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The true North-Korean issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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.

H.E. Ri SuYong and prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori

To:

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.

Best regards

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.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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“Disease Diplomacy” – Post 2019-nCoV,Call to action for Pakistan

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After decade of neglect, infectious diseases (IDs) have re-emerged as a field of inquiry in the area of international public health and international health security. Gradually, the world is realizing the threat of emerging IDs after the 2019-nCoV outbreak in China. However, human history is abundant with stories of epidemic infections. Epidemiologically, IDs tend to follow a cyclical pattern, since they often produce immunity in survivors, and microbes await a new generation of hosts to infect. On the other hand, the disease-causing viruses or microorganisms migrate to geographically distant and immunologically vulnerable inhabitants, producing a pandemic, or regional and global outbreak. The historical relationship between the humanity and IDs is fascinating and noteworthy. IDs plagued civilizations long before the development of territorial states during the European Renaissance. Subsequently, epidemic diseases shaped human history, generally, and military conflict, in particular. During the Peloponnesian Wars, disease demoralized the Athenian people, weakened the army, and undermined the political leadership. Subsequently, more than 2,500 years later, the 1918 influenza epidemic killed 25 million people, including 500,000 Americans. The Spanish flu struck 294,000 allied troops in the fall of 1918.By the time Spanish flu, the pandemic had infected more than a quarter of the world’s population. Moreover, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 50-100 million, which is more than the combined total casualties of World War I and II.

Until the early twentieth century, plague, smallpox, influenza, and other scourges decimated human populations around the world. Despite exceptional improvement in pandemic control, IDs remain a major threat to global public health. In 1998, 13.3 of the 53.9 million deaths worldwide, or 25 percent of all death, resulted from IDs. Historically, some major disease outbreaks in China, including the 1957 Asian flu, the 1968 Hong Kong flu, and the 2002/03 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, have triggered epidemics elsewhere in the world, killed approximately800 people around the world. In total, SARS infected more than 8,000 people in 26 countries. As demonstrated in the SARS epidemic, the new strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which causes a type of pneumonia that has not previously been identified in humans, resulting spillover of disease outbreaks in China and around the world.

The 2019/20 novel coronavirus outbreak, also known as the Chinese pneumonia outbreak or the Wuhan coronavirus, is a viral outbreak that was initially identified during mid-December 2019. Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus has resulted approximately3000 confirmed cases in 17 provincial-level regions in country, and additional cases being identified in a growing number of countries internationally. On January 21, and 25, 2020, the first cases in the United States and Canada were also announced, respectively. Confirmed cases have also been reported in 11 countries, including, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore. As of January 27, 2020, around 80 deaths have occurred all in China and 92 patients were also recovered. Conversely, ID threats, and the fear and panic that may accompany them, leads to various economic and social risks. With respect to outbreaks and epidemics, there are obvious costs to the health system in terms of medical treatment and outbreak control. ID outbreaks pose additional social risks beyond economic threats. IDs outbreaks have the potential to induce geopolitical instability. Thus, 2019-nCoV may not only have serious implications on stability, prosperity, and health security at the regional, but also global level.

The fact that ID outbreaks have more reach in our increasingly globalized world. In the age of globalized trade and air travel, diseases that once took months or even years to spread beyond their regions of origin can now migrate or travel around the globe in a matter of hours. With growing concerns about such IDs, “Disease Diplomacy” has emerged as a key foreign and health security policy concern. The term relates in particular to IDs issues and determinants that cross national boundaries. As the 21st century continues to emphasize the need for synchronized health actions between nations, the significance of disease diplomacy should be an important component within the foreign policy of Pakistan. Pakistan’s location at the cusp of Central Asia and South Asia makes it ideally suited for inter-regional connections. Moreover, geostrategic location makes Pakistan a nexus for the Eurasian Silk Road Economic Belt, and Southeast Asian Maritime Road.

Apparently, relationship between Pakistan and China may further cemented into higher level of strategic partnership with a unified vision of shared future for the regional peace, progress and stability, if both countries will have bilateral health treaties and agreements. With particular emphasis on health system development, regional and international public health, infectious disease detection and control, and international health security. Similarly, after the 2019-nCoV outbreak, Pakistan is also at high risk of epidemics due to communicable diseases because of poor socioeconomic conditions, low health awareness, inadequate sanitation, unsafe drinking-water, and overcrowded cities. In Pakistan, as a matter of fact, due to socioeconomic, environmental, corruption and bad health governance, communicable diseases still remain a major public health concern and prime cause of morbidity and mortality. Pakistan also bears a significant portion of the regional burden of many communicable diseases that pose a significant threat to regional and international health security.

The recent 2019-nCoV outbreak necessitate the regional collaboration is of paramount importance. Many diseases with epidemic potential may be transmitted rapidly, within and across both countries. The effectiveness of future policies to deal with IDs in the region will only be assured if policies are based on evidence. In Pakistan, there is a great desire to know what the future of IDs will bring, and also to know how we should behave in the future. Now is the high time to realize that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light. Nevertheless, the following recommendations are put forwarded for CPEC Authority, primarily, Government of Pakistan (GoP), health and foreign policy planners, principally.

Integrate a health and infectious diseases perspective into traditional foreign policy and create information platform for disease diplomacy.

Establish the coordinating office for disease diplomacy to highlight the connection between health, well-being and socioeconomic development.

Harmonize general foreign policy to highlight the health issues for diplomacy, and utilize the disease diplomacy for regional and international health security.

Utilize science and technology, and health personnel in diplomatic activities/missions and produce policy papers on subjects arising in disease diplomacy and strengthen diplomatic proficiency,

Government must get its own house in order, continue its efforts to strengthen good governance with emphasis on merit-based institutional development and rule of law.

And, exhibit good moral character; exceptionally give priority to fight against nepotism and corruption throughout not only CPEC development but also, society as-a-whole. Eventually, CPEC Authority must be chaired by an honorable civilian (maybe economist) rather than retired military general. However, a separate security domain may be constitute under CPEC Authority that may be headed by military general.

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Chinese pneumonia outbreak (2019-nCoV): An emerging threat to global public health?

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“People’s live and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed”. President Xi Jinping

After decade of neglect, infectious diseases (IDs) have re-emerged as a field of inquiry in the area of global public health and health security. Gradually, the world has come to realize the threat of emerging IDs. Human history is abundant with stories of epidemic infections. Epidemiologically, IDs tend to follow a cyclical pattern, since they often produce immunity in survivors, and microbes await a new generation of hosts to infect. On the other hand, the disease-causing viruses or microorganisms migrate to geographically distant and immunologically vulnerable inhabitants, producing a pandemic, or regional and global outbreak. The historical relationship between the humanity and IDs is fascinating and noteworthy. IDs plagued civilizations long before the development of territorial states during the European Renaissance. Subsequently, epidemic diseases shaped human history, generally, and military conflict, in particular. During the Peloponnesian Wars, disease demoralized the Athenian people, weakened the army, and undermined the political leadership. Subsequently, more than 2,500 years later, the 1918 influenza epidemic killed 25 million people, including 500,000 Americans. The Spanish flu struck 294,000 allied troops in the fall of 1918.Moreover, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 50-100 million, which is more than the combined total casualties of World War I and II.

Until the early twentieth century, plague, smallpox, influenza, and other scourges decimated human populations around the world. Despite exceptional improvement in pandemic control, IDs remain a major threat to global public health. In 1998, 13.3 of the 53.9 million deaths worldwide, or 25 percent of all death, resulted from IDs. Historically, some major disease outbreaks in China, including the 1957 Asian flu, the 1968 Hong Kong flu, and the 2002/03 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, have triggered epidemics elsewhere in the world, killed approximately800 people around the world. In total, SARS infected more than 8,000 people in 26 countries. As demonstrated in the SARS epidemic, the new strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which causes a type of pneumonia that has not previously been identified in humans, resulting spillover of disease outbreaks in China and neighboring countries.

The 2019/20 novel coronavirus outbreak, also known as the Chinese pneumonia outbreak or the Wuhan corona virus, is a viral outbreak that was initially identified during mid-December 2019. Chinese authorities identified the new corona virus has resulted approximately500 confirmed cases in 13 provincial-level regions in country, and additional cases being identified in a growing number of countries internationally. On January 21, 2020, the first case in the United States was also announced. Confirmed cases have also been reported in Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Nepal. As of January 22, 2020, nine deaths have occurred all in China. Thus, 2019-nCoV may have serious implications on stability, prosperity, and health security at the global level. Factually, we have now entered in a new era characterized by the dreadful consequences of decade of negligence of IDs at the global level. There is a great desire to know what the future of IDs will bring, and also to know how we should behave in the future to minimize the IDs outbreaks and casualties. Now is the high time to realize that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.

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Tsai’s re-election Poses New Challenge to China

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Taiwan is never out of news. Taiwan-China ties is now a part of popular folklore with Beijing expressing its resolve a number of times to integrate the island nation with the mainland by all means and if necessary by the use of force and Taiwan defying the might of China’s growing military muscle. The political pendulum in Taiwan has swung between parties which are fiercely independent and those which take a softer stance towards Beijing. The latest in this narrative is the resounding landslide victory by the incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) when elections were held on January 11. The landslide victory that the voters delivered is also a stunning rebuke of Beijing’s campaign to isolate the self-ruled island, handing over its first female leader a second term. It was only in November 2019 that Tsai’s DPP suffered a huge defeat in Taiwan’s local elections but the political pendulum swung quickly in her favour, with the political resurgence ensuring her victory and another term at the helm to carve out a course for Taiwan’ future.

Tsai’s victory would surely infuriate China. Soon after her victory, Tsai told the cheering crowd: “Today we have defended our democracy and freedom, tomorrow let us stand united to overcome all challenges and difficulties”. Tsai secured 57 percent of the popular vote with a record-breaking 8.2 million ballots, 1.3 million more than her 2016 victory. Her main rival Han Kuo-yu, from the China-friendly Kuomintang, racked up 39 per cent and conceded defeat. The DPP managed to retain its majority in the island’s unicameral parliament with 61 out of 113 seats, while the KMT took 38 seats. The result is a blow for Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of China and has made no secret of wanting to see Tsai turfed out.

Over the last four years, Beijing had ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the self-ruled island, hoping it would scare voters into supporting Tsai’s opposition. But the strong arm tactics backfired and voters flocked to Tsai’s DPP, fuelled in part by China’s hard-line response to months of huge and violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The US, the main backer of Taiwan and bound by the Taiwan Relations Act and therefore main military ally, rejoiced Tsai’s re-election as it felt that it would contribute to maintaining cross-Strait stability.

What is that came in Tsai’s favour that led to her victory? She pitched herself as a defender of liberal democratic values against the increasingly authoritarian shadow cast by China under President Xi Jinping. As said, Beijing has vowed to one day retake the island, by force if necessary and loathed Tsai because she refuses to acknowledge the idea that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Though Tsai is committed to dialogue with Beijing and wants peace, she is not shy to urge Beijing to halt its sabre-rattling towards Taiwan. She expects that Beijing respects the idea that only the island’s 23 million inhabitants can decide its future.

There is yet another angle to Taiwan-China relationship. As with many other Asian countries, China has successfully increased Taiwan’s dependence on it economically making the latter as its largest trading partner, thereby increasing Taiwan’s vulnerability. Beijing lost no time in reacting that it continues to stand by its policy of opposing any form of Taiwanese independence and its spillitist attempts and that it  “uphold(s) the basic principles of ‘peaceful reunification’ and ‘one country, two systems’ and the one-China principle.”

Taiwan’s election results showed that Beijing’s carrot and stick policy utterly failed. This was the second major electoral setback for Beijing in recent weeks. In November, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp scored a landslide win over pro-Beijing parties in district elections as the city convulses with months of anti-government protests. Tsai’s landslide victory was indeed a slap in the face to Beijing as Taiwanese voters rejected to its intimidation. In the coming months it is to be seen if Beijing’s hardline position towards Tsai shall continue or if Beijing adopts a more ‘soft sell’ approach that is more carrot and less stick from now on. That is unlikely to happen, though.

For record, Beijing hoped that it could replicate the Hong Kong model of “one country, two systems” in Taiwan with the hope that it can apply the same model on Taiwan if the island ever came to be controlled by Beijing. But as the election outcome demonstrated Taiwanese voters are wary of such a proposal.

What is indeed Tsai’s doctrine? As can be discerned from her address on May 20, 2016 after her victory for the first time as President, her international policy vision clearly intended to drive the country away from its reliance on China and toward the rest of the world. In her speech, Tsai articulated Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which implied that Taiwan shall engage with South and Southeast Asian states and share its expertise and democratic values with an international community.

Beijing has successfully worked for Taiwan’s isolation by economic doles to countries that maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan, leaving only 15 countries now with diplomatic ties from the 22 nations that had diplomatic relations with Taipei when Tsai became President in 2016. Between 2016 and now Beijing successfully campaigned to poach Taipei’s allies and pressured international organizations and corporations to exclude Taiwan, from the World Health Assembly to Marriott and American Airlines. Owing to China’s pressure, the United Nations, which does not recognize Taiwan, has stopped allowing Republic of China passport holders into its New York headquarters.

The DPP does not recognize the so-called “1992 consensus” considered by Beijing to be indispensable for cross-strait exchanges. While Beijing interprets the consensus as the self-governing island and the mainland as part of a single Chinese nation, Tsai refuses to acknowledge it as the “consensus” limits Taiwan’s international space and severs the official cross-strait communications that had thrived under her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. Tsai has successfully rebuffed the Chinese pressure and bolstered Taiwan’s international presence. Her New Southbound Policy received a boost from the US-China trade war. She realised that by befriending the US, she can garner global support so that she can keep a hostile Beijing at bay and preserve Taiwan’s sovereignty. Thus, Tsai hoped that Taiwan can present itself as a more humane, democratic alternative at the international stage.

From its part, Taiwan has worked hard to retain its remaining diplomatic allies despite Beijing’s attempts to woo them away from Taiwan to China. For example, in May 2018, Taiwan agreed to assist Haiti in securing a $150 million infrastructure loan from Taiwanese banks. Also in May 2019, Taiwan agreed to extend a $100 million loan to Nicaragua and its embattled President Daniel Ortega. Though both Haiti and Nicaragua are serial rights violators, both states are among Taipei’s 15 remaining formal allies. Though the deal is still active, Nicaragua has not yet received its loan as Taiwan has not found a domestic bank to transfer the funds due to fears of US sanctions.   

Though Tsai has spoken of creating an ‘Alliance of Democratic Values’ to stand in opposition to an increasingly overbearing China, some of her diplomatic moves are questionable. This is because Tsai has “rewarded” rights violators like Nicaragua, Haiti, and eSwatini, an absolute monarchy and one of the world’s least free states. King Mswati III rules all branches of national government, and critics of the king are subject to imprisonment. In 2018, the king received an honorary degree from a Taipei university, where Tsai thanked eSwatini “for speaking up for Taiwan and always being by our side.” Such conduct on the part of Tsai can have few supporters. While continuing her fight to keep Taiwan’s remaining allies, Tsai might toy with the idea of replacing Republic of China (ROC) with a “Republic of Taiwan” in preparation to a future declaration of Taiwan independence. Beijing has warned that any such move could trigger a use of force against Taiwan. 

Instead, it could be more desirable if Tsai continues to pursue her New Southbound Policy, seen as deepening Taiwan’s ties with other Asian states and as a way to build more sustainable ties so that Taiwan could survive as a peaceful nation without worrying much about pressure from China. The New Southbound Policy has won praise for assisting Taiwanese businesses in China in returning to Taiwan. These companies have benefited from government incentives and for relocating to Southeast Asian states. Coming in the wake of the ongoing US-China trade dispute, the initiative announced in 2016 has motivated Taiwanese companies to leave China and avoid high export tariffs. With her re-election, Tsai is expected to continue with her engagement with neighbouring countries and drive Taiwan’s foreign policy and trade away from the cross-strait paradigm. What probably is lacking or weak is to inject the new dimension of ethics-based foreign policy in Tsai’s narrative. 

A lot was at stake for Tsai when she sought a second term. And, now with her win, the global impact of the result is going to be huge. Taiwan has played a key role in the global supply chain as a high-tech manufacturer, mostly notably as an Apple Inc supplier. Its strategic location just off the coast of China and on the edge of the Pacific is equally important. Taiwan is also a potential military flashpoint between the US and China as the former sells arms and provides other assistance to Taiwan. The island nation also lies on major shipping lanes between Southeast Asia and US allies Japan and South Korea, and on the disputed South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands and air bases. Taiwan is also close to a major US military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

Leading democratic nations honour Taiwan’s democratic credentials despite not maintaining official diplomatic ties. It is therefore for this reason when Tsai says it is up to Taiwan, not China, to decide the island’s future, and warns of the Chinese threat to democracy and liberty, the world listens. It was also a reason why her main opponent Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949 when forced to flee to Taiwan after losing a civil war, lost as he favoured close ties with China and believed that it was the only way to ensure Taiwan’s security and prosperity. His double-speak was that he also claimed to defend the island’s freedom and democracy.

Though China was closely watching the elections and expected a Han victory, the people of Taiwan thought otherwise in reposing faith with Tsai. What China is likely to do now is that it would further ratchet pressure on Taiwan, perhaps even by conducting military drills close to the island to intimidate. China needs to be mindful that a conflict would hugely damage both China and Taiwan that it can ill afford. The real test/danger would come if Tsai declares formal independence and term Republic of Taiwan and if so, if Beijing would use force to reclaim the island as mandated by its 2005 law authorising the use of force against Taiwan if China judges it to have seceded.  

Positions of the US and China

As expected, the US rejoiced in Tsai’s victory, hailing it as a demonstration of the island’s “robust democratic system”. Although the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is bound by law to provide the island with means to defend itself. The US State Department issued a statement, saying that “under her leadership, we hope Taiwan will continue to serve as a shining example for countries that strive for democracy, prosperity, and a better path for their people”.

The US saw the election results as a blow to China. Though it did not take any open position, it expressed concern at Chinese efforts at intimidation and influence. When Beijing successfully wooed some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in Central America and the Pacific, the Trump administration was dismayed, which is why it approved billions in new arms sales to Taiwan so that it can defend its sovereignty when needed. The US is concerned that Beijing has been trying assiduously to wean away Taiwan’s remaining allies, trying to see that they stick with Taipei and not give Beijing further foothold.

Even when the US-China trade stand-off continues and elections in Taiwan over, the US transited one of its warships through the Taiwan Strait, a move that irked Beijing. The passage of the USS Shiloh guided-missile cruiser through the narrow waterway, separating the island from the Chinese mainland, was announced by the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense and confirmed by the US Seventh Fleet as a “routine visit”, demonstrating the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Interestingly, the development came a day after President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping sealed a “phase one” trade deal as part of a broader bid to reduce trade tensions that have stirred up global markets for more than a year. The deal, however, is unlikely to resolve persisting and much wider strategic tensions between the US and an increasingly powerful China.

Though Beijing did not react on the passage of the US warship through the Taiwan Strait, it said that it does not oppose “normal passage” of foreign vessels through the strait, though it censures trips aimed at sending a geopolitical signal. Beijing is paranoid that Tsai is getting cosy with Washington, accusing the latter as the main reason for sowing rising discord between the mainland and Taiwan. Beijing is further dismayed that diplomats from Britain and Japan congratulated Tai on her re-election.

Writing in Japan Forward, Robert Eldridge says that like the US, Japan should have its own Taiwan Relations Act. The administration of Abe Shinzo is openly cozy with the Tsai administration. He and his brother Nobuo Kishi are known to be highly pro-Taiwan. There have been a variety of formal and informal interactions between the two countries. In March 2017, Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama travelled to Taipei for one day to promote tourism. He was the most senior Japanese official to visit Taiwan in 45 years. In response to criticism from China, Abe later responded that Taiwan is “an important partner that shares Japan’s values and interests.” In addition, Keisuke Suzuki, the director of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s youth division and a member of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso’s faction, visited Taiwan. He again visited Taiwan to attend a Taiwan-US-Japan security-related conference at which he argued for a Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

Japan, which chose diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China over Taiwan, has no such TRA governing its relations with Taiwan, despite the historic, geographic, and socially close ties it has with Taiwan. However, while the US passed the TRA in a matter of weeks, Japan has been unable to do it over the course of decades.

Reactions in Hong Kong

Expectedly, Hong Kong protestors feted landslide election win for Tsai. They saw this as a fillip to their movement that puts pressure on China. The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 amid promises it would be granted a high degree of autonomy and eventual universal suffrage. But China’s tightening grip on the city and Beijing’s failure to live up to its promises have fed the unrest. This is one of the biggest popular challenges to the ruling Communist Party since the return.

There is a growing opinion within the DPP that Taiwan owes Hong Kong more concrete support. The election outcome demonstrates that it is a proof that Xi Jinping’s strategy of keeping Hong Kong and Taiwan under control is a total failure. The 23 million people of Taiwan are not willing to give up their sovereignty and subject to the authoritarian control of the Chinese leadership.   

Taiwan was part of Japan for 50 years before being handed back to the 1911 regime, and has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor has it formed part of the People’s Republic of China. Tsai argues that the erosion of democratic progress and civil liberties in Hong Kong under China’s “one country, two systems” means that Taiwan should never take Beijing seriously when it talks about “unification.” Taipei expects Beijing should respect the popular will of the Taiwanese people as reflected in the election outcome. Viewed from all perspectives, Tsai’s re-election could prove to be a fundamental turning point for Taiwan. This does not mean to suggest that Beijing would soften its stance any time soon as Beijing made it clear that its position would not change even if Tsai is re-elected. China is committed to promoting “one country, two systems” for Taiwan, a model under which Beijing runs Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. Tsai has openly rejected such a system. Given the divergence of positions by both sides, the future is full of complexities with no ready answer in sight. 

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