Russia has never disregarded the North Korean nuclear and missile issue nor its support for North Korea.
Russia will never relinquish its safety belt against the US forces stationed in South Korea and, above all, Kim Jong-Un’s possible military shield towards the USA and its allies in Southeast Asia. If anything, the issue lies in replacing this shield with an equally effective economic or strategic and conventional delimitation.
On August 15, 2018, Kim Jong-Un sent an important telegram for congratulating Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of Korea’s liberation from the Japanese domination.
It should be recalled that the united Korean empire ended in 1910, but the Japanese-Korean Treaty of 1876 integrated the peninsula in the Meji Empire, the historical and cultural phase in which Japan acquired the Western technologies and cultures to expand its “co-prosperity area” throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
An area bound to naturally lap upon the US area of influence – at that time as now.
It is worth remembering, however, that Korea’s industrialization began precisely in its phase of independence from Japan, while the subordination to the Japanese Empire led not only to a massive exploitation of the Korean labour force for the Japanese purposes, but also to a radical cultural and psychological dispossession of the people in that peninsula and of their traditions.
There is no geopolitics without a geo-cultural analysis.
As Aristotle said, “Even God cannot change the past”- and the old 20th century balances of power still draw the limits of the possible strategies which can be implemented both in Korea and in the rest of maritime South Asia.
Currently the United States can also aspire to excessively expand its power to the myriad of Pacific islands, thus conquering them all to keep none, just to encircle Japan.
Or it can hold the security coordinates of the Straits of Malacca, in order to keep on controlling those areas of world trade.
However, let us revert to the telegram recently sent by Kim Jong-Un.
In the telegram he wished Russian President Vladimir Putin good luck with his plans for “building a powerful Russia” and recalled that “the peoples of the two countries struggled shoulder to shoulder against the common enemy in the arduous anti-Japanese war”.
This paves the way for renewed friendship between the Russian Federation and North Korea, which will “serve as driving force to continuously develop bilateral relations as required by a new era”.
In other words, Kim Jong-Un wants to renew the traditional ties with Russia to rebalance those with China – which are certainly equally important – without excluding them.
Thanks to the Western superficiality, North Korea has excellent relations with both Russia and China and it does not want to lose them or to create preferential relations with one country or the other.
In particular, the North Korean Leader does not intend to currently neglect the old and timeless Russian ally, which is now redesigning and reshaping the Greater Middle East – the terrestrial defensive outpost of his North Korea and, in any case, a guarantee for his land security to the North and to the West.
An important security for North Korea, at least as much as the maritime one that mainly pertains to its alliance with China.
In the almost immediate reply to the North Korean leader, Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin wrote he was ready to meet with him in the near future in Moscow.
In recent years many promises have been made to organize a Summit between Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin, but they have never come true.
It is mainly the fault of the unpredictable adjustment of equilibria in the Pacific after 2006, the year of North Korea’s military and official nuclearization.
There were many secret meetings, especially in the acute phases of the 2017 missile crisis, and sometimes simultaneously with President Trump’s visits to Moscow.
Most likely, in these very confidential meetings, the discussion was also focused on the possibility of moving significant parts of the Russian Armed Forces on the border with North Korea.
At that time, the significance of these historical operations of the Russian Armed Forces in the Primorsky area was evident: to show to the United States that the Russian Federation did not accept any threat to North Korea and that, in any case, Russia would significantly defend the North Korean territory from a joint US-South Korean action.
It was quite obvious: even today neither the Russian Federation nor the People’s Republic of China are interested in having a country linked only to the USA, but defeated or weak,on its borders.
Moreover, while defending North Korea, Russia can currently play the role of broker and mediator between the two Koreas and control the strategic triangle between the two post-Cold War nations of the Korean peninsula with Japan.
Another centre of primary strategic interest of the Russian Federation.
In fact, in January 2017 Putin stated that Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear-missile program was “a threat to security in North-East Asia”, but he also asked South Korea to reject the anti-missile structure THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) offered to it by the United States.
Weakening of the entire peninsula and maintenance of North Korea’s margin of attack. This is the simple, but lucid Russian strategic formula.
Moreover, since the very beginning, Russia has accepted the UN sanctions against North Korea under evident suspicion and some Russian companies have been hit just because they have not avoided trading “sensitive” goods and services with North Korea.
It is even more obvious that currently Russia does not want a North Korean State, on its land border of only eleven miles, that can accumulate potentials capable of threatening the terrestrial and Asian area to the Middle East with threats tous azimuts.
Or a State that can create – in an extremely important area for Russia – a sequence of regional crises drawing the attention of the major global strategic actors.
The strategy is to make the Korean peninsula a peripheral area and weakening its global irritant thorns.
This is the same policy of China in North Korea. In the future, however, China will also try to integrate North Korea into its Central Asian project to control the Turkmen jihad and into its policy of economic and military expansion to the Pacific region.
Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that China does not want a military contribution from North Korea in its protection of the Belt and Road Initiative to the South.
Furthermore Russia has always had a strong strategic interest in the whole Asian maritime region, in general, and in the Southern one, in particular.
In fact, Putin has always maintained that Russia’s active policy vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) – the 21 economies and the Korean peninsula – is essential for all the Asian projects of the Russian Federation.
Projects that, as can be easily understood, tend to offset and replace the sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries.
Currently Russia has these primary interests in the Asian-Pacific region: to develop the Siberian area well and quickly; to integrate the Asian region into its system of trade relations with the old Asian-Southern countries of the former USSR; to increase the Russian presence in the Asian economies, especially in medium and high-tech goods, with a view to avoiding the penetration of others into those markets and finally avoiding the jihadist radicalization of internal conflicts, especially in the framework of the confrontation between the United States and China.
Hence with these moves, which also include the Russian economic policy vis-à-vis North Korea, the Russian Federation stands as a necessary “third power” throughout the Asian-Pacific region.
Here the preferential relationship with North Korea is essential.
Therefore it is not strange that, for the next Summit between Putin and Kim Jong-Un, the possibility was considered of the next Eastern Economic Forum scheduled in Vladivostok in September.
This would have been the occasion for a series of meetings also with the Chinese and Japanese leaders, but it is exactly in September that Kim Jong-Un shall follow all the preparatory work for the 70th anniversary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Indeed, Russia wants to meet Kim Jong-Un alone. Currently it has no interest in a friendly internationalization of the North-Korean issue.
The 70th anniversary is a date that will mark a new condition for North Korea – and this is the meaning that Kim Jong-Un wants to give to the celebrations. It is a condition of reaffirmation of the regime’s solitary power and of new and positive openness to the world.
Furthermore the North Korean leader wants to well prepare the bilateral meeting with Putin that will mean, above all, that North Korea does not depend on China’s interests only. Hence a tactical delay is better.
In fact, as he has already been doing for some time, Kim Jong-Un wants to implement an opportunistic policy, but without really betraying any of the two Asian and Eurasian players.
In particular, North Korea wants a share of national strategic autonomy in the future context of its admission to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Hence, apart from India which, together with Pakistan, has recently followed the works of what China finds it difficult to define as the “NATO of the East”, SCO will have a vertical strategic axis between the Indian Ocean and South East Asia to the Pacific region. And it will certainly depend on North Korea’s future military policy.
This vertical axis, however, will be the whole Korea – with the autonomous North Korea which, in Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s designs, will be partially integrated into the SCO together with South Korea.
At least Putin alone will grant to North Korea as much geopolitical autonomy as it will be necessary to the Russian Federation in order to: a) avoid any regional hegemony of the United States and its primary allies in the region; b) preserve the security of the its sea borders with North Korea; c) avoid giving a clear field to China.
China has mainly an oceanic interest in Kim Jong-Un’s Korea.
Russia, however, possibly want to create a strategic continuum between its Central Asian terrestrial region, which has its stronghold in the new Syria, and the Vietnamese coasts. Like the Krak of the Knights which, in the Syrian desert was an offensive rather than a defensive castle, as Lawrence of Arabia told us, currently Assad’ Syria is the Western bulwark of every “colour revolution” or jihad that can penetrate the post-Soviet Central Asia or the maritime corridor leading this area to the North-West borders of North Korea.
There is also the possibility – theorized by some analysts, especially from the North American school – that Vladimir Putin wants to oppose the US peripheral expansion everywhere, especially in Southeast Asia, where the US strategic defeat of the twentieth century began, so as to eventually replace the United States as a global player.
And currently the axis mundi is in Asia, not in Europe or in other parts of the West.
We are not sure that Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin really wants to create a US global dissymmetry with respect to the China-Russia’s axis.
If this happens, it shall only be USA’s fault.
The long-term diverging interests between Russia and China are still there – and precisely in a region that closely affects the Asian geopolitical choices vis-à-vis North Korea, namely Russia’s terrestrial Far East and Siberia.
There is the economic contrast – inevitable in the future – between the Eurasian Economic Union, organized by Russia in 2014 between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and, currently, also Kyrgyzstan, and the Chinese network of the Belt and Road Initiative. This is another problem that Kim Jong-Un shall resolve, at least apparently, once ceased the US (and Japanese) pressure on North Korea.
With a credible project, the United States could open part of its markets to North Korean products and create –just in the territory of North Korea – a network of Foreign Direct Investments that would shield the fledgling industry from Chinese or Russian pressures.
However, this is probably a vain hope.
Moreover Chinese investment in the Russian Far East is not as much as that which had been predicted and hoped for by Russia: China has no particular interest in Russia’s Arctic North and it is rather interested in the central axis of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Furthermore, if China continues to invest in the Arctic infrastructure, together with Russia, this will only be in view of a de facto or de jure transfer of the Russian sovereignty over the North Pole areas in which currently both countries work together.
Also this balance between China and Russia is bound to greatly influence North Korea’s external political developments.
Hence, in terms of North Korea’s nuclear power, as early as 2006 – the year of the first true North Korean test -it was China that integrated North Korea into its Asian strategic project and proposed a bilateral dialogue with the United States for the solution of the North Korean issue.
This has de facto excluded the Russian Federation from the Korean games.
Russia reacted almost immediately with its support to the sanctions against North Korea within the UN Security Council, thus creating an equal-footing balance with the United States on the issue.
An opportunity that the United States did not grasp at the right time.
Sanctions, however, have not really been accepted by the Russian economic system: North Korean coal exports to Russia continue; many Asian workers have long been migrating to Russian factories near the border; the new railway networks, which should shortly connect Russia with North Korea and always end up in South Korea, are being called into question.
Currently trade between Russia and North Korea is worth approximately 110 million US dollars a year.
Moreover, despite the letter and the spirit of the UN sanctions, Russia has not repatriated the thousands of North Korean workers it still hosts.
Furthermore, Russia still organizes many North Korean international financial and trade relations, thus supporting the operations for circumventing sanctions.
The railway line between Russia and the North Korean port of Razon is essential, but currently – also in tacit competition with China – it is the Russian Federation that provides North Korea with some Internet networks.
Incidentally, it would be good if the UN sanction mechanism – which, as some UN sources maintain, is scarcely transparent and often irrational – were radically revised: it keeps the US financial hegemony well beyond its rational limits, with dangers also for America; it unbalances financial markets that should be – at least officially – “free” and finally creates the opportunity, for the country on which sanctions are applied, to move directly to the adverse camp.
What would have happened to Italy if the sanctions of the League of Nations following the conquest of Abyssinia had not found in Nazi Germany the only, but certainly very interested adversary?
Nevertheless, in all likelihood, the turning point of the new relationship between Russia and North Korea will be the new pipeline that is supposed to transfer natural gas from the Russian Federation to both Koreas.
We will never understand the Russian strategic logic if we think it will accept the partition of the Korean peninsula as a fait accompli: Russia always thinks of both Koreas. And it would be crazy not to do so.
In the North, Russia operates to make North Korea “loyal” to the Russian strategic project while, in the South, it endeavors to curb the US and Japanese influence as much as possible.
Furthermore, there will soon be concrete signs of the Russian interest in the large group of industries in Kaesong, as well as the possible penetration of the Russian economy into the future North Korean automotive and mechanical industries, and finally the possible creation of an ad hoc Bank for the globalization of the Korean economy to the East and eventually to Europe.
Along the Southern flank of the Russian geo-economic security which is parallel to, but different from the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
North Korea’s future geopolitical choice will be between the Chinese Belt and Road lines and those provided by the Russian maritime and terrestrial continuity on its borders.
The SCO needs strategic consensus and cooperation in an era of uncertainties
During his latest state visit to Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Putin agreed to bring the two countries’ relationship to a “new era of greater development at a higher level”. Given this, the two core member states and the driving force of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China and Russia, will be expected to facilitate a broader prospect for the cooperation among the SCO member states in accordance with the “Shanghai spirit” during the 19th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO that was scheduled on June 4in Bishkek.
Founded in 2001, the original six-states of the SCO—China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—signed “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Charter”. It puts the priorities on mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states; and joint efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and to build up a democratic, fair and rational international order. Since then, these are enshrined into the “Shanghai Spirit” that upholds internally mutual trust, reciprocal consultations, respect for cultural diversity and common development and externally non-alignment, non-targeting any third party, and inclusiveness. From the very beginning, it has been an important mission for the organization to fight against the “three evils”, which refer to terrorism, separatism, and extremism. The concept was first defined in June 2001 during the first SCO summit. Since then, taking regional security and stability as a priority, the SCO has been making unremitting efforts to crack down on the “three evils” in joint efforts to advance the cooperation and development.
True, the SCO has undergone a substantial development since its inception and now becomes a comprehensive regional organization with the profound dimensions beyond the region. Looking into the geographical locations of the eight SCO member states, it is surely the largest regional security organization in the world, accounting for nearly half of the world’s population and over 1/5 of global GDP, not to mention two permanent members of UN Security Council—China and Russia; and two most populous nations on the Earth—China and India. During the previous 17 years, the SCO has developed into a vigorous platform with upholding the Shanghai Spirit based on the inclusiveness and common development. According to the current SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov, the SCO will continue close cooperation with the aim of implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy including joint activities and recommendations of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. For sure, with its all full members alongside four observer states and six dialogue partners, the SCO has acted actively as an international cooperation organization. Considering the uncertain circumstances of the world, the 19thSCO summit will focus on security and development among other cooperative tasks.
Here, security involves a much broader spectrum. In effect, the SCO has highlighted joint efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region. During the latest summit between Xi and Putin, they assured that the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination of the two countries has not only benefited the two peoples, but has also become an important force for safeguarding global security and strategic stability. To that end, China and Russia would continue to strengthen coordination on major international and regional issues, jointly deal with the challenges of unilateralism and protectionism, and maintain global peace and stability. As Putin put it, since Russia is ready to provide China with sufficient oil and gas, including more soybeans and other farm produce exported to China, the two sides expect a faster alignment between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative. This requires security cooperation involving all member states of the SCO.
If we take a close look into the Qingdao summit of the SCO which was held in 2018, it highlighted the security cooperation in the fields such as cross-border organized crime, gun smuggling, drug trafficking and internet security as they have become the new security challenges for the region and beyond. , now all the SCO member states agree to expand the fields of security cooperation to drug trafficking and organized crime. To that end, China and Russia have closely worked alongside all other members with a view to building an efficient intelligence-sharing system among SCO member states. Now as a highly integrated security organization, the SCO needs to collectively deal with the common challenges according to their shared responsibilities.
In an era of globalization, which is full of challenges and opportunities as well, all member states of the SCO are aware that while security acts the condition for development, the latter is the insurance of long-term stability. Due to this, one of the Shanghai Spirit’s original goals is to seek common development. Since 2013, Xi has urged the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) taken deep roots and substantially benefit the SCO member states and beyond. As the BRI is the basic path to realizing common wealth, the SCO has not only continued to sublimate the Shanghai Spirit, but also to serve the interests of all the member states and the whole region as well.
During the meeting at the presidential residence in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, right after Xi Jinping and his entourage arrived on June 13, Chinese President Xi and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sooronbay Jeenbekov discussed joint efforts to promote bilateral ties. Xi also stated that China is ready to share experience in state governance with Kyrgyzstan to achieve common development and prosperity, hailing the solid outcomes in the joint construction of the Belt and Road. The two sides agreed to step up coordination within multilateral frameworks, including the SCO and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, stick to multilateralism, and oppose protectionism and unilateralism, so as to contribute to building a community with a shared future for humanity.
Now the SCO Summit takes place in Kyrgyz located in central Asia and aims to synchronize its position towards Eurasian unity. The SCO serves a platform for jointly upholding multilateralism and the free trade system and opposing unilateralism and bullying tactics. To that end, the SCO and BRI would like to be integrated with the pace of the security and development in which a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable path would suit Asia and boost the common interests of all. For China, Xi is obviously looking forward to receiving the firm and frank supports from the SCO to take further measures by Beijing in safeguarding peace and stability and cracking down three evils in China’s borders areas, such as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet.
Civilisationalism: Ignoring early warning signs at one’s peril
A controversy about a University of British Columbia invitation to a Chinese advocate of forced re-education and assimilation of ethnic minorities highlights the risks involved in ignoring early stage civilisationalism, the emerging system of principles of governance underwriting a new world order that defines states in civilizational rather than national terms and legitimizes violations of human rights.
While the invitation sparked opposition that raised freedom of speech issues, it also spotlighted the consequences of US, European and Muslim failure to recognize initial indications that China was moving away from its long-standing policy of promoting inter-communal harmony by preserving minority cultures and ensuring that they benefitted from economic growth.
The erosion of China’s long-standing policy has consequences far beyond the boundaries of Tibet and China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang that is home to its Turkic Muslim population. It legitimizes repression of minority rights across the globe raising the spectre of inter-communal strife in societies that have long sought to foster variations of multi-culturalism and social harmony.
Calls for a rethink of China’s ethnic policy emerged in 2012 after two men set themselves on fire outside Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple in the center of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group, last year published the names of 155 Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009.
Back in 2012, military officials, businessmen, intellectuals, netizens, and dissidents asserted that the self-immolations attested to a failure of policy in what was a public debate of a long secretive and sensitive topic.
The debate was fuelled by concerns that China’s official recognition of 56 different nationalities resident within its borders risked it becoming another example of the post-Communist break-up of states such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
It was also informed by a series of incidents in Xinjiang and other parts of China, including inter-communal violence in 2004 between Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, widely viewed as China’s most integrated Muslim community, that left some 150 people dead.
It was in that environment that Hu Angang, an economist and founding director of Tsinghua University’s Center for China Studies, one of China’s most influential think tanks, urged the government to adopt an imposed melting pot approach that would create a “collective civic culture and identity.” It was an invitation extended to Mr. Angang that sparked controversy at the University of British Colombia.
Mr. Hu’s policy recommendations, articulated in a widely published article co-authored in 2011 by fellow researcher Hu Lianhe, a pioneer of terrorism studies in China who has since become a senior official of the Chinese communist party’s United Front Work department in Xinjiang, appear to have provided a template or at least a framework for China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims.
Xinjiang serves as a prime example of the risks of failing to respond to civilisationalism’s early warning signs.
Up to one million people are believed to have been detained in re-education camps dubbed “’vocational education’ and employment training centres” by the government where inmates are taught Mandarin, allegedly forced to violate Muslim dietary and religious practices, and browbeaten with the notion that Xi Jinping thought, the precepts of China’s president, supersede Islamic teaching.
Messrs. Hu warned that regional ethnic elites and interests enabled by China’s acceptance of what amounted to minority rights could lead to separatism on the country’s strategic frontiers. They suggested that the central committee of the Communist party had recognized this by pushing in 2010 for “ethnic contact, exchange and blending.”
To achieve that, the two men advocated removing ethnicity from all official documents; demographic policies that would water down geographic concentration of ethnic minorities and ensure a ‘proper’ population mix; emphasis on the use of Mandarin as the national language; promotion of China as the prime identity of minorities; and taking steps to counter religious extremism.
James Leibold, a China scholar, who raised alarm bells early on and focused attention on Messrs. Hu’s analysis and the Chinese debate, lamented at the time that “few in the West…seem to be listening.”
Mr. Leibold echoed his warning six years later when Mr. Lianhe last August stepped for the first time onto the international stage to defend the Chinese crackdown at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
“The emergence of Hu Lianhe portends a significant shift in both the institutional and policy direction emanating out of Beijing, and suggests that what is happening in Xinjiang is the leading edge of a new, more coercive ethnic policy under Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ of Chinese power, one that seeks to accelerate the political and cultural transformation of non-Han ethnic minorities,” Mr. Leibold said.
Describing Mr. Lianhe as an influential party official and intellectual, Mr. Leibold suggested China was acting in Xinjiang and Tibet on the official’s assertion in 2010 that “stability is about liberating man, standardizing man, developing man and establishing the desired working social order.” Mr. Lianhe advocated adopting his approach across the country.
In Xinjiang, standardization translates into government announcements that local officials are visiting Uyghur homes during this year’s fasting month of Ramadan to ensure that they are not observing the religious commandment.
“We must take effective action to end the gossiping about high level Party organs; finding fault, feigning compliance, and praising in public while singing a different tune in private or when alcohol is on the table”, Mr. Leibold quoted a confidential memo written by local officials in Xinjiang as saying.
In hard-line remarks to this weekend’s Shangri-La Asian Security Dialogue in Singapore, Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe, wearing a military uniform with a chest full of ribbons, asserted that “the policy in Xinjiang is absolutely right because over the past two years there is no single terrorist attack in Xinjiang.
The living standards of the local people have improved. The number of tourists to Xinjiang is over 150 million people…. The average GDP of people in Xinjiang is 7,500 US dollars… Xinjiang has carried out vocational education and training centres to ensure that there are no terrorist attacks, to help these people deradicalize and help these people have some skills. Then they can better reintegrate into society. Isn’t that a good thing?” General Wei asked.
It is good thing on the assumption that economic progress can ultimately and sustainably trump cultural and/or ethnic aspirations and that it justifies a policy that critics have dubbed cultural genocide by in the words of Mr. Leibold abolishing “non-Han cultural, linguistic and religious practices” and eroding social trust.
The policy’s success depends on the sustainable Uyghur internalization through re-education and repression of religious and cultural practices as a survival strategy or out of fear.
General Wei’s defense of the policy notwithstanding, renowned China scholar Yitzhak Shichor concluded in a recent study that the defense minister’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has so far refrained from involvement in maintaining internal security in Xinjiang, making it the responsibility of para-military forces.
“That could change if the civilian police force and PAP fail in their mission,” Mr. Shichor quoted former US army and military intelligence China expert Dennis J. Blasko as saying. Mr. Blasko was referring to the People’s Armed Police by its acronym PAP.
General Wei and Mr. Hu’s Xinjiang’s statements are but the most extreme example of civilizationalist politics that have globally given rise to Islamophobia; Hindu nationalism; rising anti-Semitism; jihadist massacres of minorities including Christians and Yazidis, lax attitudes towards white supremacism and efforts by some leaders to recreate ethnically and/or religiously homogeneous societies.
Civilisationalists’ deemphasizing of human, women’s and minority rights means reduced likelihood that incidents of radicalization and ethnic and religious conflict can be pre-empted. The risk of conflict and societal strife are enhanced by increased obsession with migration that erases escaping to safer harbours as an option.
Security in the Korean Peninsula remains fragile
North Korea’s nuclear program was initially conceived useful to provide necessary wiggle room to Pyongyang to attain the objectives of normalizing relations with the US ensuring its security as well as lessening its overdependence on China. However, the country later pursued a hard-line approach in the face of heightened US sanctions. In this context, the first summit meeting between the heads of North Korea and the US in Singapore on June 12, 2018 was conceived to break new grounds in ushering in peace in the Korean Peninsula by ending long-years of isolation of North Korea from US and its allies and heralding the process of denuclearization in the peninsula.
However, many relevant questions needed answers as the process of dialogue ensued. For instance, the North Korean regime sought answers whether the denuclearization process would involve the simultaneous process of wrapping up of American extension of nuclear deterrence and missile defence system to South Korea? Second, whether the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula was to be discussed? Third, the question that bothered the US leaders and officials alike was whether North Korea would be sincere to the denuclearization process and objectives? Based on its perception of the other party to the negotiation, US chose to insist on the unilateral abandonment of North Korean nuclear program and refused to waive sanctions until North Korea denuclearized completely. The negotiation process has been conceived as a zero sum game by Washington whereas Pyongyang is expecting returns for each move it takes. This has brought the process of negotiations to a stalemate and mutual distrust has reached its peak.
The American approach seems to be guided by the conviction that a deep-sense of insecurity, aggressive nationalism, and consolidation of power by the leader Kim-Jong-un drives North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. While many experts argued that the nuclear program was intended to serve as a deterrent against foreign military intervention to the internationally isolated North Korean regime, the regime must have been emboldened to pursue a hard-line approach toward developing nuclear arsenal by learning from the instances how relinquishing Libya’s nuclear program would have made it easier for the US-supported uprising to topple and assassinate Muammar Gaddafi. On the other side, many skeptics who suspect that North Korea would not disarm argue that the country has been relentlessly pursuing nuclear program for coercive purposes rather than for deterrence with an objective to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea and forge a unified Korea. The obfuscated perceptions that each carried about the other stifled the negotiation process.
John R. Bolton, the White House national security adviser condemned recent North Korean short-range ballistic missiles tests and said how the tests clearly violated United Nations Security Council resolutions and President Trump expressed his unhappiness with the tests initially but then played down their importance. On the other side, North Korea has not only blamed the US for its continuing sanctions campaign as well as the seizure of one of the country’s biggest cargo ships, it has not cringed from accusing the latter of showing bad faith in negotiations by conducting nuclear and missile tests and military drills as a way to forcefully subjugate North Korea while it advocated dialogue at the same time. It has been alleged that the US had conducted a subcritical nuclear test on February 13, just days before the second summit meeting. North Korea points to how high-ranking US officials did not budge from insulting the dignity of its supreme leadership and calling North Korea a “rogue regime”. Meanwhile, the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that Kim Hyok-chol and foreign ministry officials who conducted working-level preparations for the summit meeting in Hanoi in February were executed a month later.
While the US accused the North Korean regime from backing away from its promises and questioned the regime’s sincerity in following up the first summit’s denuclearization targets, North Korea considered that the summit in Singapore is the first move towards peace in the Korean peninsula to be followed by more such dialogues. The Korean regime alleged the US was expecting too much from a single summit without reciprocating to Pyongyang’s initial efforts at destroying the tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site (the only nuclear site), freezing of nuclear and missile tests and returning of American prisoners. North Korea argues for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (1950) and security guarantees from the US that would prevent America from attacking North Korea in future. While Russia and China wish to see a denuclearized North Korea for regional peace and trade but they view the American stringent measures as attempts to dwarf the influence of potential threats and spread its own. While Russia and China would seek to prevent North Korea from succumbing to US-led sanctions, Iran was skeptical and critical of the American move from the beginning and warned North Korea against trusting the American President who could cancel the agreement within hours. Mounting American pressures on North Korea without considering efforts at reaching out to the long-isolated country with deeper engagements would only build mutual distrust and would force Pyongyang to look out for assistance from countries which share similar concerns on American hegemony. While it is evident that the US policy of putting North Korea under sanctions until it denuclearizes itself is aimed at forestalling brewing tensions in the Korean Peninsula with rising threats from the regime’s muscular ambitions of developing nuclear and missile programs, the unilateral thrust in the policy is unlikely to yield results unless US considers negotiating peace a steady as well as a reciprocal process.
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