On Sunday, June 30, 2019, US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un met at Panmunjom’s “peace village” for a historic meeting.
The first time for a US President in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
The meeting – initially favoured by a US President’s Twitter message to Kim Jong-Un at the Osaka G20 Summit- lasted about 50 minutes and has already had its first result: the resumption of a working-level negotiation between the two countries regarding the number one issue, namely denuclearization.
It should be immediately noted that – for the North Korean power elite – “denuclearization” means in any case: a) eliminating the nuclear potential held by the North American Armed Forces in South Korea; b) bilaterally removing the missile systems between the North and the South of the Korean peninsula; c) maintaining an acceptable level of nuclear energy for electricity production.
Finally, it also means ensuring an acceptable level of nuclear technology that can remain in North Korea even after an effective negotiation, if the political winds in the USA, Japan and Taiwan changed direction.
What does the USA want when it talks about North Korea’s “denuclearization”?
In essence, it means maintaining a minimum but acceptable standard of military presence in South Korea, with a view to avoiding North Korea’s military annexation of South Korea, as well as maintaining a US military bloc of as many as 15 bases in South Korea – hence a level of conventional deterrence that also applies to Japan (and Taiwan) and a first strike force in South Korea, so as to allow the subsequent action of the bases around North Korea. Especially Guam.
The US Armed Forces consist of as many as 35,000 soldiers, while the US military presence in Japan is only slightly higher, reaching 40,000 units.
Moreover, Kim Jong-Un knows very well that China does not absolutely want to border on US military bases – and the same holds true for the Russian Federation, albeit only for the tiny border between Russia and North Korea.
From this viewpoint, Kim Jong-Un is certain about the strong and continuous support for the negotiation with the United States at first from China and secondly from Russia.
Hence, neither China nor Russia wants a too powerful People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, capable of carrying out operations – including military ones – on the peninsula and of filling South Korea with American soldiers.
History repeats itself: after the secret negotiations with Secretary of State Kissinger in 1971 to open a relationship with the USA, China immediately reassured the North Korean leaders that its aid would not be lacking and that the détente between China and the USA would also favour North Korea in its future relations with the United States.
Certainly, a part of the US power elite has often cherished the idea of a purely military and definitive solution for North Korea.
Here the joke by the Italian Communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti comes to mind, when – after the riots following activist Pallante’s failed attack on him – he told his Party’s representative in Lombardy, Giancarlo Pajetta, who had “occupied” the Prefecture of Milan: “Well, now what are you going to do with it?”
Hence what would the USA do with an impossible clash and with a probable nuclear escalation on Russia’s and China’s borders? How would Russia and China react to the loss of a friendly state and how would the other Asian States react to the breaking out of a war in Korea to “bring democracy”? Pure madness – and Kim Jong-Un knows it all too well.
Some US circles are less aware of it.
Also some US brokers and mediators with North Korea, such as my unforgettable friend, Bob Gallucci, knew it very well.
Certainly, the tension that had mounted between China and North Korea, immediately after Kim Jong-Un’s rise to power, was North Korea’s only real strategic mistake, which its Leader quickly corrected, by even turning it into a preferential relationship.
The North Korean Leader reached two other successes in the negotiations with the USA: the tested and substantial uselessness of international sanctions, which did not change the North Korean power at all, and the small economic boom that accompanied the early years of his power – an expansion that must absolutely be preserved.
Kim Jong-Un, however, also knows very well that the regime survival is linked to stable, robust and long-term economic growth.
Clearly there is a real “Chinese faction” within the North Korean power elite, that sometimes fights against the one closely linked to Kim Il-Sung’ system. Nevertheless, Kim Jong-Un – who is a careful and skillful politician, capable of calculating the right strategic equation- has also realized that it is not at all useful to alienate China. Quite the reverse.
It should be recalled that the sanctions against North Korea were imposed by the UN Security Council with China’s and the Russian Federation’s favourable votes.
Considering that all the UN Security Council’s members voted in favour of those sanctions, albeit for very different reasons, they can be lifted only if everyone agrees to do so.
Hence the sanctions – at least by the United States – could be lifted only if North Korea permanently and, above all, completely relinquishes its nuclear weapons and its ICBM carriers and medium-range launchers, which would quickly silence Guam, Japan, Taiwan and obviously South Korea.
Certainly, the IAEA has so far proved to be effective in monitoring situations very similar to those in which North Korea currently finds itself.
However, can the Vienna-based UN agency replace a strategic choice? Obviously not.
Hence we are back to the formula that characterized Bob Gallucci’s negotiation with the North Korean regime, which began in 1993: the dismantling of the Yongbion reactor, the only source – as far as we know – of North Korean plutonium, in exchange for the US and IAEA acceptance of two civilian light-water reactors for the sole production of electricity.
The Agreed Framework put in place by Bob Gallucci lasted about nine years, also despite all the piques and rebounds of the Republican Party-dominated US Senate on the transfer of fissile material, technology, etc.
On the other hand, North Korea’s nuclear issue reflects an even more profound political and strategic issue.
When the USSR – which was North Korea’s greatest supporter in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by China – collapsed, the advice that China gave to North Korea was to start the “Four Modernizations” also there, with a view to avoiding ending up just like the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, the question put by the North Korean power elite was simple and rational: what would happen to us and to the regime if we opened the door to economic reforms and then inevitably to the policies adopted by China?
Hence, North Korea’s political use of nuclear power that also envisages – under certain conditions – the dismantling of nuclear weapons, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and for aid flows from the West, also with a view to reducing China’s “invisible hand” in North Korea.
The United States would like a Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID) in keeping with the provisions of UN Resolution No. 2270 of 2016. Conversely, for North Korea the dismantling of nuclear weapons also entails the removal of 28,500 out of the 35,000 US military stationed in South Korea.
A possible solution – albeit far from easy – is the mere freezing of the North Korean nuclear program. Kim Jong-Un has often hinted at the fact that North Korea itself could give up its nuclear and missile research activities. The Punggye-ri nuclear test site has already been closed by the North Korean government unilaterally.
This solution of freezing the North Korean nuclear program would also be a rational solution. North Korea would not be forced to dismantle its weapon systems first, thus exposing itself to evident risks of military and political destabilization. The United States would be certain that the North Korean potential remains stable and that it is a system it can already oppose. Finally, the economically important possibility of resuming a robust “Sunshine Policy” would open up for South Korea.
Japan – which is anyway rearming – would see an opportunity to reopen the long-standing issue of North Korea’s abduction of its citizens. China does not want a change in the balance of power on the Korean peninsula, but it would open a market of one hundred million new consumers for its products. Finally, Russia could support a “new North Korean deal” with economic aid and political support, thus avoiding North Korea putting all its eggs in one basket, namely China.
Moreover, also North Korea’s military nuclear capacity – sold to many customers at a “strong” currency – is a far from negligible source of income for the North Korean regime.
Hence ensuring to North Korea the lost revenues from the sale of nuclear and missile technologies, but also setting a rational time schedule for the phasing out of North Korean nuclear facilities.
This should add to the actual and effective lifting of sanctions against North Korea, which are so severe that they would destroy also a rich and diversified Western-style economy.
Moreover, North Korea could initially suspend only the ICBM tests, while maintaining – albeit for a short period of time – the exercises with short and medium-range missiles designed to hit Japan.
Thus, a void of power could be avoided in the region, which may be tempting for many people, especially in South-East Asia.
However, the nuclear component of the North Korean submarines – which could be excluded from the framework of negotiations – should be studied.
We could then ask North Korea to adhere again to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Furthermore, the structural weakening of the North Korean military system should be accompanied by a Treaty – signed by the USA and its allies in the Pacific region – which guarantees to North Korea that the United States or other countries will in no way take advantage of North Korea’s new weakness.
Moreover, in exchange for denuclearization, the USA could turn the 1953 armistice into a real peace Treaty, with mutual diplomatic recognition and the opening of normal commercial and financial channels.
The USA, however, needs not to be alone in the long negotiations with North Korea.
If the European Union mattered in foreign policy – not only for the usual trite talk about budgets – this would be a good opportunity for it to come to the fore.
However, this will not happen.
Certainly, the ideal would be a tripartite agreement between the USA, China and the Russian Federation.
It would allow to slacken the regional tension, as well as to favour the trade-off between economy and military policies in North Korea, and enable Russia and China to make its interests clear to North Korea.
Furthermore, we could think of a Bank for Korea’s Transformation, which would favour the modernization of North Korea’s industry and allow to ensure widespread wellbeing, which is Kim Jong-Un’s only guarantee to stay in power for a very long period of time.
The Korean Peninsula needs more peace talks rather than game drills
Although military drill is legitimate and often conducts internationally, it is still required to be transparent and cautious. That means the participants involved should publicly announce the game not be directed against any third party, if not having the pre-talks before the drills. For example, the Chinese military participated in Russia’s the Center-2019 drills and a large-scale Vostok-2018 strategic exercise. But both sides announced their aims to fully test and improve the capabilities of the Chinese troops in joint operation and logistics with a view to improving the strategic coordination between the two militaries.
However, this is not the case of the United States and its ally South Korea on the Korean Peninsula although the latter often display its reluctance to follow the dictate of the U.S. military command. It is sure that hostile behavior or policy like regular military drills against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would lead to serious consequences. At the Xiangshan Security Forum in Beijing of this October, a top officer of DPRK armed forces put it, although Pyongyang has worked to build lasting peace but that the situation has relapsed into a “dangerous, vicious cycle” of exacerbating tensions because of the regular military drills of the U.S. and ROK forces.
Since 2018 when the DPRK-U.S. joint statement was issued, there is no progress in improving bilateral relations between the two sides. Pyongyang has insisted that it is completely because of the U.S. anachronistic and hostile policies against the DPRK and also the ROK (South Korea) has adopted a “double-dealing attitude” in continuing to carry out military drills with the U.S. and buying advanced military equipment. Under such circumstances, Pyongyang has no other choices but conducted missile tests in recent months, including that of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and broke off the latest working-level nuclear talks with the U.S. Understandably, DPRK’s top negotiator for the talks blamed the U.S. for the breakdown with accusing Washington of “bringing nothing” to the negotiating table. In addition, the DPRK officially accused the U.S. of using sanctions in order to enforce disobedient countries to their knees. Yet, sanctions draw only resistance and counteraction from those affected countries, without providing any help in solving the issues. Therefore, the DPRK must stand up to such attempts without giving in to any external pressure.
Consider this, people wondered why the United States and its allies have been so hostile and even often ridiculous in dealing with the DPRK which is one of the isolated and economically most poor states in the world. Actually China and Russia have supported the U.N.-endorsed sanctions against the DPRK, but they have opposed to any attempt on the part of the United States and its allies to change the ruling party and regime of Pyongyang regardless of the dire consequences. As the close neighbors of DPRK, China and Russia have vowed that they would never allow the chaos occurred in the Korean peninsula. Given this, Pyongyang has demonstrated its willingness to conduct negotiations with the United States and its brotherly counterpart the South Koreans. True, China and Russia have provided the necessary humanitarian aid to the DPRK but they also proposed two-suspension formula of the Korean issue, that is, the two sides simultaneously suspend their nuclear tests and military drills. Unfortunately, due to the United States’ arrogance and stubbornness, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has never been improved substantially.
Now the tension on the Korean Peninsula reappears again and even more dangerous move is that the DPRK’s supreme decision-making body lashed out at planned U.S.-ROK military drills with a stern warning the United States will face a greater threat and harsh suffering if it ignores Kim Jong-Un’s end-of-year deadline to salvage nuclear talks. Obviously the DPRK is deeply concerned with the annual U.S.-led military drills which are supposed to cause a “vicious cycle” in relations between the two sides. It is arguable that the United States with the most powerful arsenal in the world should have better behave itself with prudence at the sensitive time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula could return to the dangerous starting point due to the joint military drills. Here is no reasons to defend the DPRK’s menacing rhetoric but it does have the sound line to recognize the legitimate concerns with its own security.
This paper holds that despite the disappointment of those closely watching the tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the failed summits, yet diplomatically, the door between Pyongyang and Washington is still open. Although the United States and DPRK presented their own narratives on the disagreement, they didn’t finger point at each other as what they would have usually done. Actually, Trump has spoken of Kim favorably and Pyongyang’s tone on the impasse of the talks was soft. Everything indicates that both countries look forward to the next meeting though undecided. Past experiences tell that challenges are inevitable when the two sides discuss the issues that involve their core interests and grave concerns. Yet, it is obvious that both sides will benefit from sincere dialogue. As the success of diplomacy can’t be based on false promises and on breach of faith, it supposes that there is no reason to regard the chance of peace for the Korean issues failed. At the least, the two sides have no intention to reject the dual-tracks and two suspensions proposals by China. It has also reflected Beijing’s role on the Korean Peninsula issue is irreplaceable since Kim made four trips to China in just ten months and Trump praised Xi as a highly respected leader due to his help to mediate with Pyongyang.
If we look into the past summit talks between Trump and Kim, they faltered due to the American rejection of Pyongyang’s demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for the partial dismissing of its nuclear capabilities. Following that, Kim responded with intensified testing activities but also indicated he would “wait with patience until the end of the year for the United States to come up with a courageous decision.” Curious enough, the United States indicates that it will consider changing plans to conduct joint military drills with South Korea if that helps support diplomatic efforts to restart a dialogue with Pyongyang. As U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “We always have to remain flexible in terms of how we support our diplomats to ensure that we do not close any doors that may allow forward progress on the diplomatic front.” His remarks were greeted cautiously by Pyongyang although it still demands for a cancellation of the upcoming exercise. Yet, this was finally realized when the United States and South Korea decided on November 17 to postpone the planned military drills.
For sure, it is still too early to tell what would happen on the Korean Peninsula in terms of the deeply-rooted suspicions and the hostile groups on the both sides? But we should have confidence in the prospective meetings between the United States and the DPRK in the near future. In effect, Pyongyang and Washington have agreed that lifting sanctions is a key part of denuclearization that needs to be negotiated sincerely and constructively as well. At this crucial moment, it might be time for China to resume its role as expected. It seems that China is ready to extend its help as it has reiterated to both Washington and Seoul that Beijing is willing to continue to play a constructive role on the Korean Peninsula issue.
Briefly, it argues that the Korean Peninsula needs more peace talks rather than game drills. Equally a stable Korean Peninsula surely benefits the peaceful rise of China and the harmony of the Asian-Pacific region. This is the essence of diplomacy in light of its continuous negotiation, sincere persuasion and necessary compromise.
It’s when not if China’s Middle Eastern tightrope snaps
China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.
China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.
It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.
All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.
Israeli intelligence reportedly predicted last year that Iran’s gradual withdrawal from an agreement that Mr. Trump abandoned in May 2018 would ultimately take Iran to a point where it could create a nuclear military facility within a matter of months. That in turn could provoke a regional nuclear arms race and/or a pre-emptive military strike.
That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord.
The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.
China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.
Even so, China is expected to next month take its first delivery of Russian gas delivered through a new pipeline, part of a US$50 billion gas field development and pipeline construction project dubbed Power of Siberia.
Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.
The Russian pipeline kicks in as China drastically cuts back on its import of Iranian liquified petroleum gas (LPG) because of the US sanctions and is seeking to diversify its supply as a result of Chinese tariffs on US LPG imports imposed as part of the two countries’ trade war.
China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.
Following months of quietly reaching out to Iran, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told a recent security dialogue in Abu Dhabi that there was “room for collective diplomacy to succeed.”
Mr. Gargash went on to say that “for such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states.” Pointedly, Mr. Gargash did not put Russia and China on par with Western powers in that process.
The UAE official said the UAE envisions a regional order undergirded by “strong regional multilateralism” that would provide security for all.
Mr. Gargash made his remarks against the backdrop of a Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a multilateral security arrangement in the Gulf that would incorporate the US defense umbrella as well as an Iranian proposal for a regional security pact that would exclude external players.
Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.
The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of the burden.
Potentially, Mr. Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.
“China gets 91 percent of its oil from the Straight, Japan 62 percent, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships…,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
China has not rejected Mr. Trump’s position out of hand. Beyond hinting that China could escort Chinese-flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, Chinese officials have said that they would consider joining a US-backed maritime security framework in the region that would create a security umbrella for national navy vessels to accompany ships flying their flag.
Chinese participation would lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive regional security arrangement in the longer term.
China’s maritime strategy, involving the development of a blue water navy, suggests that China already de facto envisions a greater role at some point in the future.
Scholars Julia Gurol and Parisa Shahmohammadi noted in a recent study that China has already “decided to take security concerns in the (Indian Ocean) into its own hands, instead of relying on the USA and its allies, who have long served as the main security providers in this maritime region… If tensions continue to escalate in the Persian Gulf, Beijing may find it has no other choice but to provide a security presence in the Middle East.”
Implications of French President’s Visit to China on the International Arena
French President Emmanuel Macron pursues a policy of opening up to China and solving problems that may arise peacefully and diplomatically. France and Germany are the main pillars of the European Union, and the French opening to China is a European recognition of the importance of China’s role internationally.
Last Monday, the French president paid a three-day official visit to China amidst the US-China trade war. The French president has previously promised to visit China once a year throughout his term. These official exchanges between China and France strengthen China’s international standing, and prove the theory that China is a peaceful country seeking cooperation and opening up to the world.
Fifty-five years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, a bilateral relationship based on respect and friendship despite some differences in regimes or strategic alliances. The Chinese model is mainly based on people-to-people communication and peaceful cooperation, and these are the main pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
Despite Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement in 2015, Beijing and Paris have kept their promises to contain global warming, a positive point in the bilateral relationship. The French president considered that China and France should lead the climate agreement. Cooperation between the two countries has emerged considerably in the industrial sector, such as the development of nuclear energy, aerospace, and the automotive industry. Academic cooperation between the two countries has also been boosted through student exchange programs and the high demand for Chinese language learning in France, which was previously rare.
Commenting on the importance of trade exchanges between China and the EU, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce showed that trade between China and the EU exceeded 322.5 billion US dollars in the first half of 2018, up 13 percent year on year. Chinese Ambassador to France Zhai Jun recently expressed that China and France are to expand cooperation in agriculture, energy, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence.
From the ancient city of Xi’an, the French president announced that an alliance between Beijing, Europe and Paris should be established for a better future for the world, and Macron stressed the need for a balanced relationship between China and Europe. The French president praised the Belt and Road Initiative and called for its activation in order to enhance the trade role of Asia and Europe.
France was the first Western country to recognize the People’s Republic of China. In a meeting with French ambassadors, the French president stressed that the West is in a moment of decline and China is progressing at a tremendous speed. During his visit to China, the French president took advantage of the trade war between the United States and China and worked to develop France-China trade relations, increase French trade partners to China, and promoting the French tourism, agriculture and services sectors.
France is seeking to strengthen Sino-European relations because of its great benefit to the European economy, but it is contrary to the Western orientation. China is also a beneficiary of good relations with France, because France has influence in Africa and many regions in the world and is a permanent member of the Security Council and it is a developed country at the military, technological and technical levels. China’s cooperation with a powerful country like France will bring many benefits and opportunities.
China’s great economic, technological and military progress indicates that China has become an important country in international relations, and it is in the interest of any country in the world to establish good relations with China. The best evidence is that France is seeking to establish good relations with China, as well as the European Union countries to make their relationship with China distinctive.
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