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Nuclear Proliferation & Security Dilemma in Asia Pacific: DPRK Factor

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Authors: Isaac Nunoo and Wang Li

Debates about nuclear weapons (NWs) and their imminent destruction have continued to occupy the center stage in international security affairs since first introduced in 1945 by the United States at the ebb of WWII. The desolation caused by the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively is still very fresh in the annals of world history.

Following the Soviet Union’s A-bomb test and America’s subsequent nuclear tests, other nations such as Britain, France, and China also followed suit, bringing the number of states with nuclear weapon possession to five by the mid-1960s.  In spite of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was meant to curtail the further spread of nuclear weapons, the craving for it by states and their leaders has soared momentously. The end of the Cold War, which has led to a multi-polar system, has also signaled a period of unparalleled desire for nuclear arsenals by many states.

On November 29, 2017, DPRK once again tested its latest interconnected ballistic missile, Hwasong-15, which it claims to be an indication of the completion of Pyongyang’s nuclear statehood, thus becoming a full blown nuclear state. This new development is described as a great success due to its capability of reaching the entire U.S. mainland. This new ballistic missile test coupled with those tests conducted since the beginning of the 21st century has raised concerns about security in the region and around the globe. It has also wittingly or unwittingly led to a growing desire by many Asian states, particularly those in the Asia Pacific (South and East Asia) to acquire NWs. Historically, these regions were important zones for political, ideological, economic and social battles between the two superpowers during -the Cold War. The remnants of the Cold War seem to endure today among many states in these regions with some being communist sympathizers while others are more pro-Western. Again, these regions are beleaguered by many territorial disputes and states often clash with each other, thus necessitating the need for hard power capabilities and new defense systems. This has fueled nuclear weapon proliferation in the region, especially since the end of the Cold War. There is a natural obligation for increased armaments in order to defend against a neighbor who could be a potential foe.

A security dilemma arises when a state’s mechanism for boosting its security apparatus adversely impacts the security and perceptions of other states, thus, incentivizing those feeling endangered to take similar actions. The South Asian nuclear security complex, for instance, consists of several security dilemmas, involving states such as Pakistan vs. India, India vs. China, and Russia vs. United States. Another security dilemma is the result of the tension between the United States and China, which is in addition to China’s military presence in the South China Sea. In East Asia, elements of security dilemmas are evident in the relationship between North Korea and Japan, ROK and DPRK, Japan/ROK and China, Taiwan and mainland China; the U.S. and China and the U.S. and DPRK. Does this complicate the already fragile situation or ensure peace and stability?

DPRK has been labeled as a rogue state because it does not conform to international norms, nor observe the dictates of international sanctions leveled against it. Despite the warnings and incentives from world leaders and international groups to discourage Pyongyang from developing its nuclear program, no significant progress has been made. In fact, the first quarter of the 21st century has witnessed an increase in its test firing of ballistic missiles under Kim Jong-un. With the introduction of its “byungjin policy”, Pyongyang now claims to be a nuclear weapon state determined to advance both economic development and nuclear capability. As conceived by Kang Choi, several diplomatic efforts aimed at denuclearizing North Korea have proved futile. Such initiatives include the Geneva Agreed Framework (October 1994), the September 19th agreement (September 2005), the “leap day” agreement (February 2012) and the six-party talks aimed at peaceful denuclearization of DPRK—involving Russia, China, the DPRK, ROK, Japan, and the United States. The dispatch of the US THAAD and other naval ships to the Korean peninsula is an indication of the volatility of the situation. As a consequence, most states around the Korean peninsula want to strengthen their own military and defense systems. Both Russia and the United States are now involved in the politics of the region. This obviously raises concerns of hegemony, sovereignty, balance of power, particularly between China and the United States. The “US-Asia Pivot” concerns Chinese authorities.

DPRK is a test case for both the proliferation ‘pessimists’ and proliferation ‘optimists’. Seongwhun Cheon, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for National Unification has called for a U.S. nuclear presence in the region. He has suggested that a small U.S. nuclear arsenal in South Korea would go a long way to ‘Provide a trump card that would enable a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear problem.’ Cheon argues that such a move would become a game changer in the geopolitical and strategic dynamics surrounding the nuclear crisis and could be likened to the “dual-track strategy” used by the Reagan administration in Western Europe in the 1980s. Other scholars and experts like Bolton and Peter Hayes and Scott Bruce believe that DPRK’s nuclear program is mainly for state pride and glory of a nuclear statehood. To them, “the only credible use of the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal is to detonate a bomb within DPRK.” However, given the progress made so far in DPRK’s missile development program, the latter’s argument is whitewashed. 

Pyongyang’s actions have culminated in a complex security dilemma that involves neo-liberal domestic politics in the nuclear ambition of a state and realist regional and extra-regional powers with varying interests. Wheeler and Booth have warned that the interpretation of the intention and the capabilities of the other nation is a major factor that determines the birthing of a security dilemma. Whenever, an action of a state is erroneously interpreted, there is bound to be a miscalculated reaction which will ultimately have serious security corollaries. Thus, misinterpreting China’s nuclear assertiveness as offensive instead of defensive by India may lead to a miscalculation; misjudging India’s reaction to China’s nuclear actions by Pakistan as a sign of aggression in South Asia could culminate in unfortunate repercussions.  In effect, both the actions and the reactions put states in security dilemmas, thus, repeating the cycle. Suffice to say that misinterpreting North Korea’s missile program by neighboring states and the United States and misinterpreting the US-South Korea drills by the North may all aggravate the situation.

DPRK’s nuclear ambition is a result of mistrust and fear of an attack on the regime in power. However, its own very actions have led to a security quagmire and increased tensions within the region and the tendency of abuse of nuclear weapon is very high. Malaysia and DPRK are still arguing over the VX nerve agent saga. China and ROK have not overcome the row over the deployment of the US THAAD. Pyongyang is even suspicious of China’s reaction to its nuclear programs and vice versa. These uncertainties often lead to mutual suspicion and fear and could lead to reciprocal actions and reactions. Even China is likely to factor the ever increasing ICBM success of Pyongyang in upgrading its own nuclear systems and as this happens, India and Pakistan will also join the bandwagon; Japan, ROK, Taiwan and the other Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar would react should their regions become nuclearized. 

Undeniably, so long as DPRK continues with its nuclear program, the USA and ROK are unlikely to halt their military drills; great power intrusions in the regions might also increase and issues of geopolitics and geo-economics and balance of power will continue to plague these regions. Thus, the complex security dilemma precipitated by the nuclear power proliferation in these regions is even likely to get murkier so long as DPRK factor lingers

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East Asia

Washington- Pyongyang: A third attempt?

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During a recent meeting with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the White House, US President Donald Trump said that while a step-by-step agreement with North Korea concerning that country’s nuclear program remained on the table, his administration was still focused on “the big deal.” Trump announced plans for his third meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but added that this would require “lengthy preparation.” The South Korean president likewise spoke about the need for the US and North Korean leaders meeting again shortly and underscored the need to maintain the current pace of negotiations.

The response from Pyongyang did not take too long in coming. In a keynote address on April 12 to the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, which had earlier officially named him “the supreme representative of all Koreans,” Kim Jong-un said: “If the United States finds a solution acceptable to us, and proposes a meeting between the DPRK and US leaders, we are ready to agree to this once again. I won’t hesitate to sign an agreement, but only if it is written in a way that meets the interests of the DPRK and the United States, is fair and mutually acceptable.”

The April 12 session of the North Korean parliament was attended by a large delegation of the Russian State Duma deputies. Immediately after that, it became known that President Vladimir Putin would meet Kim later this month during a stopover in Vladivostok on his way to Beijing. The North Korean leader’s increasingly frequent political contacts with his Russian and Chinese counterparts reflect a desire to coordinate positions ahead of the next round of the US-North Korean talks.

Well, is there any reason for optimism about the outcome of the forthcoming parley? If so, then it must be extremely cautious. Indeed, in the span of  just a few months, Washington and Pyongyang have gone from general promises of denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees made during the June 2018 summit in Singapore, to a failed attempt to agree a roadmap for this process at the Hanoi summit in late February 2019.

Past experience shows that Washington’s attempts to make Pyongyang agree on everything at once were in principle doomed to failure for obvious political and technical reasons.

First off, it has been the factor of time. While Donald Trump hurried to clinch a “big deal” before his first term in office runs out (and not being sure about a second one), his North Korean counterpart was not interested in making this happen for exactly the same reason: as the most recent history shows, a new occupant of the White House often finds it easy to undo what his predecessor has achieved.

Equally obvious are technical reasons why there is no way to fast-track denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The deal on the Iranian nuclear program took years of negotiations and was the result of a mutual compromise (meaning that it is highly unlikely that a deal like this can be achieved in full, much less at once).

Under the present circumstances, any further US-North Korean negotiations would look like a walk across a minefield. If it were up to me, I would suggest the following way to go.

During the third Trump-Kim summit (which, if unsuccessful, will most likely be the last), to adopt a mutually accepted denuclearization roadmap that would say exactly which nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles are to be eliminated, above all, those capable (albeit hypothetically) of reaching US territory.

The sides should also draw up an exhaustive list of facilities of North Korea’s nuclear (and, possibly, missile) programs that would be stopped or eliminated based on the principle of “proving the existence” there of nuclear  elements, rather than “proving their absence.” The latter verification path will take us nowhere because, to meet this requirement, Pyongyang would be forced to eliminate all of its engineering and other modern industries. In other words, to return to the pre-industrial era – something it will hardly ever agree to.

And, most importantly, there should be a compulsory and phased implementation of the stated goals. Pyongyang’s next move towards abandoning its nuclear technology should be accompanied by a partial and phased lifting of sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council, primarily those, which are damaging the peaceful sectors of the North Korean economy and are hampering the inter-Korean dialogue.

Each of these UN sanctions contains a concrete procedure for their suspension of lifting. At this stage the Security Council is already entering the game as all further negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will depend on the agreed position of its permanent members (including the five officially recognized nuclear states).

Here it would be highly advisable to consider the proposal made by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a special session of the UN Security Council on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in January 2018, whereby the official five nuclear states could offer North Korea security guarantees within the framework of the UN Security Council as an important condition for creating an atmosphere of trust and ensuring successful progress towards denuclearization.

By the way, the third US-North Korean summit (if it happens at all) could be held in a trilateral format, as President Moon Jae-in has previously suggested. This would reduce the likelihood of yet another failure and would help ensure speedy security assurances for North Korea in exchange for the country’s nuclear disarmament.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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BRI: Shared Future for Humanity

Sabah Aslam

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The terrestrial and maritime connectivity proposed by the Chinese government back in 2013 with six connectivity corridors reflects the vision of shared future for humanity. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an omen of modern transformation of the globe. The journey of transition from geo-politics to geo-economics is itself a huge achievement. As geo-economics brought in the partnership and collaboration for mutual gains whereas geo-politics reflects competition, for instance, arm race.

BRI a network of terrestrial and maritime passages encompassing (1) the New Eurasian Land Bridge connects Western China to Western Russia; (2) the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor, from Northern China to Eastern Russia; (3)the China-Central Asia-Western Asia Corridor, links China to Turkey; (4) the Corridor from Southern China to the Indochinese peninsula up to Singapore; (5) the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; and (6) the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor. In other words BRI is one of the longest connectivity route from the Chinese coast to Singapore to Gwadar up to the Mediterranean. Among all the above mentioned projects, CPEC is a model project with so much in its credit.

CPEC is the flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative. CPEC is a mutually agreed initiative including 4 key areas of cooperation i.e. energy projects, infrastructure development, Gwadar Port, and industrial cooperation. This cooperation has further strengthened the time tested friendship. China – Pakistan strategic cooperation is an essential ingredient for the South Asian peace recipe. CPEC, not merely focus on commerce and trade but also include social development projects as well. Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Pak-China School, Gwadar Airport, and many more are prominent examples of this initiative. The first phase of CPEC is almost complete and is all ready to enter into the second phase. The first phase was comprised of energy and road projects whereas the second phase might also entails agriculture, education, health, water and much more. Here in our case, when there is an atmosphere of non-kinetic threats, development is the only option. Internal harmony and peace can only be achieved when there is no sense of deprivation. In addition, inclusion of third party in CPEC project, and also connecting it with the Central Asian Republics and Russia is also a progressive move. Opening it for the private business sector and creating 80,000 jobs, all are signs of social uplifting and gradual development. CPEC is an inclusive project for Pakistan and for the region.

China is focusing on and playing a key role in connecting the continents. Being an emerging power, China, considers the role of regional connections vital for the global peace and prosperity. Hence, BRI is a positive-sum cooperation. It’s a platform for dialogue, and developing new paths of cooperation encompassing government to government, people to people, business to business and media to media relations. BRI is the, opening up and connectivity, with an aim on promoting global peace and cooperation, and building a global community with a bright future for mankind. Moreover, it promotes connectivity through passages of commerce and trade. There is also a shift in the international balance, leaning towards east from west, considering it a breath of fresh air. Belt and Road Initiative is turning the myth “21st Century is the Asian Century” into reality.

BRI is a network of exchange, exchange of happiness and prosperity, exchange of knowledge and technology, exchange of expertise to perform well for mutual interests. It is the beginning of the inclusive global future. Hence, it is the time for profound change and reforms. For growth, for being dynamic, change is normal. So, reforms, propel states to accomplish goals not only at national level but international level too. The way BRI brought countries and regions together, enhancing trade, developing state of the art infrastructure, boosting investment, strengthening cultural ties, and people to people exchanges, all making BRI, the Central Nervous System of the world.

The true essence of BRI is regional integration, a horizontal, non-vertical integration with no hegemonic designs with an aim to limit the world recession damage. Furthermore, as the second BRI forum is scheduled in late April this year, there is much more to come. As mentioned, BRI is a pie, having share for all; it’s not a debt trap. In order to win the confidence of all the partnering states, and to lessen the suspicion, China is trying to avoid the ‘debt traps’. Though, there is no such state in unsustainable Chinese government debt pressure. It basically provides equality based cooperation, and a green & sustainable development. Second BRI forum is the right time to kickstart the “Second Phase” of Belt & Road. Many foreign heads of state and government, and thousands of delegates will be attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, or BRF.  As mentioned by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, “it will include a series of events, such as leaders’ round table, high-level meeting, and thematic forum, CEO conference, under the theme of Belt and Road cooperation shaping a brighter shared future. There will also be more side events, including 12 thematic forums focusing on practical cooperation, and for the first time a conference organized specifically for the business community”.

The globe has already been struck by two major economic depressions. Asian continent also faced one in 1997 when East and Southeast Asia was crippled economically. The world direly needs a remedy in order to sustain the global economy which can only be done through economic and cultural interconnectivity.BRI aims to be a torch bearer in order to bring the financial benefits to the globe. The global prosperity is need of an hour in modern world order but this can be achieved through collective efforts.

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East Asia

China: Via Portugal into Africa and Latin America

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Portugal is a major geographical link in the European leg of China’s New Silk Road project (NSR). A visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Lisbon on December 4-5, 2018 produced seventeen cooperation agreements thereby reaffirming the two parties’ readiness to expand economic partnership.

China is Portugal’s top trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade steadily on the rise amounting to $5.6 billion in 2017. The volume of Chinese investment in the Portuguese economy has reached $ 10.2 billion. Simultaneously, the influx of tourists from China to Portugal has gone up by 40% and from Portugal to China by 16%. The Chinese Embassy in Lisbon has described the current state of Sino-Portuguese relations as the best since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979.

The livening up of Sino-Portuguese relations is key to Beijing’s comprehensive strategy of boosting cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries. Adopted fifteen years ago, this strategy has brought about an increase in the volume of trade between the PRC and the Portuguese-speaking nations by more than 19 times – from $ 6 billion in 2002 to $ 117.6 billion in 2017.

In this context, an economic union with Lisbon is designed to geographically complete the European sector of the New Silk Road project (NSR) given the location of Portugal as the western tip of the European continent. Also, such an alliance is set to project Chinese economic influence through Portugal to countries of Africa and Latin America.

China is number one trading partner of three Portuguese-speaking countries: Brazil (trade turnover in 2018 at $ 29.5 billion), Angola ($ 26 billion) and Mozambique ($ 168 million).

The port of Sines – Portugal’s sea gate to the Atlantic and Africa – carries a particular importance with its well-developed infrastructure and all the facilities to be used as a transit point for Chinese products bound for America and Africa. Another important point is the Azores, a part of Portuguese territory stretching deep into the Atlantic. Lisbon has consented to Beijing’s participation in the construction of scientific and logistics infrastructure in the archipelago, which is tantamount to a stronger Chinese economic presence in the region.

Lisbon favors joint participation with Beijing in investment projects in Portuguese-speaking Africa. African countries have expressed a similar intention. In January 2019, the Angolan Parliament ruled to abolish double taxation with Portugal, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Lisbon-mediated cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries will enable Beijing to guarantee food security. According to UN reports, Angola is among the top five countries with the greatest agricultural potential (58 million hectares of arable land), Mozambique has 36 million hectares, of which less than six are cultivated, while Brazil is the main supplier of soybean, a popular food product for China (14 million tons in 2018).

In relation to China and within the NSR project, Portugal plays the role of an infrastructure and logistics counterweight to France, which is trying to shift the focus of French-Chinese cooperation in the direction of the Mediterranean and North Africa – to fight against terrorism in the Sahel region and provide investment support of the French-speaking Sahel “Five” (Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali).

Beijing is interested in moving via the Atlantic westward. From the geographical point of view, Portugal is a good partner here – cooperation with it takes China beyond the Mediterranean. According to the Chinese leader, for Beijing, Lisbon is a point of linking the land and sea segments of the NSR and a promising partner in the development of the “sea wave economy”.

The position of Paris regarding the NSR project is characterized as cautiously positive, envisaged by the Franco-German Aachen agreement of January 22, 2019 and affected by competition with Italy (Italian Trieste and French Marseille compete for the main port of the NSR in the Mediterranean).

The Aachen agreement diplomatically outlines the geopolitical axis Paris-Berlin, endowing the French-German relations with a special status. Against export-oriented German economy (in 2018, exports went up 3% against 2017, reaching $ 1.318 billion), Beijing’s economic activity in Europe is seen as a challenge.

Negotiations between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and China’s Xi Jinping on March 25-26 demonstrated the EU’s consolidated position and marked a successful attempt to secure common gains from building up cooperation between the EU (without Italy) and the PRC.

While France readily signed multibillion-dollar contracts with China and agreed to the opening of the Chinese market for French goods, it refrained from actively assisting the Chinese in pursuing transcontinental infrastructure projects as unwelcome for the economic health of the Franco-German duumvirate.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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