As a political decision maker, the Chinese Minister of Natural Resources, Lu Hao, is at the centre of a great transformation of today’s China.
Former Governor of Heilongjiang from 2013 to 2018, he was also First secretary of the Communist Youth League and later vice-mayor of Beijing.
He is also a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), although he was born only in 1967, in Shanghai or probably in Xi’an.
The effective political systems favour and foster the careers of the best young people.
As President Xi Jinping has often pointed out, this is the right time for a comprehensive and in-depth ecological analysis of Chinese development.
Once the economic development of a country that initially hosted the “second processing activities” of global economy was over, China is now getting ready to be a large global economy, an advanced economy having no obligations towards “old” technologies and markets – hence also fully ecological.
Since the 18thCPC Congress, President Xi Jinping has been vigorously supporting the idea of a fully Chinese “ecological civilization” and certainly the choice of Lu Hao as Minister of Natural Resources goes in this direction.
As both President Xi and Minister Lu Hao underline, now also soil erosion has become a very severe phenomenon in China.
Currently the annual soil erosion of both agricultural and non-agricultural land totals approximately 5 billion tons.
The area currently down to agriculture in China is worth about a third of the available land.
The desertification area is now equal to 2,622,000 square kilometres, i.e. 27.3% of all the land surface available.
Despite the many efforts made to reverse this trend – and not only recently -currently China is the country with the lowest per capita share of forests in the world.
Pollution is still heavy, especially in the case of water, but President Xi (and Minister Lu Hao) have quickly got to work.
President Xi Jinping stated: “Clean waters and green mountains are as valuable as mountains of gold and silver”.
The President not only wants a high GDP, but above all a strong and stable “green” GDP.
The First World markets pollute the Second but, above all, the Third World – and today China is not Third World for anyone.
Being subject to pollution is like being subject to foreign powers.
Hence President Hi Jinping’s fundamental idea is that protecting the environment and increasing productivity are mutually reinforcing goals.
Just like Minister Lu Hao, President Xi Jinping believes that there is a scientific and rational connection between environmental protection and economic development and that the purpose of the CPC action is to enhance the people’s quality of life and their happiness index.
Hence President Xi Jinping’s fundamental idea is to strictly follow the scientific and technological criteria, by increasing the use of natural resources and – precisely for this reason – also developing the blue economy, while respecting the objective laws of nature and, hence, also the laws of socialist and rational economic development.
At the 18th CPC Congress, President Xi Jinping – and certainly also Minister Lu Hao – spoke of building a “beautiful China”.
As written in the documents of the 18th CPC Congress, “To meet the people’s desire for a better life is our mission” – hence President Xi Jinping (and Minister Lu Hao) maintain that “building an ecological society and civilization, which is connected to the people’s well-being, is our goal and the true future for the Chinese nation”.
President Xi Jinping’s policy line is – first and foremost – to “first protect, then scientifically demarcate the use and protection of nature, and later adhere to the red line of environmental and ecological protection”.
Here the primary concept is “protection first”.
The old industrialist and productivist criterion, whereby “merely keeping pollution under control” is enough, is now meaningless.
Therefore, whoever is in charge of the area where pollution has occurred must be considered – to all intents and purposes – liable both legally and practically.
We know that every year at least eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans, and over half of this quantity comes from five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
This problem can be slowly solved with better collection, wider information and what President Xi Jinping precisely calls “ecological civilization”.
Furthermore, as early as 2017 China has begun its “action against air pollution, with the closure of over 150 coal-fired steel factories to reduce particulate matter in the air by at least 15% a year.
Again as from 2017, China has already achieved the 2020 target for the use of solar energy, with the even more ambitious goal of soon reaching the production level of 213 GW, five times higher than the current US annual production.
Considering the current technology data, it is like covering – only with solar panels – a surface larger than the Greater London area, namely 1,500 square kilometres.
Furthermore, also thanks to Minister Lu Hao’s action, in 2019 China rose from the 41stto the 33rd place in the world list of nations that are actively involved in climate change.
A great leap forward, although the greenhouse gas emissions increased in China both in 2017 and in 2019.
China, however, can currently meet the Paris Agreement criteria by stopping its greenhouse gas emissions within 2030, but only by increasing its renewable energy production by 20% and by using greater nuclear energy sources – a policy of which little is still said in the silly West.
Hence tripling the share of non-fossil fuels by the end of 2030 and establish a full market for Chinese emission trading.
If – as is very likely thanks to President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao – China manages to do so, the global project to reduce the global temperature increase to “much less” than two degrees Celsius will be successful.
China is therefore fundamental for the ecology of the whole planet.
Moreover, China plans to increase the area of forests absorbing carbon dioxide by 45,000 square kilometres and it is slowly succeeding in reaching this goal, also thanks to the organization of natural parks, considering that China currently has over 12,000 perfectly organized natural parks and reserves.
There is a public health problem adding to the challenges outlined so far.
In China about 2.8 million children -mainly newborn babies – die due to pollution-related problems.
If we do not want to change the balance between generations – and certainly President Xi Jinping and Minsiter Lu Hao are very careful not to do so – the pollution issue becomes pivotal.
Just think about the retirement, employment and demographic transition between generations, with a burden of newborns’ deaths equal to 2.8 million a year.
The Chinese Climate and Ecological Policy System introduced in 2017, which Minister Lu Hao is greatly expanding, also provides for the careful monitoring of over 1,700 energy-producing companies and for the further final control of over three billion tons of greenhouse gases.
The size of China is still an outstanding issue and has led the country to have – in spite of everything – as many as 10 billion tons of CO2 released into the environment – about a quarter of the world total amount.
In any case, however, they are less than 23% compared to the Chinese CO2 production in the previous year.
As to water pollution, the State will spend as much as 30 billion for “cleaning” and purifying springs and water flows.
China will also improve its basic price system, with a view to fostering environmental protection and rural areas – a policy for the total cleaning of urban water and major springs, organized by Minister Lu Hao and supported by President Xi Jinping.
The first goal is to purify urban waste water, the major source of stable pollution of springs. Then China plans to “ecologizing” the Yangtze River and Lake Bohai, two other water flows that affect China’s whole rural and urban water system.
The project, however, will be completed and the cleaning of the big rivers and major water basins and reservoirs will go ahead.
There is a project to reduce the use of industrial water by 23% within 2020, when the first large national share of renewable energy will be massively used in China.
The law on the “prevention of soil and water pollution” entered into force on January 1, 2019, but it also provides for the census-taking of all Chinese land – to be carried out every ten years – as well as the establishment of monitoring stations everywhere – with data that can be spread at every level – and also the checking of toxic and noxious substances in soils and waters, with data that must become public – at least partially. It finally provides for the creation of funds for cleaning land and water, which every local and regional authority must envisage in the budget.
“Rehabilitation systems” for polluting agricultural or industrial companies are planned.
With specific reference to the desalination of sea water for industrial and human use, it should immediately be noted that China is one of the 13 countries with the lowest water availability in the world.
Moreover, most water resources are concentrated in the South, while Northern and Western regions tend to suffer from drought.
As President Xi Jinping and Minister Lu Hao point out, population growth, mass urbanization, climate change and gradual reduction of water reserves are all conditions that make the water issue crucial for continuing China’s economic development.
In addition to reorganizing national water reserves – as can be seen in projects such as the Diversion of Northern Waters – water is never really sufficient and, hence, the other fundamental issue of President Xi Jinping’s and Minister Lu Hao’s water scheme is desalination and the recycling-purification of waste water.
Here the real problem is desalination, considering that 43% of the Chinese population lives in the 11 coastal provinces, which anyway account for 13.7% of the Chinese territory.
In coastal areas, however, the water supply is even lower than the national average.
Nevertheless, coastal areas account for over 65% of China’s national GDP.
However, the water resources of China’s coastal areas are only about 28% of the total national ones.
Hence desalination is a solution.
Currently over 150 countries use this system.
Moreover, China’s desalination project has lasted for at least 60 years.
Currently, however, after a series of regional and sectoral attempts, a real desalination industry has developed in the Hebei Province, as early as the first project in Datang Wangtang in 2005.
The specific membrane technology is already well- developed, but also microfiltration is available – with a national production exceeding 10,000 square metres per day for each of the approximately 150 plants, but with additional 71 sea desalination plants, operating at a reduced pace, and with 35% of the total water resources used for people’s personal use.
Only 35% of water resources, however, is used for energy production and for other industrial uses, including paper and metal production.
The desalination plants are mainly located in four regions, namely Zhejiang, Shandong, Liaoning and Hainan.
The main technologies are Reverse Osmosis (RO) with UF (Ultra Filtration) membranes and Multi-Effect Distillation (MED), which is thermal desalination.
In China, 120 are RO plants and 7 are the largest ones with MED technology.
With regard to soil protection, it has been ascertained that 402 industrial sites and 1,401 agricultural areas record a high concentration of heavy metals.
36% of agricultural areas and 28% of industrial sites are contaminated.
China defined the regulations carefully and made them even stricter in 2016, but the final regulatory framework was designed in August 2018.
As already seen, the criterion used is prevention.
The relevant authorities must therefore evaluate each project ecologically, before its implementation.
The law lays down each party’s responsibility, with a sequence of obligations no one can escape.
However, the real problem in China is the relationship between arable land and urban areas.
New buildings have reduced the area down to agriculture by almost 60% compared to 1990.
2.47 million hectares – equivalent to the surface of the US State of Vermont – were reclaimed on the basis of the new legislation on the rebalancing between agricultural land and housing areas.
Nevertheless, only 37% of the land reclaimed on the basis of this legislation is reused for agricultural purposes, while 44% remains merely unploughed land and 19% becomes forests.
Moreover, the climate and bio-chemical change of soils is often at the basis of China’s great internal migrations, which are a further structural distortion of an already anomalous – and now stable-concentration of people from internal towards coastal areas.
According to the 2016 data, the Four Modernizations and the subsequent reforms pushed over 200 million migrants to the Chinese coasts.
In the future, however, the real core of the issue for China will be harvesting electric power from the dynamics of ocean wave movements.
Many energy market analysts believe that the market for this type of electricity will increase by 10.25% a year until 2023.
The market is expanding especially in Europe, which was the first continent to develop this technology, but now the idea has spread to the United States, Australia and, above all,China.
Currently there is a device available for harnessing the power of ocean waves known as “Penguin”, which is moored to the seabed at 50 metres depth. Only 2 meters are visible above the sea water surface.
This 1,600 ton device is around 30 m long.
It is manufactured by a Finnish company.
Devices for producing wave-based energy -with an average capacity of 40 MW – are already available in the Caribbean, Antigua, Bermuda and Curaçao, through a mechanism that will be operational in late 2019.
Nowadays also the microgrid technology is available, i.e. a mix of energy sources, users and storage systems that, in this case, combines solar sources with those from the ocean wave cycle, as currently happens off the Australian coast.
Today the energy available from waves, and hence from tides, is 8.2 GW for the whole China.
It is a huge amount.
China’s research for this type of technology is currently based on a vertical turbine, developed by the Harbin University, as well as on a horizontal axis turbine, studied by the University of Zhejiang, and on other prototypes.
Hence the potential energy available from the Chinese wave cycle is probably much greater than expected – by over 25% – and this does not regard the technologies currently applied, but the physical potential of wave movements, which can be easily calculated.
As early as the 1970s China has developed this sector, starting from Jangxia (3900 Kw), and later in the regions of Bachimen, Shandong and Maluan Bay, which are already active only partly.
There have also been attempts – far from useless – to produce energy from the sea heat exchanges.
But what are the structural limits of the Chinese marine renewable energy project?
In general terms, a certain and stable lack of investment in the sector, which enables Western technologies to evolve more rapidly and, above all, more suitably for the future massive consumption of “sea wave-based” energy.
We also need to consider the nature of places on the Chinese coast, with the spreading of typhoons and dangerous situations, and finally the use of oceans for security, desalination or fishing operations.
Still today, a massive spreading of these wave-based energy technologies is needed, as well as a common base between universities, government, local authorities, Party and users to create a strong and stable market for this type of energy.
The Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter (ISWEC) could be the solution.
It is a device placed inside a float, with an operating criterion based on an inertial system to exploit the sea wave movements to produce energy.
The stability of the float and of the device is ensured by a gyroscopic inertial system, which works when the hull oscillations caused by the movement of waves induce the rotation of the gyroscope platform that is then converted into electricity by the power generator.
The additional aspect is that this system can be fine-tuned and adapted to the changes in sea conditions, which allows to relate the frequency of maximum productivity to the frequency of the incident wave.
Everything is regulated by the spin engine of the gyroscope flywheel and by the real-time dataon the area’s weather conditions.
You can also easily secure the system, if special sea conditions or other phenomena occur.
The hull of the float has dimensions of 8 m width, 15 m length and 4.5 m height, as well as a draft of 4 metres.
The two gyroscopes inside the “buoy”, i.e. the floating positioning system, have an installed electric power of 130 kW, as well as a sensor platform capable of immediately collecting data from the local sensors, to be related to the remote sensor data and the updated weather forecasts.
They can also predict the wave characteristics and finally generate the short-term control signal for all the device operations and drives.
The average annual productivity per each floating position system is 250 MWh, which allows to save 68 tons of CO2 emissions each year, and the structure will obviously occupy a sea area of approximately 150 square metres where fishing will be forbidden.
The device is the result of research carried out by the Polytechnic of Turin, developed by a spin off and put into operation thanks to an agreement between ENI, CDP, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Fincantieri and Terna.
As Arthur Rimbaud wrote in one of his poems, “Eternity.
It is the sea mingled with the sun.”
The 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum UN for Ecological Civilization and Environmental Protection
Despite the world is passing through a very tense and hostile geopolitical environment, yet, in a significant diplomatic development, Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani is set to attend the 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation in Nyingchi, Tibet, from October 4-5, 2023. This visit comes at the special invitation of China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, underlining the mutual commitment of nations in fostering regional cooperation.
Historical Background and Importance:
Tibet is also known the roof top of the world, it is one of the oldest civilization, and may be the most important part of the world, especially for this entire region. It is the source of water for whole region, most of the rivers originates from it. It biodiversity is crucial for the entire region. The Trans-Himalaya Forum, initiated in 2018, stands as a testament to the collaborative spirit among regional countries. It aims to deepen practical cooperation on vital issues such as geographical connectivity, environmental protection, ecological preservation, and cultural exchanges. The last in-person meeting, held in 2019, facilitated invaluable discussions that paved the way for shared understanding and strategic collaborations.
China views the Trans-Himalaya Forum as a platform that embodies the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. The forum aligns with China’s commitment to ecological civilization and environmental protection, central tenets of its development agenda. China values it friends and Pakistan is closet of its neighbor, friend and stakeholder in the region. By inviting esteemed diplomats like Foreign Minister Jilani, China underscores its commitment to fostering international partnerships and building a sustainable future together. China is committed to work with the rest of world in all domains and especially with its close friends and allies. Chinese initiatives like Global Security, Global Developments, and Community of shared futures are in line with the same spirit. China believes in multilateralism, and openness, while oppose hegemonic approach and protectionism.
Importance of the Forum:
This year’s theme, “Ecological Civilization and Environmental Protection,” reflects the urgency of addressing environmental challenges collectively. The Forum serves as a crucial avenue for nations to exchange ideas, best practices, and innovative solutions. It not only enhances regional cooperation but also fosters a deeper understanding of the diverse cultures that make up the Trans-Himalayan region. Currently the world is facing severe challenges on clash of civilization and environmental fronts. China being a responsible nation is well aware of such challenges and its consequences, that is why, it is struggling to prevent any major disaster. It has been putting all efforts to resolve the common issues and problems faced by humankind. It is open to all nations in a positive manner to collaborate to resolve the serious concerns. This forum will be a right stem in the right direction.
The Forum is anticipated to yield fruitful outcomes. Bilateral meetings, including those with the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, the Foreign Minister of China, and the Interim Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, are expected to foster stronger ties and collaborative initiatives. Additionally, the collective discussions are likely to result in joint projects, resource sharing, and policy frameworks aimed at environmental conservation and sustainable development.
The Way Forward:
Looking ahead, the Trans-Himalaya Forum will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the region. By embracing the Chinese perspective, nations can harness the collective wisdom of diverse cultures and work towards a harmonious and prosperous Trans-Himalayan region. As nations engage in collaborative efforts, this forum exemplifies the power of unity and shared goals, paving the way for a greener, more sustainable future for all. The beneficiaries will be all stakeholders in the region and will also contribute to global peace, development and harmony.
Pakistan is always playing positive role in geopolitics and will be important member of the global community in resolving immediate concerns. As a matter of policy, Pakistan has been contributing toward resolving issues and overcoming challenges. Pakistan is always a partner in any positive developments leading toward security, peace and developments. The UN always appreciated its role in UN peace keeping mission.
Reading the Rise of China
Unlike in the past, when the geopolitical discourse worldwide was going through a massive geopolitical metamorphosis in the first half of the 20th century, as the fall of empires were accompanied by the rise of democracy, republics, socialist and communist dictatorship. Meanwhile, it resulted in the rise of the US and USSR as two superpowers at the end of the second world war, and such a geopolitical metamorphosis situation is evident with China’s rise, whose rise under Xi Jinping’s leadership has countered the US and its global order and supremacy. Since its independence, China has come a long way from being a poverty-ridden, low-income group nation to now the second-largest economy in the world.
To address its economic crisis after the demise of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 “reform and opening up” pushed China to emphasize the four-modernization areas to develop itself as a prosperous country. As the reform emphasized the modernization of agriculture, industry, emphasis on science and technology and securing national defense, it also resulted in China being viewed as a strategic threat to the West in the later years. Furthermore, it resulted in the beginning of a debate over whether the rise of China is peaceful or not? China, since the 1990s, has adopted, basically, what we called the “charm offensive” and employed it to win over its neighboring and regional states, where China uses persuasion opposite to threat as a mode. It was done along with diplomacy, trade, investment, engage in cooperative regionalism, strengthening cultural relationships, offering aid, and acted as a responsible nation in resolving regional and global disputes.
The concept of peaceful rise or “hepingjueqi” was first used by Zheng Bijian in 2003 and was adopted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2003 as a Chinese expression to reflect country’s growth and its status as a global power from a less threatening perspective. Growing concern over the concept resulted in the adoption of peaceful development; as a result, in 2005, a white paper on China’s Peaceful Development Road was issued; it sees peaceful development for the country’s modernization as inevitable one because it will promote global peace and development. As the paper seeks a mutual benefit and common development, thus building a harmonious world altogether, which was later reiterated in the 2011 White Paper “China Peaceful Development”. With repetition of the word peace and common development, the basic content of the peaceful rise was kept while its outer look was refined as the term ‘rise’ gave way to ‘road’, which will ensure accessibility to ‘development’ and not domination. It remains the base to project China’s rise to the world since the arrival of President Xi Jinping in 2012, which transformed China’s rise to be assertive and aggressive. However, Xi’s economic infrastructure (the BRI and Made in China 2025) and financial institutions developed (AIIB and National Development Bank) carried out since 2013 to sustain the Chinese economy and economic growth raises one relevant question, i.e., ‘will China face the ‘Soviet’s fate and how so far it avoided an economic collapse’? Explanation of such question will lay a base to understand the need for Xi’s vision for China and the Chinese Dream and its development so far impacted the world order established since the collapse of the USSR.
Today, China’s aggressive behavior worldwide isn’t only supported by its strong and vibrant export-led economic growth and Xi’s leadership; it also highlights the need to discuss diminutively how China’s rigor to learn from the Soviet’s mistakes continued to help China to expand its strategic hegemony. China took a cue from the USSR’s shortcomings and the mistakes it committed during the Cold War range from economic to military aspects to protect itself from committing the same mistakes. However, whether it was Soviet’s the Glasnost or Perestroika, which opened the country to the western lifestyle and freedom of thought and expression, weakened the Soviet’s central authority as Chinese leaders considered through ethnonationalism and political unrest in the country. Unlike the Soviets, China enjoys a large homogenous society and further addresses its periphery which includes Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, which are under CCP’s tight control to counter any Colour Revolution. Further, since the 1979 Vietnam War, as China argues, it has never engaged in any proxy warfare and instead invested its resources to couple its economies with other economies. Although, today, it created uneasiness for other countries to contain China’s rise and geopolitical ambition.
Meanwhile, as China hid its geopolitical ambition, it further transformed itself into a global manufacturing hub. As Soviet mistakes continued to reflect in the CCP research work to avoid the Glasnost moment, Watch the Periphery and further embraced Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics. President Xi Jinping, in his speech to party officials in 2013, reiterated apart from maintaining ideological control and upholding the Marxist-Leninist principle, ’a great power fall when central authority losses power and respect which will only help China to avoid Soviet Union’s mistakes. In such regard, to control the flow of information and restrain free speech, the party maintained control over the digital and non-digital platforms and didn’t allow Facebook, Google Services, The New York Times, Twitter, Washington Post, and others to work which established what called the ‘Great Firewall of China’. Such surveillance of the Chinese internet put Chinese people under steady surveillance as China uses the Deep Pocket Inspection, which allows Chinese intelligence agencies to keep an eye on Chinese people and censor information and Chinese lives establishing China as Digital Authoritarian who exports its model to other countries which become a serious issue today.
Under such circumstances and growing issue of human right issue in Xinjiang and the CCP is working towards suppressing democracy in Hong Kong and changing the demography of Tibet. Further, the intent to unify Taiwan with China, coupled with slowing of the Chinese economy due to its Zero-Covid policy, questions CCP rule and asks when will China and the CCP collapse? To contradict such scrutiny, China argues West always view China at the cusp of crisis and will experience a hard landing ending CCP rule and COVID as China’s Chernobyl moment. In recent times whenever China faces or encountered any challenges like unfounded rumor of a coup in China and Xi Jinping’s sudden departure from the Shanghai Cooperation Summit (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 15-16 September 2022 or the ongoing property crisis like the Evergrande, China argues pushes the West to create wild prophecies concerning the fate of the CCP and China.
However, Zhang Weiwei, Director of the China Institute of Fudan University, argues most of the predictions made by the West failed as they failed to predict the fall of the Soviets or the rise of China, and the rise of Trumpism and the 2008 financial crisis. He states West’s predictions reflect ideological biasedness towards no-western countries, like how they will be westernized and use their historical experience to analyse China’s future ignoring civilizational differences as they will end up concluding the wrong prediction. However, as China is facing economic and policy challenges with growing discontent among Chinese elites, Xi’s absence and other development following the SCO summit allowed the global Falun Gong movement – China banned it in 1999 – to spread anti-CCP and Xi’s discontent further. However, the possibility of a coup in China has been addressed by the party, and Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption movement with military coup remains implausible or considered the wishful thinking of the West; as such rumour reflects world is still unaware of China’s inner workings as Global Times argues none are even remotely right.
As Global Times argues, unlike how the West view China, under Xi Jinping and CCP leadership, China was able to achieve a faster economic growth rate and handled the Covid-19 pandemic well compared with the West who only exaggerate China’s problem and downplayed its growth and development reflecting having a wrong prediction of China. It further states China’s collapse perspective reflects in Francis Fukuyama, who, in 2012, argued that ‘China’s top-down political system will only blow up due to the pressure from a growing middle class who’re empowered by wealth and social network’. Meanwhile, Zhang Yiwu, Professor at the Peking University, states in China today, there are more than 1 billion people who are exposed to the internet, which still didn’t impact the CCP’s rule and authority; rather, Chinese used the medium to express their opinion on problems and warn the government to fix the problem and issues. Further, unlike other western scholars, Martin Jacquesargues with China continues to rise, support for its political system will increase, highlighting Chinese system worked which will strengthen in coming years as other countries will adopt it, which alarmed the West as it could lead to the ‘Sinification of the world’. To rebut the West’s China collapse theory, Chinese scholar like Yang Sheng argues instead of prophesizing China and CCP falls; the West should conduct poll using Pew and Ipsos, credible and authoritative institute. He states staying in the house and base your research on second-hand source data instead will only lead you away from the fact and fail to achieve a definite conclusion.
US- Japan- South Korea Military Cooperation Pushes More Rigid Bipolar Security Arrangement in Northeast Asia
The Russian-North Korean negotiations this month have provoked a lot of hype, particularly in the West. It is assumed by the West that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s trip might indicate a profound change in Moscow’s overall approach to the security problems on the Korean Peninsula. Allegedly, a new so-called “Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang axis” that harbors unquestionable hostile intentions toward the West is rapidly emerging in Northeast Asia. It is suggested that Moscow is now ready to directly assist North Korea with its nuclear and, especially, with its ballistic programs. Pyongyang, in its turn, might send large-scale military hardware supplies to Russia to serve the “special military operation” that Moscow has been conducting in Ukraine since February of 2022.
These allegations have to be addressed in a proper context. Speaking of various axes in Northeast Asia, one should not forget about the growing level of military cooperation between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. Both Japan and the South Korea have dramatically increased their defense spending as well as the scale of their trilateral interaction. In the end of 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced an unprecedentedly ambitious five-year rearmament plan that should turn Japan into the nation with the third highest defense budget in the world after the US and China.
The changing posture of the South Korea is arguably even more significant. After all, Japan has always been a disciplined US geopolitical partner at least since signing the 1960 US-Japan security treaty. South Korea for a long time has consistently resisted pressure from the US to join Washington and Tokyo in a trilateral alliance or to drop its friendly ties with Beijing and Moscow. President Yoon Suk-yeol, who came to power in 2022, apparently has a different take on the South Korea’s security prospects. The traditional distancing from the US-Japan strategic partnership is no longer in place. The new leadership makes steps to bring Seoul closer to Quad and AUKUS. It even entertained the idea of South Korea obtaining indigenous nuclear weapons. On top of that, for at least last two years, both Japan and South Korea have been meticulously integrated into the new global strategy of the North Atlantic Alliance.
A devil’s advocate would argue that both Tokyo and Seoul have every reason to be concerned about security challenges mounting in Northeast Asia. Still, even giving both nations the benefit of the doubt, it is impossible to deny that the security and political “axis” in this region of the world is being built by the West rather than by the East. And, as Newton’s Third Law tells us, for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. When one body acts on another, it experiences an equal and opposite reaction from the other body. Now, the question is not if a nuclear war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean Defense Minister General Kang Sun-nam stated in August, but who starts it and when.
Let’s be clear: Pyongyang is much more sensitive about its sovereignty and independence than both Tokyo and even Seoul. This means that North Korea will never become an obedient proxy in Russia’s or China’s capable hands. However, the growing US-Japanese-South Korean military cooperation inevitably leads to stronger China-Russia-North Korea ties. This, in turn, means that we are moving toward a more rigid bipolar security arrangement in Northeast Asia. Unfortunately, for the time being, all the dreams for a common security system in the region have to be put on hold.
Will this change affect Russia’s and China’s approaches to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula? Neither Moscow nor Beijing is interested in a nuclear arms race there. Russia and China have little to gain and a lot to lose if the existing fragile consensus in the United Nations Security Council on North Korean nuclear program were to collapse. On the other hand, the new great powers confrontation can do nothing but erode the trust, which is indispensable for maintaining this consensus. There is still time to reverse these dangerous trends toward bipolarity in the region. Instead of lamenting about the actions of the other side, major actors should engage in inclusive consultations on how to defuse the situation.
Twenty years ago, the so called six-party talks on nuclear program were launched in Beijing. Over six years this multilateral format had its ups and downs, successes and failures. In April of 2009 this mechanism finally hit the wall. Though it is hardly possible to get back to where the region was 20 years ago, the spirit of the six-party talks remains the best hope for security solutions in the region of Northeast Asia.
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