Today, after the signature of the agreement between the two Koreas during the fifth Summit after the 1953 ceasefire, we can finally note some structural constant factors of the inter-Korean issue.
The South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in, asked Kim Jong Un when he could visit Pyongyang and the North Korean leader replied: “even now”.
Forgive this subjective note in a strategic analysis like this, but I was there.
I was received with full honours by the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong-Nam, at the Supreme People’s Assembly Palace the day before the Panmunjom ceremony. I spoke at length with the North Korean Leader and his aides and I assessed many ideas and impressions.
I saw and meditated everything although, as often happens to me, I have to treasure upall these things and ponder them into my heart – as the Blessed Virgin did when she listened to her Son’s sermons.
In other words, firstly I can state that North Korea’s opening is real and sincere. It will also best able, if Westerners and Japan want so.
As repeatedly noted over the years, North Korea’s nuclear, missile and chemical-biological potential was precisely what the small North Korea needed to rise to a world status and to pose the problem of its security and independence before all superpowers, as well as to ask for the respect due even to the smallest country in the world.
Countries, regardless of their size, can be autonomous and independent or not.
The key has always been to avoid being “disarmed prophets” – just to use an old concept developed by Machiavelli.
Italy is not a dependent country, it is now virtually non-existent.
Secondly, Kim Jong Un’s opening to the Western world, and to the United States at first, is conditional upon an issue that Kim himself has long discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping on his very recent visit to China in the last week of March.
As repeatedly noted in recent years, China does not want to have a US army on its border without having the possibility of opposing to it a buffer State protecting it from the US imperial instability and volatility.
North Korea does not want to be the Piedmont of China, a small military power patrolling the Chinese Southern borders.
However, it does not even want to be a secondary and passive factor in the future development of the entire Korean peninsula.
Therefore the tree planted by Kim and Moon together on the North-South Korean border is not an old symbol of the French Revolution, but rather the token of a Korean unity based on a first concept, namely denuclearization – which is China’s primary goal for both North and South Korea.
Hence eliminating all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons from the Korean peninsula is a guarantee for North Korea, as well as safety and security for South Korea and an absolute need for China.
I think it would be a good choice also for the United States and Japan.
Hence lowering and equalizing strategic potentials throughout Southeast Asia is the rational point of contact for all strategies in the region. It must be pursued immediately.
Rightly Japan has still some doubts about the pan-Korean Summit and it has promptly made it known to the United States.
But, again, lowering the trigger threshold of a clash, even a conventional one, works to the benefit of everyone and mainly of Japan.
The latter is recreating a tripartite economic relationship with China and South Korea,which could become the axis of North Korea’s new regional development.
It is also worth recalling that Japan is fully resuming its economic relations with China thanks to the 13th Round of trilateral economic talks between Japan, China and, coincidentally, South Korea.
An axis along which North America can place itself to tackle economic issues with China.
This is essential in a context of present and future tariff wars.
Hence also the economic relations between South Korea and China are returning to high levels.
This strategically means that – if Xi Jinping’s China wants so – it can almost fully replace the US support to South Korea.
This is related and conducive to a weakening of the US military system in South Korea.
Thirdly it is worth underlining that Kim Jong Un ordered his military officers to “organize frequent meetings” with their Southern counterparts, without even referring to South Korea’s frequent military exercises with the US forces.
The “permanent peace regime” to resolve the “unnatural state of tension” between the two Koreas is one of the true goals of the Summit and it goes in the direction of Russian strategic interests.
Let us not forget that Vladivostok is a few kilometers from the North Korean coast.
This is also in the interest of China, which is not much interested in a unified Korea, but has the supreme aim of not having US forces in contact with its own or even with North Korea’s, considering that 160,000 Chinese soldiers are stationed at fewer than 100 kilometres from the North Korean border.
In particular, China does not want nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, both in North and in South Korea.
At the end of our summary on the fifth inter-Korean Summit – after the 1972, 1992, 2000 and 2007 ones -we arrive at the core of the issue, namely the economy.
In short, Kim Jong Un wants to ease the military tension to pursue his primary goal, i.e. his country’s economic growth.
It is not a denial of his theory of the correlation between military development and economic growth.
Quite the reverse. It is a reaffirmation of the positive connection between North Korea’s two lines of development.
However, which is the North Korean leadership that has worked for this great breakthrough, thus reaching this turning point?
The mistake that Westerners make when analyzing the Asian political structures is to think that everything happens as in the Grimms’ fairy tales, in which a King decides bizarre things by chance without ever analyzing their effects.
None of that: the Asian systems, but especially North Korea’s, are apparently “irrational” for us followers of the legal rationalism not based on value judgements, but perfectly functional within their traditions and the oldest political symbols of the East.
If only in the West were we so sensitive to our old political traditions as the Chinese and North Koreans – but also the Japanese and the Vietnamese- are. The issue does not lie in economic systems, but in the political and cultural nature of political systems.
As is well-known, Karl Wittfogel studied the role played by ancient China’s hydraulic system in relation to the mythical role played by the Emperor of “Everything under the Heavens”.
The “Great Korean Empire” was proclaimed in 1897 and was later immediately reabsorbed in the opposing dialectics between China and Japan.
Both North and South Korea remember the symbol, its history and its meaning, as well as the never healed wound.
Hence without well understanding the Leader’s traditional and sapiential role in the Asian world, neither Communism nor the other pro-Western societies can be understood.
Hence who is really collaborating with Kim Jong Un, who is a cultured and lucid rational leader, very different from the “rocket man” described by the less cultivated President Trump?
The answer to this question is Ri Su-Yong, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Korea.
He was next to Kim Jong Un during the ceremonies of the recent meeting in Panmunjom. He was with me the day before and, indeed, he is now a friend with whom I have long been talking about international policy.
Certainly I would have preferred not to be citizen of a country, namely Italy, which after two months of the North Korean Ambassador’s stay in Italy, refused to assess his credentials and sent him back home without even receiving him for pure common courtesy, as good manners dictate.
The foolish servants of politicians who are making other political choices. The utmost idiocy.
Voltaire was right in saying: “very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool”.
Let us imagine how much leeway we could open up in the new Korean equilibrium, in both business and international policy, as well as projection of Italy’s and EU’s peaceful power throughout Asia – if only we knew how to behave.
Nevertheless Quos Deus lose vult, dementat.
However, with a view to better understanding the issue of relations between North Korea and me, I want to quote a letter recently sent by Ri SuYong to me.
It is an important, official and – indeed – analytical letter to understand the whole range of issues relating to the relations between South and North Korea.
Giancarlo Elia Valori
Honorable de l’ Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France, UNESCO Ambassador, Chairman of La Centrale Finanziaria Generale SpA
Dear Prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori,
I would like to offer you my compliments and send you this letter regarding the situation of the Korean peninsula.
On November 29, 2017, our country brilliantly accomplished the great historic achievement of completing the State’s nuclear power program thanks to the successful test launch of the new ICBM.
The intercontinental ballistic missile “Hwasong 15”, newly developed according to the strategic and political decision of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is a more powerful ICBM reaching our goal of completing the missile system development.
Our efforts to develop the strategic weapon are intended to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and to ensure the peaceful life of the people faced with the US hostile policy and ongoing threats.
In recent years the United States has systematically not recognized our country and tried to fully isolate and stifle us.
By falsely accusing our nuclear deterrent to be “a threat to the world”, the United States forces the other countries to downgrade the level of diplomatic relations and completely suspend all international economic and trade activities with our country, as well as to step up sanctions even in the field of international organizations’ humanitarian aid activities.
By recently putting our country again in the list of “countries sponsoring terrorism”, the Americans have openly shown that they use every method and means to stifle our system.
Unfortunately, some European countries have lost their impartiality and objectivity and follow the US attempts to isolate and stifle the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It is well known that the Korean peninsula’s nuclear problem is a matter between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the USA, resulting from 70 years of US hostile policy and ongoing threats.
It is no secret that the United States had attempted to launch the nuclear bomb on our country during the Korean war and has begun to deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea since 1957.
With a view to invading our country, since 1970 the Americans and South Koreans have started to carry out ongoing joint military exercises on a large scale against us, by using their huge nuclear strategic resources including nuclear submarines and bombers.
How could we remain passive when a country deploys strategic nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines in the Atlantic Ocean and threatens every day to bomb our country with nuclear bombers while openly declaring on the UN scene its willingness to exterminate us?
For over 70 years European countries have been able to ensure peace and social stability along the path of the European Union thanks to the common will and efforts to avoid the recurrence of a cruel war such as World War II.
Peace is a very valuable asset for our people who have suffered a cruel war imposed by the United States and always face the danger of another nuclear war.
Comrade Kim Jong Un, our esteemed President of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said that our Party’s goal is to build a peaceful world without war.
On the contrary, what the United States wants is ongoing tension on the Korean peninsula, not peace.
Because ongoing military tension on the Korean peninsula serves as a clear excuse for maintaining its hegemonic position on the Eurasian continent to restrain and threaten the other powers of the region and favor the sale of weapons to the other countries by the monopolistic companies of the US war industry.
The fact that during the visit paid to Asia early November, the US President had forced South Korea and Japan to buy high-tech military equipment from the United States at astronomical prices isa case in point.
We were forced to choose nuclear weapons for protecting peace on the Korean peninsula and defending the sovereignty of our country.
The lesson learnt from the long-standing conflict with the United States is that we cannot communicate with this country with words, but with force and that only the balance of power with the United States will ensure sound peace on the Korean peninsula.
Our nuclear force and power only have to do with the United States and not with Europe.
We are developing friendly and cooperative relations with the European countries which respect our sovereignty.
Hence Europe has nothing to fear from the expansion of our ballistic missile range as long as it does not take part in the US military activities against our Republic.
Nevertheless some European countries increase pressures and the embargo against our country, by taking sides with the United States. This does not help to solve the Korean peninsula’s problem and produces only disadvantages.
The US nuclear threat, pressure and embargo against our country are hostile acts designed to annihilating our ideology, our regime and people.
The more the level of threats, sanctions and pressures against our country is raised, the harsher our response will be.
The European countries must well think whether participation in the US hostile actions against our Republic is in line with the values of freedom, equality, mutual respect and defense of human rights that Europe champions.
I would like to seize this opportunity to wish you the greatest success in your political activities.
Ri Su Yong
President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
November 30 Juche l 06 (20 17)Pyongyang
However, who is really Ri Su-Yong, the man who executes the orders, but also collaborates creatively with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in North Korea’s foreign policy and also in other sectors?
I think his biography speaks for itself.
It will also enable us to understand the particular mechanism existing in North Korea, but also in many other Asian countries, which finds a balance between the Leader’ symbolic and real power with a system of checks and balances.
This system, however, has nothing to do with the Enlightenment liberal ideologies which have created the political mechanisms of checks and balances in the West.
As shown in the letter sent to me, Ri SuYong -also known as Ri Chol -is the vice-President of the North Korean Labour Party, besides being Chairman of the Diplomatic Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly, but he is also a member of the Central Committee and the Political Office of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), according to the best traditions of the Third International.
Ri Chol is Kim JongUn’s official representative to Europe and was Ambassador to the UN Mission in Geneva.
I speak French with him.
In 1974, Ri was appointed Director General for Protocol and International Organizations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in 1980 he became deputy-Director of Kim Jong-Il’s Personal Secretariat and deputy-Director of the Organization and Guidance Department.
In 1980, Ri was posted again to the North Korea’s Embassy to Geneva, where he had served as Protocol official, while he travelled across Europe and performed very delicate tasks jointly with the Supreme Leader and his family.
Ri Chol finally became North Korea’s Ambassador to Switzerland in 1988.
In Bern he followed the personal and school career of Kim Jong Un, who studied in the Swiss capital at the local University and later followed additional courses at the HSG, the University of St. Gallen, where in the past a great economist Ota Sik – the man of the “New Economic Model” developed in Prague with the leader of the Prague Spring, Dubcek – had taught.
In 2010, Ri Chol was recalled to his homeland, where he started to work for the Personal Secretariat.
In 2014 he became Foreign Minister.
Two years later he was appointed to the Party’s Central Committee.
He was born in 1940 and studied at the Mangyo’ndae Revolutionary School and later at the Kim Il Sung University but, at that time, he was already a personal friend of Kim Jong Il.
From a spiritual father to an aide and finally a friend- this is the mechanism by which a very high profile figure like Ri Chol has become the true éminence grise of North Korea and the kingmaker of the current détente phase.
Let us hope that the effrontery and temerity of the foolish servants or the imperial obsessions of someone in the West will not soon put an end to this extraordinary opportunity for peace.
Xinjiang: Pan-Turkism fuels China’s hearts-and-minds campaign
Chinese efforts to woo Saudi Arabia’s ethnic Chinese community highlight the People’s Republic’s effort to avert criticism from the Muslim world of its crackdown in the north-western province of Xinjiang and strengthen relations with the kingdom and Middle Eastern nations.
The efforts to woo a community, a significant part of which is of Turkic origin, identifies itself as Turkestani, and long supported greater rights, if not independence for Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, are part of a larger, long-standing global Chinese effort to ensure the support of a mushrooming Chinese diaspora not only for its policy in Xinjiang, but also for its anti-Taiwanese One China policy and growing economic and geopolitical influence.
“Tukestanis…do not identify as ‘Chinese in the ethnic, cultural or even geographic sense. Parts of this cluster perceive themselves…as being part of an oppressed group whose homeland is currently under Han occupation,“ said Muhammed Al-Sudairi, a Saudi China scholar and author of a recent report on the Chinese efforts in Saudi Arabia.
In wooing Saudi Arabia’s ethnic Chinese community, China is targeting a group that not only historically supported the Uyghurs but also maintained close ties to Taiwan. Mr. Al-Sudairi estimated the Saudi Chinese community to number at least 210,000, 150,000 of which have lived in the kingdom for decades.
It is a community that played a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s propagation of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in China, part of a four-decade-long global campaign to counter post-1979 Iranian post-revolutionary zeal that more recently with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being curbed and given a more moderate makeover.
China this week sought to tighten relations with the Arab world with the allocation of US$106 million in aid to troubled nations, including Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon and the creation of a US$3 billion joint Chinese Arab fund that would invest in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence.
China announced the financial initiatives at a moment that it was putting the brakes on funds it pumps into its infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative that aims to connect Eurasia to the People’s Republic. The slowdown was designed to ensure that the initiative does not become a drag on the Chinese economy.
China’s Xinhua news agency meanwhile reported that President Xi Jingping would visit the United Arab Emirates this month on his way to a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Johannesburg. Mr. Xi visited Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt in 2016, the first visit to the Middle East by a Chinese head of state in seven years.
Chinese concern about Uyghur sentiment is compounded by the revival in post-Soviet Central Asian nations of pan-Turkism, a movement that emerged in the late 1900s that aims to unite Asia’s Turkic people. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev sees pan-Turkism as a pillar of his country’s national identity.
Quoting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Nazarbayev told a gathering in Ankara in 2012 that “the time will come when all the Turks will unite. Therefore I want to greet all the Turkic-speaking brothers. Between Altai and the Mediterranean Sea, over 200 million brothers live. If we all unite, then we will be a very effective force in the world.”
Pan-Turkism’s appeal in Central Asia, boosted by what Russia’s annexation of Crimea could mean for other post-Soviet states, does not stop at the borders of Xinjiang. The Altai mountains, Mr. Nazarbayev referred to is where Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and Russia meet.
Mr. Nazarbayev last month took several steps to popularize pan-Turkic notions. The president sent a congratulatory message to a gathering celebrating the 125th anniversary of Magzhan Zhumabayev, a Soviet pan-Turkist poet whose works were banned by Joseph Stalin.
Days earlier, Mr. Nazarbayev signed a decree renaming the southern region of Shymkent as Turkestan, a reference to what pan-Turkists see as their spiritual homeland.
The rise of pan-Turkism puts China’s recent focus on Saudi Arabia’s Chinese Turkic community in a class of its own. China sought to boost its efforts by appointing in 2013 Anwar Habibullah, one of China’s few Uyghur diplomats as consul general in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.
The consulate, since Mr. Habibullah’s appointment conducts events not only in Mandarin and Arabic but also Uyghur, according to Mr. Al-Sudairi.
Mr. Al-Sudairi attributes the focus on the Saudi Uyghurs, one of the largest and wealthy Chinese Turkic diaspora communities, “to the role of this community as a stronghold for anti-Chinse and anti-CPC (Communist Party of China) sentiment in Saudi Arabia, and one that has had some influence in shaping Saudi elite and popular perceptions toward the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and CPC.”
The Chinese focus is also fed by the country’s determination to stem the influence of what it terms extremist thought, including Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism, that was promoted by Saudi ethnic Turkic Chinese through their contact with Uyghur pilgrims and the distribution of literature and, audio-visual materials in Xinjiang, often through governmental non-governmental organizations like the Muslim World League, a major vehicle in Saudi Arabia’s global propagation of ultra-conservatism.
Mr. Al-Sudairi’s portrayal of Saudi Turkic sentiment and its impact on perceptions of China in Saudi Arabia is noticeable given the fact that the kingdom, like almost all Muslim states, has turned a blind eye to China’s crackdown in Xinjiang and systematic attempts at forced assimilation of the Uyghurs.
Muhammad Amin Islam Turkestani, a strident Uyghur advocate of Xinjiang independence helped shape Saudi perceptions and propagate nationalism in his homeland after settling in the kingdom in the mid-1950s. Mr. Turkestani served as a translator for Uyghurs performing the haj and hosted a one-hour Uyghur-language show on Saudi radio in the 1980s.
Funded by the Saudi Turkic community, Mr. Turkestani published a book, A Message to the Islamic World … Facts about Muslim Turkestan, that criticized Han supremacism and denounced communist rule. The book was published in the kingdom and distributed locally as well as internationally as part of Saudi Arabia’s global propagation of ultra-conservatism.
Mr. Turkestani’s book, according to Mr. Al-Sudairi, influenced Saudi discussions and perceptions and complicated the kingdom’s relations with China before and after Saudi Arabia in 1990 became the last Arab state to officially establish diplomatic relations.
Saudi Arabia, however, while at times critical of Chinese policy in Xinjiang, ensured that they plight of the Uyghurs did not fundamentally affect official relations.
The country’s controlled media were at times allowed to raise the issues and senior religious scholars called for support of the Uyghurs, Mr. Turkestani’s campaign to get the Muslim World League to recognize East Turkestan went however unheeded.
Moreover, no senior Saudi scholar has issued a fatwa or religious opinion on the issue. “Uyghur persecution by China will not stop the Saudis’ engagement with China, nor even slow it down,” said prominent China scholar Yitzhak Shichor.
The Chinese effort to woo Saudi ethnic Turkic Chinese is being spearheaded by the United Front Work Department, the main communist party unit tasked with reaching out to key non-part groups in China and across the globe, including Saudi Arabia.
“In January 2018…Politburo member and former Foreign Minister and State Counsellor, Yang Jiechi, told the National Overseas Chinese Conference that the government should expand and strengthen ‘Overseas Chinese Patriotic Friendly Forces’ in the service of the ‘Great Rejuvenation’ of the Chinese nation. In plain language, what this means is that overseas Chinese should be persuaded, induced, or in extremis, coerced, into accepting allegiance to China as at least part of their identity,” said Bilahari Kausikan, a former Singapore diplomat and chairman of the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, in a recent speech.
Mr. Kausikan noted that the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office was incorporated two months after Mr. Yang’s remarks into the United Front Work Department.
“This is leading China into very complex, indeed dangerous, territory. China’s navigation of the complexities has in many cases been clumsy,” Mr. Kausikan said, noting that the policy had led Chinese diplomats to openly interfere in the domestic politics in for example Malaysia.
“Since my retirement, I have travelled extensively in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Complaints about similar behaviour by Chinese diplomats and officials are all too common in all these regions; in fact, so common that it is becoming somewhat tiresome to listen to them,” Mr Kausikan said.
Xinjiang: China ignores lessons from the past
A Chinese campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uyghurs in its north-western province of Xinjiang in a bid to erase nationalist sentiment, counter militancy, and create an ‘Uyghur Islam with Chinese characteristics’ ignores lessons learnt not only from recent Chinese history but also the experience of others.
The campaign, reminiscent of failed attempts to undermine Uyghur culture during the Cultural Revolution, involves the creation of a surveillance state of the future and the forced re-education of large numbers of Turkic Muslims.
In what amounts to an attempt to square a circle, China is trying to reconcile the free flow of ideas inherent to open borders, trade and travel with an effort to fully control the hearts and minds of it population.
In doing so, it is ignoring lessons of recent history, including the fallout of selective support for militants and of religion to neutralize nationalism that risks letting a genie out of the bottle.
Recent history is littered with Chinese, US and Middle Eastern examples of the backfiring of government support of Islamists and/or militants.
No example is more glaring than US, Saudi, Pakistani and Chinese support in the 1980s for militant Islamists who fought and ultimately forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan. The consequences of that support have reverberated across the globe ever since.
Some analysts suggest that China at the time was aware of the radicalization of Uyghurs involved in the Afghan jihad and may have even condoned it.
Journalist John Cooley reported that China, in fact, had in cooperation with Pakistan trained and armed Uyghurs in Xinjiang as well as Pakistan to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The notion that Islam and/or Islamists could help governments counter their detractors was the flavour of the era of the 1970s and 1980s.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat saw the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as an anti-dote to the left that was critical of both his economic liberalization and outreach to Israel that resulted in the first peace treaty with an Arab state.
Saudi Arabia funded a four-decade long effort to promote ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam and backed the Brotherhood and other Islamist forces that helped create the breeding ground for jihadism and wreaked havoc in countries like Pakistan.
China’s experience with selective support of militancy and the use of religion to counter nationalist and/or other political forces is no different.
China’s shielding from designation by the United Nations as a global terrorist of Masood Azhar complicates Pakistani efforts to counter militancy at home and evade blacklisting by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.
Mr. Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who graduated from a Deobandi madrassah, Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town in Karachi, the alma mater of numerous Pakistani militants, is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.
Back in the 1980s, then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping saw his belief that what China expert Justin Jon Rudelson called a “controlled revival” of religion would foster economic development and counter anti-government sentiment boomerang.
The revival that enabled an ever larger number of Uyghurs to travel to Mecca via Pakistan for the haj made Saudi Arabia and the South Asian state influential players in Uyghur Islam. Uyghurs, wanting to perform the haj, frequently needed Pakistani contacts to act as their hosts to be able to obtain a Chinese exit visa.
The opening, moreover, allowed Muslim donors to provide financial assistance to Xinjiang. Saudi Arabia capitalized on the opportunity as part of its global promotion of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism to put money into the building of mosques and establishment of madrassas.
Receptivity for more conservatives forms of Islam, particularly in southern parts of Xinjiang that were closest to Central and South Asia, suggested that the closure of Xinjiang’s borders during the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s and 1960s and the cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s had done little to persuade Uyghurs to focus their identity more on China than on Central Asia.
In fact, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent states in Central Asia coupled with rising inequality rekindled Uyghur nationalism.
The rise of militant Islamist and jihadist Uyghurs constituted in many ways a fusion of Soviet and Western-inspired secular nationalist ideas that originated in Central Asia with religious trends more popular in South Asia and the Gulf in an environment in which religious and ethnic identity were already inextricably interlinked.
The juxtaposition, moreover, of exposure to more orthodox forms of Islam and enhanced communication also facilitated the introduction of Soviet concepts of national liberation, which China had similarly adhered to with its support for various liberation movements in the developing world.
The exposure put Xinjiang Uyghurs in touch with nationalist Uyghur groups in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that fed on what political science PhD candidate Joshua Tschantret terms “ideology-feeding grievances.”
Nationalists, dubbed ‘identity entrepreneurs’ by Gulf scholar Toby Matthiesen, built on the presence of some 100,000 Uyghurs who had fled to Central Asia in the late 1950s and early 1960 during Mao Zedong’s social and economic Great Leap Forward campaign that brutally sought to introduce industrialization and collectivization and the descendants of earlier migrations.
With Pakistan’s political, economic and religious elite, ultimately seduced by Chinese economic opportunity and willing to turn a blind eye to developments in Xinjiang, Uyghurs in the South Asian country had little alternative but to drift towards the country’s militants.
Militant madrassas yielded, however, to Pakistani government pressure to stop enrolling Uyghurs. The militants were eager to preserve tacit Chinese support for anti-Indian militants operating in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s foremost Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, went as far as signing in 2009 a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese communist party that pledged support for Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang.
Despite eagerness to address Chinese concerns, Pakistan and China’s selective support of militants is likely to continue to offer radicalized Uyghurs opportunity.
“Jihadis and other religious extremists will continue to benefit from the unwillingness of the military and the judiciary to target them as well as the temptation of politicians to benefit from their support,” said former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, discussing overall Pakistani policy rather than official attitudes towards the Uyghurs.
Cultural anthropologist Sean R. Roberts noted that Central and South Asia became with the reopening of the borders in the second half of the 1980s “critical links between the inhabitants of Xinjiang and both the Islamic and Western worlds; and politically, they have become pivotal but contentious areas of support for the independence movement of Uyghurs.
The 1979 inauguration of the of the 1,300-kilometre-long Karakoram highway linking Kashgar in Xinjiang to Abbottabad in Pakistan, one of the highest paved roads in the world, served as a conduit for Saudi-inspired religious ultra-conservatism, particularly in southern Xinjiang as large numbers of Pakistanis and Uyghurs traversed the border.
Pakistani traders doubled as laymen missionaries adding Islamic artefacts, including pictures of holy places, Qurans and other religious literature to their palette of goods at a time that Islamist fighters were riding high with their defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan and the emergence of the Taliban.
Increased religiosity became apparent in Xinjiang.
Women donned veils in what was traditionally a more liberal land. Students of religion made their way to madrassas or religious seminaries in Pakistan where they came into contact with often Saudi-inspired Pakistani and Afghan militants – trends that China is trying to reverse with the construction of an Orwellian type surveillance state coupled with stepped-up repression and intimidation.
“The cross-border linkages established by the Uyghurs through access provided by the highway, Beijing’s tacit consent to expand Uyghur travel and economic links with Pakistan through Reform Era policies, and Beijing’s explicit consent in supporting anti-Soviet operations – all prompted the radicalization of a portion of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs,” concluded China scholar Ziad Haider more than a decade ago.
The process was fuelled by the recruitment in the 1990s of Uyghur students in Pakistani madrassas by the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, both of which were linked to Al Qaeda. Some 22 Uyghurs captured by US forces in Afghanistan ended up in Guantanamo Bay.
The eruption of protests in Xinjiang in the late 1990s and late 2000s against rising income differences and the influx of Han Chinese put an end to official endorsement of a religious revival that was increasingly seen by authorities as fuelling nationalism and facilitating Islamists.
Seemingly stubborn insistence on a Turkic and Muslim identity is likely one reason that China’s current assimilation drive comes as Xinjiang’s doors to its neighbours are being swung open even wider with the construction of new road and rail links as part of the People’s Republic’s infrastructure-centred Belt and Road initiative.
Forced assimilation is designed to bolster China’s expectation that increased economic ties to South and Central Asia will contribute to development of its north-western province, giving Uyghurs a stake that they will not want to put at risk by adhering to nationalist or militant religious sentiment.
The crackdown and forced assimilation is further intended to reduce the risk of a flow of ideas and influences through open borders needed for economic development and cementing Xinjiang into the framework of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiatives that spans Eurasia
The assimilation effort is enabled by China’s Great Fire Wall designed to wall the country off of free access to the Internet. In doing so, China hoped in Xinjiang to halt cultural exchanges with Central Asia such as political satire that could reinforce Uyghurs’ Turkic and Central Asian identity.
The breadth of the more recent crackdown has complicated but not halted the underground flow of cultural products enabled by trade networks.
Mr. Roberts noted as early as 2004 that Chinese efforts aiming to regulate rather than reshape or suppress Islam were backfiring.
“Interest in the idea of establishing a Muslim state in Xinjiang has only increased with recent Chinese policies that serve to regulate the practice of Islam in the region,” Mr. Roberts said at the time.
The transformation of the North Korean military and political system
How is North Korea’s political system currently changing, pending the Great Transformation with the USA and South Korea, wanted and carefully directed by Kim Jong-un?
In the future the Great Leader wants to have a new ruling class suitable for the economic and strategic changes which will affect North Korea in the coming years.
Far-reaching military and economic changes, with the support of Iran, the Russian Federation, China and other countries.
According to Kim Jong-un, without prejudice to the regime’s structure, everything else must change.
In the framework of this change, the State and the Party must be turned into quick and agile tools in the hands of the Leader and of his partly-renewed inner circle.
Kim Jong-un’s primary goal is to control the initial phase of North Korea’s economic transformation, as well as to keep the grip on the Armed Forces and the Party, and to finally create a new ruling class for managing denuclearization and the economic transformation.
In the case of North Korean Armed Forces, the new appointments have mainly concerned the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, the Chief of Staff Department of People’s Armed Forces – with new appointments also in the Directorate of Operations – and, finally, the Director of the General Political Bureau of the Armed Forces.
In the specific hierarchy of the North Korean military system, these are the three most important posts.
Furthermore, each of the three above mentioned roles implies the alternating or fixed presence of the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the Political Bureau.
Therefore the new appointments are No Kwang Chol, former first vice-Minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, replacing Pak Yong Sik, while Ri Yong-gil replaces his former boss, Ri Myong-su.
Ri Yong-gil was Commander of the North Korean Armed Forces, as well as member of the Party’s Central Committee, but he was later removed from office in February 2016.
As early as 2013 he had been Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and, despite the recent events, he had a stable and secure military career.
From 2014 to 2018 Ri Yong-gil was also Head of the Pyongyang Committee of the Workers’ Party.
From 2012 to 2013 he accompanied Kim Jong-un on many visits to nuclear and bacteriological-chemical sites.
Considering the symbolic relevance of the North Korean power, he is probably one of the true leaders of the nuclear and bacteriological-chemical program of the North Korean Armed Forces.
Ri Yong-gil was at first Party’s official and later became officer of the North Korean Armed Forces, while always keeping political and party positions rather than technically military ones.
Moreover, Kim Jong-un is still playing many of his cards on the Defence Ministry.
It is a source of foreign currency and of excellent profit in relation to the friendly powers, as well as of social control and of real and effective foreign policy.
Under the current leader, Kim Jong-un, six new Defence Ministers have been appointed.
Pak Yong-sik is one of the Ministers removed from office.
Probably he had some business roles, but we cannot rule out that in the future he can start again his career, interrupted on the basis of unpleasant news about his role as businessman in the phase of the Sunshine Policy with South Korea.
He had been member of the Council of State, of the Central Committee and of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea, as well as of the Central Military Commission and finally of the Political Committee of the Pyongyang Defence Command.
Clearly Kim Jong-un is measuring his potential enemy lobby.
And he is certainly planning the generational and political change of all the important positions of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
As we will see later on, the new Minister No Kwang Chol was Head of the Second Economic Committee, which is in charge of the defence industry and hence connected with North Korea’s supervision and construction of conventional and nuclear weapons.
He is an excellent manager loyal to Kim Jong-un.
He held various posts in the North Korean political system.
These newly-appointed people have certainly been selected due to their absolute loyalty to Kim Jong-un and the Party,but we must better analyse the decision-making process of the North Korean Armed Forces, as well as their specific role.
The naive analysts who think that Kim Jong-un is “prisoner” of his ruling class have understood nothing of North Korea’s political and economic mechanism.
For the Leader, both loyalty and professional skills are needed. He is willing to get over some affectation or groveling too much, but Kim Jong-un wants the best of his technocracy, subject to loyalty to the Party and to himself.
And, above all, subject to the absolute non-involvement in any financial and commercial activity having even the slightest hint of irregularity.
Corrupt people are always at the mercy of the enemy’s blackmail.
The Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, however, is currently placed under the dual and symmetrical control of the State Affairs Commission of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea and of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Nevertheless the Ministry deals mainly with the logistics and training of the Special Forces and operates with approximately 36 external organizations.
The Ministry acquires the orders, requests and notes from the basic military units and later organizes and distributes them between the Central Military Commission, the General Staff and the Party’s Ammunition Department.
The Ministry also deals with military finance and operates with commercial companies and production units which can export goods and hence supply the country with hard currency.
In fact, as already noted, at least 36 commercial companies operate in the field of export and internal distribution.
But someone talks about 50 of these companies.
The naive Western analysts were wrong in believing that the People’s Armed Forces were a “terrible cost” for the people and a huge obstacle to economic development.
The opposite was, and is, true.
Therefore the military system operates, above all, with the 44thBureau of the People’s Armed Forces, in controlling most of North Korea’s hard currency flows.
The Technology Transfer Department has also relations with both the companies owned by the Party and by the Ministry’s Ammunition Department.
In particular, it deals with the acquisition of information technology and advanced weapon systems.
The General Department of Logistics deals above all with the network of factories and farms supplying food and clothing to the People’s Armed Forces.
Sometimes they operate for the civilian and foreign market of food and clothing.
The Ministry, however, is subject to the control of the State Affairs Commission, which originates both from the Government and the Party, as well as from the Central Military Commission, which anyway results from the Party-government link only.
It is worth recalling that as early as 2000, the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces directly controlled the Political Department, the General Staff, the Military Security Command, the Reconnaissance Bureau and the Coast Guard Command.
Later, around 2007, all these structures became an integral part of the Ministry itself, which was placed under the control of the National Defence Commission.
In 2016 the latter saw its powers restricted and was placed under the State Affairs Commission’s control.
It should also be noted that, unlike Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un has revolutionised the People’s Armed Forces more than any other predecessor.
For example, there was the handover in February 2009 – just before Kim Jong-un’s role as heir to Kim Jong-il was officially declared.
As you may recall, this happened in September 2010.
At that stage, only seven of the most important positions in the North Korean military system were changed. It was the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s grip on power.
The North Korean Leader had carefully analysed all the military and economic positions well before his full rise to power.
From July to November of that year, the Political Committee (PC) of People’s Armed Forces was combed through by the North Korean leadership.
It was, in fact, the first scrutiny carried out by the Organization and Guidance Department after 1996.
There were some surprises: for example, the PC ships that secretly fished in Japanese waters; some military promotions in exchange for “bribes”; some accounting problems and some suspicions of corruption.
As is typical of his political role, Kim Jong-un has been very harsh in putting an end to these situations and punishing these behaviours.
In fact, in 2017 many executives of the Political Bureau of People’s Armed Forces were removed, with repercussions on the military forces that,as can be easily imagined, affected also the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Only after this long “purge” did Kim Jong-un focus on negotiations with South Korea and the USA.
In November 2017 Son Chol Ju, one of the officers promoted with the position of Colonel entrusted “with upper management and tasks”, was appointed as Head of the Organizational Affairs Department of People’s Armed Forces, but his appointment was made public only in May 2018.
As already noted, Son Chol Ju has replaced Jon Nam Jin and, most likely, also Kim Wong Hong.
Until that date Son Chol Ju had been the Director of the Political Bureau with the portfolio for organizational affairs, where he had spent his entire career.
Before taking this post, Son Chol Ju was political Director of the Air and Anti-Air Force, in addition to being Head of the respective political committee.
Probably Son Chol Ju was Head of the Political Bureau with the Propaganda portfolio, especially in the Pyongyang region.
In the meeting held on April 2018 Kim Jong Gak was elected to the Political Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
These changes of the North Korean ruling elite, however, show the extreme and non-negotiable power now reached by Kim Jong-un, unlike what claimed by the most naive, but very widespread, Western analyses.
This is one of the signs that, in a North Korean extremely important phase, the Party wants to control its “separate bodies”, with a view to avoiding “political advantages” and the systems of influence – even the foreign ones – as well as all the grey and black areas of finance which must currently be transformed and be directly controlled by the Party and its ruling class.
In this phase we need to study the careers of important personalities such as Jo Kyong Chol, the Director of the Military Security Command since 2009, as well as full member of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and member of Kim Jong-il’s Funeral Committee.
Jo Kyong Chol was essential in strengthening Kim Jong-un’s power – a member of the “old guard” that wanted continuity, independence and military power for North Korea.
Hence he has accepted the new system of international relations in North Korea.
Currently Kim Jong-un certainly wants the regime’s continuity, but also and above all the emergence of a ruling class capable – by training, background and political culture – of organizing the North Korean stability in a phase of opening to the world market.
Ri Song Guk, another fer de lance of Kim Jong-un’s current political and military system, currently leads North Korea’s Fourth Army Corps – after leading the 39th Division – a very special military structure deployed near the Yellow Sea and the Northern Limit Line.
He is the current Director for Special Operations of the Central Command.
Yung Jong-rin is serving as the Commander of the Supreme Guard Command – therefore he is responsible for Kim Jong-un’s personal safety, but he had the same post with Kim Jong-il and is hence the Commander of the most technologically advanced security service in North Korea.
He has been member of the Central Military Commission since September 2010, as well as member of the Party’s Central Committee, and General since April 22, 2010.
Hence Kim Jong-un is preparing the ruling class that will defend North Korea’s interests in its new, gradual and slow globalization.
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