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.
The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes
China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.
The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.
The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.
Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15 percent of its proven oil reserves, 22 per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.
The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.
Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.
The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”
China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”
Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.
Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.
Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”
Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.
China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.
Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.
Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.
Sino-American Strategic Rivalry
From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.
The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.
And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.
This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.
A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.
But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany. The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.
America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.
America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.
Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.
America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.
As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!
This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.
While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.
Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.
While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.
While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.
Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.
But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.
And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?
The 70th Anniversary of the Koreas
Seventy years ago, the Korean nation was divided into two separate states. On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded in the south of the Korean Peninsula, and on September 9, 1948 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded in the north.
A Longstanding Confrontation
The Korean War of 1950–1953, which saw the United States fighting on the side of the South under the UN flag, was the bloodiest and most destructive conflict since World War II. De jure, the two Korean states are still at war. This is because the Korean Armistice Agreement signed on July 27, 1953 to stop the war is nothing but an agreement between the commanders-in-chief of the two armies to suspend military hostilities. Two powerful military contingents with cutting-edge weapons and equipment are still at the ready on both sides of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea. And these contingents are not just made up of Korean troops. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Korea, U.S. contingent of 28,500 troops is deployed in South Korea. When Pyongyang started to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to prevent the United States from intervening in the inter-Korean military conflict, this further exacerbated the situation.
“The Asian Tiger” and a “Rogue State”
Today, South Korea is referred to as the “Asian Tiger.” It is a highly developed and prosperous state: it is the world’s second-largest shipbuilder; the third-largest manufacturer of semi-conductors and displays; the fifth-largest automobile manufacturer; and the six-largest producer of steel. South Korea invests 4 per cent of its GDP into research, more than any other OECD member, and it has the fourth-largest number of patent applications for inventions, behind the United States, Japan and China. Seoul has its own space programme and has plans to send its first probe to the Moon’s orbit by 2020 and another to its surface by 2025.
North Korea certainly lags behind South Korea in its economic development; however, statements about the country’s cultural and technological backwardness are largely the work of western media. And we are not only talking about the fact that Pyongyang would not have been able to develop its own nuclear programme that the world is so concerned about if it did not have a high level of scientific and industrial development. No one can deny that the new blocks of high-rise buildings in Pyongyang are practically indistinguishable from those in Seoul, that Pyongyang’s metro is a year older than Seoul’s, and that North Korea launched its artificial satellite before South Korea did.
Since North Korea has its own nuclear programme, the United States has declared it a “rogue state” and has not only imposed its own sanctions on the country, but has also managed to have very harsh sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council. It is curious, however, that the timing of the sanctions against North Korea (after the country carried out its first nuclear test) coincided with the North Korean economy emerging from the very severe economic crisis of 1995–2000, after it had overcome famine and started to show signs of economic growth. Even more paradoxically, economic growth in North Korea picked up pace significantly in 2012–2013, when the sanctions were tightened. This was primarily due to the fact that when Kim Jong-un came to power, he launched active, albeit quiet, market reforms in the country.
From Confrontation to Dialogue
The tension around Korea has been one of the greatest threats to international security in recent years. Today, the global community is focused on forcing Pyongyang to abolish its nuclear programme. However, this alone will not eliminate the threat of a new Korean war involving the United States, South Korea’s military ally. Shutting down North Korea’s nuclear programme requires, first, a reconciliation between the two Koreas and, second, solid guarantees to Pyongyang that the United States will not take aggressive measures.
2018 was marked by important positive events in Korean affairs. On April 27, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in met with the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom. Naturally, this summit between the heads of two Koreas (only the third ever) did not resolve all the problems that had accumulated in the bilateral relations over the decades of confrontation. However, it did open the way to move on to specific talks on trade and economic cooperation and a military and political détente.
We also saw the first ever U.S.–North Korea dialogue on the North Korean nuclear programme, with a summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un being held in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Even though the summit’s declaration contains nothing more than generic phrases, one thing is without doubt: no nuclear or conventional war will take place in Korea in the near future. The handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is a real contribution to the cause of peace in Korea and throughout the world.
A Complex Knot of Problems
The North Korean leadership is clearly interested in a détente on the Korean Peninsula. While the Byungjin line proclaimed by Kim Jong-un several years ago entailed building a powerful nuclear potential and creating a prosperous economy, in April 2018 the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea said that success in building the nuclear potential allowed North Korea to focus all efforts on building a socialist economy.
The proof of Pyongyang’s words is contained in its actions. Not a single nuclear test has been carried out for almost a year now, and missile tests have not been held for over six months. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has been shut down.
Pyongyang appears to have a precise step-by-step programme of possible bargaining with both Seoul and Washington on mutual security commitments. Kim Jong-un, however, is clearly dragging his feet in developing the positive work started at the summits with Moon and Trump. The reason appears to be that he is not confident that both his opponents will stick to the deals. Back in the day, the conservative President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak had no qualms about abolishing his predecessor’s “sunshine policy” in the country’s relations with North Korea, while George W. Bush did not hesitate to get rid of Bill Clinton’s “North Korea Appeasement Policy.” Is there any guarantee that in a couple of years, peace-loving Moon will not be replaced with some North Korea hater, or that Trump, Kim’s counterpart in Singapore, will not be impeached?
The nuclear disarmament of North Korea and the provision of security guarantees to Pyongyang is too complicated a knot of problems to be cut in a single stoke, and by the sole hands of the United States. The solution requires multilateral international efforts, and this cannot be done without the involvement of China and Russia, two countries that have historical and geographical ties with Korea. It would appear that both the Koreas are counting on the participation of Russia and China. This much is clear from the fact that Kim Jong-un has visited China twice over the past two months, and President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Yong-nam and President of South Korea Moon Jae-in have both paid official visits to Moscow.
The optimal way would be to go back to the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear programme: the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. The talks should be structured as step-by-step negotiations using the principle of “action in exchange for action.” It would be wise at the initial stage to propose that North Korea’s nuclear programme be separated from its missile programme. North Korea’s nuclear status is set forth in the country’s Constitution, and this subject currently appears non-negotiable for Pyongyang. At the same time, a freeze on the missile programme and guarantees of non-proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies can be negotiated. Given that Pyongyang has essentially introduced a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, the issue of lifting some sanctions from North Korea may be raised at the UN Security Council to stimulate Pyongyang to further roll back on its nuclear and missile programme. For instance, to get North Korea to stop developing ICBMs, freeze the production of nuclear materials and open its nuclear facilities for international inspections.
Several purely political steps would also be useful. For instance, it would be good to correct the entirely unnatural situation in which the United Nations, as a party to the Korean War (in that war, Pyongyang’s enemy fought under the UN flag), is still officially at war with North Korea, one of its members. For that purpose, the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly could adopt a UN Security Council declaration stating that the Korean War is in the past and that the UN Security Council is putting an end to that chapter and, therefore, the UN Command is no longer needed in Korea.
To further promote the inter-Korean détente, it would probably be useful for North Korea and South Korea to conclude an agreement between commanders-in-chief of the two countries on preventing dangerous military activities; such an agreement could serve as a landmark on the road to concluding a Peace Treaty to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement. This would mean that any incidents that may arise due to dangerous military activities would be promptly stopped and settled through peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force. The document could be based on provisions of the 2015 Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Korean Affairs and Russia
The best way to diffuse tensions between neighbouring states and establish relations based on mutual trust is to run joint, long-term and mutually profitable economic or scientific and technological projects in. Russia could play a prominent part in such work on the Korean Peninsula.
The two Korean states are immediate neighbours of Russia, and Russia is interested in having good and mutually beneficial relations with both. And there is a good basis for this to happen. Historically, Russia has never had any disputes with either of the Koreas. Russians have never set foot in Korea as an aggressor. On the contrary, the country has always welcomed Korean people into its territory: 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of Korean resettlement in Russia. In 1945, it was the Soviet Army that liberated Korea from the colonial power.
There are no disputes between Russia and either of the Koreas today either. The leadership of South Korea, for instance, stresses its interest in taking its relations with Russia to the level of “strategic partnership.” It is noteworthy that, despite the persistent pressure of the Unites States, South Korea did not join the sanctions against Russia imposed after the events in Ukraine.
During his three meetings with Vladimir Putin over the past year, Moon Jae-in has unfailingly stressed collaboration with Moscow on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, establishing peace there and developing Eurasia. Economically, South Korea that has virtually no mineral or other resources and is highly interested in exploring the natural wealth of Siberia and the Far East. At the same time, Russia is a promising market for South Korea’s industrial products.
South Korea is also ready to collaborate with Russia in those areas where Russia has globally competitive technologies. This much is evident from the participation of Roscosmos in the construction of South Korea’s Naro Space Center, the flight of a South Korean astronaut with two Russian cosmonauts in a Russian spacecraft, the launch of the Russia–South Korea Naro-1 (KSLV-1) launch vehicle, and the fact that South Korea imports Russian uranium for its nuclear power plants to meet over a third of its needs. Bilateral humanitarian ties are also being developed. South Korea is the only country in Northeast Asia that has a visa-free travel agreement with Russia.
During President Moon Jae-in’s state visit to Moscow in June 2018, the parties agreed to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of civil aircraft building, automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding and the construction and modernization of shipyards in Russia. The parties intend to expand cooperation in space research, the exploration of the Northern Sea Route and the joint development of oil and gas fields. Concluding a Free Trade Agreement would be a landmark moment in the development of trade and economic cooperation.
As regards North Korea, Russia’s relations with the country were on a downturn in the 1990s. Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang in 2000, the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation in February 2000, and settling the issue of North Korea’s debt to Russia in 2012 all paved the way for the restoration a full-fledged partnership between Russia and North Korea. Such a development was intended to give a powerful impetus to trade and economic relations both in the Russia–North Korea bilateral format, and in a trilateral format with the participation of South Korea, thus contributing to building bridges in inter-Korean cooperation.
During the Russia–South Korea summit held in Moscow this past June, the two parties expressed interest in trilateral projects between Russia, South Korea and North Korea, such as: linking the Trans-Korean Main Line to the Trans-Siberian Railway; building a pipeline between Russia and North and South Korea; and connecting the power grids of the three countries. The problem is, however, that implementing these trilateral projects is currently hampered by sanctions imposed on Pyongyang due to its nuclear programme, as is the development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea.
Further dialogue on the matter is expected at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2018, to which Vladimir Putin has invited the leaders of both Korean states.
The two Korean states are celebrating their 70 th anniversaries while gradually retreating from confrontation algorithms formed by the Cold War. It is in the interests of everyone that a reconciliation of the two Koreas is achieved and a solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is developed.
North and South Korea should become full-fledged members of the comprehensive security system in Northeast Asia.
First published in our partner RIAC
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