At domestic level, Kim Jong-Un is pursuing two original and interesting policylines within North Korea: the rise of a new generation to power and the evident and stable economic expansion.
Under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, the private segment of the North Korean economy has undergone great development and the new class of young people rising to power – who epitomize the general rejuvenation of the North Korean society – is also an unknown factor for the forthcoming talks between the two Koreas and the talks between the United States and North Korea.
Certainly Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un rules without problems, but he shall consider the new climate prevailing within his Party.
At military level, according to the data provided by the US intelligence services, North Korea has an arsenal of 36 nuclear warheads.
Only in 2017 did North Korea fire 23 missiles.
During the bilateral talks with South Korea, however, Kim Jong-Un also said he wanted to impose a moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear missile launches between March and April 2018.
Complex signs hard to decode, but certainly designed to creating a new perception of North Korea in South Korea and in the rest of the world.
The summit meeting will take place on April 27, 2018, south of the demilitarized area of Panmunjom, in the Peace House, near the “Truce Village”- the site where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
An area belonging to South Korea – and indeed, this is a further sign conveyed by the North Korean leader.
The meeting will take place between the two Presidents, namely Kim Jong-Un for North Korea and Moon Jae-In for South Korea.
Two inter-Korean summits had already been held in 2000 and 2007.
The summit meeting held in 2000 took place when the Sunshine Policy had been ended abruptly by the South Korean President, Lee Myung Bak, a politician and businessman recently arrested on charges of bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion alleged to have occurred during his presidency.
The summit meeting held in 2007 focused on the 1953 armistice between the two sides and on the economic relations between North and South Korea, as well as on the issues regarding “human rights”.
For the next summit meeting scheduled for April 2018, North Korea has clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize the whole peninsula, maintaining that there is no need for nuclear weapons when the survival of North Korea is fully ensured.
Nevertheless, the United States has the weapons in South Korea – with 23,468 US soldiers and five divisions -as well as the greatest ability to oppose North Korea militarily.
Moreover, US commands in South Korea often organize exercises against North Korea after its hypothetical invasion of South Korea, with evident results for the South Korean population.
Within negotiations, this shall obviously be followed by the cessation of any nuclear threat to North Korea, regardless of its origin -that is from the United States and, with the conventional threat alone, from Japan.
The South Korean President has also said that North Korea wants to have “frank and candid” talks with the United States, especially on the denuclearization of the entire peninsula and on the future mutual recognition between the two countries.
The more we go forward, the less pro-American South Korea will be – not for the influence of North Korea, but for the same effect suffered by Western Germany during the “cold war”: the Federal Republic of Germany maintained it was against the German Democratic Republic’s regime, but it was aware that if the nuclear conflict had started, it would have been the first and only one to suffer from its consequences.
Hence if results are achieved in the talks with the United States, North Korea will stop any missile or nuclear test in that period.
As reported and certified by all South Korean sources, North Korea really wants to advance quickly along the path of dialogue with South Korea, which is therefore a stable direction of the North Korean strategy.
Hence, regardless of the choice made by the United States, this is a progressive and inevitable decoupling between South Korea and the United States.
Once Kim Jong-Un’s offer of dialogue is also made to the United States, the latter can respond in two ways: US adherence to the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula or the persistence of a “cold war”, with hot phases between the United States and North Korea.
In the former case, the strategic transformation of the Asian peninsula would create a severe military void for the United States, which could respond by increasing its forces in the South Pacific Ocean or in Japan, thus maintaining a serious threat to North Korea.
A serious albeit remote threat, posed by countries that are not willing to bend to US wishes, such as Japan.
In the latter case, the constant presence of US nuclear weapons in South Korea – which would be hard for South Korea to manage from a political viewpoint – would cause a not too much symbolic escalation by North Korea.
At political level, the choice for the United States is very sensitive and not devoid of side effects: South Korea could stop granting some bases to the United States or increase the rent significantly. Or it could make the United States understand that it does not want to become a nuclear target for North Korea.
Japan, which is already continuing its autonomous rearmament, could tell the United States that, beyond the current limit of the US military presence, there is no longer room for it, or that the independent Japanese missile and naval apparatus could have very different strategic aims.
Let us imagine that Kim Jong-Un has analysed very well all these logical connections of the negotiations between the United States, South and North Korea.
Nevertheless, the political climate between the two Koreas has changed and some analysts have spoken about the end of the “1990 spirit”.
In the previous relations between the two Koreas for this year’s Olympic Winter Games, the primary goal of the South Korean leader was above all holding peaceful Games without political tensions.
There had been, at first, Kim Jong-Un’s end-of-year speech aimed at peace with South Korea which, however, appeared to everybody as a usual charm offensive, typical of North Korea’s foreign policy.
Moreover, South Korean President Moon Jae-In had been elected by a vast majority of voters who wanted peace with North Korea and, above all, wanted to avoid nuclear or conventional war on the Korean peninsula.
This also counted.
In the New Year’s Day of 2018, the North Korean leader had mentioned his country’s victory in the field of nuclear weapons, saying that by now the optimal standard for a nuclear response or attack had been achieved.
This could make us think that, from now on, the North Korean leader wants to underline the purely economic side of the “Byungjin Line” developed by Kim Jong-Un to pursue the parallel goals of economic development and a robust nuclear weapons program, thus making them interdependent.
Hence, once stabilized national defence, North Korea wants to deal simultaneously with the United States and South Korea.
There had been a diplomatic “offensive” towards the United States a few months ago, but no results were reached.
The “olive branch” offered to South Korea was instead immediately accepted.
The visit of Kim’s younger sister and of the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong Nam, to South Korea had already taken place – the powerful symbol of a new North Korean policy line, with a subsequent visit paid by some South Korean leaders to North Korea, received by Kim Jong-Un in person.
This happens very rarely.
A first hypothesis is the following: North Korea wants to suspend nuclear and missile tests for a certain period of time and plans to use this period of time to improve relations with South Korea.
Hence North Korea may not be interested in the full disarmament of the country and of the whole peninsula.
China, however, could later play a decisive role in inter-Korean negotiations.
In fact, if the process of dialogue between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States continued long enough, China could propose to the UN Security Council a Resolution aimed at lifting at least some of the sanctions on North Korea.
The Resolution could be rejected by the United States and, possibly, by France and Great Britain, but this would enable China to unilaterally reopen its markets to North Korea, by later accepting to act as a broker for other countries wishing to trade with North Korea.
The Russian Federation would follow Chinese operations closely.
In this case South Korea would have two options available: to definitely close the Kaesong industrial zone or accept China’s proposal, which would certainly be very attractive from the economic viewpoint.
In this case the United States could not do much more than exert military and political pressure on South Korea.
Another hypothesis is the following: South Korea may not want to go beyond the limit of current sanctions on North Korea – and China would not show any reaction.
Hence we would have the full reactivation of North Korea’s missile and nuclear program, with equal and opposite reactions by the United States.
Nevertheless, South Korea must be careful, because military tension could stop also its economic development, not just North Korea’s.
Conversely, if the negotiations between South and North Korea thrive, for the United States this will mean a radical rethinking of its military and strategic presence in Asia, from support to Taiwan up to the acceptance of Korean reunification under the auspices of the People’s Republic of China.
Therefore, the United States should take part and play an active role in the Korean bilateral negotiations, without preconceived close-minded attitudes towards North Korea which – once new friend of the United States – could influence also the Chinese and Russian policies in a pro-US direction.
The real danger for the United States is nuclear proliferation.
As Kissinger said recently, “if North Korea keeps nukes, other countries will seek them”.
The real danger for the United States is a mass of small countries with so many nuclear weapons as to prevent the US military and commercial transit through some very important areas, which could be denied to relations with the United States.
This would mean the end of US global power.
This is the reason why the United States has always and almost obsessively opposed nuclear proliferation outside the traditional China-Russia-India-Pakistan-USA context.
Hence if the negotiation on the freezing of North Korean nuclear power were successful, the United States would gain a free and uncontrolled right of passage to Southeast Asia and the Straits of Malacca, which are still essential for the world market and for the military and intelligence control of the whole South Pacific region.
Will the United States be able to use every aspect of the negotiations between North and South Korea, which will soon extend to the United States?
What role will be played by the selective maintenance of sanctions or by their removal, with subsequent economic negotiations between the United States, China and Russia?
For the time being forecasts are uncertain, apart from the evident goodwill of both Koreas.
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
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.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
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
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
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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