SCO is not a closed and exclusive “small clique” but an open, inclusive “big family”. As a new type of international organization comprising 26 countries, the SCO is increasingly showing strong vitality and bright prospects for development including that it will inject new impetus into peace and prosperity in Eurasia and beyond and play an exemplary role in building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

In sum, the SCO has gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia is turning to East in general and China in particular as Beijing and Moscow vow to be a partner with no limits and leading coordination over the SCO. In addition, the comprehensive strategic partnership of China and Russia covers a bilateral agenda, multilateral trade and economic cooperation and shared security concerns of all concerned. In the face of outrageous Western sanctions, the SCO demonstrates stability, continues to develop progressively, and gains momentum. China is sure to play the constructive role of promoting their business to the global level, including strengthening the basis of economic cooperation among SCO member states, allowing the launch of free economic zones, and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects globally.

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Factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party: From Mao to Now

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With the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set to commence on October 16, here’s a look at the different factions that have historically existed within the Party, otherwise considered a highly centralised and monolithic organisation.

Democratic Centralism

Described by Lenin as “freedom of discussion, unity of action”, Democratic Centralism is a Marxist-Leninist theoretical concept which attempts to strike a balance between inner Party democracy and organisational unity as an assurance that decisions could be efficiently made without stifling ideological struggles within the Party which emerge in the form of dissent. It was first specifically adopted as the organising principle of a Marxist party in the Soviet Union by both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)  at their separate conferences in 1905 and was unanimously adopted at the Party Unity Congress in 1906. Initially seen to be compatible with the existence of factions, a more rigid idea of Democratic Centralism was adopted at the 10th Party Congress in 1921 when all factions were outlawed in the name of Party unity. While the intention was not to wipe out the democratic discourse altogether, ‘monolithic unity’ vertically imposed by the late 1920s supplanted all free debate.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) at its 17th Congress in 1934  defined the four cardinal points of Democratic Centralism as follows:

election of all leading bodies of the Party; their periodic accountability to their respective organisations; strict party discipline &  the subordination of the minority to the majority and decisions of higher bodies to be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on party members.

 In other words, free debate and discussion would be allowed to exist within the ranks of the Party till a decision is taken by the higher body after which it must be faithfully followed and implemented by all lower ranks in the name of Party discipline  without any collective attempts to block the decision. Factionalism thus, came to be seen as a serious offense of sabotaging Party unity. The Third Communist International (1919-43) called for  Democratic Centralism to be strictly implemented by all fellow Communist parties across the world which continued even after its dissolution in 1943.

The Chinese Communist Party, through the  slogan ‘Centralism based on Democracy and Democracy Under Centralist Guidance’ (《民主基础上的集中,集中知道下的民主》), describes its role as focused on the inclusion of popular opinion which is considered  extremely important not just for the successful implementation of its policies but also as the raison d’être of its rule however concurrently, it considers them too vague to be implemented as they exist. The CCP thus sees itself as the central sieve through which mass opinions would be filtered off their vagueness and effective policies could be formulated as it is considered to be in best possession of both the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and interests of the masses. Party cadres would go to the masses and raise their demands at the Party meetings followed by a debate, also known as the Mass Line approach. Once the decision is taken, there would be no further discussion and the cadres would faithfully implement the policies among the populace with iron discipline.

After a brief period of decentralisation post the 1978 Reform and Opening up, Centralism was reintroduced following the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1989 and more so after the fall of the USSR in 1991 in order to avert a possible legitimacy crisis. Since then streams of Centralism and Democracy have alternatively dominated leadership views. In his speech at the 17th Party Congress, Hu Jintao emphasised on the need to strengthen intra Party democracy as a part of Democratic Centralism. In contrast, Xi Jinping in 2016 emphasised on the need to integrate centralisation on a democratic basis while urging the members to display “pure and utmost” loyalty to the Party.

Guanxi (关系)

Though Articles 3(5) and  10 of the CCP Constitution  prohibit factionalism within the Party in the name of Democratic Centralism, interest groups nevertheless exist through informal networks based on  personal ties called Guanxi (关系). Guanxi has its roots in the Confucian tradition which emphasises on the feeling of belongingness among members of a family or an organisation. Such a  nexus functions in a reciprocal way where the followers look for career security and advancement under the protection of a senior leader who ensures their interests are served in the upper rungs in exchange for their support, for instance, Hu Jintao was known to have led a group of his comrades from his Communist Youth League (CYL) days  called Tuanpai (团派) in his entourage. While in itself testifying the presence of factionalism, this relationship often results in emergence of factions due to its unstable nature. All chosen successors to the General Secretary in the Party’s history have been purged by their own patrons (Mao and Deng) with the sole exception of Deng Xiaoping’s protégé, Jiang Zemin. Inconsistent leadership decision making, with opinions swinging between “Left adventurism” and “Right opportunism” under Mao and “Emancipation of Mind” and “Socialist Spiritual Civilisation” under Deng too has given rise to interest groups within the Party.

Other features of China’s political system which give rise to factionalism include  power entrusted to individual leaders in a hierarchical context; the monopoly of the Communist Party over all legal channels of expression of diverse interests; absence of a formal structure of decision making and interference of the military in politics.

Factions at a glance

The origins of Guanxi networks can be traced back to Shantou (山头)or “mountain top” alliances which date back to the Party’s early days. Facing a hostile Nationalist Party (国民党) and Japanese forces, the CCP was nurtured in independent and isolated rural basecamps which were often located in rugged hilly terrain. Thus, each Shantou became a locus of its leader’s power.  The hostile and dangerous conditions necessitated a close bond between leaders and their followers which fragmented member’s loyalty towards the CCP as a Party as the primary allegiance was paid to the leader and not to the organisation.

Though Mao in his On Contradiction (1937) defined intra Party differences and discussions as a symbol of its vitality and liveliness, he was very strict about expression of dissent outside the Party apparatus which was seen as an attempt to break away from the Party and resulted almost always in purges. Even as Mao successfully established his line of thought as the single ideological core of the Party during the Yenan Rectification Campaign of 1942, ground realities built conditions for the existence of factions which continued as external channels of communication among political associates, outlets of their diverse interests and command system of their forces. Informal Factionalism continued to drive the Party’s inner politics even after the victory in the Civil War in 1949. While Mao could establish himself as the Chairman, his sole legitimacy to rule still faced challenges since all his associates had comparable experience and contribution to enlist. As a result, though working under Mao, leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai continued to remain influential in a system where they were not expected to do so. Cautious of not upsetting Mao,these leaders often collaborated amongst themselves to weather any crisis which Mao read as a threat to his own power and hence, he launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as an anti-organisation movement so as to tie all strands of loyalty to himself and not the Party where other leaders still exercised influence.

Interestingly, a penchant for a similar policy did not always translate into unity among members, the classic example being the fallout between Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong who did not just share policy preferences on most issues but had also joined the Party at the same time and worked together. Similarly, both Lin Biao and the Gang of Four (四人帮) were on the same page in the trajectory of the revolution but it was the power struggle amongst them which ultimately led to Lin’s fall. During Deng’s regime, Chen Yun and Peng Zhen’s shared conservativeness did not prevent Chen from blocking Peng’s path to the Politburo Standing Committee. Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were reform minded but Zhao held his silence when Hu was ousted. Similarly, it was on the basis of personal networks that Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun remained the most powerful leaders throughout their lives without holding any official position. 

The economic reforms of the post Mao period further split internal unity into those who continued to stick with the Maoist line, demanding strict obedience to the socialist model of development and those who believed in inching closer to an open, market oriented economy. Economic interests thus play a major role in guiding factionalism, with the emergence of a ‘Petroleum faction’ within the CCP of those associated with the crude oil industry being a noticeable example.

Common political origins have also formed a ground for development of factions. Like Hu’s Tuanpai, Jiang Zemin was known to promote those who had worked for him previously in the Shanghai administration which led to the rise of a “Shanghai Clique” when he ascended the top position. Xi is similarly known to be leading a  “Fujian Clique” as his ascension to power was soon followed by the promotion of his former associates Wang Xiaohong and Deng Weiping to senior positions. He has also promoted his protégés from his home province of Shaanxi. Xi is not only known to secure the interests of “Princelings” (太子党 or children of high ranking Communist leaders as himself) but to also further promote a “Tsinghua Faction” of his alma mater which is known to have existed since 2008 when 1 of the 7 members of the Politburo Standing Committee and 3 of the 25 members of the Politburo were alumni of the prestigious Tsinghua University. Xi Jinping has also actively promoted leaders such as Ma Xingrui and Zhang Qingwei from the Defense-Aerospace industry (军工航天系) to top civilian positions. Perhaps the starkest episode of factionalism within the CCP was the fall of Bo Xilai, Xi’s contender to the position of the General Secretary in 2012, which not just revealed the fault lines within the Party but also brought into question the fragmented loyalty of the military as many senior PLA officers closely associated with Bo such as Zhou Yongkang were found to have actively aided him in securing the most coveted position and were later tried and arrested for charges of corruption and abuse of power.

With speculations high that Xi is likely to evade the “seven up, eight down” (七上,八下) rule which restricts reappointments of senior leaders above the age of 68 and  the retirement of Li Keqiang as the Premier, groups such as the CYL faction are likely to be further marginalised while the prominence of those close to Xi Jinping is bound to prevail at the upcoming Party Congress which might result in the likely promotion of leaders like Chen Min’er and Ding Xuexiang. 

Factionalism within the CCP does not just stand as the testimony of the dynamics in Chinese politics but also provides a window into the otherwise opaque world of its functioning.

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