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North Korea launches ICBM missile, angering USA, allies

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Even as USA, South Korea and Japan keep raising objections to North Korean efforts for nukes, North Korea keeps testing its military readiness to face the US threats.

After 2 months of relative peace, North Korea launched its most powerful weapon yet early Wednesday the November 29, an intercontinental ballistic missile that could put Washington and the entire eastern US seaboard within range.

Resuming its torrid testing pace in pursuit of its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the US mainland had been widely expected, but the apparent power and suddenness of the new test still jolted the Korean Peninsula and Washington.

The launch, against the Trump regime warnings, indicated an effort to perfect the element of surprise and to obtain maximum attention in the USA. The firing is a clear message of defiance aimed at the Trump government, which had just restored the North to a US list of terror sponsors.  It also ruins nascent diplomatic efforts, raises fears of war or a pre-emptive US strike and casts a deeper shadow over the security of the Winter Olympics early next year in South Korea.

Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera said the missile landed inside of Japan’s special economic zone in the Sea of Japan, about 250 kilometers 155 miles) west of Aomori, which is on the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Onodera says the missile could have been an upgraded version of North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM or a new missile. A big unknown, however, is the missile’s payload. If, as expected, it carried a light mock warhead, then its effective range would have been shorter, analysts said.

The launch is North Korea’s first since it fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan on Sept. 15, and may have broken any efforts at diplomacy meant to end the North’s nuclear ambitions.

US officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.

The missile also appears to improve on North Korea’s past launches. If flown on a standard trajectory, instead of Wednesday’s lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles), said US scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States.

Of course, a rattled Seoul responded by almost immediately launching three of its own missiles in a show of force. The South’s president, Moon Jae-in, expressed worry that North Korea’s growing missile threat could force the USA to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent. “If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control,” Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office. “We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike.”

Moon, a liberal who has been forced into a more hawkish stance by a stream of North Korean weapons tests, has repeatedly declared that there can be no US attack on the North without Seoul’s approval, but many here worry that Washington may act without South Korean input.

An intercontinental ballistic missile test is considered particularly provocative, and indications that it flew higher than past launches suggest progress by Pyongyang in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could strike the US mainland.

US President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having the WMD capability — using military force if necessary. In response to the launch, Trump said the United States will “take care of it.” He told reporters after the launch: “It is a situation that we will handle.” He did not elaborate. After North Korea missile launch, it’s more important than ever to fund our government & military! Dems shouldn’t hold troop funding hostage for amnesty & illegal immigration. I ran on stopping illegal immigration and won big. They can’t now threaten a shutdown to get their demands. — Donald J. Trump

Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and in the wake of today’s provocation, “our administration” is considering additional measures. Everybody was hoping that there would be restraint from the regime.” He said the latest and toughest sanctions resolutions against North Korea “are working, having an effect on the situation … on the capacity of the regime to obtain hard currency because to go along with the military programs or missile or nuclear (programs) you need money, and that’s the objective.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan within 370 nautical kilometers (200 nautical miles) of Japan’s coast. It flew for 53 minutes, Japan’s defense minister said. South Korea’s responding missile tests included one with a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) range, to mimic striking the North Korea launch site, which is not far from the North Korean capital.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that North Korea was `indiscriminately threatening its neighbors, the region and global stability.” He urged the international community to not only implement existing UN sanctions on North Korea but also to consider additional measures for interdicting maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the country. `”Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” Tillerson said, adding the USA remains committed to “finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.” If there is bluster, and there is reality. Not knowing the difference can result in the loss of millions of lives.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile flew higher than previous projectiles. “It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,” he told reporters at the White House. “It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world.” “There is still room for new measures, but for the moment … we don’t know what the council decision will be,” he said.

A week ago, the Trump government declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war. Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.

North Korea called the US terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons. Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the early flight data suggests the North Korean missile was likely a Hwasong-14, which the North fired twice in July.

The North is likely trying to further evaluate the weapon’s performance, including the warhead’s ability to survive atmospheric re-entry and strike the intended target, before it attempts a test that shows the full range of the missile.

South Koreans are famously nonchalant about North Korea’s military moves, but there is worry about what the North’s weapons tests might mean for next year’s Winter Olympics in the South. President Moon told his officials to closely review whether the launch could in anyway hurt South Korea’s efforts to successfully host the games in Pyeongchang, which begin Feb. 9.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who spoke with Trump, said Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its strong alliance with the USA. Trump has ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the North to prevent its nuclear and missile development.

So far, the pressure has failed to get North Korea’s government, which views a nuclear arsenal as key to its survival against US threats, to return to long-stalled international negotiations on its nuclear program.

Like Israel that has amassed WMD from USA, North Korea also has right to defend itself as it also faces existential threat from imperialist forces led by USA.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for November 29 at the request of Japan, the USA and South Korea. Obviously, Russia and China would support China and would not let any resolution against  their ally North Korea.

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

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.

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Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

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

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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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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