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The news coming from the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea

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The positive signs currently coming from the Korean Peninsula, and especially from North Korea, are definitely encouraging.

In fact, the 23rd Winter Olympics, scheduled for February 9-25, will take place in the Pyeongchiang County, which is located in South Korea, or in what is officially called Republic of Korea.

Since the designation of South Korea in June 2017, the International Olympic Committee has always said explicitly it wanted North Korea to participate officially in the Winter Olympics. Hence it has obviously welcomed – although with some surprise  – North Korea’s announcement of the “probable” sending of a small team of ice skaters.

Indeed, North Korea’s luge athletes and skiers had not technically qualified for the Olympics.

From the beginning, South Korea had proposed a joint team for all the specialties in South Korea’s Olympics. It had also suggested to North Korea a joint women’s team for ice hockey, as well as the sharing of costs for the participation of both countries in the 23rd Winter Olympics of Peyongchiang- and indeed the latter has been an open issue since December 2014.

At that time North Korea had refused only for organizational time reasons, without ever raising matters of principle – and this is by no means of secondary importance.

For obvious reasons of national dignity, North Korea has explicitly refused to share the participation and organization costs.

It is worth recalling, however, that, from the very beginning, North Korea had strongly supported only the candidacy of South Korea to host the 23rd Winter Olympics of 2018.

Hence the Winter Olympics will see the participation of the North Korean athletes Ryom-Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, who had both qualified for the 2018 Olympics during the competitions held in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September 2017.

Later some problems arose in the relations between the North Korean Olympic Committee and the Lausanne’s International Olympic Committee, the highest body responsible for world sport.

However, it was the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, who personally announced the possibility of sending North Korea’s athletes to the 23rdWinter Olympics in South Korea – an explicit permission given on a special and highly symbolic occasion, namely the speech delivered by the Supreme Leader for the New Year.

The primary theme of the North Korean Supreme Leader is “national pride”, which counts very much for both countries – the most tragic relic of the old Cold War, a silly conflict that both Koreas want to overcome, albeit in a different way.

From this viewpoint I believe that Mao Zedong’s theory  of the Cold War as a “paper tiger” holds true for both Koreas.

However, the way of overcoming it is often not too different.

Hence the meetings between the two Koreas to tackle the issue of North Korea’s participation in the 23rd Winter Olympicsare scheduled for January 9.

Both Koreas are fully aware – even in the smallest  political, symbolic and ceremonial details – of what is really at stake in this negotiation, which is only apparently a  sporting negotiation.

What is at stake is an agreement between the two Koreas before solving, once and for all with Japan, Russia, the United States and China, the issue of North Korea’s full return – with equal dignity -ontothe international scene and hence onto the world market.

If all goes well, in the coming years we can probably talk about a strategic and military sharing between South and North Korea – the establishment of a “nuclear and chemical-bacteriological potential” throughout the Korean peninsula, whose keys will also be held by Japan, Russia and probably the United States, if it does not make further mistakes.

As usual, the EU will have a wait-and-see attitude,  believing to have a role to play in the negotiations while only practicing nursemaid diplomacy – thus ridiculously getting worked up for no purpose and pretending to have powers it has not – by probably providing “humanitarian aid” to the parties(aid possibly not even required by them).

We had already said so on other occasions in the past when no one was even barely thinking about that.

We had referred above all to the joint exercises between Russian and Chinese forces carried out last November in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk.

For both China and Russia that sea is the optimal area to launch attacks on US bases in the Pacific.

The message was very clear: to quickly and strategically regionalize the North-South Korean issue; to strengthen Russia’s and China’s ties with both of them; to make the United States leave all hope regarding the disagreements between Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping that can never be a useful wedge for the United States.

Hence a further message to the United States making it clear that any further increase in the US military presence in South Korea would not absolutely be accepted either by Russia or by the People’s Republic of China.

And not as protectors of North Korea, but as powers directly bordering on a nuclearized area.

We have already said so, but it is worth repeating it: China does not accept in any way a US military hegemony  cancelling North Korea’s nuclear and conventional potential – the only possible rampart between China and  South Korea, namely a US staunch ally.

But, in economic terms, also China’s ally.

The US military balance in the region is well known: 35,000 North American soldiers and officers in South Korea; 40,000 in Japan; nearly 4,000 in Guam, a small island 2,100 kilometers away from Pyongyang, with a surface of ​​only 544 square kilometers.

Not to mention the five US bases in the Philippines, as well as the four US warships based in Singapore, in addition to the overflight and docking permits granted by Thailand to the North American forces.

It is also worth recalling the US significant strategic positioning in the Hawaiian islands, with further 400,000 soldiers, sailors and officers and as many as 200 military ships available, with over 1,000 thousand warplanes of various sizes and functions stationed in the atoll that saw the successful surprise attack by the Japanese Admiral Togo.

There is also the US naval base in Kadena, on the island of Okinawa, as well as some stealth bases, also located in the Japanese archipelago.

Hence, it should be honestly said to our US friends that the fact that North Korea feels to be strategically closed and severely threatened is not a paranoia of North Korea’s ruling class – it is an incontrovertible fact.

To do what? “To bring democracy” to North Korea? Most of the mistrust with which North Korea looks to US statements regards, in fact, the unpredictable, self-destructive and basically improper behavior the United States had with Saddam’s Iraq at first and with Gaddafi’s Libya later.

North Korea does not want “Korean” springs, characterized by forked tongues, leaving only rubble and splitting the old national units – well tried and tested by history – for a crazy project of continuous war.

Furthermore China did not even accept that the United States naively puts pressures on itso as to diminish the significance and scope of the North Korean nuclear missile program.

As happens in the whole Chinese and Eastern sapiental tradition, China certainly does not want to be “second” to the United States.

And,  despite recent coldness, it does not even want to appear hostile or distant from North Korea, an ancient “brother country” that Xi Jinping’s leadership will never leave in Western hands.

Conversely – if and when the global equilibria allow it -China may want a rational balanced reduction of North Korea’s nuclear umbrella.

This is meant to reduce a real danger of unwanted or casual attack and to show benevolence – when needed – vis-à-vis South Korea and North America.

Hence the North Korean nuclear system is a bargaining chip that China will use at its poker table, but never against the old North Korean “comrades” that, indeed, could obtain good economic advantages from this balanced reduction of the nuclear missile and bacteriological-chemical potential, without particular reductions in the value of their threat  south-eastwards.

China accounts and will account in the future for over 90% of North Korea’s trade with the other countries but – as excellent readers of Marx’s works -the Chinese never behave like “common materialists” in the analysis of international relations.

Ironically for ideologies, which have never died, currently  only the big business liberals think in terms which were typical of the Communist vulgate.

Moreover there is a clear message coming from the latest  joint Russian-Chinese sea operations.

The clear strategic message that we hope the United States will understand is that the first US attack parade will be almost entirely covered by the Russian-Chinese threat or reaction, which will probably oppose and cancel it before its reaching North Korean waters. Conversely, Russia and China will leave North Korea’s response on Guam free and, in all likelihood, on other US bases in the Pacific – a response which will be fully developed by North Korea alone.

Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State of Donald J. Trump, who has always been in favor of negotiations with North Korea, knows all too well to what extent it is important for the United States not to trigger an uncontrollable and useless chain reaction in Southeast Asia-a region that has never brought luck to the United States.

Why? To set fire – without any result for the United States, if not ashes – to the whole ​​Central Asian region and get to war on the Russian-Chinese land borders?

May God protect them.

Later Russia and China will protect North Koreadiplomatically, at the level of international organizations, thus avoiding the worst of the new sanctions.

Or, even worse, the excessive reactions of some US late restless aides, of those who – as has already happened in the EU – want to repeat the Cold War at the new borders of the Russian Federation.

They emasculate themselves on their own, at least as far as the energy market is concerned and hence -almost without realizing it – they will find themselves recreating a very costly dependence only on the United States, which will certainly make no concessions or discounts for the EU powerless naivety.

Hence currently  the real problem is how to get out of this second phase of Cold War – and the key is to be found once again in the Korean peninsula.

If all those who will be called upon to deal with North Korea heal the Cold War wound where it was created (in fact, the Berlin Wall came later), namely at the 38th parallel, many things will change and not only in Southeast Asia.

South Korea will never want to become a nuclear ossuary to cover the North Korean subsequent attacks on the US nuclear parade and its military positions and installations in the region.

Furthermore, Russia and China will never accept a US military operation before or after the Panmunjom line, which is still technically a “ceasefire”.

Nevertheless both Russia and China will quickly accept the proposal to reduce the relevance of the North Korean nuclear apparatus, if there are rational and verifiable exchanges.

However, in this new triangulation, even North Korea must reap its benefits, which could be ensured by a new treaty that should make North Korea enter the worldmarket without hesitations, dissimulations and pretenses and without post-factumpunishments. Why?

Obviously there should also be a treaty for mutual recognition between the United States and North Korea, in addition to the restoration of a long, but credible, sequence of joint actions between South and North Korea.

At the end of the diplomatic negotiation, the United States should be in a position to  accept a North Korean share of total defense to be defined.

While, at the same time, North Korea shall agree on a wide secondary protection area for its own defense apparatus, namely a new Panmunjom line.

As already recently noted, this would mean strong gradual  integration with the Russian and Chinese economies, just now that the great ride of the new Silk Road is beginning westwards.

However, I have recently become very optimistic about the whole North Korean issue.

It has happened when I learned that the negotiation, which will start with the symbolic and hence highly political Olympic issue, will be led for North Korea by Ri Su-Yol, also known as RiChol.

A high-profile institutional leader who enjoys Kim Jong-Un’s full trust – a diplomat with great culture and experience about Western and Eastern issues.

He speaks excellent French, but his professional experiences have led him to learn also the German language very well.

Obviously his English is perfect.

He served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from April 2014 until May 2016 – and this is the first aspect to consider.

Ri is a refined weaver and negotiator, as happened in the diplomatic tradition of the countries born from the continuity and break with Marxism, which was represented by the creation of the Third Leninist International.

He is a tireless man, without the inflexibility that characterized many Eastern diplomats, at least those I met when Italy still had a foreign policy – which is no longer the case.

A “revolution against Capital“, against the Third International just to use the title of an old and perhaps still famous article by Antonio Gramsci on the “New Order”.

In this respect, we note that by Capital we only mean the title of Karl Marx’s fundamental work, not one of the means of production that Marxism has always considered – with some exaggeration, but also with some good intuitions – a means of production very different from the others.

However, these are just digressions typical of an  economist.

Ri was also Vice-President of the Committee for Investment and Joint Ventures, as well as Vice-President of the Communications Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He also had another key post in the North Korean’s  political system, which is based on “collaborative competition” among leaders, created especially in the institutions for training and selecting the North Korean ruling class –  an “alternate” candidate of the Party’s Central Committee, a role never to be forgotten in a Third International system.

He also heldanother important post, namelyVice-Director of the Organization and Guidance Department, the control axis with which Kim Jong Un, but also his predecessors, spoke with the Party’s Leadership, thus controlling it.

In short, he is Kim Jong-Un’s real trusted man and this  makes us realize how important the negotiations that will begin on January 9 are for North Korea’s leadership.

We can be certain that, from the beginning, the negotiations will get off track, albeit without exaggerating.

The issue lies above all in talking by symbols and signs – just as the Gods of the ancient Latins did, according to Lucretius, persymbolum et per aenigmate.

For several yearsYi Chol also served as Ambassador to Switzerland, the country in which also Kim Jong-Un studied.

It is also worth recalling that he was also the Supreme Leader’s official representative in the EU, as well as a prudent and very cautious administrator of Kim Jong Il’s personal assets and financial affairs.

Kim Jong-Un is Kim Jong-Il’s third son.

Ri Su-Yol, also known as Yi Chol, was born in 1940. Hence he is a man of experience, without the useless haste typical of young people.

Indeed, he does not look his age.

Therefore he had an elitist and revolutionary training, but he was never the expression of a family or group tradition existing before the Party, nor was he the son of a trusted  official.

In fact he studied at the Revolutionary School of Mangyo’ndae and later at the Namsan School where he was Kim Jong-Il’s classmate.

Later Riwent to study at the Kim Il Sung University and probably finished his studies at the University of Moscow.

Soon after completing his studies, he started to work for  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1972 he was already Head of a Ministry Desk.

In 1974 he became Director General of  the Office for  Protocol and International Organizations.

After the Party’s Sixth Congress held in October 1980, Ri became one of the deputy-Directors of Kim Jong-Il’s Personal Secretary – a real key post.

At the same time, he took up the post of Vice-Director of the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department and, again in 1980, he was appointed Ambassador to Geneva.

It is therefore by no mere coincidence that Riwas sent to represent his country in the capital city of International Organizations which, as in the past, arethe favorite ground  of confrontation or negotiation for the Democratic People’s  Republic of Korea.

In Switzerland he worked for the entire community of North Korean Party Leaders, in addition to taking care of the  personal – and hence political -interest and affairs of both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

Hence we can say that Ri has also become Kim Jong-Un’s trusted man, the essential advisor, the one who knows how to speak to the Westerners, to North Korea’s Friends and to the opponents.

Ri’s career continued in 1987, when he became Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mission in Geneva.

He was later recalled to his home country in March 2010 and appointed Ambassador to Iran, a place of absolute importance for those who know the particular relations existing between North Korea and Iran.

Upon returning to North Korea after his Iranian mission, Ribegan working in the Supreme Leader’s Personal Secretary’s Office.

Finally he led – with absolute correctness, propriety, wisdom and refined knowledge of Western laws and customs – the organization  attracting capital into the North-Eastern region of ​​the country.

Hence it is really easy to understand the emphasis laid by Kim Jong-Un on the new negotiations due to start on  January 9, 2018.

It is worth recalling that in 2014 Ripaid, for the first time,  an official visit to India, in his capacity as Foreign Minister. He was also elected as a full member of the Party’s Politburo by the 7thCentral Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea – another extremely important post for those who know the particular North Korean power elite.

It is also worth noting that the Party always prevails over the State in the political regimes resulting from the  “revolution against Capital” that created the Third International.

Hence something different from traditional Marxism which –  according to the so-called Austro-Marxism, much loved and studied by Giuseppe Saragat- would have resulted in socialdemocracy.

Ri is also Head of the Party’s International Relations Office and in 2017 he was appointed President of the Diplomatic Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

Said Assembly is the only representative House since there is no Senate in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Hence what would I like to happen if these negotiations were successful – as I sincerely hope – also on the basis of the profile and caliber of the personality to whom North Korea has entrusted this diplomatic round of negotiations?

Firstly, the mutual recognition between North Korea and the United States of America.

Secondly, an agreement between China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States for the planned reduction of North Korea’s nuclear missile and bacteriological-chemical saturation.

A nuclear missile network that could be controlled by an ad hoc Agency with specific procedures, different and more up-to-date than those used by the IAEA.

Thirdly, an agreement on North Korea’s controlled opening to international capital, with the creation of a North Korean Commission for Foreign Exchange, with a view to avoiding speculative transactions such as those that characterized Russia after the CPSU’s fall.

Fourthly, a fully operational plan of targeted foreign investment for the autonomous economic zones and later for the whole North Korea.

Considering Ri Su-Yong’ skills, if all goes well, we could reach these results sooner than expected.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects

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image source: twitter @kishida230

In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.

Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.

Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.

One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.

This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.

Japan – Indonesia Common Ground

In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect. 

In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.

Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile

Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.

Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.

Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.

Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.

Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia 

In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.

In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.

As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.

The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.

The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.

Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.

Challenges

To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.

Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.

Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.

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