There are many essential points of the US-North Korean talks which have been treated, albeit briefly, in the Singapore Summit between Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald J. Trump.
It was certainly not a mere photo-opportunity but, inevitably, it was not an already fully-fledged agreement between the two parties.
With specific reference to denuclearization, nothing new under the sun, but something very important and new from the political viewpoint, also compared to the opposing rhetoric of the USA and North Korea. Symbols matter in foreign policy and, as far as we know, Trump and Kim Jong-Un liked each other – rational, brutal and frank as they both are.
Nevertheless, North Korea’s decision-makers have long considered their realistic plans for their country’s military nuclear exit.
In fact, five years ago Kim Jong-Un decided to implement his by ungjin policy line, i.e. the parallel development of North Korea’s nuclear military system and of the civilian economy since he had above all verified that, at the time, it was the only way to make the USA sit at the negotiating table.
For Kim Jong-Un, the United States was the key to success: he knew the costs and relevance of a long-standing and effective relationship with China and the Russian Federation, but he wanted the Third Factor to make North Korea partially autonomous.
Without upsetting old balances, but manoeuvring them with the traditional rationality of its ruling class.
At the time, Kim Jong-Un’s other considerations referred to the strong, ongoing and evident US military pressure and to the particular weakness of North Korea, which was in a phase of political and strategic transition between two elites.
The beginning of the naïve and dangerous US project was Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, which led to a clear South Korean and US military pressure for a naïve and unlikely regime change that obviously did not take place.
Later, however, in June 2013 the National Military Commission, led by Kim Jong-Un, stated it was ready to start a stable denuclearization process.
At that time a renewal of the Six Party Talks would have been possible also for North Korea, but it wanted above all a bilateral negotiation with the United States.
According to the “policy line” decided by Kim Jong-Un at the time, the USA, for its part, had not to set initial and preliminary conditions.
Nevertheless, the USA certainly had every interest in being the new power broker of the agreement with North Korea, the only breaking point of a strategic continuity which would have been very convenient for the United States.
It should be recalled that in February 2012there was the failure of Barack Obama’s proposal for the cessation of nuclear and missile tests and the subsequent sending of a North Korean satellite into the space.
Coincidentally, in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping established a special confidential diplomatic channel with North Korea, but the tension with the USA mounted and certainly not for the Chinese move.
But what is, ultimately, the give and take for denuclearization, according to Kim Jong-Un’s policy lines which have actually been implemented by the curt, but significant Singapore Summit Agreement?
First and foremost, the cessation of the US hostile policy, that is the political, economic and military tension against North Korea.
Furthermore, North Korea wants the full and official recognition of sovereignty on its territory, as well as the replacement of the 1953 ceasefire with a peace treaty, and finally the end of all economic sanctions against it.
All these aspects are already included -also between the lines – in the Singapore Agreement.
Hence if the traditional tension between North and South Korea ends, the whole region of the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, starting from the Mediterranean up to the US military bases in the Pacific, becomes – for the USA – a strategic continuum capable of stabilizing the central Asian terrestrial axis.
This could weaken China on its maritime border in the South and would also reassure the Russian Federation in a small sea which, however, is essential for Russia from a military viewpoint.
At economic level, the most analytical models to assess the possible integration of both Koreas currently point to a necessary increase of at least 50of North Korea’s GDP and also of the average income of its citizens – given the increase in the total productivity of economic factors and the accounting of North Korea’s general balance considering eight primary factors.
Within a North-South Korean integration project, there would be above all an increase in medium-level light and manufacturing productions, especially in the North, while there would be global economic room also for mining products in North Korea alone.
The traditional cost model studied for unification regards the capital investment to reach a 60% per capita GDP in North Korea compared to South Korea’s – a limit that is thought to be capable of avoiding mass domestic migration.
Currently the most careful and recent calculations make us estimate the total cost of reunification at approximately 1,800 US billion dollars.
A 23% share would come from North Korea’s full integration into the world market, starting from the current productive specializations of this country.
A further 14.5% share of the total reunification cost would come from the share of international aid to which North Korea would ultimately have access.
Finally, an additional 12.3% share would come from the integration between North Korean companies and South Korean similar ones.
The rest would come from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), in which also Russian and Chinese companies should participate.
However, a fully affordable and feasible additional “remainder” could come from North Korea’s new commercial treaties with the EU, Japan and obviously China and the Russian Federation. This can be done soon and well.
Trade between North Korea and Russia has long been worth slightly less than 100 million US dollars a year.
Currently it is over 78 million US dollars but, in this new political phase, certainly strategic, scientific and military exchanges are still essential for both Russia and North Korea.
Today, for example, there is also the railway crossing between the Russian Federation, in Vladivostok, and the North Korean port of Razon.
Furthermore, part of the Internet networks reaching the North Korean territory comes from the “nodes” of the Russian network on its borders.
Moreover, Russia still supports – on its own – the link between North Korea and the World Bank and it also wants to innovate the North Korean railway system -which is a great business – in addition to pressing for the creation of a pipeline that will make Russian energy products reach both the North and the South of the Korean peninsula.
Finally, negotiations are underway for the exchange of Russian electricity with North Korean minerals.
This is the strategic and economic core of the issue: if, in the future, the agreement between Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-Un does not concern an economic and strategic arrangement also with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, most of the agreement signed in Singapore will remain dead letter.
Not to mention the at least 40,000 North Korean workers still operating in the Russian Federation.
As well as the Russian oil, which currently comes to North Korea through the traders present on the markets, right in Singapore.
Hence the failure of the very recent Singapore Agreement is a severe danger to be averted both for the United States and for the silent and weak EU, as well as for Russia and China, and obviously also for North Korea itself.
Hence if the USA wants to focus on its new strategic balances between Africa, Latin America and Western Asia, it must loosen – at least partially – the grip on an old and now obsolete Cold War scenario, i.e. the Korean confrontation in which General MacArthur threatened the use of nuclear weapons against the People’s Republic of China, which supported North Korea’s expansion to the South.
As Mao Zedong would have said, many fires lit to confuse the US adversary and tie it to a defensive logic without future – as was also the case with the Vietnam War, a war of attrition that became for the USA the seal closing the whole Far East to the US interests.
Mao, an excellent military strategist, was right.
Today, however, it is time to well-evaluate all the possible options, both for the United States and for the weak European Union.
The latter could do much, if only it knew how to do it.
Moreover, we must always think about China.
China still accounts for 90% of North Korea’s foreign trade, but President Xi Jinping’s policy regarding the UN sanctions against North Korea has come to the point of no return, as demonstrated by the unfriendly note issued by the North Korean news agency in May 2017.
Hence what does China want from North Korea and will continue to want after the Singapore Agreement?
This is above all a two-party game with Russia. Hence, if China accepts sanctions on North Korea, it wants Russia to support North Korea financially.
Conversely, if North Korea becomes one of China’s efficient client States, at reduced costs, everything will be fine for President Xi Jinping.
Furthermore, it will be even better if North Korea becomes a quiet, but credible border for South Korea and its US forces stationed on the territory.
This will also be a decisive issue into which the Singapore negotiation will penetrate.
Another factor in the Chinese strategic considerations is the increasing cost for external attackers in threatening the North Korean soil.
China does not want a North Korea devoid of strategic threats, but wants them to be considered in the US equation.
The aim is to avoid the military overload of South Korea, which is also a key economic partner for China.
Currently the “de-escalation” of North Korea’s nuclear potential is more a result of Chinese policies than of Western pressures.
Hence China does not want North Korea’s warlike and aggressive positions and, not surprisingly, in mid-November 2017, it sent Sung Tao from the CPC Department for International Relations to curb Kim Jong-Un’s multilateral tension with the USA and the UN Security Council and hence adhere to the Chinese policy line for the very survival of the North Korean regime.
Just not to forget the essential strategic issue, the Communist Party of China has no interest in putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear position.
As stated in a CPC confidential document drafted in 2017, China has instead the primary strategic interest of using North Korea’s nuclear potential to prevent “chaos and war” throughout the peninsula and anyway support North Korea’s denuclearization, thus finally placing the whole nuclear system of the region under the IAEA’s protection.
China needs an inexpensive and even less troublesome shield to protect itself from US attacks by the entire Korean peninsula.
This could also be the US policy line in further future negotiations with Kim Jong-Un.
Hence China does not want North Korea’s military destabilization – God forbid – but it does not even want the nuclear arsenal to be quickly destroyed or to end up in the hands of States alien to China’ interests in the region.
Will this be the case for the USA in the future, after the Singapore Summit?
Kim Jong-Un, who is an excellent strategic analyst, knows all too well that he can use the US card, but only until it is not played against China.
Hence the optimal situation for China would be to keep a share – to be negotiated – of nuclear weapons in North Korea until the situation – even in the South and for the new deployment of the US Armed Forces – is ripe for a new multilateral negotiation on the North Korean issue.
The North Korean leaders, however, see the denuclearization of their country (and of South Korea, too) in a three-phase mechanism: firstly, the freezing of their nuclear potential; secondly, the disabling of critical infrastructure, and finally the dismantling of their weapons already assembled.
From this viewpoint, in all the three phases North Korea wants the USA to reaffirm its decision – already taken and signed in Singapore – to “cease hostile policies”.
As can be inferred from the official text of the Singapore Agreement, in a first phase there would be North Korea’s freezing of all nuclear activities.
Again along the policy line already spelt out in Singapore, there would be a further agreement on mutual economic and political relations.
Furthermore, there is also the request to stop the US military and nuclear activities throughout the Korean peninsula.
After the Singapore Agreement, however, we will probably witness an ever more reduced US presence in South Korea and North Korea’s reduced conventional pressure on the pro-American South Korea.
However, there is nothing preventing the USA from shifting its nuclear weapons – with all the necessary checks – from South Korea to positions not posing a serious strategic threat to North Korea.
Kim Jong-Un, however, does not want a “Libya-style model”, i.e. the unsuccessful model relying on the following principle: “firstly, put an end to nuclear weapons and then we can talk about it”.
Kim Jong-Un is well-aware of how the USA behaved vis-à-vis Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and Iraq. Indeed, he is not entirely wrong.
Hence North Korea wants to check, step by step, all the costs and benefits of the new and future treaty.
And it will make no concessions.
Nevertheless, everything hinges around an essential strategic process. Never leave the Americans alone – and this is a problem of the inept and vacuous EU – but never leave also the North Koreans alone.
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.
Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.
The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
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