As is well known, Kim Jong-Un imposed precise time and political limits on negotiations with the USA by the end of 2019.
Moreover, at that stage, the US intelligence community was discussing North Korea’s adoption of a new short-range missile, which would make its appearance at Christmas 2019.
For the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is important to finalise – as soon as possible – the strategic and above all economic negotiations with the United States or at least put them on a stable track.
Some substantiated Western sources also believe that the North Korean leadership is putting pressure on Kim Jong-Un himself to harden relations with Donald J. Trump’s Presidency.
Time is ripe and there have been negotiations, but the US indeciveness on Korean issues risks putting the whole US strategic and economic system in the Pacific in crisis.
Indeed, the US stance on the North Korean issue and the related economic sanctions, the lawfulness of which is to be debated and called into question, has been swinging – just to say the least.
Kim Jong-Un had created – or at least this is what he believed – the conditions for full, fast and complete negotiations with the United States, especially at the meeting held in Hanoi in February 2019, where reference was made to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, the first of the items on the agenda, even in Kim Jong-Un’s daily schedule.
President Trump also noted that “the idea of denuclearisation they have in North Korea is not the same as we have”, which is also true. Hence negotiations ended without reaching any particular results.
On January 11 last, however, in a press report an important adviser to the Foreign Minister, Kim Kye Gwan, pointed out that reopening negotiations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States will be possible only if the latter adheres to the previous Singapore and Hanoi agreements, as it has already shown to do.
Hence to the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula and to the immediate lifting of sanctions.
In short, North Korea does not want to fall by the wayside and wants, above all, to resume negotiations with the United States both on nuclear issues and on economic sanctions.
As already noted, the lawfulness of sanctions sounds dubious to us.
After the Singapore meeting, however, President Trump felt that Kim Jong-Un “would return back home to start a process that would make his people very rich and very happy”.
Psychologism, besides being a severe philosophical mistake – at least on the basis of what Husserl and his Phenomenology taught us – is also the terrible flaw of US diplomacy and intelligence.
Just at that time, however, President Trump had also declared that “there was no nuclear threat from North Korea”, obviously for the United States.
Of the two, one. Either we want the end of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – an absolutely improbable goal – or serious negotiations are held, which presupposes a reasonable lifting of sanctions.
In the meeting held in Singapore in 2018, President Trump told us that Kim Jong-Un had adhered to the project of “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.
In the US or North Korean version, which are very different from each other? We will never know.
However, there are no data regarding other strategic or economic concessions between the two parties.
This makes it hard for us to believe in Kim Jong-Un’s conversion to strategic masochism.
Therefore, we are still at the terms of Kim Jong-Un’s last “New Year’s speech”, the one in which the North Korean leader stated that he would not denuclearize North Korea if the USA did not stop its “hostile policies”.
Hence either the United States explicitly accepts a linkage between the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the end of sanctions, or North Korea will slowly, but surely, return to its nuclear strategy, which, at that point, will cost him nothing.
But is President Trump’s willingness to cease hostilities with North Korea and thus rebuild the stability of the entire Korean peninsula serious?
We donot know yet. For somebody, like the old British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the US President is now completely uninterested in Korean affairs.
And he is wrong, we might add.
In fact, if Kim Jong-Un were to quickly rebuild his nuclear arsenal, which seems currently possible, the possibility of attacks on U.S. territory would still be remote, certainly, but the US establishment would interpret a North Korean attack on the U.S. military positions in the Pacific as a kind of suicide for North Korea. Are we sure that China and Russia would not put very credible pressure on the United States? Are we sure that a North Korean attack in the Pacific would not, technically, be a success?
But, in fact, it is not: a possible attack by North Korea on the US and its allies’ bases in the Pacific would be highly destructive, politically very dangerous, but finally capable of unleashing the Russian and Chinese reactions in the region.
In January 2020, Kim Jong-Un asked his ruling class to follow and take unspecified “offensive measures” to break the deadlock in negotiations with the USA.
If the United States currently believes that North Korea is a quantité négligeable in the Asian equilibria, it is sorely mistaken.
China will never accept an unarmed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which would bring China into a close border contact with the USA and South Korea, given that the maritime area that North Korea is securing is also essential for the security of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Neither will Russia ever accept an unstabilized and reduced US presence on the Korean peninsula, which is also a strategic life insurance policy for the Russian operations between the Indian Ocean and the Greater Middle East.
Probably Kim Jong-Un will currently accept, with difficulty, a stable progression of the agreements with the USA on its nuclear power, both to revive the North Korean economy and to stabilize equilibria in the Far East.
It will, however, be a negotiation that will see – in place of the unruly Americans – many and more willing South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Russians, and even the pale and weak foreign policy of some surviving European countries.
If President Trump believes he can wait for the global economic crisis to reach North Korea, he has not well analysed all the terms of Kim Jong-Un’s strategic equation.
The possible crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be supported to a large extent by Russia and China but, in all likelihood, there will be other new supporters.
Therefore, without pretences, President Donald J. Trump’s attempt to denuclearize the Korean peninsula in words has currently failed.
On the other hand, Kim Jong-Un’s speech of December 31, 2019, in which he spoke of a “new path” and assumed new and more advanced strategic weapons, in addition to a long confrontation with the USA, shows that the U.S. policy vis-à-vis North Korea has, once again, failed.
By now we know that the concept of “denuclearization” between the two sides has never been a common criterion.
Hence, if the North Korean concept is accepted, the military alliance between the USA and South Korea shall be broken. However, if denuclearization does not concern only South Korea – as the US diplomacy sometimes seems to suggest – there is no other way for North Korea if not to continue its nuclear program and, indeed, even to expand it.
If we proceed with the old logical and diplomatic mechanism – i.e. the simple freezing sine conditione of North Korea’s nuclear program, no concrete objective will be achieved, since North Korea uses its strategic nuclear system precisely to overcome sanctions, and vice versa.
Hence either the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula, or the North Korean nuclear program will go ahead smoothly – a program capable, however, of stopping or weakening the U.S. Japanese, Vietnamese and Indian operations in the Pacific. Does this make sense?
Moreover, the moratorium on strategic weapons, formally still in place, imposed by the North Korean government itself, still enables Kim Jong-Un to have an excellent relationship with China and Russia, which certainly do not want too much noise in the East.
Make a sound in the East, then strike in the West, as stated in the fifth Stratagem of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Hence now Kim Jong-Un does not want to put aside the South Korean leader, he never mentions in his last speeches, but also keeps a door open even with the USA. The North Korean leaderdoes not say, in fact, he will automatically resume his actions with short-range and intermediate-range missiles, but makes it clear that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will soon rebuild its nuclear system and even expand it.
In other words, currently North Korea capitalizes on its possible medium-long term threat, while pointing outit can deal with a tactical, rather than strategic, short or medium range threat.
That is the best we can currently expect. Kim Jong-Un has not closed all doors, but he is careful not to open the door of divine fear, as in the I Ching’s hexagram “discard the revolt, grab the yield and surrender”.
Meanwhile, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has not ordered any special launches or operations in recent months. This is also an important sign.
From a strictly economic viewpoint, which is only one of the criteria with which to study a State like North Korea, the recession – both stimulated by sanctions and imported from the global market -accounts for about 4.7% per year of the North Korean economy.
Neither China, especially today with the coronavirus epidemic, nor certainly the Russian Federation can replace the share of North Korea’s economy integrating with the world market.
Nevertheless, it is also hard to think – for a rational strategic player – of a country, the USA, which creates basic economic difficulties in North Korea, and then discounts them downwards at the negotiating table on nuclear power.
This is, however, a negotiation that neither Russia nor China would allow in any way.
President Trump, in fact, has to do with a significant part of the State Department, as well as CIA, which are pressing for an immediate, complete and fully verifiable nuclear decommissioning of North Korea. Then comes what may of North Korea’s economy, for the better or for the worse.
Only at the end of this dismantling process, which should reasonably last at least eight years – if all goes well, but we doubt it – could the sanctions be unilaterally lifted. With what guarantees?
Are we sure?
What other option would inevitably be put forward by the USA to further weaken the lifting of sanctions? As Kim Jong-Un thinks, what could be the mechanism forcing the USA to lift sanctions and further end the pressure on North Korea’s foreign policy?
Trump Administration’s more possibilist factions, vis-à-vis the North Korean politics, now have vague and unreliable plans.
We also need to consider the Iranian issue, in which, once again, the USA proposes an improbable and impossible total and radical denuclearization, if not with a local war. However, the same project applied to North Korea simply means the destabilization of the North Korean regime and its implosion, without knowing – as will also happen in Iran – when, how and where the trade sanctions will be lifted.
No state commits suicide so easily.
What could be a reasonable solution? The immediate temporary and conditional suspension of the primary economic and trade sanctions against North Korea.
There could also be an agreement between the EU, the USA, Japan and South Korea to phase out the North Korean nuclear system.
But inevitably North Korea must be reassured of its permanence as a State, as well as of its controlled and, probably, partial denuclearisation, and of a complete and rapid integration into the world market. It must also be reassured of the cessation of the clear and conventional nuclear threat coming from the South, the Pacific and the US bases in South Korea and in the region.
If the negotiation does not evaluate these options, it will be completely useless.
Russia and China will continue to make it clear they do not want the US Armed Forces at their borders. Hence North Korea will have to rely on its nuclear weapons to make up for its strategic weakness, which Kim Jong-Un knows very well it would not be fully offset by Russia or China. Finally, the strange US and EU sanctions will indefinitely stop the development of a decisive area for the whole of South-East Asia, which could also guarantee shared security in an area which, in a short time, will become central to global economic development.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects
In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.
Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.
Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.
One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.
This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.
Japan – Indonesia Common Ground
In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect.
In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).
In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.
Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile
Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.
Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.
Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.
Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.
Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia
In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.
In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.
As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.
The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.
The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.
Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.
To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.
Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.
Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.
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