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.
What prevents Japan from ratifying the recently assented Nuclear Ban Treaty?
With the ratification of Honduras, a Central American country, on 24 October 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017 by the UN General Assembly, crosses the ’50 ratifications’ mark required for its entry-into-force, and is set to become effective on 22 January 2021. But, interestingly, how come Japan, the world’s only nuclear-attacked country, not among the 50 ratified states?
History remembers Japan as the only country in the world falling victim to a nuclear attack that happened 75 years ago, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked using air-dropped atom bombs by the United States with the aim of forcing a surrender from the then Empire of Japan in World War-II.
The U.S. factor in Japan’s security policy
Post-war era saw Japan evolving as a strong U.S. ally, including getting security protection under U.S. nuclear umbrella, a hard fact that prevents the Asian economic powerhouse to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty, often abbreviated as TPNW, recently assented for entering into force in January, next year.
Despite calls from anti-nuclear activists and Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors, both living within the country and around the world, Japan’s ruling establishment faces a big conundrum, but limited in decisional autonomy with regard to a matter involving the United States.
A politician representing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that even though his party share the idea behind the treaty, it would be too unrealistic to move in the direction of ratification, hinting at Japan’s difficulty to handle how US would perceive such a move that can translate into an open disregard for US-led security arrangements in the region.
Moreover, the perceived threat from across the Sea of Japan, arising from a dictator-ruled, nuclear-armed Pyongyang and a recently more assertive Beijing looms over the island state, something that naturally brings Japan closer to the US.
Moreover, for decades, the security alliance with Japan has been a significant factor in US foreign and defence policies in East Asia, and the wider Asia-Pacific region.
Japan’s post-war security arrangements with the United States
Signed in 1951, the early ‘US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty’ was a ten-year, renewable pact that envisaged how Japan would allow U.S. forces to remain on Japanese soil after the country regained its sovereignty, in light of a new pacifist constitution.
This pact combined with the ‘Yoshida Doctrine’, a postwar policy attributed to Shigeru Yoshida, former Prime Minister of Japan, which stipulated Japan’s reliance on the US for its security needs so the government could focus on economic re-building.
The 1951 agreement was revised in 1960, granting US the right to establish military bases on Japanese islands in exchange for a renewed commitment to defend Japan in the event of an attack. These bases gave the US its first permanent military foothold in Asia.
In 1967, PM Eisaku Sato unveiled the ‘Three Non-Nuclear Principles’ (no possession, no production, and no introduction)to cool down tensions surrounding nuclear arms on US bases in Japanese soil. Since then, Japan has relied on the US nuclear umbrella for deterrence capabilities.
Today, according to a US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations, there are more than 80 US military facilities in Japan, including key ones in Okinawa and Yokosuka. More U.S. service members are permanently stationed in Japan than in any other foreign country.
The aforementioned close security ties of Japan with the United States act as a barrier for the island state to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty.
What does the TPNW entail?
The treaty is going to be the first legally-binding international pact to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of total elimination.
As it was agreed upon, in 2017, when at least 50 countries ratify the treaty, it will qualify for entering into force within the next 90 days i.e. 22 January, next year.
Many international security analysts, however, questions the efficacy of the treaty as an instrument of war-prevention and disarmament as it does not involve any of the strongest, five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), namely, the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China, all of them nuclear states along with India, Pakistan, North Korea, and sometimes ambiguously, Israel too.
However, over a quarter of local assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement demanding that the national government should sign and ratify the TPNW, a difficult choice for Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the United States has been urging countries not to ratify the Treaty, and stated that itself and all the other NATO allies will stand unified in their opposition to the potential repercussions of the TPNW. Washington has also sent letters to the countries that have ratified the treaty, requesting their withdrawal from it.
TPNW requires that all ratifying states should never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, acquire, or possess nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also bans any potential transfer of nuclear materials among each other.
The other treaty to keep checks on horizontal spread
Year 2020 also marked 50 years since another pact aimed at preventing the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons entered into force, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT, in 1970.
While Japan has managed to ratify the NPT in 1976, six years after signing the treaty in 1970, its decisional autonomy with regard to TPNW is much more complex.
Do not panic, we are Chinese: China’s response to the pandemic
In Europe, in the United States and in South America, the feared second wave of Covid-19 epidemic is spreading. It is generating not only panic among the public and the institutions, but it is beginning to put health systems and economies under stress. They were starting to recover with difficulty after the impact of the first wave of the epidemic which, between the winter and spring of this year, made the pace of industrial and manufacturing production and productivity rates in the trade, tourism and catering sectors plummet globally, with figures suggesting a decidedly dark future.
In Italy, faced with the increase in infections which, however, does not mean an increase in the number of sick people, the Government has decided to delegate to the Regions’ Governors the power to implement measures to limit individual and collective freedom in the name of a “state of emergency” which has been going on since last March and seems bound to accompany us also in the coming months. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, an ominous and worrying word, “curfew”, has reappeared in official communiqués and news reports.
Over the next few days, in the Campania and Lombardy Regions, it will be forbidden to circulate in the streets from 11pm to 5am, while the purchase of alcohol and the opening hours of shopping centres, bars and restaurants will be restricted. Just to complete an increasingly tragic scenario, on October 20 last, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, urged Italians to “stay at home as much as possible” with a voluntary lockdown that seems to be a prelude to the adoption of measures that could bring us back to the situation of last spring with incalculable social and economic damage.
Curfews, lockdowns, targeted or generalised closures are now common practice also in France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain which, like Italy, have suffered the devastating economic impact of the first wave and could be brought to their knees by the new pandemic emergency.
At this juncture we have to ask ourselves a question: what happened and what is happening in the country where it all began? How are things going in China that in our media, obsessively focused on domestic troubles, is mentioned only superficially and in passing?
“China is Near” was the title of a 1967 movie directed by Marco Bellocchio, that evoked the unstoppable expansion of the Maoist thinking. Today we must say that “China is far away”, encapsulated in the stereotypes developed by Western culture, which prevent us from seriously analysing its political, economic and social evolution and, above all, from drawing lessons from the political and health model that has enabled China to come out of the Covid-19 emergency with its head held high.
On September 22 last, in a blunt speech – as usual -at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump accused China of being responsible “for spreading this plague throughout the world” and – to further underline the concept -he dismissed the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”. In the same forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping soberly urged all countries affected by the epidemic to follow his country’s example and “to abide by the indications of science without attempting to politicise the problem”.
Figures clearly demonstrate that the Chinese model is important and worthy of attention. In China, where it all began in December 2019, out of a population of about 1.4 billion inhabitants, the Covid-19 epidemic has so far caused 4,739 deaths out of 90,604 sick people. In the United States, over the same period, out of a population that is about one fifth of China’s, 7,382,194 cases of infection were recorded that led to the death of 209,382 people (data provided by the English medical journal, The Lancet, October 8, 2020).
Great Britain, with a population twenty times smaller than the Chinese population, had to deal with five times more infections than China and ten times more deaths.
These are the figures of October 20 last, referring to the whole of China: 19 cases of illness, all imported from abroad. 24 asymptomatic infections and 403 cases testing positive kept under observation. All, except one, imported from abroad(!). Figures which, as you can see, are globally lower than those recorded since the beginning of the emergency in one single Italian region!
Faced with these figures, it seems difficult to shirk a simple, dual question: how could China fight the epidemic and keep it under control? Hence why do we not follow its example by drawing on its experience?
China was accused of responding late to the first outbreak of the epidemic in December 2019 and notifying late the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak. Both accusations are completely false.
After the outbreak of the new virus in late December, Chinese scientists isolated and identified the genome sequence of Covid-19 on January 10, 2020 and a few days later, after alerting the WHO, the authorities started to take countermeasures.
China was ready for the emergency: since the SARS epidemic – a virus similar to Covid-19 – had caused just over 700 deaths in 2002, but very serious damage to the economy due to the stop of flights, tourism and exports, the government had given orders to prepare accurate contingency plans to be activated promptly in case of new epidemics. Those plans, which were not prepared and put in a drawer but updated and carefully tested, were activated immediately after the first alarm.
With its 12 million inhabitants, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first infections – was immediately imposed a total lockdown, while in the rest of the huge country the population was urged (without curfews or states of emergency) to follow the most elementary and effective prevention and self-protection measures: social distancing, use of masks and frequent hand washing. It has been said in the West that China has reacted so effectively because it is ruled by an authoritarian regime. Indeed, Confucius has counted much more than Mao for the Chinese. The Confucian social philosophy that not even 71 years of Communist rule have managed to wipe out, with its basic rules of respect for the natural hierarchical order, makes the Chinese a naturally well-behaved, orderly and obedient people. Suffice it to recall that since the beginning of the new pandemic emergency the protests in Hong Kong have decreased until disappearing, while in Europe we are witnessing massive demonstrations with diehard “no-mask” people.
It is, however, the quick response of the Chinese political and health authorities that is at the basis of the undeniable success in fighting the epidemic, at first, and later containing it.
As stated above, Wuhan was immediately isolated and subjected to total lockdown for 76 days, while targeted closures were imposed in the Hubei Province. Throughout the country, 14,000 health checkpoints were set up at the main public transport hubs and, within two weeks since the “official” outbreak of the pandemic, in the city of Wuhan alone 9 million inhabitants were tested.
As one of the main producers and exporters of health equipment, China was not caught unprepared in terms of hospital supplies and individual protection devices: in short, no mask crisis.
While in the United States and Europe, despite the lockdown, people did not seem to be inclined to wear masks (President Trump wore a mask in public only last September), the Chinese immediately followed the authorities’ guidelines with a great sense of discipline. All the municipal security cameras were “converted” to control citizens’ use of masks, while drones equipped with loudspeakers were flown over all areas of the huge country to check the inhabitants’ compliance with the rules. The Xinhua State agency released the footage taken by a drone in Inner Mongolia, showing an astonished Mongolian lady rebuked by the drone saying” Hey Auntie, you cannot go around without a mask. Put it on right away and when you go back home remember to wash your hands”. Probably media embroidered the episode a bit, but certainly in China they did not witness the summertime movida that took place in Rome, Naples or Milan, which is at the basis of the many troubles with which we are currently confronted.
On February 5, 2020 the first Fancang hospital was opened in Wuhan, a prefabricated structure dedicated to the treatment of non-severely ill people, while traditional hospitals were reserved for the treatment of severely ill people. The use of Fancang hospitals (dozens of them were built) made it possible to limit the staying at home of people with mild symptoms, but anyway sources of contagion, within their families – the opposite of what is happening in Italy where the people with mild symptoms are advised to stay at home -and prevent the quick spreading of the virus starting from families. The Fancang hospital network made 13,000 beds available and was dismantled as from May 10, 2020 when the first wave of the epidemic ended in China and was not followed by a second wave. To avert this danger, the Chinese authorities have relaxed “internal” checks and made the control measures for those coming from abroad very strict. At a time when in Spain and Italy the checks for incoming travellers are practically derisory, in China all those who enter the country, for whatever reason, are subject to tests and strictly controlled quarantine.
In essence, China has first fought and later controlled the spreading of the Covid-19 epidemic, with drastic but rational measures and above all understood and accepted by a population educated by Confucius to respect hierarchies and discipline. China can currently be an example for the rest of the world and it is there to testify that with strict, but intelligent measures even the most dangerous situations can be tackled successfully.
It is an example that should be studied and followed without the typical arrogance of the “white man”, also considering an important fact: while the economy of Italy and of its European partners is hardly growing, China’s GDP growth rate is 4.9% higher than last year.
There is much to learn from China both in terms of managing a health emergency and in terms of protecting the economic system.
Suga Faces A Tough Road Ahead Without Enough Political Juice
Authors: Alexandre Uehara and Moises de Souza
The quantity and dimensionality of problems inherited by a sober and discrete Yoshihide Suga as the first new Japanese Prime Minister in almost a decade will demand that “Uncle Reiwa,” as the statesman is known, employ the skills that he has so amply demonstrated in the past: the ability to negotiate and find elegant solutions to complex questions. Suga’s competence as a negotiator was recognized as an important factor behind the success of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. This agreement—considered doomed to failure after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the TPP in January 2017—succeeded largely thanks to the vital leadership and tenacity of Japan, with Suga playing a key role behind the scenes. Suga also took the lead during the EU and Japan’s Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2019, considered by many as another example of outstanding negotiating performance. With such a resumé, these skills and experience proved critical in Suga’s victory in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race, enabling him to garner support from a wide array of sources, ranging from LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to various factions within the Komeito, a partner in the coalition government.
The question now is whether his past performance can be replicated as Suga targets the current challenges that so recently have fallen into his lap. He is taking the helm at a delicate moment for Japan, with uncertainties that will force him to show, domestically and abroad, what kind of leadership Japan will enjoy after a larger-than-life figure like Abe Shinzo steps down. And these challenges are coming from all quarters: the economy, public health, and regional security, just to name a few. Each of them has the potential to shape the future of the nation and the reputation of its prime minister, and certainly Yoshihide Suga is no exception. On top of that, legacy problems remain. On the one hand, the implicit promise of continuity with Shinzo Abe’s policies played a crucial role in winning the LDP the elections: on the other, this very factor is an element of concern, since opinion polls were already detecting signs of decline in the popularity of Abe’s cabinet. If Suga has any political ambition left, he cannot afford to make any mistakes in the short- and medium-term.
On the domestic front, there are two important and interrelated problems: The COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. These coterminous phenomena essentially represent a contradiction between uncertainty and reality. While few in Japan are clear about whether the current pandemic will turn into an ongoing ebb-and-flow in terms of virus contagion rates, the economic impact as a result of the response measures is already real. The profound effects have been translated into a new period of recession this year, an experience with which the Japanese a real ready very familiar, given their recent past. To make matters worse, the medicine intended to heal the wounds of economic recession was neutralized by the virus. Operating under the old adage that you have to spend money to make money, Tokyo expended over US$5 billion, with plans to spend US$2 billion more in 2020,to prepare the city to host the Olympic Games. Prospects showed that these investments would pay off. According to a report published in June 2020, it was projected that the Olympics would impact the Tokyo economy alone to the tune of almost US$190 billion, with a spill over effect on the overall Japanese economy of nearly US$300 billion and a potential impact of 0.2% of its GDP. Based on the same prospects, Japan signed an accord in 2013 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), assuming total responsibility to bear all the costs alone in the (at that time improbable)event that the games would have to be postponed. Well, in what one might call the Forest Gump Effect, to wit: “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get,” the games were indeed postponed. Investors, according to reporting by Bridgestone, reported losses of around US$3 billion so far as a result of the postponement. It also affected the IOC, which registered losses of more than US$800 million. For Japan’s economy, Goldman Sachs is calculating losses of about US$5.1 billion in terms of domestic consumption alone. Suga will have to find a solution for this imbroglio, which even Abe could not or did not have time to figure out.
In the international arena, Suga—like all Japanese Prime Ministers before him—will have to walk a tightrope, executing a delicate balancing act between Beijing and Washington. So far, his biggest challenge is to find his place amid the rising tensions between Japan’s two most important trading partners. On paper, the logic is simple: Tokyo has developed initiatives to strengthen its alliance with Washington concerning security, without hurting its bilateral trade with Beijing. In recent decades, the latter has become increasingly economically important to Japan. In practice, this is not an easy job for two reasons: First, the erratic temperament of Donald Trump and the tendency of his administration to play hardball even when negotiating with partners. The trade deal negotiated in 2019 stands as a case in point: Essentially, Japan walked away from the negotiating table with a commitment to give the United States access to its agricultural market in exchange for a vague promise that the Trump administration would not consider Japanese auto imports a “national security threat.” On top of that, Trump made it clear that he still wants Japan to pay for the American military bases on Japanese soil.
The second reason comes from Japan’s powerful neighbour, with an increasingly assertive China under Xi Jinping. In November 2019, after China proudly displayed its new ballistic and hypersonic cruise missile system, Taro Kono (then foreign minister and now the minister for administrative reform and regulatory reform) publicly demanded that Beijing make its military budget and strategic goals transparent, to avoid raising the level of alarm and anxiety in the region. In addition, a few weeks after taking the center seat, Suga had to deal with the presence of two Chinese ships in the disputed waters of the East China Sea—a practice that has been taking place more and more frequently since Xi became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. It is exactly these episodes of Chinese assertiveness that motivated Yoshihide Suga to choose Vietnam and Indonesia as the destinations for his first official diplomatic trip as prime minister. As much as Abe did, Suga intends to strengthen security ties with both Southeast Asian nations. This, tempered with a degree of restraint in the use of strong anti-Chinese rhetoric, is intended as a clear signal to Beijing: the rules of the game haven’t changed, with or without the presence of Abe Shinzo.
Using the same logic, Suga did not alter the basis of Japan-Taiwan relations that developed so fruitfully on Abe’s watch. In fact, besides working for close relations with Taipei, Abe also developed a friendship with Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen. Suga’s decision to appoint Abe’s brother, Nobuo Kishi, as defense minister was a clear signal to China that, with regards to Taiwan, it will be business as usual in Tokyo despite the transfer of power. It a secret to no one in Japan (or in China, for that matter) that Kishi enjoys close ties with Taiwan, a place he has visited several times over the years, including meetings with President Tsai, as representative of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The last visit took place on the occasion of the funeral of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in August 2020. Such proximity makes Kishi the most trustworthy channel of communication between conservative Japanese leaders and Tsai, as well as with the Taiwanese elite itself. In response to Nobuo Kishi’s appointment, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement that the new minister of defense of Japan must “abide by the one-China principle and refrain from any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region.”
Few specialists in Japan believe that Yoshihide Suga will have as long a mandate as his predecessor Abe Shinzo. Despite being technically qualified, Suga still lacks enough political juice to retain the position of prime minister beyond the general elections that must take place in one year’s time. The tide may eventually turn in favour of Suga-san, depending on how well he and his new cabinet manage the daunting challenges that they inherited from the previous administration. More than mere negotiation skills are needed, however, and there is no doubt that Suga will have to make some tough decisions that will come to define, in a large measure, his political future post-2021.
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