A few months ago, the author wrote an article for the RIAC website on possible variants of the new international architecture on the European continent that might take shape over the next few years. Arguing that European politics will turn towards Moscow–Brussels relations, the article attempted to construct several scenarios for Europe’s future depending on the possible development trajectories of Russia and the EU through 2024. The scenario matrix for Greater Europe was built along two axes: a weak (fragmented) EU versus a strong (coherent) EU and Russia without reforms (running by inertia) versus Russia with reforms. The outcome was four generalized scenarios (“Eurasian Melting Pot,” “Two-Fold Greater Europe,” “No Man’s Land,” and “New Cold War”).
The article was viewed many times and prompted multiple comments, including questions as to whether the proposed scenario scheme was applicable to other regions, particularly Asia. The text below is a brief sketch of a scenario matrix for Asia, or rather for its greater part. West Asia – from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean – appears to be an independent sub-system of international relations developing according to its own laws and requires a separate matrix.
Choosing independent variables
Even if we exclude the Middle East, which is hugely important for the region, Asia remains a far greater, far more complex, and far more fragmented continent than Europe. There are no thousands of years of common history, no clearly dominant religion, no apparent analogue to “European values.” Multilateral institutions in Asia are not as well-developed as in Europe and security problems – from nuclear proliferation to border conflicts – are more numerous. Economic paradigms and political regimes in Asia are less homogeneous than in Europe; any choice will be subjective and overlook important bifurcation points in the development of Asian order/chaos.
Nonetheless, we might suppose that development of international relations in Asia in the coming years will be largely determined by two basic factors. First, the dynamic of correlation between the economic, academic, technological, military, strategic, and political potentials of China and the US. The general tendency here is obvious: over at least the last three decades, the balance of power has been steadily shifting toward China. There is no reason to believe that this tendency will change in the near future. Of course, the process is not linear: accelerations, decelerations, halts and even backward movements are possible, This is especially true of the military, strategic, and political components of a national power, as they are less prone to inertia and are more flexible than the economic, academic, and technological components.
Second, Asia’s future largely depends on the correlation between elements of collaboration and conflict, stability and instability, inter-dependence and protectionism, universalism and particularism, moderation and extremism, etc., in the continent’s development. Traditionally, most Asian countries have succeeded in finding an acceptable balance between the imperatives of the region’s economic development and those of the domestic political agenda. However, maintaining this balance in the near future is far from guaranteed. The general growth of nationalism, rise of religious fundamentalism in Asia, increasing military spending, resurrection of old hostile historic narratives, risks of WMD proliferation, and rise of international terrorism suggest considering a “confrontational” scenario for the international system’s evolution as at least possible, if not the most probable scenario.
Combining the horizontal axis (which records the changing balance of power between China and the US) with the vertical one (which measures the correlation between elements of collaboration and conflict in international relations in Asia), we get a matrix of four development scenarios for China-US relations and for the international system on the Asian continent as a whole. Naturally, this matrix is highly schematic and in no way exhausts all the development possibilities of international relations in Asia. Nonetheless, it can serve as a starting point for more comprehensive and more complete scenario forecasts concerning the future of the Asian continent.
Washington consensus 2.0
This scenario is based on the Trump Administration’s success in preserving – at least temporarily – the geopolitical status quo in Asia. In this scenario, the US is able to slow down or suspend entirely those changes to the balance of power between China and the US that are negative for the US. Economic development of the US accelerates while China’s economy decelerates significantly, accumulating fundamental structural problems. The economic pressure Washington consistently puts on Beijing bears fruit. The deficit in US-China trade decreases significantly. Trump succeeds in wringing concessions out of China on other fronts as well (currency exchange rates, non-tariff restrictions, intellectual property, etc.). There are no dramatic shifts in China’s favor in the military strategic balance between the two countries either: the consistent increase of China’s military spending is parried by large-scale efforts to modernize the US military, including its Navy.
At the same time, military political tensions on the Asian continent generally deescalate. Pyongyang freezes its nuclear and ballistic programs and the North Korean conflict gradually becomes less critical. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain unresolved, but they do not provoke bitter political crises in Southeast Asia. Economic interdependence between Asian states deepens and the expanding middle class in most Asian countries becomes the foundation of Asia’s political stability. The US returns to the idea of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, taking into account new bilateral economic and trade agreements already signed with partners in the Asia Pacific. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership promoted by China is stalled by numerous multilateral and bilateral disputes on specific issues. Political extremism and international terrorism in Asia are on a downward trend. The arms race between Asia’s leading countries slows down, and in its place is competition in the economy and competition between social development models.
This scenario means preserving and, in some areas, bolstering American influence in Asia. The Pacific and Indian Oceans remain free for navigation, including navigation by the US and its allies’ Navies and Air Forces. Traditional American allies remain loyal to Washington even though they actively develop economic collaboration with China. US–China cooperation continues and expands in the G1.5 format rather than the G2, with the US the senior partner setting the rules of the game. It is even possible that the US and China will reach some agreements on nuclear arms control, although the US has a decisive nuclear advantage (particularly in sea- and air-based nuclear strategic forces).
On the other hand, the US continues to put pressure on China on such issues as human rights, civil society development, and Internet freedom. This pressure resonates with certain groups within China, particularly among educated urban youth and the growing Chinese middle class. Preservation and bolstering of America’s positions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans compel Beijing to pay greater attention to resource and transit options afforded by continental Eurasia, thereby increasing the significance of Russia and Central Asia for China’s strategy.
In this scenario, the US does not succeed in slowing down further growth of China’s power in any of its manifestations: economic, research, technological, military, strategic, and political. Moreover, a new cyclical crisis in the American economy (2019–2020) speeds up the shift in the balance of power between the US and China in the latter’s favor. Washington’s positions in Asia are also undermined by the profound and ongoing domestic political crisis in the US that prevents Washington from conducting a consistent foreign policy. The US political establishment remains deeply split on the country’s optimal strategy regarding China: proponents of consistent “containment” of Beijing are opposed by adherents of “engagement.” At the same time, the US’s harsh unilateral policies toward their partners and allies in Asia accelerate the relative decline in American presence in Asia. Washington’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has long-term negative consequences due to the US’s inability to exert a decisive influence on shaping new rules in Asia Pacific. On the other hand, China achieves major successes in structural revamping of its economy without sacrificing either sociopolitical stability or its high growth rate. China’s economy opens up, especially toward neighboring Asian states. China takes the place of the US as the chief proponent of free trade in Asia and in the world in general. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership steadily progresses; the free trade zone in Asia extends beyond its original geographic boundaries and gradually turns into a continent-wide integration project.
Asia’s military and political situation develops along the lines of the first scenario: elements of international cooperation come to exert ever greater dominance over elements of confrontation. A major military political crisis in Beijing-Washington relations is avoided; territorial and border conflicts gradually become less of an issue; the logic of economic interdependence wins over that of the geopolitical balance of power. The “reset” in China-India relations gains particular significance, comparable in its consequences to the “reset” in Russia-China relations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. China, on the rise and confident in its power, agrees to significant concessions to India on border issues, recognizing India’s strategic leadership in South Asian trade and economic relations. India joins China’s “One Belt – One Road” project. The degree of India’s involvement in Asian trade increases rapidly.
Ultimately, Asia’s life is being determined by the emergent China–India axis, similar to the central role the Berlin-Paris axis played in West European integration in the second half of the 20th century. China–India cooperation is primarily economic but gradually spreads into the political. The US endeavors to balance the Beijing–New Delhi axis by boosting military political cooperation with India, but as India’s relations with China improve, New Delhi needs the US security umbrella less and less. Russia also nudges China’s leadership toward more active cooperation with India, since it is highly undesirable for Moscow to have to choose between Beijing and New Delhi. At the same time, additional risks emerge for Russia owing to Beijing possibly revising its economic and strategic priorities in favor of South Asia at the expense of Russia and Central Asia. Transforming the China-India axis into a fully-fledged China-India-Russia triangle remains Moscow’s strategic objective, primarily economically.
Since Washington loses positions in continental Asia, it has to rely mostly on its traditional allies on the periphery of the Asian continent, from Japan to Australia. With each passing year, these traditional allies find it increasingly hard to combine their pro-American military and political orientation with an economic reorientation toward China and the consolidation of Asia as a whole.
Multipolar balance of power
The scenario is based on preserving US hegemony on the continent (as in the first scenario), but under a significantly escalated military political situation in Asia. Increasing socioeconomic problems in most Asian countries, including China and India, lead to a rise in nationalism and political radicalism. Border conflicts and other territorial problems become the focus of national priorities, and populists bolster their positions in both democratic and authoritarian states on the continent. The arms race in Asia proceeds on an ever greater scale. Numerous attempts to agree on multilateral confidence-building military measures fail. From time to time, the continent is rocked by critical political crises and border clashes. Plans for economic unification of Asia fail under the onslaught of protectionism and bitter fights for resources.
Chronic political instability, separatist movements, religious conflicts, and numerous terrorist attacks prevent major infrastructural projects from being implemented on the continent. As a result, China’s “One Belt – One Road” project is realized in a reduced form with limited consequence for Asian countries. Instead of developing a single Asian economic space, most Asian states in their trade and economic strategies are oriented toward external markets (North America and Europe). Asian countries are locked in a fierce struggle over US and EU markets, allowing the West to secure profitable terms of trade with the East.
In such circumstances, the US can afford to play the role of an “offshore balancer”, maintaining a multilateral balance of power on the Asian continent and conducting a policy of “mediated” containment of China by providing incremental support to its real or potential opponents on the continent, including Japan, South Korea, ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand, and India. India is the principal, though not the only, counterbalance to China, and enters into a de-facto alliance with the US (or even becomes a de-jure American ally). Shipments of US arms to Asian countries increase. Bilateral and multilateral agreements with old US allies are renewed.
Containment of China, naturally, does not exclude Washington’s selective cooperation with Beijing, just as it does not exclude using the “Chinese menace” to further consolidate US positions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. China’s relative weakness and the numerous tensions among Asian countries allow Washington to minimize its immediate involvement in conflicts in Asia while maintaining a complex multilateral balance of power in Asia. In other words, Washington implements the strategy that the British Empire tried to implement with varying success in continental Europe in the 19th century (China’s closest analogue in this case being the Russian Empire).
The fourth scenario entails a simultaneous rise of China (as in the second scenario) and a general slump in socioeconomic, military, and political stability in Asia (as in the third scenario). Growing challenges to national security in Asian countries make it increasingly difficult to preserve the freedom of political maneuver, and the countries face a harsh choice between Beijing and Washington. As a result, Asia and the international system as a whole is divided into “Chinese” and ”American” blocs locked in a political, military and strategic, and possibly economic confrontation. Like the Soviet-American bipolar world of the 20th century, this new bipolarity gradually establishes new rules of the game acceptable to both parties, adopting the requisite agreements and generating new mechanisms for arms control. One could even imagine emergence of some new “non-aligned movement” and countries defecting from one camp to the other.
The crucial question in this scenario is the location of the “great Asian rift.” If the US succeeds in enshrining today’s tendency of India-US strategic rapprochement, the rift will divide “maritime democracies” from “continental autocracies.” If the US fails, the rift will run between the Asian continent and the island states of the Pacific. On the other hand, India may take a stance similar to that of De Gaulle’s France: while remaining within the general framework of the “maritime democracies” partnership, it will not immediately participate in anti-China military alliances (as in 1966, when Paris withdrew from NATO’s military structure).
The new bipolarity will increase Taiwan’s strategic significance for the US, and the American strategy will counteract attempts at economic integration and political unification of Taiwan and China. The Japan-China confrontation will not only be preserved, butwill gain additional impetus. With regards to Russia, the emergence of a new bipolarity will increase Russia’s dependence on China, since attempts to retain a “diversified portfolio” of political investment in Asia by expanding cooperation with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India will inevitably run into the harsh logic of bipolar confrontation.
It is hard to say how the new bipolarity will work in a globalized and interdependent world. Will the parties succeed in separating economic collaboration from political confrontation? Will they discipline their “junior partners” and non-state actors in global politics? Will they agree on joint approaches to global problems? Today, hardly anyone is ready to offer answers to these questions. One thing is clear: the new bipolarity of the 21st century would, in any case, be less stable and dangerous than the old bipolarity of the past century. It would apparently, sooner or later, evolve toward one of the three preceding scenarios.
Any forecast should contain references to “black swans.” These are critical events with hard-to-predict probability that can fully or greatly change the forecast. Several such events may be mentioned in creating a forecast for the Asian continent.
A large-scale military conflict in Asia. Although such a conflict does not appear particularly probable, the possibility cannot be entirely discounted. Setting aside the probability of violence escalating in certain Asian countries (Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc.) and of the situation destabilizing in one of the Central Asian states, we should keep in mind at least three variants of a large-scale war on the continent: (1) a war on the Korean peninsula involving the US and China; (2) naval clashes between China and the US or land clashes between China and India; (3) another border conflict between India and Pakistan escalating into a full-blown regional war. This conflict would have different impacts on China-US relations and on the situation in Asia as a whole but, in some way, would push the continent toward new strife and bipolarity and would limit the possibilities for economic unification of the continent.
The rise of Islamic radicalism. The Muslim population of Asia, even without the Middle East, will grow at rates outstripping the overall population growth of the continent. Islam is gaining particular influence in Southeast Asia, where some countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines) already have a network of international terrorist cells. A series of major terrorist attacks or attempts to seize power would have a great influence on both the political agenda in some Asian countries and on the priorities in their cooperation. For China, equally major challenges would be Islamic radicalism joining forces with separatist movements in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and growing discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. The common threat could become an additional stimulus to multilateral cooperation in security, but ethno-nationalism and religious intolerance will impose strict limits on such cooperation.
An unexpected and severe financial and economic crisis that far exceeds the Asian crisis of 1997–1998 and the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 in both scale and depth. Shaken foundations of Asian economies would lead to major adjustments to the continental balance of power, changes to the macroeconomic strategy of leading Asian countries, and negative consequences for sociopolitical stability in some countries. Such a crisis could result in a relative weakening of the “Asian periphery” and strengthening of the “Asian nucleus”, primarily China. Another possible outcome of financial turmoil would be another “fine-tuning” of the global monetary financial system. It appears unlikely, however, that if the monetary and financial dominance of the West is preserved, Asia would gain anything substantial from such “fine-tuning.” Rather, Asian countries would have to shoulder major expenses to emerge from the crisis.
A major technological breakthrough of global significance. A technological revolution in one of the principal areas of today’s economy (energy, transport, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnologies, e-commerce, 3D-printing) is capable of changing significantly the established rules of the game in global economic relations. For instance, it could create opportunities for bringing much industrial production back into Europe and the US from Asia, cutting sharply the need for Asian labour force in individual manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors and radically changing the geography of global investment. Economic and social consequences of a major technological breakthrough would have a significant impact on the entire world, but the biggest players in new forward-looking technologies would reap the major benefits. China remains such a player, and, with qualifications, so do India and Japan. Foreign political influence would further shift from traditional instruments (military power, raw materials, and energy resources) to non-traditional (human capital, education, innovations). At the same time, Asia might become the main victim of the next generation of international cybercrime, more comprehensive and larger in scale than previously recorded.
“An economic miracle” in Russia or Japan. Russia and Japan are two large Asian countries that, for a long time, have been developing much more slowly than their dynamic neighbours on the continent. The “relative weight” of Russia and Japan in Asia’s economy is steadily falling and so are, accordingly, their long-term possibilities for influencing the future of Asia’s political space. Russia and Japan also have similarly severe demographic problems not typical of most other countries on the continent. A further drop in the “relative weight” of the two countries on the continent is considered by leading actors both in Asia and beyond. The presumption is that, should current trends remain, Japan will follow in the wake of US policies in the Asia Pacific and Russia will follow that of China’s Asian policies. Even so, if Japan’s “Abenomics” or Russia’s “economic spurt” strategy during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term succeed, the situation might change drastically. The configuration of continental balances will become far more complex and the new continental order is likely to be more stable.
First published in our partner RIAC
BRI: Shared Future for Humanity
The terrestrial and maritime connectivity proposed by the Chinese government back in 2013 with six connectivity corridors reflects the vision of shared future for humanity. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an omen of modern transformation of the globe. The journey of transition from geo-politics to geo-economics is itself a huge achievement. As geo-economics brought in the partnership and collaboration for mutual gains whereas geo-politics reflects competition, for instance, arm race.
BRI a network of terrestrial and maritime passages encompassing (1) the New Eurasian Land Bridge connects Western China to Western Russia; (2) the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor, from Northern China to Eastern Russia; (3)the China-Central Asia-Western Asia Corridor, links China to Turkey; (4) the Corridor from Southern China to the Indochinese peninsula up to Singapore; (5) the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; and (6) the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor. In other words BRI is one of the longest connectivity route from the Chinese coast to Singapore to Gwadar up to the Mediterranean. Among all the above mentioned projects, CPEC is a model project with so much in its credit.
CPEC is the flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative. CPEC is a mutually agreed initiative including 4 key areas of cooperation i.e. energy projects, infrastructure development, Gwadar Port, and industrial cooperation. This cooperation has further strengthened the time tested friendship. China – Pakistan strategic cooperation is an essential ingredient for the South Asian peace recipe. CPEC, not merely focus on commerce and trade but also include social development projects as well. Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Pak-China School, Gwadar Airport, and many more are prominent examples of this initiative. The first phase of CPEC is almost complete and is all ready to enter into the second phase. The first phase was comprised of energy and road projects whereas the second phase might also entails agriculture, education, health, water and much more. Here in our case, when there is an atmosphere of non-kinetic threats, development is the only option. Internal harmony and peace can only be achieved when there is no sense of deprivation. In addition, inclusion of third party in CPEC project, and also connecting it with the Central Asian Republics and Russia is also a progressive move. Opening it for the private business sector and creating 80,000 jobs, all are signs of social uplifting and gradual development. CPEC is an inclusive project for Pakistan and for the region.
China is focusing on and playing a key role in connecting the continents. Being an emerging power, China, considers the role of regional connections vital for the global peace and prosperity. Hence, BRI is a positive-sum cooperation. It’s a platform for dialogue, and developing new paths of cooperation encompassing government to government, people to people, business to business and media to media relations. BRI is the, opening up and connectivity, with an aim on promoting global peace and cooperation, and building a global community with a bright future for mankind. Moreover, it promotes connectivity through passages of commerce and trade. There is also a shift in the international balance, leaning towards east from west, considering it a breath of fresh air. Belt and Road Initiative is turning the myth “21st Century is the Asian Century” into reality.
BRI is a network of exchange, exchange of happiness and prosperity, exchange of knowledge and technology, exchange of expertise to perform well for mutual interests. It is the beginning of the inclusive global future. Hence, it is the time for profound change and reforms. For growth, for being dynamic, change is normal. So, reforms, propel states to accomplish goals not only at national level but international level too. The way BRI brought countries and regions together, enhancing trade, developing state of the art infrastructure, boosting investment, strengthening cultural ties, and people to people exchanges, all making BRI, the Central Nervous System of the world.
The true essence of BRI is regional integration, a horizontal, non-vertical integration with no hegemonic designs with an aim to limit the world recession damage. Furthermore, as the second BRI forum is scheduled in late April this year, there is much more to come. As mentioned, BRI is a pie, having share for all; it’s not a debt trap. In order to win the confidence of all the partnering states, and to lessen the suspicion, China is trying to avoid the ‘debt traps’. Though, there is no such state in unsustainable Chinese government debt pressure. It basically provides equality based cooperation, and a green & sustainable development. Second BRI forum is the right time to kickstart the “Second Phase” of Belt & Road. Many foreign heads of state and government, and thousands of delegates will be attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, or BRF. As mentioned by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, “it will include a series of events, such as leaders’ round table, high-level meeting, and thematic forum, CEO conference, under the theme of Belt and Road cooperation shaping a brighter shared future. There will also be more side events, including 12 thematic forums focusing on practical cooperation, and for the first time a conference organized specifically for the business community”.
The globe has already been struck by two major economic depressions. Asian continent also faced one in 1997 when East and Southeast Asia was crippled economically. The world direly needs a remedy in order to sustain the global economy which can only be done through economic and cultural interconnectivity.BRI aims to be a torch bearer in order to bring the financial benefits to the globe. The global prosperity is need of an hour in modern world order but this can be achieved through collective efforts.
China: Via Portugal into Africa and Latin America
Portugal is a major geographical link in the European leg of China’s New Silk Road project (NSR). A visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Lisbon on December 4-5, 2018 produced seventeen cooperation agreements thereby reaffirming the two parties’ readiness to expand economic partnership.
China is Portugal’s top trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade steadily on the rise amounting to $5.6 billion in 2017. The volume of Chinese investment in the Portuguese economy has reached $ 10.2 billion. Simultaneously, the influx of tourists from China to Portugal has gone up by 40% and from Portugal to China by 16%. The Chinese Embassy in Lisbon has described the current state of Sino-Portuguese relations as the best since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979.
The livening up of Sino-Portuguese relations is key to Beijing’s comprehensive strategy of boosting cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries. Adopted fifteen years ago, this strategy has brought about an increase in the volume of trade between the PRC and the Portuguese-speaking nations by more than 19 times – from $ 6 billion in 2002 to $ 117.6 billion in 2017.
In this context, an economic union with Lisbon is designed to geographically complete the European sector of the New Silk Road project (NSR) given the location of Portugal as the western tip of the European continent. Also, such an alliance is set to project Chinese economic influence through Portugal to countries of Africa and Latin America.
China is number one trading partner of three Portuguese-speaking countries: Brazil (trade turnover in 2018 at $ 29.5 billion), Angola ($ 26 billion) and Mozambique ($ 168 million).
The port of Sines – Portugal’s sea gate to the Atlantic and Africa – carries a particular importance with its well-developed infrastructure and all the facilities to be used as a transit point for Chinese products bound for America and Africa. Another important point is the Azores, a part of Portuguese territory stretching deep into the Atlantic. Lisbon has consented to Beijing’s participation in the construction of scientific and logistics infrastructure in the archipelago, which is tantamount to a stronger Chinese economic presence in the region.
Lisbon favors joint participation with Beijing in investment projects in Portuguese-speaking Africa. African countries have expressed a similar intention. In January 2019, the Angolan Parliament ruled to abolish double taxation with Portugal, China and the United Arab Emirates.
Lisbon-mediated cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries will enable Beijing to guarantee food security. According to UN reports, Angola is among the top five countries with the greatest agricultural potential (58 million hectares of arable land), Mozambique has 36 million hectares, of which less than six are cultivated, while Brazil is the main supplier of soybean, a popular food product for China (14 million tons in 2018).
In relation to China and within the NSR project, Portugal plays the role of an infrastructure and logistics counterweight to France, which is trying to shift the focus of French-Chinese cooperation in the direction of the Mediterranean and North Africa – to fight against terrorism in the Sahel region and provide investment support of the French-speaking Sahel “Five” (Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali).
Beijing is interested in moving via the Atlantic westward. From the geographical point of view, Portugal is a good partner here – cooperation with it takes China beyond the Mediterranean. According to the Chinese leader, for Beijing, Lisbon is a point of linking the land and sea segments of the NSR and a promising partner in the development of the “sea wave economy”.
The position of Paris regarding the NSR project is characterized as cautiously positive, envisaged by the Franco-German Aachen agreement of January 22, 2019 and affected by competition with Italy (Italian Trieste and French Marseille compete for the main port of the NSR in the Mediterranean).
The Aachen agreement diplomatically outlines the geopolitical axis Paris-Berlin, endowing the French-German relations with a special status. Against export-oriented German economy (in 2018, exports went up 3% against 2017, reaching $ 1.318 billion), Beijing’s economic activity in Europe is seen as a challenge.
Negotiations between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and China’s Xi Jinping on March 25-26 demonstrated the EU’s consolidated position and marked a successful attempt to secure common gains from building up cooperation between the EU (without Italy) and the PRC.
While France readily signed multibillion-dollar contracts with China and agreed to the opening of the Chinese market for French goods, it refrained from actively assisting the Chinese in pursuing transcontinental infrastructure projects as unwelcome for the economic health of the Franco-German duumvirate.
First published in our partner International Affairs
North Korea’s future international relations
Rumors are rife in world diplomacy circles that the United States wanted to force the hand in the recent talks with North Korea held in Hanoi last March.
The US side, in particular, tried to achieve a broader definition of “denuclearization”, a criterion capable of simultaneously eliminating the missile network, precisely the nuclear one, as well as the North Korean facilities for chemical warfare.
At the end of March, a report informed that the United States had asked North Korea to remove the whole stock of fissile material and relinquish all bacteriological warfare programmes.
All this only in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Too much, considering the level reached by the previous negotiations.
Obviously, the North Korean delegation was certainly not very close to US requests, while North Korea’s deputy-Foreign Minister, Choe Son Hui, argued with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton because they created a strong “obstacle” to negotiations.
North Korea’s representatives in the Hanoi negotiations, however, stopped the talks because they had not the qualifications nor the political mandate to treat the issue of denuclearization with the United States in this “global” way.
Nevertheless, John Bolton, who is certainly not a great supporter of dialogue between the United States and North Korea, seized the opportunity of the block of negotiations. In the lack of a precise North Korean policy line, he asked for an overall, quick and absolute denuclearization, being well aware that this request could not be accepted by the North Korean delegation.
Again following Bolton’s policy line, the United States added to this request- which was hardly likely to be accepted – the total destruction of chemical and bacteriological weapons.
It is strange that,in Hanoi, experienced and skillful mediators conducted so tough negotiations, even naïve in their harshness.
Furthermore, the United States asked North Korea for news about a “secret base for uranium enrichment” near the Yongbyon facilities.
Finally, the United States also asked for a “statement of all nuclear activities” in North Korea, as well as a clear roadmap for denuclearization.
As if the matter were only in North Korean hands.
A management of negotiations that may probably be fine for US internal political purposes, but certainly does not favour any positive evolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
In his last meeting with President Trump, however, Kim Jong-Un brought to Hanoi the sole promise of fully scrapping, in a short period of time, the Yongbyon nuclear research centre.
The United States, however, did not well understand whether the Yongbyon facilities to be closed regarded only the reactor that has been producing plutonium since 1980 or whether the closure offered by Kim Jong-Un regarded the whole plant, with its many centrifuges for uranium and reactors.
Some US analysts think that the Yongbyon facilities are still at the core of the whole North Korean nuclear system, while other experts believe they are “obsolete” and, hence, Kim’s offer is not particularly interesting.
Nevertheless, if there is nothing else besides the “obsolete” facilities, Kim Jong Un’s offer is meaningful and rational.
At the beginning of Hanoi talks, North Korea hoped that economic sanctions would soon be partly lifted, considering that all the UN Security Council Resolutions on the North Korean issue stated that it would be possible to re-examine the sanctions in exchange for clear progress on the nuclear issue.
North Korea, however, has already imposed a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests. It has also closed its nuclear test sites and has even started to destroy its missile test sites.
North Korea has even accepted a slow and progressive lifting of sanctions, in exchange for a step-by-step check of nuclear compliance.
From this viewpoint, the United States thought that sanctions really benefited it and hence they did not try to reduce them. Quite the reverse.
The United States must have thought that the more sanctions remain, the more North Korea is forced to negotiate.
Moreover, the Russian and Chinese proposals on the subject, developed within the UN Security Council, have always been blocked by the US contrary vote.
John Bolton’s and Mike Pompeo’s hard stance, however, was not matched by any immediate negative reactions from the North Korean side, as is customary in North Korea’s diplomacy. Nevertheless, three weeks after the crisis of Hanoi’s talks, the North Korean deputy-Foreign Minister, Choe Son-Hui, who enjoys Kim’s full confidence, said that his country “is not particularly interested in the current negotiations with the United States for denuclearization”.
Later, after the unexpected end of talks in Hanoi, the United States launched a defamation campaign against North Korea claiming, for example, that North Korea was secretly continuing its missile tests and that this new fact had stopped the US efforts at the negotiating table.
It is hard to understand how nuclear tests can be stopped “secretly”.
North Korea, however, has never promised to stop anything else but missile tests alone.
Hence, neither the uranium enrichment program nor the other biological and chemical activities have rightly ceased.
Currently, however, the door of negotiations still remains half-open.
Again in March, the pictures of the Sohae site, which is used for launching satellites, showed a significant pace of facilities’ reconstruction.
In all likelihood, despite Kim Jong Un’s promise to dismantle the site soon, North Korea still plans to keep and develop it, with a view to maintaining also some diplomatic pressure on the United States, but above all to organizing a new round of talks in the future.
The next important events will be the meeting between Donald J. Trump and the South Korean leader – already scheduled for April 11 – designed to break the ice between North and South Korea on the denuclearization issue and, on April 15, the North Korea’s great celebrations for the 107thbirth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, namely the “Day of the Sun”.
As some US analysts claim, should we go back to the strict and effective style of the old Six Party Talks?
Instead of a team that – at least in the US case – knows the complex issue of relations between the United States and North Korea only superficially, a new negotiation would be useful, with a traditional preliminary document and clear purposes.
A new negotiation that – as was the case with the Six Party Talks – makes the North Korean deputy-Foreign Minister and the deputy-Secretary of State, as well as many US experts of the academic and intelligence worlds sit around the negotiating table.
Certainly, we need to imagine that the negotiation is and will be long and complex.
Simple negotiations are those that do not succeed in reaching the goal.
Hence it will be useful to imagine multiple and different trade-off and mutual satisfaction factors, compared to a harsh and brutal negotiation on nuclear potential alone.
Kim Jong-Un knows all too well that what is at stake here is the future of his country, not only nuclear and bacteriological-chemical disarmament.
His nuclear and bacteriological-chemical network has led North Korea to be a member of the world decision-making system.
If this happens even in a shift from the nuclear threat to a major economic role, Kim Jong-Un will have won his bet.
If this does not happen, the United States shall not believe that North Korea will consume itself on its own. Quite the reverse.
In any case, it will be necessary to clarify that, as usual, the North Korean issue cannot be resolved with a mere bilateral negotiation mechanism.
The North Korean strategic role is a vital problem for Japan, for South Korea, but also for China and the Russian Federation.
Without a project that is good for all these actors, and not only for the United States, no peace nor disarmament will be possible. Not even for the United States alone.
China does not certainly want a nuclear, bacteriological and chemical system on its border that is, however, completely out of its control.
This is the real reason for the initial tensions between Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping.
Any increase in military tension in North Korea also spreads suspicions in China.
Nevertheless, it is a factor that the United States – in agreement with China – could use to reach North Korea’s denuclearization.
In particular, however, China wants neither a new war on the Korean peninsula – an interest obviously shared with South Korea – nor the US Armed Forces on its border, if North Korea’s complete nuclear demilitarization is achieved.
And if the United States and South Korea are still able to quickly reach the nuclear threshold in an initially conventional conflict with North Korea.
Hence, for China, high conventional and credible militarization for North Korea, but also with a non-negligible anti-US nuclear deterrent, albeit certainly not capable of setting fire to the whole Southeast Asia.
The same strategic paradigm largely applies to the Russian Federation.
It is not in favour of a demilitarized North Korea, which would be easy prey to the US-South Korea axis, and would not serve as a military buffer for Russia. However, it is even against a North Korea capable of threatening South Korea, and hence even the countries on its Northern border.
Therefore, considering the scenario of the negotiations between North Korea and the United States, the current stalemate will serve – after the Hanoi talks – to select the rational requests of the two actors and to shape the possible responses.
For example, the spreading of nuclear technology from North Korea to other States is a new topic to be included in the negotiation agenda.
As well as the decrease in conventional North Korean forces, to be linked to a rational decrease in the US and South Korean Armed Forces.
The five sanctions that North Korea wants to be lifted concern only the civilian economy and the well-being of the North Korean people, while we need to note that also Kim Jong-Un is put under pressure by the North Korean people and, even more, by his ruling class.
The North Korean Foreign Minister, Ri Yong Ho, said so explicitly: in fact, he has clarified that the North Korean power is aimed – in a rational negotiation – “at the complete dismantling of the Yongbyon site”.
Ri Yong Ho also added that the dismantling of Yongbyon facilities would take place “with the presence of US experts”.
Clearly Kim Jong Un has now China’s full protection.
Certainly China does not want to have the huge mass of migrants from North Korea within its borders and, above all, is not interested in a “sister” country which, besides threatening the United States and South Korea, forces even the great China to follow its policy.
This could lead the North Korean leadership to seek economic compensation at any time of the denuclearization talks.
Hence will the US leadership be able to finalise negotiations with North Korea without too many mistakes and wrong moves?
Will the US leadership be capable of actively involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea in a radical dismantling of the North Korean nuclear capacity?
We do not know it yet.
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