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East Asia

A Great Turnaround on the Korean Peninsula

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Authors: Wang Li & Petro Shevchenko*

On March 8, the whole world was stunned by a breaking news that “Kim Jung-un invites Trump to meet”, which was followed by a confirmed message that “Donald Trump has agreed to meet Kim Jong Un by May”. What a mystery!

However, if people look carefully into what have happened on the Korean Peninsula since the beginning of 2018 or even before, the détente has loomed and grown steadily. True, it is still too early to conclude which country has been acting as the pivot during the whole issue, but one thing is clear that for a long time, China working with Russia and the international society has consistently called for a peaceful resolution to the DPRK nuclear crisis through talk rather than coercion; and therefore has sincerely proposed a “suspension–to-suspension” approach, urging the DPRK to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the suspension of large-scale US-ROK military exercises. Even though this position has been questioned by some criticism including Trump’s own words that “if China decides to help, that would be great. Otherwise, we will solve the problem without them”, China has never retreated from its bottom-line and also never be shaken in belief that the core of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is about security, and the settlement of which hinges on direct talks between the U.S. and DPRK, if the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is to be resolved by peace.

As the Korean nuclear issue has involved six powers directly, from the global powers to the regional powers, and from the ruling powers and the rising powers, leaders of those countries have obligations not to avoid reality. They actually control whether there will be nuclear war or peace with North Korea. Kim Jong Un is one such leader, along with his top military officers. Donald Trump is another, along with the chain of command under him. Xi Jinping is surely the key figure since he has reiterated China has firmly adhered to the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and no war or chaos would be allowed on the Peninsula as well. Due to all these, it is better to see that the turnaround on Thursday has come from a process, even prior to the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympic game. That is the nature of diplomacy with an emphasis on prudence, continuity and patience as well.

On March 6, during the meeting between Kim Jong-un and envoys from the ROK, both sides agreed to advance the latest step of an Olympics-driven rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula and an inter-Korean summit of the two leaders would be held in late April, the first such a summit since 2007. Clearly, President Moon has sought to use the PyeongChang Games to open dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang with a view that the U.S. should lower the threshold for dialogue and the DPRK should show its will to abandon its nuclear drive. Once again, this is in effect China’s position on the Korean issues from the very beginning. However, despite so far the dialogues between the Koreans have revealed an in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the dialogue, contact and cooperation, the key player on the Korean issue has been the United States rather than others including China and ROK.

As the solo superpower in the world affairs since the 1990s, the United States has become arrogant and to certain extent they are even aggressively indifferent and uncertain about how to shape a foreign policy to guide this power. The leaders of the White House have been mistaken in belief that a power to destroy means a power to lead and control, as a result, they have involved into more conflicts globally than any countries today. As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. has caused much more hatred and concerns over the regional and global security issues. In response to the détente between two Koreas, the United States still plans to press ahead with potentially provocative joint military exercises with the ROK, as a senior administration official said on Tuesday, despite a possible diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang, it is only natural that “our routine defensive exercises will resume.” In contrast, it is reported that “Kim Jong Un understands that routine US-ROK military exercises must continue, while he agreed that there would be no additional nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches by DPRK as long as the talks are held to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and normalize the countries’ bilateral ties.”

President Trump did hail “positive” intra-Korean talks. He even said that “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in January. Yet, VP Mike Pence and strong conservative groups have argued the United States would continue to apply “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang and that all options were “on the table” until the U.S. sees evidence that the DPRK is taking steps toward denuclearization. The arrogance and ambiguity demonstrated by the United States are incompatible with the nature of diplomacy that highlights the reconciliation, consultation and in particular all respective parties’ legitimate concerns. Now given that Kim Jung-un would like to meet Trump without condition, the United States should act more modestly and make all efforts once again to play the role of the peacemaker.

For sure, this is also not a smooth way because the right-wing and the cold-war mentality groups in the United States are very reluctant to share their interests and the ruling status with the others of the world. On the one hand, they argue that “Trump is a deal maker and probably believes he can single-handedly convince Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons. A Trump meeting with Kim presents both risks an opportunities.” On the other hand, they believe that “Kim Jong Un’s desire to talk shows sanctions the U.S. administration has implemented are starting to work.”Therefore, the U.S. can pursue more diplomacy, but also keep applying pressure ounce-by-ounce. Given that DPRK has repeatedly used talks and empty promises to extract concessions and buy time, the U.S., Japan and South Korea in particular must insist upon that all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain. As Trump said after the latest missile test by DPRK, “this situation will be handled.”

China is not only the closest neighbor of the DPRK, but also the largest trading partner of the ROK. Moreover, on the recent ease of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it is self-evident that China’s “suspension-for-suspension” proposal has worked. As Chinese FM Wang Yi stated that “China’s proposal has proven to be a right prescription for the problem as it has created the basic conditions needed for improving inter-Korea relations.”In order to move forward dialogues on the Korean nuclear issue, China has urged that a denuclearized Korean Peninsula serves the interests of all parties, including China and other members of the international community. Yet, to that end, all relevant parties should “demonstrate their seriousness about resolving the issue” and bring the situation back to the track of peaceful dialogue. Both history and common sense teach us that peace comes out of diplomacy rather than by force.

*Petro Shevchenko (from Ukraine) is MA research fellow in Diplomacy, Jilin University

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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East Asia

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

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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East Asia

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

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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