After a long preparatory work and thanks to the strong mindedness that we already recognize to him, on March 10, 2018 Xi Jinping succeeded in imposing – with 99.86% of favourable votes – a constitutional reform enabling him to extend his stay in power without time limits.
It should be recalled that the maximum limit of the two consecutive terms of office was introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to avoid the danger of a “personalistic drift” (as Deng himself called it), which – according to that ruling class, just getting over the Red Guards’ harsh attacks -had characterized the last phase of Mao Zedong’s regime.
After stabilizing his power within the Party and the State – with his loyal aides, such as Wang Qishan, who managed the world financial crisis of 2008-2010 and the relations with the United States, as well as Deputy-Prime Minister Liu He, supervising economic and financial policy, and Yi Gang, the Governor of the Central Bank – President Xi Jinping established a large and cohesive negotiating group for international economic and financial affairs, above all with the United States. In 2017 the United States managed a trade surplus of 375 billion US dollars in favour of China, as well as a volume of Chinese investment in US Treasury bills equal to 1,200 billion US dollars and many other operations. At the core of them there is the New Silk Road, which will characterize the strategic-economic and geopolitical nature of China’s current foreign policy.
Power projection in the Heartland and US potential exclusion from it.
As Brzezinsky said, when the Heartland is united with the Eurasian peninsula, there will be the end of US hegemony. Both in Europe and in the rest of the world.
Furthermore,Liu He and Yi Gang spent long periods in the United States to study international finance and political science.
The powerful anti-corruption campaign also contributed to the quick and effective results of this great change in China’s leadership. Besides the thoroughcontrol ofthe ways and procedures to select both the middle-low and upperranks of the Party and the State, carried out directly by President Xi Jinping’s “internal” group, said campaign was organized also by Wang Qishan, the powerful Head of the new Party’s “control commission” and very loyal to President Xi Jinping.
An essential aspect of foreign policy, which for President Xi Jinping and his team is mainly economic and financial foreign policy, is the establishment of independent Chinese initiatives abroad, in addition to expanding China’s role in the WTO and in the other international organizations.
It is by no mere coincidence that the Chinese intelligence services have a section dealing with the “use of international standards”.
Initiatives such as the Investment Bank for Asian Infrastructure (in which also Italy participates) and the BRICS Investment Bank, which are essential for understanding the role of China as a country within the world trade flows, but also its strong geopolitical autonomy.
These phenomena will emerge above all in the 75 countries that have already joined the New Silk Road.
Economic ties with China, but adhesion of the 75 countries to China’s unwritten project of hegemony in the new world order, which today, in particular, appears as a structural weakening of the United States.
With specific reference to diplomacy, the recently-drafted “Xi Jinping’s Thought on Diplomacy” envisages that – as already done for seven decades -the Party develops a diplomacy thought “with Chinese characteristics” and that this Thought is defined directly by the CPC leaders.
While today’s world is infinitely complex, as Chinese leaders maintain, the Chinese diplomacy must also reach a new starting point.
A new starting point that simplifies the initial approach and leads to a New World Order, not focused on the United States, but linked – if anything – to a Chinese diplomacy operating bilaterally in all economic and political spheres and in all areas of the world.
Hence, following President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic policy line means – first and foremost -to remain loyal to the peaceful development pathway, with a view to furthering cooperation with all countries to achieve win-win results. It also means to support the formal architecture of the current international system, with a view to finally achieving a better external environment for all States and making definitive progress towards world peace and human progress.
Hence President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy means – first and foremost-support for the gradual and ongoing opening up of global markets, especially today when Western countries tend to protectionism, but is also designed to foster relations with the countries that the West is neglecting or still considers mere “deposits of raw materials”, such as Africa or Latin America.Said diplomacy, however, works above all to avoid the creation of hotbeds of crisis.
In a nutshell,albeit with some degree of legitimate simplification, President Xi Jinping is turning most of Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory” into diplomacy doctrine.
It should be recalled that it is a classification dividing the countries according to their hegemonic claims and designs, as well as to their power projection.
The “imperialist” West and the “revisionist” USSR, or rather the First World, would wear themselves out, with their cold wars, on the ground of the “great European plain” they both want to conquer, while all the vast world that is not yet developed will be led by the People’s Republic of China.
The Second World was made up of the developed countries, but the marginal ones compared to the nations of the First World.
Analyzing President Xi Jinping’s doctrine on Chinese diplomacy more in depth, we realize that these times have already come.
As to the First World, the USA is under crisis, while Russia is now part of the Chinese-led Heartland. The Second World’s countries can all now be part of a bilateral win-win project guaranteed by the new Chinese superpower.
Firstly, China has experienced 40 years of continuous development, i.eafter the Four Modernisations and the subsequent economic and political reforms.
Currently China is the second largest economy in the world and, in 10 years’ time, Chinese analysts reasonably expect it will outperform the United States.
On the other hand, as seen above, there is the progressive expansion of protectionist practices that lead to strong strategic and economic tension between States.
In this case, precisely with his diplomacy doctrine, President Xi Jinping maintains that the domestic choices must always be coordinated with those in the international sphere.
There is no separation – which is eminently non-dialectic – between domestic and international policy in a country.
Again according to President Xi Jinping’s doctrine, at world level the guidelines can only be those of mutual respect for global peace(hence never non-hegemonic) and of mutual development, not only at economic, but also at human level.
It is a Western-rooted humanism, albeit “with Chinese characteristics”, as Chinese would say.
Hence President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine strongly supports multilateralism, both at political and economic and financial levels. It also promotes free trade and facilitatesinvestmentand finally tends to renew and “rejuvenate” the system of global relations as against the US “unilateralism”, which is closely related to protectionism.
Obviously an exporting economy such as China’s, which is however expanding also in the internal market, wants free trade. It is less obvious, however, that a country dominating the world financial system like the United States is linked to the protection of its industries, which are often mature or even decocted.
The primary factor is that, in the idealistic diplomacy resulting from President Xi Jinping’s Thought, what is noted by many Chinese scholars and diplomats is the significant and specific contribution of the country to human civilization – a contribution that, in Chinese leaders’ minds, no other country can currently provide.
It is not a secondary and rhetorical factor: humanism with Chinese characteristics shows that China holds universal values, while the West is ever less globalized in its values and lifestyle.
The China that has expanded throughout the world, in the 40 years since the Four Modernizations, is a primary part of the international community. Its interests have spread across the world, which implies that China has a perspective and a way of assessing facts in a global and not strictly nationalistic way.
Chinese humanism as hegemony of soft power.
Hence, also the West – which is obviously not satisfied with China’s quick, stable and powerful growth – cannot even understand how, according to Chinese analysts, the country can have the perception of its universal commitments and interests.
A Chinese diplomat said that they have been accustomed to be modest, but they have begun to engage deeply in international and global issues, with a view to leading “the reform of globalization” – which is the key to President Xi Jinping’s geopolitics – particularly after the 18thCPC National Congress.
With specific reference to the relations between the USA and China, President Xi Jinping’s theory of Diplomacy maintains that cooperation always achieves win-win objectives, while confrontation always entails a loss for both actors.
According to President Xi Jinping, those who still have a cold war mentality isolate themselves from the world, and those who currently use zero-sum games will never be able to avoid confrontation without suffering great damage.
If the United States creates the conditions for a hard confrontation with China – and powerful enemies emerge – it will reach a condition in which the contrast, even peaceful, will be so hard as to severely undermine the US world rank, as well as its status as first global economy.
As to the relations between China and the Russian Federation, President Xi Jinping regards the two nations as global strategic partners in all areas.
Currently the relations between the two countries are “rock solid” – just to put it in President Xi Jinping’s Doctrine. Together they are becoming a strategically very important force for maintaining peace in the world.
Common Russian-Chinese interests are always expanding, but they never negatively affect a third party and are never influenced by the decisions of a third party.
It is the current Chinese definition of the classic term “independence”. Esoterically, the Void between two Full.
Hence, just to recap, President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy doctrine consists of ten simple points:
a) always supporting the CPC Central Committee’s policy as if it were the essential principle for action, underlining the function of the centralized and unified direction of the Party as far as all relations with foreign countries are concerned.
b) Supporting the development of diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, with a view to fulfilling the mission of national rejuvenation. The internal and external spheres are linked and must never be treated separately.
c) Preserving world peace and reaching a common level of development among peoples and nations, with a view to building a large community, with a shared future for all ankind. Chinese global humanism seen as a Vase of Kingdoms for every national and humanistic tradition.
d) Strengthening all countries’ strategic trust in Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
e) Continuing to work for the Belt and Road Initiative in view of all member countries’ common growth, through discussion and collaboration.
f) Following the path of peaceful development, based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. Respect, not asymmetrical hegemony, but symmetrical hegemony – in the Chinese view – since it is the result of the political effects of a win-win relationship.
g) Developing global partnerships while proposing a diplomatic agenda.
h) Leading the reform of the global governance system, based on the concepts of justice and fairness – i.e. non-hegemonic concepts of a cultural and political nature.
i) Taking the Chinese national interests as the bottom line for safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security and development interests. It is once again the link between the outside and the inside of the same Vase, namely domestic policy and foreign policy.
j) Nurturing the growth of a specific style of Chinese diplomacy, combining the fine tradition of China’s “external work” with the current needs and characteristics of the international environment. This means to link the Confucian and elitist Chinese tradition with the daily practice of diplomacy.
According to the Party’s current leadership, the study of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought is an essential part of the thought on Socialism “with Chinese characteristics”, so as to achieve a New Era, which is designed to be the start of a global and peaceful diplomacy led by China.
A diplomacy mainly supporting the reform of globalization, the deep core of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought, as well as the global spreading of China’s win-win relations with all the countries of the world.
From this viewpoint, and without ever losing sight of the goal of Chinese national rejuvenation and universal human development – another essential feature of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought – new types of international relations will be established, based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. Global multilateralism.
In the future, the diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, introduced by President Xi Jinping, will promote a new international order, resulting from an inclusive world of stable peace, universal security and common prosperity.
This is not propaganda. It is a project that – in the specific terminology of the CPC Central Committee -is building China’s new foreign policy.
Without this kind of political eschatology, we cannot fully understand President Xi Jinping’s thought on international relations.
For a modern, but also for a traditional Chinese, the Confucian metaphysics of principles is what metaphysics was for Aristotle: “the science of ends” – ends which are as real as means.
In fact, Father Matteo Ricci S.J. regardedConfucius as “the Aristotle of the East” and, in the “Rites controversy”, which involved the Jesuit and the Franciscan Fathers, the former supported the sinicizationof the Holy Mass because, despite everything, the Chinese tradition was comparable and consistent with Aristotle’s tradition that had refounded Catholic Metaphysics, through St. Thomas Aquinas.
Moreover, it is a moral and cultural standing proposing itself as a new leadership, in a world of political materialism – especially in the West – and of short-term operational and practical visions.
Hence, there is a successful merging of Marxist analysis and Chinese cultural tradition – a modern cultural and political tradition that is now also ancient.
Therefore, this is another essential point of President Xi Jinping’s Thought on foreign policy.
President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy is an important achievement of the now successful turning of Confucian thought into “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
In President Xi Jinping’s mind, arts and culture – which are also essential in the current Chinese power projection – are based on some points that can be taken from various speeches and documents and can be summarized as follows:
1) contemporary art must take patriotism as its primary theme (patriotism and not Marxism),thus leading the crowds to have correct visions of history, nationality, the State and culture. Confirming the integrity and self-confidence of the Chinese people – here lies mass pedagogy, which applies also to foreign policy.
2) Some artists ridicule the sublime (and much could be said in relation to the Western theory of the sublime) and even offend the classics, thus depriving the crowds of heroic figures. The world upside down, the good as the bad, the evil becoming good, the ugly becoming beautiful. Here President Xi Jinping, who knows the European culture well, will certainly remember a scene of the tragedy that built the Western culture: the ritual of the Three Witches around the cauldron in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
3) The market value of arts is completely irrelevant, compared to their social value. Another problem of pedagogy in arts, while the West tends to exclude the public from the works of art and is scandalized – following Walter Benjamin -by their technical reproducibility. The economic benefits are always worth less than social ones – and this is another very important factor to understand President Xi Jinping’s thought. Nevertheless, the independence of arts and the autonomy of their aesthetic value is indisputable. Autonomy, not exclusion from the public.
4) Chinese art must never chase the foreigner. Provincialism is the absolute evil. We cannot say President Jinping is wrong.
5) Providing sound, healthy and progressive content to mass fashions coming from abroad.
In essence, it is a transposition – within the arts – of the same principles that President Xi Jinping has developed for the art of diplomacysince last June.
In other words, the values of all behaviours;the universal effect of behaviours; the union between the private and the public sphere, i.e. between the external (foreign policy) and internal domains (national life).
The Chinese still view diplomacy as an art, unlike the West, which now regards its diplomats as sellers of goods and services, as financial promoters or advisors, and possibly as brokers of contracts.
This will never be the diplomacy of a prestigious, influential and successful country.
The New Chinese Diplomacy, however, also concerns President Xi Jinping’s attempt to capitalize on Donald J. Trump’s isolation on the world scene.
So far, however, only 19% of the citizens in 25 Western countries like China as world leader, while a US Rule is still acceptable to 25% of the world public.
Not even the US results, however, are very brilliant.
After all, President Jinping’s goal is to make China rapidly becoming a global superpower, thus creating a protective network of allied countries, with a view to counterbalancing the equivalent US structure of international relations. Once again the Void and the Full exchanging their roles.
In fact, one of the reasons underlying the Belt and Road Initiative is to create a network of long-term allies for China, capable of covering at least the whole Eurasian Heartland, thus blocking it in the face of the US power expansion.
Once again the Void and the Full, two terms of the Chinese esoteric tradition: the Full will be China’s and the Russian Federation’s undisputed power over the entire Eurasian Heartland, with ramifications towards an increasingly weaker Eurasian peninsula in geopolitical and military terms.
The Void will be the US strategic autonomy around China – at least for the time being.
There may also be a structural Chinese contrast with India, a future great power, also at economic level, but to the south, at the crossroads between the Heartland and the great line of communication between the Asian Seas and the Persian Gulf, and finally the Mediterranean.
For the time being, the EU irrelevance will suffice. An unbeatable guarantee for both the USA and the other major global players.
The void, more important than the full, is currently the still decisive US presence in the primary and secondary seas, with little penetration into Africa, very strong US presence in Europe and the North American management of the break between Eastern Europe and Russia, which is capable of making the Heartland open and “viable” and depriving it of strategic value.
This is the great picture in which President Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine shall be seen.
Hence, we are still in the phase of the speech delivered by President Jinping to the CPC Central Committee in 2017, when he said that “China would stand tall and strong in the East”.
In a phase of globalization crisis, we are still reinterpreting the theme of China’s “central interests” – an issue that had been discussed by the Chinese leaders, especially in the early 2000s.
On the basis, however, of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and of the “Chinese dream”, two essential themes of the 18th CPC Congress that crowned Xi Jinping as leader.
The President has quickly become China’s “central leader”, especially through the great campaign against corruption.
At international level, Jinping’s Presidency differs greatly from an essential strategic theme of contemporary China: the low profile imposed, at the beginning, by Deng Xiaoping.
Deng seemed to think that China should be allowed to build a modern economy, which was its first and fundamental objective, but should not be bothered with the major geopolitical and military issues, which were still out of reach and diverting the country from its primary objective.
President Jinping has instead overturned this principle: China certainly has world ambitions, which are also its primary interests.
Hence China’s core interests are well known: the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank;the One Belt, One RoadInitiative; the construction of artificial islands in the Sea of Japan; the building of the Djibouti base and the silent participation in many world conflicts and tensions. These are all ways to further China’s global power and protect its primary interests.
We should also recall “China 2025” and “Amazing China”, two projects that are far from negligible in this new Chinese plan that consists in regulating, reforming and even regaining globalization, while other countries, such as the USA, temporarily recreate their economy and their labor force returning to protectionism. Inevitably, this will always recoil on them.
Protectionism is a drug with short-term effects.
The alternative option is twofold: to continue the game of globalization – which has now almost completely deindustrialized the nations that began the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century – or to temporarily strengthen the country with protectionism.
On the one hand, however, China can afford globalization because it has a different productive formula but, on the other, it could play even the game of protectionism, using the belt of the Silk Road countries, which can easily maintain and absorb an acceptable level of Chinese exports, even under the terms and conditions set by China.
Hence, are we now faced with a new cold war, the one between China and the West?
Probably, but only a Third Type one, with an economic war characterized by Second Type skirmishes, halfway between the symbolic and the strictly military domains.
China has already tried to close operations with an alliance between it and the EU, Russia and Japan.
Nevertheless, considering the current configuration of world trade, the attitude has been lukewarm.
The USA has instead reactivated part of its trade with the EU, by greatly strengthening its historic relationship with Japan.
Hence, there is once again the spectre of China’s closure within its traditional borders – a danger that President Xi Jinping wants to avert ab ovo.
As early as 2009, China’s “central interests” were theorized in the Central Committee as: 1) China’s fundamental system and State security; 2) the State sovereignty and territorial integrity; 3) the stable development of the economy and society.
The 2011 White Paper added “peaceful development” and “national reunification” to these fundamental policy lines.
That is the one with Taiwan.
Currently China makes it increasingly clear that respect for its core interests is essential to create the win-win relations that characterize its bilateral economic relations.
This is one of the primary aims of President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine.
Moreover, China, is no longer encouraging Chinese companies’ investment abroad, thus reuniting all what was previously scattered everywhere in the sole Belt and RoadInitiative, which is currently part of the Constitution and the Party’s Basic Policy Line.
The Belt and Road Line was born from that of the “March to the West”, a strategy initially developed by the international policy expert Wang Jisi, who believed China had to go towards Central Asia and the Middle East, with a view to minimizing the tensions with the United States in East Asia.
An essential area for the United States.
Currently, however, the “Belt and Road” initiative is a global and not a regional initiative – as Wang Jisiinitially thought – a project that will lead to geopolitical upheavals not yet predictable.
The project stems from two essential needs: China’s exit from its unsafe traditional borders and the continuous, stable internal economic development that, where lacking, would put the power of the Party and the State to a hard test.
These are the economic and political mechanisms that President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Theory wants to expand and protect.
No Prospects for Denuclearization of North Korea
Analytical pieces—typically prepared by self-professed experts—abound as to whether denuclearization of North Korea could be possible or what its parameters would be. Such ruminations became particularly popular by the end of Donald Trump’s presidency when the negotiations eventually found themselves in deadlock. However, I would rather call it a “freeze,” and while this may not be the best solution to the problem, it is certainly not the worst either.
The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear missile program has been going on for some 15 years, and I would argue that the reason why no practical solution has been found lies in poor positioning. As I have repeatedly noted  North Korea’s nuclear missile program is not the root of the problem that disrupts the traditional world order; rather, it is a consequence of problems that are more global in their dimensions, reflecting the transition from the wonted world order to a new one.
There are a few signs to this new world order. First, some nations abuse the right to decide which state is a democracy and which is not, with the contrived singling out of “rogue states” to be countered through any methods, including those that seem ethically unacceptable. Broken promises are no longer perfidy but military stratagems. When it comes to North Korea, one might recall the Agreed Framework story or how President Kim Young-sam and his administration spared no effort to destabilize the situation in North Korea at a time when it suffered from what has been called the Arduous March. Seoul advocated providing no aid to the starving country, one South Korean official admits while privately talking to the author, in the hope that the famine would spur mass riots and subsequent “reunification.”
The second sign indicative of the new world suggests that international law and major arbitration institutions have lost their authority. UN Security Council resolutions that forbid North Korea to launch any kind of ballistic missiles is a good case in point. Incidentally, this violates the decisions enshrined in a number of other UN documents that guarantee the universal right to explore outer space for peaceful purposes.
The third sign has to do with the crisis of competence, which affects the quality of decision-making on the part of both politicians and subject-matter experts, blurring the line between the real country and its cartoonish propaganda image. This is well illustrated by the case of North Korea: any foolish news report about the country ultimately finds an audience. While the story of Jang Song-thaek being fed to a pack of dogs was debunked fairly quickly, no less fantastic death penalty stories for listening to K-pop are still popular.
Besides, the might of the law has been replaced with the law of the might. The new generation of politicians no longer fears a major war, rendering military conflict—“humanitarian” bombings of “rogue states” in particular—one of the acceptable means for achieving domestic and foreign policy goals.
Finally, under these circumstances, North Korea cannot use the conventional conflict resolution methods, thus being compelled to look for ways to defend itself on its own, especially since the threat of losing sovereignty is by no means hypothetical. Officially, the Korean war is not over, and South Korea’s Constitution still extends the state’s sovereignty to the entire peninsula, demanding that the president promote the country’s unification. What is more, the National Security Act refers to North Korea as an anti-state organization rather than a country. Even relatively liberal populists, such as Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in, failed to review this concept.
Relying on its nuclear missile program, North Korea sets itself two goals. The first is to achieve minimal and, eventually, guaranteed nuclear deterrence, which would certainly take a belligerent solution to the North Korean problem off the table. The North Korean leadership has certain reasons to believe that only North Korea’s nuclear weapons saved it from the fate of Iraq or Libya. It is well-known that once in a while the U.S. and its allies plan an offensive war against the North, whose elements are drilled at joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises irrespective of their scale.
The second goal is to achieve international recognition and ditch the “rogue state” yoke. Should North Korea theoretically join the “nuclear club,” this will put it on a par with the leading superpowers. This is the principal reason why—despite the UN Security Council’s internal disagreements—the Permanent Five have so far voted unanimously for yet another sanctions package each time North Korea has taken another significant step in developing its nuclear missile program. The current world order is based on the premise that only the five great powers are allowed to possess nuclear weapons. It also relies on the UN’s authority, which would collapse if it became known that at the end of the day North Korea got the UN to “cave in”—following nearly 30 years of condemnation, resolutions and sanctions.
It is no accident that the very term “denuclearization” is under discussion. American conservatives, such as John Bolton and others who adopt a strictly realistic approach, interpret “denuclearization” as meaning nuclear disarmament of North Korea, which should be stripped of all types of WMD and—to boot—of its nuclear program. This entails eliminating the North Korean threat both globally and regionally. In contrast, North Korea, as well as Russia and China, stress that denuclearization should extend not to North Korea alone but to the whole Korean Peninsula, which requires certain commitments on the part of the U.S. and South Korea, up to and including prohibiting U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons from docking at South Korean ports.
It has to be noted that those who identify with the allegedly liberal approach to international relations view the North Korean issue as highly ideologically charged. Liberal democracy advocates and WASP conservatives alike perceive North Korea as an authoritarian regime imbued with atheistic collectivism, as an “Evil State.” They see it as the pure opposite of the ideal state—an abstract concept that exists in their minds. That, in turn, stimulates an intractable drive towards confrontation, since not only is the “Evil State” incapable of negotiations, such negotiations are impossible in principle. Any deal with such a regime is an unacceptable concession in terms of values, and value-based confrontations are always more inflexible than those political or economic in nature.
During the 2017 crisis, when I believed the probability of conflict really rose beyond 50%, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un emerged as pragmatic leaders, essentially putting the process “on hold.” The jury is still out on how this related to the Russia-China “double-freeze” plan, while each party would certainly have wanted more. Kim Jong Un would have loved to have the sanctions eased, with Donald Trump expecting further concessions. The pause that was achieved, though, allowed both parties a “small profit.” The U.S. president could say that, first, he prevented war and, second, that the sanctions were effective, with no missiles in the air and the U.S. having granted no unacceptable concessions. Kim Jong Un, on the one hand, got a peaceful breather, which allowed him to focus on the country’s economic development, and, second, his commitments were essentially unofficial and did not restrict the development of the nuclear missile program. This could be exemplified by multiple successful launches of short-range missiles as well as by presentations of new types of ICBMs and SLBMs, even though these were not tested.
Yet, since late 2019, both parties have been aware that “things are not going to get better.” In late 2019, Kim Jong Un said it was no use hoping for an easing of the sanctions, while allowing Donald Trump to “sit out” the final year of his presidency with no unnecessary tensions. As of the writing of this article, his moratorium is still in place, although American and South Korean experts believed that several dates came and went when Kim could have raised the stakes, opting for an escalation. I believe that Pyongyang is waiting for the White House to formulate and announce a new North Korean policy. So far, as Roman Lobov puts it, “the door is shut but not locked”; and Choe Song-hui, who seems to be still in charge of North Korea–U.S. relations, has not been dismissed from office and declares from time to time that the North will use force in response to force and amicability in response to amicability. The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea emphasized that no change in the White House would change the U.S.’s overall hostility towards North Korea, which is why North Korea will hardly make the first step, choosing to wait for truly serious proposals from the U.S.
This is the situation three months into 2021, exacerbated by several additional aspects. The new U.S. president is the first such aspect. Of course, there is some hope that he will follow the same path as Donald Trump once did: a hardliner early in his tenure shifted to a more constructive approach once collided with reality. So far, however, it appears that the logic of factional strife is compelling Biden to go along “the main thing is not to be like Trump” pattern, and that means steering a course towards escalation. Such an approach will provoke North Korea to retaliate. More importantly, such blinders will keep the Biden Administration from rapidly developing a constructive approach to its interaction with the North. In particular, we can see that human rights issues in North Korea, all too valid for the Democrats, were not broached regularly under Trump while they have come under attention once Biden assumed office.
The U.S.-China confrontation is another aspect, which was pronounced to be value- rather than merely politics-based even under Trump. There has been no change to this approach under the new president. The U.S. attempts to restrict and contain China, with this confrontation being part of Russia and China’s more broad confrontation with what is perceived as the West.
I believe such a rift and its would-be consequences deal no smaller blow to the existing world order than Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. First, this reinforces North Korea’s conviction that the current situation makes the country rely on missile sovereignty. Second, rifts in the Security Council give North Korea a certain boost. It does not, however, mean that the Security Council will no longer remain unanimous should the North decide to raise the stakes sharply. Yet, if we consider the U.S.-China confrontation from the point of view of allies of both states, we will see that China could only rely on the North since it has for a long time stressed the two countries’ socialist nature and their friendship based on ideological values. Besides, North Korean media outlets have been condemning the U.S. for criticizing China’s policies. What this means is that China will keep Pyongyang afloat and contain American pressure to denuclearize Kim’s regime unless it decides that North Korea’s actions are too provocative. The same can be said of Russia, although the North Korean issue is less of a priority for Moscow, especially when compared to the post-Soviet states or the Middle East.
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the global situation. First, self-isolation instituted throughout the country has generated a new spiral of suppositions revolving around the notion that its economic system is about to collapse and that a new Arduous March will ensue. Second, with diplomats and NGOs having left North Korea, gathering data has become more difficult, which has indirectly contributed to growing alarmist sentiments. Finally, we cannot rule out a situation when the North Korean issue may—for a number of countries—become a way to shift attention away from domestic problems, including those related to failures in fighting the coronavirus. In such a situation, any prospects for denuclearization are extremely vague.
The fourth aspect is the level to which North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced, which makes the monitoring methods used for the states that are at the early stages of their nuclear programs ineffective. Since North Korea is a de facto nuclear power, the set of measures intended to ensure complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization, as Vladimir Khrustalyov notes  will essentially demand that North Korea be essentially stripped of its sovereignty as far as the monitoring and checking powers are concerned, with which international inspectors should be vested.
Consequently, today it might be said that one can only go on talking about denuclearization for the sake of talking. It will take a miracle to move things forward. Option one is some fantastic change in the international environment, which would make North Korea no longer feel threatened and thus less reluctant to abolish its nuclear program. That would mean geotectonic rather than merely geopolitical shifts in the existing international security architecture. Option two, just as fantastic, provides for a North Korean Gorbachev who, for some reason, will make the decision to abolish an important component of North Korea’s political myth and its sovereignty guarantees. Harsher options envision denuclearization as a result of regime change, which is of very little probability as well.
Does this mean there is no way out of this predicament and that missile fireworks will follow sooner or later? No, it does not. The possibility of the “double freeze” is still there, and such a “freeze” could continue almost indefinitely. Another possibility requires more efforts as it entails resetting the agenda—while keeping the term “denuclearization”, new strategies would actually focus on arms control. Instead of destroying North Korean nuclear capabilities, efforts would be channeled into restricting it, operating on the premise that the existing capabilities already serve as minimal deterrence. Many scholars adhere to this stance, both in Russia  and abroad, while fully cognizant of the fact that a change in tack will prompt huge resistance, since this would go against the trend of preserving the global status quo. Any attempt to abolish the demand for full denuclearization of states aspiring to the nuclear club “membership” would amount to a crack in the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
On balance, true denuclearization of North Korea would require a radical change in the geopolitical situation in Northeast Asia: once the threat is gone, countermeasures will no longer be necessary. While there is no possibility of such changes, the Russia-China proposal of a “double freeze” settlement remains the most feasible solution, although far from ideal.
The study has been carried out with financial assistance from the RFBR (project No 20-014-00020).
- Asmolov, K.V. The Nuclear Problem of the Korean Peninsula as a Consequence of the Changes in the Global World Order (in Russian) // Paper presented at the All-Russia Academic Conference with International Participation “International Relations in the 20th-21st Centuries: 4th Chempalov Conference dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War and the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II. 17–18 December 2020. Yekaterinburg.
- Zhebin, A.Z. The Korean Peninsula: From Denuclearization to Arms Control (in Russian) // Paper presented at the 25th Conference of Korean Studies Specialists from Russia and the CIS. 25–26 March 2021. Moscow
- Khrustalyov, V.V. (Vladivostok, North-East Asian Military Studies Project) On Fundamental Obstacles in the Way of Rapid, Guaranteed, and Irreversible Denuclearization of North Korea (in Russian) // Paper presented at the 8th International Conference “Russia and Korea in the Changing World Order – 2019.” 17–18 May 2019. Vladivostok.
From our partner RIAC
Kissinger Again Warns US, China Heading for Armageddon-like Clash
Last week, Henry Kissinger again warned US-China tensions are a threat to the entire world and could lead to Armageddon-like clash between the world’s two military and technology giants. Surprisingly, some Chinese are interpreting it as a threat to intimidate China in order to “accept and obey” the US-led world hegemonic order.
In January 2015, the peace group CODEPINK dangled a pair of handcuffs in front of the then 91-year old former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate hearing. Twelve months later, at the February Democratic Debate Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton were seen engaged in a heated duel attacking and defending the acclaimed diplomat respectively. The late writer Christopher Hitchens in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger warned editors, TV news channel producers and presidential candidates to stop soliciting Kissinger’s “worthless and dangerous” opinions. The never ending outburst of enmity on the part of CODEPINK, Sanders and Hitchens was due to Kissinger’s role in the brutal killings of thousands of civilians, gang rape of hundreds of female detainees, and alleged slaughtering of over one million people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos among countless similar crimes against humanity since the early 1970s.
As documented in “Kissinger and Chile: The Declassified Record,” as some 5,000 people were being detained and tortured in Chile’s National Stadium, Kissinger told the ruthless Augusto Pinochet: “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” But Sanders-Clinton “spirited exchange” five years ago, as mentioned above, was not confined in Sanders’ words to Kissinger being “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history” of the United States. Sanders’ rare outburst also included Clinton defending her foreign policy mentor – Kissinger – on China. “[Kissinger’s] opening up China and his ongoing relationship with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America,” Hilary Clinton emphatically pointed out.
Sanders responded disdainfully and berated Clinton for admiring Kissinger. “Kissinger first scared Americans about communist China and then opened up trade so US corporations could dump American workers and hire exploited and repressed Chinese,” Sanders had retorted. On the contrary, no one in Beijing either knows or seems interested in the so-called negative traits attributed to the veteran diplomat who is generally known as the most “influential figure in the making of American foreign policy since the end of World War II.” As according to Peter Lee, editor of the online China Matters and a veteran Asia Times columnist, the CPC leadership value Kissinger as the “symbol, custodian and advocate” of a US-China relationship that is special.
Professor Aaron Friedberg, author of A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, described the re-opening of relations with China as Kissinger’s greatest achievement. In a review of Kissinger’s massive book On China, Friedberg wrote: “Kissinger’s six hundred pages on China are an attempt to apply the principles of foreign policy realism to the most pressing strategic challenge of our day.” (Emphasis given) However, the approach, taken alone, was far from adequate in anticipating the behavior of an increasingly powerful China on the one hand, and for prescribing an appropriate American strategy to deal with a rising China on the other, Friedberg went on to add.
Since Mao, all successive top Chinese leaders have met with Kissinger one-on-one in Beijing, some even more than once. China’s current President Xi Jinping is no exception. In fact, given the deep esteem with which reform era CPC leadership has been embracing Henry Kissinger, the general wisdom in Beijing is President Xi has horned his diplomatic skills by learning well his (Kissinger’s) oft-quoted aphorism “you don’t go into negotiations unless your chances of success are 85 percent.” Kissinger had first met with Xi in 2007, when Xi, as the party secretary in Shanghai, had received the most frequent foreign visitor to China on a visit to the city. When asked for his assessment of the party’s new general secretary within days of the 18th party congress in November 2012 by the Wall Street Journal, Kissinger had said “Xi Jinping is a strong leader capable of rising up to any challenge.”
In the past four decades of Kissinger-CPC bonhomie, the first decade thanks to Cold War passed off rather smoothly and uneventfully. The second decade ushered in with perhaps the first most serious test for both Kissinger as well as for the US-China relations since the unfreezing of the bilateral ties by Nixon-Kissinger pair in the early 1970s. In June 1989, the CPC rulers used brutal force to crush peaceful student demonstrators at the Tiananmen Square and launched nationwide crackdown on suspected dissidents. Though criticized by the US political elite for “Kowtowing to Beijing” for defending the CPC authorities by saying “a crackdown was inevitable,” Kissinger did influence the Bush administration in imposing comparatively mild sanctions while deflecting congressional pressure for tougher action.
In third and fourth decades respectively, unlike during the first two stages, ideology gradually regained initiative over geopolitics in influencing the bilateral relationship. There are mainly two factors for this. First, from 1979 to the end of the last century, China was relatively weaker than the United States both economically and in military technology. Following China’s rapid economic growth beginning late 1990s and at the turn of the twenty-first century, a section in the US political elite became apprehensive of China’s assertive and highly competitive stance. These concerns soon gave birth to the “China threat theory” which Beijing unsuccessfully tried to pass off as “China’s peaceful rise.”
The second factor has much to do with the world financial crisis in 2008 which resulted in the beginning of decline of the US economy on the one hand, and the unfolding of the seemingly evident intent of the CPC leadership to “eventually displace the US” and “re-establishing their own country as the pre-eminent power in East Asia.” In other words, with Cold War and the Soviet Union both long gone, and China perceived as threatening to soon replace America as the world’s number one economy, the communist rulers in Beijing were under no illusion that the ideologically hostile US was plotting “color revolution” to replace the CPC with democratically elected leaders in the People’s Republic.
The chilling of US-China bilateral relations during the first year of Obama presidency itself, with China replacing Japan to become the world’s second largest economy in 2010 and further hardening of the US stance towards China, and finally the US “pivot to Asia” strategy introduced by the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton – all these were perceived by Beijing as the US “creating political framework for a confrontation with China in order to maintain the global hegemony of American dominance.” Even Kissinger was very much aware of the changing stance in Beijing, as is reflected from what he wrote in On China: “China would try to push American power as far away from its borders as it could, circumscribe the scope of American naval power, and reduce America’s weight in international diplomacy.”
Interestingly, although the most frequent US visitor to China has continued to visit China ever more frequently during the past decade, given the changing nature of polity in both the US and in China – especially the increasing “rivalry” under the Trump administration, it is not incorrect to conclude the Kissinger magic has gradually faded away from the bilateral relationship. It is least surprising therefore last Friday, when the “old friend of China” warned both Beijing and Washington in a speech at McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in France, that their escalating tensions were leading the world towards Armageddon-like clash, the opinionated, vocal Chinese social media reacted with caution. “Kissinger used the so-called end of the world argument to threaten and intimidate China in order to accept and obey the hegemonic order by the United States,” a blogger responded.
A commentary in Chinese last week pointed out, ever since Trump launched “all out political war” against China, Kissinger has been in subtle and cunning way warning China to “cooperate” with Washington. The signed article entitled “Kissinger Continues to Scare the Chinese People” stated: “For the past two years or more, Kissinger has been repeatedly saying China must continue to compromise and obey the US hegemony and US-led global order. Otherwise, China will face the danger of World War I-like situation.”
To sum up, while calling Kissinger’s veiled threat a bluff, a reader posted in the chat room of guancha.cn – one of China’s most widely read online Chinese language news platform: the old man is a veteran who, more than anyone in China, has interacted with most number of China’s founding leaders. It is therefore his responsibility to explain to the world why most American politicians have failed to co-evolve with China’s leaders, Chinese government and with Chinese people? Why has America relentlessly carried on slandering China? Why America has been consistently accusing, vilifying and provoking China? Mr. Kissinger, please answer. Thank you.”
Post COVID-19, Can China Emerge as the New Global Power?
Authors:Makam Khan Daim and Mohammed Seid Ahmed*
There are many unknowns about the virus and that makes it incredibly challenging for every government to wage war against the common enemy. The politically divided United States was not ready for a crisis like such and is already going through a deep political division that is deviating the superpower’s attention from leading the world. The United has already left multiple multilateral agreements and organizations that it helped create in the first place Trump administration was running the nation without any clear policy goals. Trump’s administration was retreating from world leadership but at the same time reluctant to give up its position as a global superpower. Though the policies of the administration are pulling the US back from years of progress as a global leader. As the world waits for the US leadership in the outbreak of the virus, the administration and supporters downplayed the harsh nature of the virus. The repercussions of failing to contain the virus at an early stage have put the US as the leader in infections and death toll above all the affected countries around the world.
The previous US administration chose to engage in a war of words with China rather than undertaking measures to contain the virus at home and be an example to the world. On the other hand, the Asian nations have taken “draconian” measures in the American eyes but were successful in containing the virus more than any country in the world. China’s has 102,517 cases with 4846 death, the numbers might be disputable for some, however, figures from democratic countries like South Korea and Japan revealed that the Asian nation has successfully contained the spread of the virus. As of May 2nd, 2021, Japan has 82, 425 with just 1493 deaths, Korea has 123,240 cases with just 1833 deaths according to the latest data compiled by the John Hopkins University of Medicine, coronavirus task force. The US on the other hand, in the same timeframe, has registered a staggering 32,392,667infection cases and 576,722 deaths. Although Chinese figures are disputable the recent reopening of all cities and provinces, indicates that the virus is contained, and things are going back to normalcy.
Power is shifting to the East as many political scientists predicted and China as an Asian superpower is in the final stage of preparations to take the role of global leadership. India is the other Asian nation that can contest China, but India’s domestic issues, its relatively weaker economy, and the ever-growing population have been a challenge for the subcontinent to be a serious contestant for China’s activities in a global scale. In fighting this pandemic, the US has missed another opportunity to lead the world and take responsibility as a superpower. The administration’s adherence to the outdated protectionist policies, that is harming American workers, let alone leading the world in the fight against COVID-19, Trump’s denial of the reality and his enablers within the government put the nation in harm’s way and has culminated in the death of thousands of Americans.
New Zealand has come out of the battle against COVID-19 as a winner with its early lockdown and strict measures with the extraordinary leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and her administration. The European nations Italy, Spain, France, and Germany that have been hit hard with the virus are getting a sigh of relief after their worst at the beginning of the outbreak. Their large size aging population have become the victim of the virus, with a series of lockdown and extreme measures they have finally managed to mitigate the likelihood of more deaths related to the virus. Africa to the surprise of lots of people is the last continent that has started to see new cases. Africa’s young population under the age of 35 that makes up over 60 percent of the continent’s population could have worked in favor of Africans because of the viruses’ nature to attack mostly immune compromised and aged population. Nonetheless, the recent increase in testing for instance in Ethiopia is revealing hundreds of cases every day. Now, Ethiopia is reporting 258,062, with just 3709 deaths related to the virus. South Africa and Egypt are among the worst hit countries from Africa, in which the former has reported 1,582,842 cases and 54406 deaths, and the latter reported 228,548 cases with over 43,402 deaths respectively. Although, the death of a single person is painful, with all the indications and data available Africa is surviving this outbreak with fewer casualties. If whether this could be attributed to the nature of the virus or African government’s measures is remained to be seen in further researches and reports in the foreseeable future.
The problems that Africa could face if the infection rate increases drastically are dire, given the continent’s record in poor healthcare infrastructure, scarce of ventilators, hospital beds, small size healthcare professionals in relative to the population size. Developed countries with advanced technology and healthcare system in place have not been able to cope up with the patients’ demand and has been extremely challenging for the government and professionals to fight the virus. It is no brainer the challenges that Africans could face without the infrastructure. Nonetheless, while all the traditional global powers closed their doors and were fighting the pandemic, there is one rising superpower who has emerged to play the global leadership role in the fight with the virus. China has emerged not only as the hotbed for the virus but as a global power who is using the pandemic to project its soft power around the globe and play the role of the so-called “responsible power”.
In conclusion, China would be the winner in this epidemic, because of the measures it took and its quasi-leadership in fighting this pandemic using its soft power. It has already lifted the ban in Wuhan and now things are slowly going back to normal ahead of many other countries, which is beneficial for China to survive the economic fallout. Economists are predicting a global recession following COVID-19, but even if that is the case China will not be the biggest loser, United States, Europe, and the rest of the world are. One thing we all learn from this pandemic is that because of our intertwined interests and living by each other there is nothing that the world could achieve today without the cooperation and collective actions. Time will answer the question that will the United States take the lesson, embrace multilateralism again, and get back to lead?
*Mohammed Seid Ahmed, Freelancer(M.Phil International Relations at Zhejiang University, currently based in California, the US)Mohemmed can be reached at mahmedseid89[at]outlook.com
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