Xi Jinping “The Dream Seller”
Xi started 2018 by dream-selling that all rural Chinese living below the poverty line would no more be poor by 2020. Internationally he projected himself as the crusader for world peace and climate change, insurer of international order (Despite ignoring the ruling of PCA and violating UNCLOS), with a resolve to push through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to fulfill Chinese dream. It indirectly amounts to declaring himself as tallest leader on the planet, in the manner he got himself re-elected for second term and did everything possible to make himself great under the banner of ‘Making China Great’. He seems to start 2018, assuming that the world accept him as tallest autocratic leader, as China has accepted him without worthwhile checks and balances.
Post 19th Congress of CPC1, Xi Jumping’s election, enshrinement of his thoughts and ideas like BRI in the Chinese constitution, resulted into his self achievement of a parallel status to Mao Zedong in China. He has been on a title grabbing spree holding over 12 top class appointments in China. It includes becoming the Commander in Chief of Joint Battle Command of PLA, and now reorganizing CMC as its Chairman, with his loyalists holding top hierarchy, to rein PLA for him. He was able to sell the dream of prosperous life and freedom from poverty. He also demonstrated that mainland China is the safest place in the world with no terrorist attack so far1, in an era when no country feels safe from terror attacks of varying variety (Even if amounted to overlooking some Pakistan based militant groups support to ETIM, active in Xinjiang, isolation in support to Masood Azhar).
His anti-corruption drive was most popular amongst masses seeing powerful people in jail, notwithstanding the accusation of systematically eliminating the entire dissenting elements and all his possible competitors through every possible means including this drive. Many critiques in China and abroad feel that his real achievements do not match his elevation to the status of Mao, which would have definitely created some disgruntled elements in his system, and powerful lobbies who may be quiet now, because disagreeing with Xi ‘The Core’ is anti national and may lead to jail.
Internal risks ahead for Xi Jinping: creation of a boiling pot?
2018 sees ‘Financial Battle’ as the greatest challenge for Xi Jinping. Despite global slowdown his record of financial growth has not been good. He took over in 2012 with 7.9 percent GDP growth and his economist does not see him going beyond 6.5 in 2018. It is quite clear to the dream seller Xi Jinping, that so long he delivers economically, the people will tolerate his autocracy, and his opponents will be quite. So long CPC ensures economic progress and the people of China get a decent life, they will tolerate the forced praises of Xi Jinping. When his regime stops delivering economically, the democratic winds will start flowing from Hongkong and Taiwan, and the educated youth may not tolerate the autocratic system of Xi Jinping, having no worthwhile grievance redresser mechanism. After all China is third most popular educational hub, with largest number of PhD’s in the world, where population understands the entire power play. Xi’s loyalists assuming every key appointment in China including chiefs of State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s), which are surviving on bank loans. They cannot be assumed to be quiet forever. Hongkong continues to protest for more autonomy (the last one in the beginning of 2018, in City Square). Xi realizes the need for economic delivery and he continues to repeatedly emphasise on success of BRI. He did deliberate on economy in a mega economic conference, but his catchy slogans like “Xi Jinping’s Economic Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese charecteristics in New Era” have to deliver.
Riding the Tiger: PLA
Suppressing/sidelining PLA is like riding a tiger, because historically PLA had a major role in creation of PRC and has been having a stronghold in the CPC. In successive reorganizations of PLA, anyone who thought differently than Xi Jinping has been sidelined, with his puppets propped up including manning CMC. This has created a powerful lobby which has suffered in such reorganisation, with hidden potential to explode. Xi is also planning another watchdog body ‘National Supervisory Commission’ likely to be above law indicates that dissent has no place in “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” and adequate ‘Revolutionary Tampering’ will be resorted to quell dissent. It will also make PLA commanders extra cautious in exercising command, causing further disgruntlement. In fact Xi is pushing his country to a state where there is only one leader and everyone else is a worker. It is also fair to assume that whenever anyone gets more than his dues, everyone else becomes jealous of him and disgruntled, hesitant of cooperating willingly with him thus creating a boiling pot.
China can boast of speeding up its ammunition manufacture by utilizing robots, but with over centralization of power, the PLA hierarchy also has no choice but to behave like robots and no scope for dissent which is not a very happy state of affairs for any military force. It is learnt that PLA sidelined more Generals in anti corruption campaign than poor performers in any war, with suspicion of falling out of Xi’s thinking, besides genuine corrupt cases.
Amongst many firsts post !9th Congress, China places its internal security force PAPF being placed under CMC, which is being managed by loyalists of President Xi Jinping. Message which comes out is that the internal security will also have much better grip of CMC and the role of NPC under which it has been traditionally, will have a limited role. The speculation can also be that with total autocratic style of hierarchy, China may be expecting much greater dissent than earlier.
No dissent with “The Core” XI Jinping, or be declared anti-national: A new normal
The biggest threat to China comes from within. The viability of “Implosion theory” is worth analysation with a totalitarian regime. Besides taking control of powerful PLA, with dissenters sidelined, some powerful civil members who held important positions in CPC, and booked under anti-corruption drive also add on to this lobby of disgruntled elements. The resolution of 19th Congress includes that adequate ‘Revolutionary Tampering’ will be resorted to quell dissent even in the society. The legal system stands hostage to party leadership justifies the boiling pot theory. The people’s belief that Xi will make China great and his popularity amongst the masses is his greatest strength, a dent on which is a great risk. Some of his actions like forcing Christians to replace Jesus Christ photos by Xi Jinping’s photo to avail government benefits, laying restrictions on religious practices on Uyghurs’ in Xinjiang, use of force in trying to prevent democratic thoughts and autonomy in Hongkong may be too risky, as it may break the internal cohesion of China. Xi’s efforts like forcing students to read Xi’s thoughts (Equivalent of Mao Redbook) can be seen as an effort to change societal fabric may not go very well in China of New era having educated population. The strict censorship of media and internet, and electronic isolation of thoughts indicates attempt to bring societal changes in a manner that chances of student unrests/disagreements are minimized.
With Xi Jinping holding all key appointments with no room for dissent, the over-centralisation of power with him will lead to decision paralysis, with everyone in governance looking up to him for every decision, which might affect effective execution and growth of the country.
External Risks for Xi Jinping: Has he pushed others together?
The second major risk comes from reactions of the external environment to the autocratic, over ambitious Xi Jinping challenging the entire global system. Xi has left no ambiguity in conveying that he wants to ‘Restore’ China’s position as the ‘Global Superpower’ replacing US, and have a world class military by 2050.He has forced other countries not in tune with him, and some neutral countries to come closer to US against his aggressive designs. His direct threats to Taiwan and indirect ones to potential adversaries in his speech in 19th Congress, and the Resolution thereafter, indicate unprecedented arrogance. The threat to Taiwan, is being demonstrated with increased number military drills and air exercises around Taiwan, notwithstanding the Tsai call for mainland trying to destablise the region.
China’s aggressive posture is visible in incremental encroachment of features and converting them into islands in South China Sea, stretching its sovereignty claim as per its perception based on impractical historical logic, over-riding UNCLOS and ruling of Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of Philippines. Having done that his claim to be “Insurer of world order and peace” in his New Year message of 2018 does not make sense to the world outside China. China also continued to convert features to islands to military base (Announcing completion of infrastructure development in Ferry Cross Reef), without any physical opposition by taking advantage of window of opportunity due to US engagement with North Korea, Afghanistan, and controversies regarding Iran and Israel, besides certain internal controversies. China may have projected North Korea as a concern and supported UN sanctions, but the alleged leakage of oil despite, more so with impounding of Hongkong ships by South Korea, keeps China under scanner for not being serious about UN sanctions.
His direct messaging for PLA to be ready to realise China’s reunification at any cost (Implying use of force), take expeditionary roles to ensure world peace, leaves no doubts about his hegemonic design and uncontrolled autocratic stance. He challenges the law based global system but wants to impose it inside China. This has pushed all other powers which are immediately affected by it, to get closer. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) may be at official level talks on sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia Summits, to discuss regional and global cooperation in Manila may be an old idea with limited scope today, but it signals thinking and talking about balancing China’s growing assertiveness. The signal seems to have reached China as its foreign office shows concern that it should neither be politicised nor exclusionary. It is seen that China is trying to deal with each country bilaterally, thereafter. Malabar exercise in Bay of Bengal and global use of word ‘Indo-Pacific’ instead of ‘Asia-Pacific’ (cutting out China from it), Asia- Africa Growth Corridor are some examples of it. Quad may not be a relevant balancer today, but it may become formal, relevant and powerful in future, in case Chinese stance continues to be aggressive.
Notwithstanding larger than life image of Xi Jinping inside China, Post 19th Congress most reactions from other countries do not indicate any global swing in Xi’s favor. Pakistan, the closest ally of China refused to accept Yuan as global currency in Gwadar SEZ in favor of Dollar initially, till US announced cuts in financial aid. It pulled out from Diamer-Bhasha dam deal over China’s ‘too strict’ conditions. CPEC is being criticized in Pakistan to be against their interest, raising questions on viability of CPEC. In fact China itself has apprehensions on CPEC, concerning security and corruption of officials, and has recently stopped its fund flow to Pakistan to revisit terms and conditions, leaving some other energy projects in jeopardy. Nepal has already scrapped the deal of $ 2.5 Billion Budhi Gandaki hydropower project. Its BRI programs seem to be slowing down after symbolic progress initially, starving for funds.
While Xi may claim to have reached in US neighborhood for investments in South America, as a counter to US influence in South and East China Sea, but his idea of replacing US as global peace provider is still not acknowledged by anyone and does not indicate the practicality of its dream of being leading superpower. If China’s Defense budget for 2017 was $ 215.7 Billion and US had allocated $ 611.2 Billion for defense (SIPRI Factsheet), there is no way that it can replace it as global security provider. The largest military need not be the best in the world, despite such aspirations. In my opinion his ambitions, aggressiveness and arrogance is moving faster than its capacity building. Xi’s idea of proving to the world that the authoritarian, socialist model of governance with Chinese characteristics in new era is better than liberal democratic model of West has no takers. China’s next door neighbours like Nepal going for complete democracy and Vietnam moving towards more liberalism post 19th Congress justify the point.
The global strategists have reason to expect a more confident, assertive, foreign policy from China in light of Xi Jinping’s announcement that China would continue to seek a greater role in world affairs in a new era, as it strides towards the global centre-stage. He is following it up with military build-up in expeditionary design in places like the South China Sea, and soft power play through economic schemes like the BRI.
History is full of examples where a totalitarian regime whenever started making threatening postures with no internal checks and balances, it led the country to disaster, like the way Hitler led Germany to a disaster when his ambition grew beyond his capability. It also need to be noted that in future the idea of having one or two superpowers is getting outdated, because all countries work as per their national interest and do not follow the dictate of any one country. North Korea standing up to US, Vietnam standing up to US and China, India and Bhutan standing up to China in Doklam stand-off, are some examples to prove that a well determined country cannot be forced to adopt a particular course by any power.
Strategic Encroachment in India’s Neighborhood, post 19th Congress
Post 19th Congress of CPC, China continues to encroach in Indian neighbourhood without talking about the core issues and points of divergences as earlier. To that extent I do not think 19th Congress of CPC has made any major difference to India China relations. While China has talked of better relations with India in 2018, but the visits of its Foreign Minister alongwith Russian Foreign Minister did not yield anything worthwhile, with each side quite firm on its stance on issues of divergences like BRI. On the controversial border issue there is a crying need of delimitation, definition and demarcation of LAC, and the demarcation be known to the troops manning it, if both sides want to avoid stand-offs. The Chinese however seem to be singing the old tune of better border management and confidence building measures to prevent it, which to my mind is a quick fix solution; with China again postponing the core issue even after 20th round of talks.
The only difference which affects India indirectly is that some of our common neighbors may give in to more aggressive ‘Chequebook diplomacy’ and ‘Infrastructure diplomacy’ of China or may get coerced/influenced by it. China’s decision for extension of CPEC into Afghanistan may affect Indian influence in that country. It indicates the clear strategic intent of getting Afghanistan into its strategic orbit, attempt to play as a mediator between Pakistan and Afghanistan by ‘Infrastructure diplomacy’, take Afghanistan away from US strategic space and Indian influence, mitigate Indian Chahbahar connectivity, besides using Afghanistan mineral resources. China has achieved rail connectivity with Iran, which does generate fresh concerns for Washington. Maldives signing FTA with China, land grabbing efforts of China in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are few such examples affecting Indian security adversely for which India needs to find an answer.
China is also trying to play the role of mediator in Rakhine state of Myanmar, emphatically increasing its influence over Myanmar, advertising its capability for humanitarian development, checkmating Indian stance towards Rohingyas to show India in poor light. China is not concerned about the terror potential of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army duly supported by ISI/Pakistan. China with little investment of money power expects to get a pat from UN, as a responsible state .
On diplomatic side India needs to not only ‘Act east’ but ‘Act west’ also. India is better located to be the hub of global sea lanes with lesser choke points either side, and is working towards this capability to provide an alternate model of global connectivity like Asia- Africa Growth Corridor connecting further West.2 Domination of Indian Ocean is going to be another strategic competition, which will become unavoidable in due course. China can keep increasing bases in Indian Ocean, but whether they will be its strength or vulnerability will be a question mark due to distance involved, choke points and growing strength and operability of Indian Navy with other global Navies.
The National Security Strategy of United States calls China and Russia as competitors3. Although rubbished by China as ‘Cold War Mentality’, still brings the inclusion of China into a new arena of cold war with many more regional players getting in, looking for check and balance to aggressive China, even if they do not say so openly. A beginning of new cold war which may lead to a trade war is evident and reality. While China may be confident to ensure that the ‘Implosion theory’ will not work by its super strict checks, but will this narrative sell outside, I have my doubts. It remains to be seen that a country having an autocratic system, with only one decision maker and rest executers, with educated population will continue in this form for decades. Any slowdown in economy might result in democratic winds flowing inside to an extent that it may be difficult to control. The exact evaluation of Yuan is a suspect hence China may claim to stand tall on economic front, but is there a bubble inside only time will tell.
The views expressed are of Major General S B Asthana (veteran) and do not represent views of any organization. The General is reachable on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, also on website http://www.asthanawrites.org
- Resolution of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on the Report of the 18th Central Committee, October 24, 2017, Xinhuanet.
- Asthana S B, Opinion: What does Xi’s autocratic position mean for India?WION News, December 07, 2018. URL http://www.wionews.com/world/opinion-what-does-xis-autocratic-position-means-for-india-26100
- National Security Strategy of United States of America, December18,2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/…/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
No Prospects for Denuclearization of North Korea
Analytical pieces—typically prepared by self-professed experts—abound as to whether denuclearization of North Korea could be possible or what its parameters would be. Such ruminations became particularly popular by the end of Donald Trump’s presidency when the negotiations eventually found themselves in deadlock. However, I would rather call it a “freeze,” and while this may not be the best solution to the problem, it is certainly not the worst either.
The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear missile program has been going on for some 15 years, and I would argue that the reason why no practical solution has been found lies in poor positioning. As I have repeatedly noted  North Korea’s nuclear missile program is not the root of the problem that disrupts the traditional world order; rather, it is a consequence of problems that are more global in their dimensions, reflecting the transition from the wonted world order to a new one.
There are a few signs to this new world order. First, some nations abuse the right to decide which state is a democracy and which is not, with the contrived singling out of “rogue states” to be countered through any methods, including those that seem ethically unacceptable. Broken promises are no longer perfidy but military stratagems. When it comes to North Korea, one might recall the Agreed Framework story or how President Kim Young-sam and his administration spared no effort to destabilize the situation in North Korea at a time when it suffered from what has been called the Arduous March. Seoul advocated providing no aid to the starving country, one South Korean official admits while privately talking to the author, in the hope that the famine would spur mass riots and subsequent “reunification.”
The second sign indicative of the new world suggests that international law and major arbitration institutions have lost their authority. UN Security Council resolutions that forbid North Korea to launch any kind of ballistic missiles is a good case in point. Incidentally, this violates the decisions enshrined in a number of other UN documents that guarantee the universal right to explore outer space for peaceful purposes.
The third sign has to do with the crisis of competence, which affects the quality of decision-making on the part of both politicians and subject-matter experts, blurring the line between the real country and its cartoonish propaganda image. This is well illustrated by the case of North Korea: any foolish news report about the country ultimately finds an audience. While the story of Jang Song-thaek being fed to a pack of dogs was debunked fairly quickly, no less fantastic death penalty stories for listening to K-pop are still popular.
Besides, the might of the law has been replaced with the law of the might. The new generation of politicians no longer fears a major war, rendering military conflict—“humanitarian” bombings of “rogue states” in particular—one of the acceptable means for achieving domestic and foreign policy goals.
Finally, under these circumstances, North Korea cannot use the conventional conflict resolution methods, thus being compelled to look for ways to defend itself on its own, especially since the threat of losing sovereignty is by no means hypothetical. Officially, the Korean war is not over, and South Korea’s Constitution still extends the state’s sovereignty to the entire peninsula, demanding that the president promote the country’s unification. What is more, the National Security Act refers to North Korea as an anti-state organization rather than a country. Even relatively liberal populists, such as Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in, failed to review this concept.
Relying on its nuclear missile program, North Korea sets itself two goals. The first is to achieve minimal and, eventually, guaranteed nuclear deterrence, which would certainly take a belligerent solution to the North Korean problem off the table. The North Korean leadership has certain reasons to believe that only North Korea’s nuclear weapons saved it from the fate of Iraq or Libya. It is well-known that once in a while the U.S. and its allies plan an offensive war against the North, whose elements are drilled at joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises irrespective of their scale.
The second goal is to achieve international recognition and ditch the “rogue state” yoke. Should North Korea theoretically join the “nuclear club,” this will put it on a par with the leading superpowers. This is the principal reason why—despite the UN Security Council’s internal disagreements—the Permanent Five have so far voted unanimously for yet another sanctions package each time North Korea has taken another significant step in developing its nuclear missile program. The current world order is based on the premise that only the five great powers are allowed to possess nuclear weapons. It also relies on the UN’s authority, which would collapse if it became known that at the end of the day North Korea got the UN to “cave in”—following nearly 30 years of condemnation, resolutions and sanctions.
It is no accident that the very term “denuclearization” is under discussion. American conservatives, such as John Bolton and others who adopt a strictly realistic approach, interpret “denuclearization” as meaning nuclear disarmament of North Korea, which should be stripped of all types of WMD and—to boot—of its nuclear program. This entails eliminating the North Korean threat both globally and regionally. In contrast, North Korea, as well as Russia and China, stress that denuclearization should extend not to North Korea alone but to the whole Korean Peninsula, which requires certain commitments on the part of the U.S. and South Korea, up to and including prohibiting U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons from docking at South Korean ports.
It has to be noted that those who identify with the allegedly liberal approach to international relations view the North Korean issue as highly ideologically charged. Liberal democracy advocates and WASP conservatives alike perceive North Korea as an authoritarian regime imbued with atheistic collectivism, as an “Evil State.” They see it as the pure opposite of the ideal state—an abstract concept that exists in their minds. That, in turn, stimulates an intractable drive towards confrontation, since not only is the “Evil State” incapable of negotiations, such negotiations are impossible in principle. Any deal with such a regime is an unacceptable concession in terms of values, and value-based confrontations are always more inflexible than those political or economic in nature.
During the 2017 crisis, when I believed the probability of conflict really rose beyond 50%, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un emerged as pragmatic leaders, essentially putting the process “on hold.” The jury is still out on how this related to the Russia-China “double-freeze” plan, while each party would certainly have wanted more. Kim Jong Un would have loved to have the sanctions eased, with Donald Trump expecting further concessions. The pause that was achieved, though, allowed both parties a “small profit.” The U.S. president could say that, first, he prevented war and, second, that the sanctions were effective, with no missiles in the air and the U.S. having granted no unacceptable concessions. Kim Jong Un, on the one hand, got a peaceful breather, which allowed him to focus on the country’s economic development, and, second, his commitments were essentially unofficial and did not restrict the development of the nuclear missile program. This could be exemplified by multiple successful launches of short-range missiles as well as by presentations of new types of ICBMs and SLBMs, even though these were not tested.
Yet, since late 2019, both parties have been aware that “things are not going to get better.” In late 2019, Kim Jong Un said it was no use hoping for an easing of the sanctions, while allowing Donald Trump to “sit out” the final year of his presidency with no unnecessary tensions. As of the writing of this article, his moratorium is still in place, although American and South Korean experts believed that several dates came and went when Kim could have raised the stakes, opting for an escalation. I believe that Pyongyang is waiting for the White House to formulate and announce a new North Korean policy. So far, as Roman Lobov puts it, “the door is shut but not locked”; and Choe Song-hui, who seems to be still in charge of North Korea–U.S. relations, has not been dismissed from office and declares from time to time that the North will use force in response to force and amicability in response to amicability. The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea emphasized that no change in the White House would change the U.S.’s overall hostility towards North Korea, which is why North Korea will hardly make the first step, choosing to wait for truly serious proposals from the U.S.
This is the situation three months into 2021, exacerbated by several additional aspects. The new U.S. president is the first such aspect. Of course, there is some hope that he will follow the same path as Donald Trump once did: a hardliner early in his tenure shifted to a more constructive approach once collided with reality. So far, however, it appears that the logic of factional strife is compelling Biden to go along “the main thing is not to be like Trump” pattern, and that means steering a course towards escalation. Such an approach will provoke North Korea to retaliate. More importantly, such blinders will keep the Biden Administration from rapidly developing a constructive approach to its interaction with the North. In particular, we can see that human rights issues in North Korea, all too valid for the Democrats, were not broached regularly under Trump while they have come under attention once Biden assumed office.
The U.S.-China confrontation is another aspect, which was pronounced to be value- rather than merely politics-based even under Trump. There has been no change to this approach under the new president. The U.S. attempts to restrict and contain China, with this confrontation being part of Russia and China’s more broad confrontation with what is perceived as the West.
I believe such a rift and its would-be consequences deal no smaller blow to the existing world order than Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. First, this reinforces North Korea’s conviction that the current situation makes the country rely on missile sovereignty. Second, rifts in the Security Council give North Korea a certain boost. It does not, however, mean that the Security Council will no longer remain unanimous should the North decide to raise the stakes sharply. Yet, if we consider the U.S.-China confrontation from the point of view of allies of both states, we will see that China could only rely on the North since it has for a long time stressed the two countries’ socialist nature and their friendship based on ideological values. Besides, North Korean media outlets have been condemning the U.S. for criticizing China’s policies. What this means is that China will keep Pyongyang afloat and contain American pressure to denuclearize Kim’s regime unless it decides that North Korea’s actions are too provocative. The same can be said of Russia, although the North Korean issue is less of a priority for Moscow, especially when compared to the post-Soviet states or the Middle East.
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the global situation. First, self-isolation instituted throughout the country has generated a new spiral of suppositions revolving around the notion that its economic system is about to collapse and that a new Arduous March will ensue. Second, with diplomats and NGOs having left North Korea, gathering data has become more difficult, which has indirectly contributed to growing alarmist sentiments. Finally, we cannot rule out a situation when the North Korean issue may—for a number of countries—become a way to shift attention away from domestic problems, including those related to failures in fighting the coronavirus. In such a situation, any prospects for denuclearization are extremely vague.
The fourth aspect is the level to which North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced, which makes the monitoring methods used for the states that are at the early stages of their nuclear programs ineffective. Since North Korea is a de facto nuclear power, the set of measures intended to ensure complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization, as Vladimir Khrustalyov notes  will essentially demand that North Korea be essentially stripped of its sovereignty as far as the monitoring and checking powers are concerned, with which international inspectors should be vested.
Consequently, today it might be said that one can only go on talking about denuclearization for the sake of talking. It will take a miracle to move things forward. Option one is some fantastic change in the international environment, which would make North Korea no longer feel threatened and thus less reluctant to abolish its nuclear program. That would mean geotectonic rather than merely geopolitical shifts in the existing international security architecture. Option two, just as fantastic, provides for a North Korean Gorbachev who, for some reason, will make the decision to abolish an important component of North Korea’s political myth and its sovereignty guarantees. Harsher options envision denuclearization as a result of regime change, which is of very little probability as well.
Does this mean there is no way out of this predicament and that missile fireworks will follow sooner or later? No, it does not. The possibility of the “double freeze” is still there, and such a “freeze” could continue almost indefinitely. Another possibility requires more efforts as it entails resetting the agenda—while keeping the term “denuclearization”, new strategies would actually focus on arms control. Instead of destroying North Korean nuclear capabilities, efforts would be channeled into restricting it, operating on the premise that the existing capabilities already serve as minimal deterrence. Many scholars adhere to this stance, both in Russia  and abroad, while fully cognizant of the fact that a change in tack will prompt huge resistance, since this would go against the trend of preserving the global status quo. Any attempt to abolish the demand for full denuclearization of states aspiring to the nuclear club “membership” would amount to a crack in the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
On balance, true denuclearization of North Korea would require a radical change in the geopolitical situation in Northeast Asia: once the threat is gone, countermeasures will no longer be necessary. While there is no possibility of such changes, the Russia-China proposal of a “double freeze” settlement remains the most feasible solution, although far from ideal.
The study has been carried out with financial assistance from the RFBR (project No 20-014-00020).
- Asmolov, K.V. The Nuclear Problem of the Korean Peninsula as a Consequence of the Changes in the Global World Order (in Russian) // Paper presented at the All-Russia Academic Conference with International Participation “International Relations in the 20th-21st Centuries: 4th Chempalov Conference dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War and the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II. 17–18 December 2020. Yekaterinburg.
- Zhebin, A.Z. The Korean Peninsula: From Denuclearization to Arms Control (in Russian) // Paper presented at the 25th Conference of Korean Studies Specialists from Russia and the CIS. 25–26 March 2021. Moscow
- Khrustalyov, V.V. (Vladivostok, North-East Asian Military Studies Project) On Fundamental Obstacles in the Way of Rapid, Guaranteed, and Irreversible Denuclearization of North Korea (in Russian) // Paper presented at the 8th International Conference “Russia and Korea in the Changing World Order – 2019.” 17–18 May 2019. Vladivostok.
From our partner RIAC
Kissinger Again Warns US, China Heading for Armageddon-like Clash
Last week, Henry Kissinger again warned US-China tensions are a threat to the entire world and could lead to Armageddon-like clash between the world’s two military and technology giants. Surprisingly, some Chinese are interpreting it as a threat to intimidate China in order to “accept and obey” the US-led world hegemonic order.
In January 2015, the peace group CODEPINK dangled a pair of handcuffs in front of the then 91-year old former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate hearing. Twelve months later, at the February Democratic Debate Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton were seen engaged in a heated duel attacking and defending the acclaimed diplomat respectively. The late writer Christopher Hitchens in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger warned editors, TV news channel producers and presidential candidates to stop soliciting Kissinger’s “worthless and dangerous” opinions. The never ending outburst of enmity on the part of CODEPINK, Sanders and Hitchens was due to Kissinger’s role in the brutal killings of thousands of civilians, gang rape of hundreds of female detainees, and alleged slaughtering of over one million people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos among countless similar crimes against humanity since the early 1970s.
As documented in “Kissinger and Chile: The Declassified Record,” as some 5,000 people were being detained and tortured in Chile’s National Stadium, Kissinger told the ruthless Augusto Pinochet: “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” But Sanders-Clinton “spirited exchange” five years ago, as mentioned above, was not confined in Sanders’ words to Kissinger being “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history” of the United States. Sanders’ rare outburst also included Clinton defending her foreign policy mentor – Kissinger – on China. “[Kissinger’s] opening up China and his ongoing relationship with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America,” Hilary Clinton emphatically pointed out.
Sanders responded disdainfully and berated Clinton for admiring Kissinger. “Kissinger first scared Americans about communist China and then opened up trade so US corporations could dump American workers and hire exploited and repressed Chinese,” Sanders had retorted. On the contrary, no one in Beijing either knows or seems interested in the so-called negative traits attributed to the veteran diplomat who is generally known as the most “influential figure in the making of American foreign policy since the end of World War II.” As according to Peter Lee, editor of the online China Matters and a veteran Asia Times columnist, the CPC leadership value Kissinger as the “symbol, custodian and advocate” of a US-China relationship that is special.
Professor Aaron Friedberg, author of A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, described the re-opening of relations with China as Kissinger’s greatest achievement. In a review of Kissinger’s massive book On China, Friedberg wrote: “Kissinger’s six hundred pages on China are an attempt to apply the principles of foreign policy realism to the most pressing strategic challenge of our day.” (Emphasis given) However, the approach, taken alone, was far from adequate in anticipating the behavior of an increasingly powerful China on the one hand, and for prescribing an appropriate American strategy to deal with a rising China on the other, Friedberg went on to add.
Since Mao, all successive top Chinese leaders have met with Kissinger one-on-one in Beijing, some even more than once. China’s current President Xi Jinping is no exception. In fact, given the deep esteem with which reform era CPC leadership has been embracing Henry Kissinger, the general wisdom in Beijing is President Xi has horned his diplomatic skills by learning well his (Kissinger’s) oft-quoted aphorism “you don’t go into negotiations unless your chances of success are 85 percent.” Kissinger had first met with Xi in 2007, when Xi, as the party secretary in Shanghai, had received the most frequent foreign visitor to China on a visit to the city. When asked for his assessment of the party’s new general secretary within days of the 18th party congress in November 2012 by the Wall Street Journal, Kissinger had said “Xi Jinping is a strong leader capable of rising up to any challenge.”
In the past four decades of Kissinger-CPC bonhomie, the first decade thanks to Cold War passed off rather smoothly and uneventfully. The second decade ushered in with perhaps the first most serious test for both Kissinger as well as for the US-China relations since the unfreezing of the bilateral ties by Nixon-Kissinger pair in the early 1970s. In June 1989, the CPC rulers used brutal force to crush peaceful student demonstrators at the Tiananmen Square and launched nationwide crackdown on suspected dissidents. Though criticized by the US political elite for “Kowtowing to Beijing” for defending the CPC authorities by saying “a crackdown was inevitable,” Kissinger did influence the Bush administration in imposing comparatively mild sanctions while deflecting congressional pressure for tougher action.
In third and fourth decades respectively, unlike during the first two stages, ideology gradually regained initiative over geopolitics in influencing the bilateral relationship. There are mainly two factors for this. First, from 1979 to the end of the last century, China was relatively weaker than the United States both economically and in military technology. Following China’s rapid economic growth beginning late 1990s and at the turn of the twenty-first century, a section in the US political elite became apprehensive of China’s assertive and highly competitive stance. These concerns soon gave birth to the “China threat theory” which Beijing unsuccessfully tried to pass off as “China’s peaceful rise.”
The second factor has much to do with the world financial crisis in 2008 which resulted in the beginning of decline of the US economy on the one hand, and the unfolding of the seemingly evident intent of the CPC leadership to “eventually displace the US” and “re-establishing their own country as the pre-eminent power in East Asia.” In other words, with Cold War and the Soviet Union both long gone, and China perceived as threatening to soon replace America as the world’s number one economy, the communist rulers in Beijing were under no illusion that the ideologically hostile US was plotting “color revolution” to replace the CPC with democratically elected leaders in the People’s Republic.
The chilling of US-China bilateral relations during the first year of Obama presidency itself, with China replacing Japan to become the world’s second largest economy in 2010 and further hardening of the US stance towards China, and finally the US “pivot to Asia” strategy introduced by the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton – all these were perceived by Beijing as the US “creating political framework for a confrontation with China in order to maintain the global hegemony of American dominance.” Even Kissinger was very much aware of the changing stance in Beijing, as is reflected from what he wrote in On China: “China would try to push American power as far away from its borders as it could, circumscribe the scope of American naval power, and reduce America’s weight in international diplomacy.”
Interestingly, although the most frequent US visitor to China has continued to visit China ever more frequently during the past decade, given the changing nature of polity in both the US and in China – especially the increasing “rivalry” under the Trump administration, it is not incorrect to conclude the Kissinger magic has gradually faded away from the bilateral relationship. It is least surprising therefore last Friday, when the “old friend of China” warned both Beijing and Washington in a speech at McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in France, that their escalating tensions were leading the world towards Armageddon-like clash, the opinionated, vocal Chinese social media reacted with caution. “Kissinger used the so-called end of the world argument to threaten and intimidate China in order to accept and obey the hegemonic order by the United States,” a blogger responded.
A commentary in Chinese last week pointed out, ever since Trump launched “all out political war” against China, Kissinger has been in subtle and cunning way warning China to “cooperate” with Washington. The signed article entitled “Kissinger Continues to Scare the Chinese People” stated: “For the past two years or more, Kissinger has been repeatedly saying China must continue to compromise and obey the US hegemony and US-led global order. Otherwise, China will face the danger of World War I-like situation.”
To sum up, while calling Kissinger’s veiled threat a bluff, a reader posted in the chat room of guancha.cn – one of China’s most widely read online Chinese language news platform: the old man is a veteran who, more than anyone in China, has interacted with most number of China’s founding leaders. It is therefore his responsibility to explain to the world why most American politicians have failed to co-evolve with China’s leaders, Chinese government and with Chinese people? Why has America relentlessly carried on slandering China? Why America has been consistently accusing, vilifying and provoking China? Mr. Kissinger, please answer. Thank you.”
Post COVID-19, Can China Emerge as the New Global Power?
Authors:Makam Khan Daim and Mohammed Seid Ahmed*
There are many unknowns about the virus and that makes it incredibly challenging for every government to wage war against the common enemy. The politically divided United States was not ready for a crisis like such and is already going through a deep political division that is deviating the superpower’s attention from leading the world. The United has already left multiple multilateral agreements and organizations that it helped create in the first place Trump administration was running the nation without any clear policy goals. Trump’s administration was retreating from world leadership but at the same time reluctant to give up its position as a global superpower. Though the policies of the administration are pulling the US back from years of progress as a global leader. As the world waits for the US leadership in the outbreak of the virus, the administration and supporters downplayed the harsh nature of the virus. The repercussions of failing to contain the virus at an early stage have put the US as the leader in infections and death toll above all the affected countries around the world.
The previous US administration chose to engage in a war of words with China rather than undertaking measures to contain the virus at home and be an example to the world. On the other hand, the Asian nations have taken “draconian” measures in the American eyes but were successful in containing the virus more than any country in the world. China’s has 102,517 cases with 4846 death, the numbers might be disputable for some, however, figures from democratic countries like South Korea and Japan revealed that the Asian nation has successfully contained the spread of the virus. As of May 2nd, 2021, Japan has 82, 425 with just 1493 deaths, Korea has 123,240 cases with just 1833 deaths according to the latest data compiled by the John Hopkins University of Medicine, coronavirus task force. The US on the other hand, in the same timeframe, has registered a staggering 32,392,667infection cases and 576,722 deaths. Although Chinese figures are disputable the recent reopening of all cities and provinces, indicates that the virus is contained, and things are going back to normalcy.
Power is shifting to the East as many political scientists predicted and China as an Asian superpower is in the final stage of preparations to take the role of global leadership. India is the other Asian nation that can contest China, but India’s domestic issues, its relatively weaker economy, and the ever-growing population have been a challenge for the subcontinent to be a serious contestant for China’s activities in a global scale. In fighting this pandemic, the US has missed another opportunity to lead the world and take responsibility as a superpower. The administration’s adherence to the outdated protectionist policies, that is harming American workers, let alone leading the world in the fight against COVID-19, Trump’s denial of the reality and his enablers within the government put the nation in harm’s way and has culminated in the death of thousands of Americans.
New Zealand has come out of the battle against COVID-19 as a winner with its early lockdown and strict measures with the extraordinary leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and her administration. The European nations Italy, Spain, France, and Germany that have been hit hard with the virus are getting a sigh of relief after their worst at the beginning of the outbreak. Their large size aging population have become the victim of the virus, with a series of lockdown and extreme measures they have finally managed to mitigate the likelihood of more deaths related to the virus. Africa to the surprise of lots of people is the last continent that has started to see new cases. Africa’s young population under the age of 35 that makes up over 60 percent of the continent’s population could have worked in favor of Africans because of the viruses’ nature to attack mostly immune compromised and aged population. Nonetheless, the recent increase in testing for instance in Ethiopia is revealing hundreds of cases every day. Now, Ethiopia is reporting 258,062, with just 3709 deaths related to the virus. South Africa and Egypt are among the worst hit countries from Africa, in which the former has reported 1,582,842 cases and 54406 deaths, and the latter reported 228,548 cases with over 43,402 deaths respectively. Although, the death of a single person is painful, with all the indications and data available Africa is surviving this outbreak with fewer casualties. If whether this could be attributed to the nature of the virus or African government’s measures is remained to be seen in further researches and reports in the foreseeable future.
The problems that Africa could face if the infection rate increases drastically are dire, given the continent’s record in poor healthcare infrastructure, scarce of ventilators, hospital beds, small size healthcare professionals in relative to the population size. Developed countries with advanced technology and healthcare system in place have not been able to cope up with the patients’ demand and has been extremely challenging for the government and professionals to fight the virus. It is no brainer the challenges that Africans could face without the infrastructure. Nonetheless, while all the traditional global powers closed their doors and were fighting the pandemic, there is one rising superpower who has emerged to play the global leadership role in the fight with the virus. China has emerged not only as the hotbed for the virus but as a global power who is using the pandemic to project its soft power around the globe and play the role of the so-called “responsible power”.
In conclusion, China would be the winner in this epidemic, because of the measures it took and its quasi-leadership in fighting this pandemic using its soft power. It has already lifted the ban in Wuhan and now things are slowly going back to normal ahead of many other countries, which is beneficial for China to survive the economic fallout. Economists are predicting a global recession following COVID-19, but even if that is the case China will not be the biggest loser, United States, Europe, and the rest of the world are. One thing we all learn from this pandemic is that because of our intertwined interests and living by each other there is nothing that the world could achieve today without the cooperation and collective actions. Time will answer the question that will the United States take the lesson, embrace multilateralism again, and get back to lead?
*Mohammed Seid Ahmed, Freelancer(M.Phil International Relations at Zhejiang University, currently based in California, the US)Mohemmed can be reached at mahmedseid89[at]outlook.com
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