The real crucial event in China’s current policy, not only for Hong Kong, was the document on “State Security in the Hong Kong Territory”, voted in the recent National People’s Congress at the end of May.
The document drafted by the National People’s Congress regards above all the Chinese national security and hence the internal security of the Fragrant Harbour, as well as the direct control of the strategic and public security situation of the anti-Chinese political opposition in Hong Kong, and, in particular, the reform of Article 23 of the Basic Law which governs the former British colony.
It should be recalled that two Opium Wars started from there only against mainland China. The opium was cultivated by the British East India Company in its territories in Bengal.
From 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860, as many as two trade and military conflicts allowed the actual British monopoly of the British and Indian opium throughout the Chinese territory.
Let us revert, however, to Article 23 of the Basic Law, which formally prohibits any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the State of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the theft of State secrets.
Therefore, the Chinese government now acts autonomously, in the territory of Hong Kong, for the defence of its interests. This also paves the way for a wide geopolitical transformation, in some ways more “radical” than the one which Deng Xiaoping carried out in 1978 with the Four Modernizations. It should be recalled that they ended with the most important Modernization for China, namely the military one.
The first attempt to adopt national security legislation in Hong Kong was made as early as 2003, when at least half a million people demonstrated against said legislation – very similar to the present one – proposed and established by China. Later there were several other security bills and, again, other large mass demonstrations.
Until the demonstrations of April 2019 against the Chinese bill to stop the extradition of PRC’s citizens to the Fragrant Harbour.
At the time demonstrators shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.
Certainly China has often stated it sees Hong Kong’ security severely affected by the operations of various and unspecified “powers”, which (undoubtedly) use Hong Kong to penetrate China and later possibly carry out separatist operations (Uyghurs, Tibetans and other riotous and unruly minorities),as well as infiltrations – sometimes military ones – and finally what China calls “harmful operations”.
Certainly these “harmful” operations also include those by Europe and the United States, which already repeatedly urge many “partners” and companies of the Global Value Chains (GVC) already present in China to move to the small territory of the Fragrant Harbour. This is also an objective cause of the improbable request for an “independent” investigation on the causes of the outbreak and spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic from the Chinese laboratories of Wuhan, Hebei.
A real attack on global economic development, and on China’s economic security, right now that China is quickly transforming its production formula.
China wants to thwart such a move by bringing many production chains directly back into its territory, and by increasing the Chinese strategic (and hence financial and economic) pressure on the U.S. traditional allies in South-East Asia and the Pacific.
Not necessarily the Southern Pacific only.
However, we will come back also to this point. As can be easily guessed, for China this is a strong point for the direct control of the Fragrant Harbour’s territory.
However, a historical and ancient condition is no longer in place, i.e. the separation of Hong Kong’s legislation from Great Britain’s and currently China’s.
Obviously the Chinese decision is also a clear heave-ho given to Governor Carrie Lam and to the entire government in Hong Kong, by-passed in a few hours by the very clear Chinese diktat.
China has probably calculated the pros and cons of this move very well.
The cons, which are not insurmountable, include the reduced importance attached to Hong Kong as the only financial and industrial hub in the Chinese territory, which is also fully Westernized and globalized. This also greatly serves the PRC’s direct interests.
The U.S. interests in the Fragrant Harbour will no longer be safe and this is not a negligible issue: 1,300 medium-large North American companies and 82.5 trillion U.S. dollars in direct investment.
Not to mention the dozens of NGOs that support democratization in Hong Kong against China and the many large global media headquarters in Hong Kong, as well the several operations of infiltration, intoxication and information manipulation (including some financial and industrial ones) that the West has carried out against the People’s Republic of China, starting from the Fragrant Harbour.
From now on, for the whole West, Hong Kong’s gateway will be closed with seven seals.
Certainly, when the People’s Republic of China feels threatened, it always sacrifices the economy to global strategy.
Certainly Hong Kong has always been China’s financial lifeline, especially in difficult times.
Currently, however, Hong Kong is an irreplaceable global financial hub in Asia. Nevertheless, I imagine that China will soon want to use other less dangerous and, above all, less close channels to connect to global finance.
Moreover, for the first time since 1992 – and, probably since 1978, the year of the Four Modernizations, if we analyse older time series – the Chinese economy is slowing down considerably due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, although with less severe damage than in the United States and in some E.U. countries.
The PRC’s first objective was to resume economic and industrial activities in full swing, while the second one was to make the Fragrant Harbour safe.
But, once again, there is a pro versus a con: while Hong Kong and, for other respects, Macao and Singapore, have been the destination areas of huge amounts of capital resulting from the corruption and embezzlement of many Chinese elites, Hong Kong’s closure will probably also mark the end of the great hunt that President Xi Jinping and his power group have focused on corruption within the Party and Beijing State.
The old strategy of “Power putting down roots”, as recommended in The Prince by Machiavelli.
Hence President Xi Jinping wants to directly control the Fragrant Harbour, the original site of China’s forced Westernization, from the beginning of the “century of humiliation” (precisely with the first Opium War) to its end, with the PRC’s declaration of independence by Mao Zedong – “the Chinese people have stood up!” -at the Gate of Heavenly Peace Square, in 1949.
The countries that are bound to win in the world arena are those with long and very long memories, while the post-modern and childish forgetful ones are always bound to lose.
Obviously – as was also seen in the very recent National People’s Congress in Beijing – Hong Kong is also a powerful sign for regaining Taiwan politically and economically.
Recently, China has announced a 6.6% increase in the Defence budget from 1.72 trillion yuan (187 billion U.S. dollars) and Li Kekiang, Beijing’s Premier, has made it clear that “China resolutely opposes and will deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan’s independence”.
Normally, the Chinese authorities speak of “peaceful reunification”, but this time Li Kekiang omitted the adjective. It was not a distraction.
In Mao Zedong’s time, the always synthetic and enlightening formula of the Chinese leadership was available for Hong Kong: “long-term planning, full use”. Later the “one country, two systems” formula initially developed by Deng Xiaoping was used, later reaffirmed by the various leaders and so far supported by President Xi Jinping himself.
This Chinese choice on the Hong Kong Security Law, therefore, means only one thing: the end of the old Cold War between the West and the PRC, and hence the beginning of a new phase between China and the United States, which will be “hot” or “cold” depending on the circumstances. Therefore, China has no need in the future – not even financially – to have Hong Kong as a buffer zone with a relatively peaceful, but always radically adverse West.
Both the USSR and Mao Zedong’s China have always regarded the “Cold War” as an unstable phase in which victory is decided by the amount of arsenals, their doctrine of use and the political will to use them as instruments of credible pressure.
Certainly, Mao knew all too well – and it was one of his most enlightening strategic insights – that the “Cold War” was a paper tiger and those who believed in it could only consume themselves, politically and economically, against the United States and its allies – something that punctually happened with the USSR, which collapsed because it had not renounced in time to a clash impossible to win and which, at most, would give it the “great European plain”, as Hegel and Raymond Aron called it.
Hence China quickly closed its accounts with the Fragrant Harbour, pending the closing of the subsequent operations also with Taiwan and all the other controversial areas, from the Philippines to the South China Sea, from South-East Asia to Malaysia and the Indian Ocean.
The old map – born with Kuomintang, but which was also very popular among Chinese Communist leaders in the 1950s, in which the new Chinese territorial waters beyond the Philippines’ line and throughout the Eastern Pacific could be seen -has not been forgotten at all.
The United States has obviously “condemned” the Chinese decision, while Great Britain, Australia and Canada have signed a common document expressing “deep dismay” at China’s decision.
Furthermore, the United States already has the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Actof 2019 available – pending the great demonstrations which characterized that year and are currently collectively called the Water Revolution.
Therefore, by virtue of that Act, the United States could remove the preferential trade status of Hong Kong, possibly with the extension to Hong Kong of the tariff and trade sanctions already in place against China. It should be recalled that these restrictions are worth67 billion U.S. dollars per year.
Hence China’s goals for its actual regaining of the Fragrant Harbour are manifold and complex. Firstly, there is the closure of the financial closed circuit between China and Hong Kong, to be put into effect with the minimum international reaction. Secondly, there is also China’s need to rebuild the central and decisive position of the Chinese economy in the Global Value Chains – a position which, even before the “taking” of Hong Kong, had diminished in importance, but which would currently be fatal, especially if it arrived as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Obviously China also regards Hong Kong as a strategic, unavoidable and essential location for controlling the South China Sea militarily. The Chinese always reason with what De Gaulle called the “two caps”, i.e. the civilian and the military one, which must always be kept together.
Certainly, the peaceful regaining of Hong Kong is also a breaking point of the current U.S. geopolitics in the region: from the Far East probably to the Middle East, the United States has always thought of a long strategic-military continuity that would encircle Russia and close China in its hardly controllable terrestrial mainland.
Hence China’s full control of regional seas will no longer enable the Russian Federation to depart from the project hegemonised by China, the New Silk Road, while the “small silk road” already planned by Russia, mainly with Japanese but also U.S. capital, will be either integrated into the Chinese one or destroyed.
Finally, as already mentioned, China wants to speed up the process to separate Taiwan from the Japanese and North-American military “umbrella” protecting it.
Here we need to carefully examine the relationship between “Xi Jinping’s policy line” and the 1998 theory of unrestricted warfare.
China, which is aware of not yet being clearly superior in terms of “conventional” or traditional warfare, even if technologically advanced, must absolutely win its total war, its new unrestricted warfare.
Hence another reversal of the Cold War theorem: while, during the whole conventional phase of the Cold War, China depended on Russia for military technology, currently it is Russia that depends on China for orders and financing-purchases – although with its own often excellent and innovative war technology.
Hence if China, which has also acquired – both legally and in other ways – excellent Western, and not only post-Soviet military technology, wants to wage war – even regionally and indirectly – against the United States, it must necessarily do so in time, before the United States rising up to China’s technological-doctrinal challenge, with the weapons it would like to have and has not yet, instead of those it already has.
Furthermore a war game conducted by the RAND Corporation in early March 2020, demonstrated that, in an armed conflict, the United States would lose both against China and the Russian Federation, obviously considered separately.
As also the U.S. analysts maintain, on the neo-technological – and hence also doctrinal level – the United States lags behind China with regard to strategic and missile precision weapons, hypersonic systems and guidance systems for all theatre ballistic weapons. While the United States is still superior in tactical weapons and in conventional medium-high technology weapons.
The United States, too, has suffered the conceptual impasse of the “Cold War”.
Also the F35 missile could be an excellent weapon for air supremacy, but – as a U.S. analyst said – it could be bombed to the ground by China or Russia.
Other always accurate and updated war games, conducted by U.S. analysts, show that the United States would be clearly defeated even in the South Pacific, or by Russia in the Baltic, but certainly China would win in a regional clash to take Taiwan, while both Russia and China are working on the new anti-access/denial area weapons (A2A) quite successfully.
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping has shifted his strategic interest from the ground forces of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the PLA’s Navy and then to the Air Force, but especially to the Strategic Missile Force and the more recent Strategic Support Force.
Today there is still a window of opportunity, which will last until the end of 2020, so that China can neutralize the U.S. fleet more than a hundred nautical miles from its coast and from the coast of Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, as well as neutralize the U.S. missile systems both in Guam and Japan and in the small islands of the South Pacific.
Here is the strategic pendant of China’s choice on Hong Kong’s internal security.
Taiwan could also be the operation that makes the war escalate up to its nuclear level, but it is not said that the Chinese supremacy, still viable in a clash with the United States, decides to get to that point, although, probably, it will strike first and, hence, harder. But it will try to stop operations before the U.S. decision to go for the nuclear blow.
Nor should we forget the regional war that China waged with India precisely in May 2020, in the area of Lake Pangong Tso and the Galwan Valley, with a quick peace negotiation for controlling Ladakh, a border area still disputed by China, as well as an always very fast operation of the Chinese Forces in the north of Sikkim, again at the beginning of May 2020.
We do not know yet whether all future Chinese operations will be lightning ones.
Hence we need to place the Hong Kong issue within this line of thinking.
Why does the Dragon do what it does
The recent stand-off between China and India has been the headlines around the world, especially since the stand-off went ugly with 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number (probably less than 20) Chinese soldiers losing their lives in a vicious hand to hand combat. Since then, nationalistic sentiments in India are running high with immense public pressure to account for the Chinese for what happened in Galwan Valley. In order to understand the motives behind the recent clashes, one has to go back to 1962 or even before that.
This is not the first time that tensions along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) have flared up and definitely this is not the end of such events. Strategically, what was true in 1962, is true today. The real bone of contention is still Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is the Dragon’s hanging sword on Delhi, which can be unleashed anytime keeping India continuously in a state of passive defensive. As long as China adheres to its strategy on Aksai Chin, it will always have the strategic initiative, and India’s “great power ambition” will continue to lay in the abyss of the Indian Ocean.
Aksai Chin indeed was a part of the State of Kashmir but since Kashmir already was being fought over between India and Pakistan and the region being far from both India and Pakistan was inaccessible to both claimants. Beijing saw an opportunity and with tacit approval from Pakistan, went ahead to control this “Sand Sea of China” which is the literal translation of Aksai Chin in Turkic.
Aksai Chin is strategically very important for China. It is the only possible land route that connects China’s Xinjiang Region to Tibet. China’s G219 Highway and the New Tibet Railway Line both pass through Aksai Chin. If there was not to be an Aksai Chin, the Chinese had to cross the hard terrain of the Kunlun Mountains to connect China’s two big landmasses. In 1962 when China took the initiative to cross the LAC, Beijing had several things on its mind. Firstly, it had to secure Aksai China so that a land link between Xinjiang and Tibet can be established. Secondly, China knew that controlling the heights over India is going to give it a long term strategic advantage and through it, it could always keep the initiative in its hands, keeping Delhi in a defensive position for an unprecedented time in the future. Thirdly, it wanted to support Pakistan which was having its own problems in the Kashmir sector. In case of any future Indo-Pak conflict, China would be in a better position to intervene. Lastly, and most important of all, Beijing wanted to ensure no future disturbances along the LAC. The main objective of the 1962 War was made very clear by Chairman Mao at the Xiangshan meeting: “At least 30 years of peace must be guaranteed.”
One may wonder that what does thirty years of peace do. What merited the risk of crossing over the LAC by the Chinese? The answer is rather simple: Integration of Tibet! Tibet was having internal problems and especially after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet it was getting harder for Beijing to keep it under control, but that couldn’t be possible unless and otherwise New Delhi would be completely knocked out of the Tibetan game and this is exactly what the 1962 War did.
Some analysts believe that instead of focusing on Aksai Chin which is a rugged piece of land, China should’ve gone for the Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese call “Southern Tibet”. The area is also much richer in natural resources than Aksai Chin. The point made then by Beijing was that Arunachal Pradesh was a more difficult terrain to be defended plus the aim was to stabilize the whole of Tibet, instead of just Southern Tibet. Another interesting reason why Beijing kept mum about Southern Tibet was that it was the “Granary of Tibet”, the absence of which meant that Tibet had to rely on Beijing for its basic necessities. Another well-calculated move by Beijing to reign in Tibet.
All along the 1962 War, Beijing was clear of its objectives. It was not expansionism that drove the war but rather strategic interests. The war was initiated by China, and China itself took the initiative to end it. It was clear to the Chinese planners that any War with India had to be swift, decisive and must set the tone for future engagements. That is why after the PLA took over control over large swathes of land across the LAC and the “McMahon Line”, then quickly retreated back to the “McMahon Line”. Since the battleground is usually too cold for battle, the PLA had only a two-month window to launch an offensive
Prior to the war, at the Beijing Xiangshan meeting in which it was decided to fight the 1962 War, Zhou Enlai specifically instructed that “logistics must be done well, and we must never increase the number of casualties due to logistical factors like in the Korean War.”
Learning on the lessons of 1962, India unilaterally decided not to build any infrastructure in the region surrounding the LAC, fearing that the same infrastructure might be used by the Chinese to come into the Indian mainland. Since now New Delhi is ascertaining its regional and global power, it is constructing new roads and infrastructure along the LAC and China is clearly not happy with India changing the status quo. Previously, the status quo maintained gave Beijing a strategic advantage. One border issue had pinned India for decades, wasting a lot of India’s national power, and has allowed China to develop with peace of mind for decades.
Escalation of conflict between two Koreas: Why now and what could it lead to?
Observers worldwide signal a rapid deterioration of relations between two Koreas which began on June 9th, after North Korea’s authorities discontinued contacts with South Korea over the anti-Pyongyang leaflets circulated by North Korean defectors. While Seoul has announced readiness to take measures, the other party chose to ignore the announcement.
Pyongyang has blocked all communication lines with Seoul (except those between special services). North Korea has also blown up the building of the inter-Korean communication office in Kaesong, which was opened in 2018 for promoting cooperation between North Korea and South Korea. This is a precedent which sets one thinking: why is all this happening now and what could it result in?
Throughout the past few decades Pyongyang has repeatedly resorted to the “slam the door” tactic according to which it first broke contracts and then resumed them. There was a time when the participants in inter-Korean talks threw cookies at one another during a coffee break in a manifestation of mutual resentment. But no one blew up buildings.
Significantly, the measures in question have been reported by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who described South Korea as a «foe». Deputy head of the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Korean Labor Party, this pretty-looking lady with good manners were originally appointed to represent the North Korean regime with a “human face”. Now, she is playing the part of a “bad cop”.
So, why is it all happening now? The year 2020 began with radical changes about American-North Korean denuclearization talks, which ran into a deadlock. North Korea repeatedly voiced discontent over the US not lifting sanctions against Pyongyang and not calling off military exercises with South Korea despite the fact that North Korea has stopped nuclear tests, frozen intercontinental ballistic missile launches and closed nuclear testing sites. In response, Pyongyang chose to raise negotiation stakes by saying ‘no’ to talks on the lifting of some UN-imposed sanctions in exchange for major nuclear facilities of North Korea.
Apparently, North Korea considers it possible to repeat the same tactic in its relations with the South, which have been stalled, largely over the coronavirus pandemic. Despite Pyongyang’s expectations, North-South relations cannot enter the specific cooperation phase, first of all, over the position of Washington, which has been doing everything to thwart it.
When a chess game enters a deadlock, the angry party, like in the Ilf and Petrov classic, is tempted to overturn the chessboard, or worse, to crush it on the head of the other party. This is the logic that the North Korean party could be driven by at the moment; such a behavior seems quite sensible, because it has yielded good results many times before. The question is why torpedo the inter-Korean dialogue now, under President Moon Jae-in, who is widely known for his commitment to the North-South dialogue and has done a lot to promote it (and must have been getting ready to do more, thereby earning a credit for himself in history before he steps down from the post of president in 2022)?
It is not a secret that this dialogue has limits which are imposed by American-South Korean alliance. Since the North has always been against them, the current escalation could well be part of an attempt to “blow up” the existing system (or, at least, rock it out of balance). But this kind of move is hardly sensible and hardly feasible.
What will the current escalation which the North has been demonstrating so openly (“seven people hold me, or I break loose and crush everything”), lead to? What sounds alarm is Pyongyang’s intention to deploy troops in areas which have been deemed as demilitarized since 1953, when North and South Koreas signed an armistice agreement. After that the two sides saw a number of intermittent setbacks but they never touched the border zone in the 38th parallel. Seoul and Pyongyang never attempted to reconsider the zone’s demilitarized status. A violation of this “taboo” is fraught with danger – it could cause unintended military incidents on the demarcation line, particularly considering the fact that the 38th parallel has the world’s biggest concentration of military power and weapons.
Finally, what are external players to do? The UN secretary-general has urged the United States and South Korea to take joint efforts to normalize inter-Korean relations. After that the State Department issued a corresponding statement which ran into a rebuke on the part of North Korea. The day before the Trump administration extended sanctions against North Korea for another year, and the circle has been closed.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Russian State Duma coordinator for cooperation with North Korea Kazbek Taisaev have expressed hope that peace will be preserved. But this is not enough. Russian and Chinese diplomats have been acting in line with a consolidated position of China and Russia on the situation around the Korean Peninsula, which was enshrined in the Joint Statement of the two countries’ foreign ministers of July 4, 2017. Action for action, a step-by-step lifting of sanctions depending on progress at the talks is what Russia and China propose for a settlement. This principle, however, proceeds from the fact that North Korea is interested in such progress, not vice versa. For this reason, our countries’ foreign ministries may have to streamline their strategy with a view to make it easier to implement and boost its effectiveness.
From our partner International Affairs
Will There Be an End to the Korean War?
The Korean War began 70 years ago, on June 25, 1950. This was not just a standoff between neighboring states. The Korean War, in fact, began as a civil war between the two Korean camps (the North, that sought to build the future of Korea according to the Soviet model, and the South, committed to American attitudes). In the context of the Cold War, it immediately developed into a large-scale military conflict. Great powers were directly or indirectly involved. This includes the USA, Great Britain, USSR, PRC, as well as the UN, which sent an international military contingent to Korea under its own flag to help the South.
Military Confrontation on the 38th Parallel
The inter-Korean confrontation continues to this day. Today, on both sides of the 38th parallel — the latitude line that roughly demarcates the two Korean states — military fortification is piled up, and thousands of troops with modern weapons and military equipment target each other. Moreover, in accordance with the Mutual Defence Treaty between the U.S. and South Korea, the latter is hosting a group of U.S. troops of 28.5 thousand people, subordinate to the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC).
And if Seoul does need the U.S. military presence in Korea in order to protect South Korean economic prosperity from the hypothetical encroachment of Pyongyang, then for Washington, it is only an element of the global system for ensuring “American leadership.” The Korean Peninsula is the only continental element of the U.S. military presence in East Asia. In addition, South Korea, as an ally of the United States, significantly strengthens American military power in the Pacific, doing so to a much greater extent than Japan, still fettered by Article 9 of its Constitution.
In the 1990s, the tangle of security problems on the Korean peninsula was supplemented by the North Korea nuclear crisis. North Korea, in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, announced the development of a nuclear missile program. Pyongyang remembered the calls of the American General Douglas MacArthur, who led the United Nations Command in the Korean War, to use the atomic bomb, and believed that the DPRK’s own nuclear weapons could prevent a potential strike from the United States in the event of a new inter-Korean war.
The United States confronted the North Korean nuclear missile program with a sanctions war and aggressive military rhetoric. This included direct threats of President Trump in 2017 to physically destroy the DPRK should it decide not to give up nuclear missile development. However, common sense prevailed. Mutual accusations gave way to dialog. Three inter-Korean and two North Korea-the U.S. summits took place in 2018–2019.
Inter-Korean dialog was facilitated by two circumstances. On the one hand, having created long-range nuclear missile weapons, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un decided that the main strategic goal to ensure the security of the DPRK from the United States had been achieved, and that the nuclear-missile race could be suspended by putting more funds into economic needs. On the other, it was the behavior of South Korea that promoted a thaw in the relations. And this is not only due to the fact that from the very beginning, the current President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, went to the polls under the slogans of restoring dialog with Pyongyang. The aggressive rhetoric of Donald Trump in 2017 regarding the DPRK also played its role. For the first time in several decades, the world was faced with the real threat of a new war on the Korean Peninsula at the initiative of the United States. South Korea would be the main victim of it, suffering a powerful blow from the North. Therefore, if Washington’s victory in the war would be the liquidation of the North Korean state in its current form, then for Seoul, the only option for victory would be to prevent the war.
There were a lot of expectations from inter-Korean summits. But these expectations were only met, perhaps, by the fact that there will be no nuclear or other war in Korea in the near future. The declarations adopted in Panmunjom and Pyongyang by Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in set a number of tasks to promote cooperation between the two Korean states. However, for the most part, these documents looked more like statements of intent. Many political and legal obstacles stood in the way of fulfilling these intentions.
Therefore, the inter-Korean dialog that pompously started in 2018 began to stall by the end of 2019. At the beginning of June of the current year, it even reached a dead end. Under the pretext that the South Korean authorities did not prevent various public organizations from sending balloons with leaflets wording the attacks on the North Korean regime, Pyongyang blocked all communication channels with Seoul. In addition to this, Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who now oversees relations with the South and, in general, has practically become the second most influential figure in the DPRK power structure, promised Seoul to destroy the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong in the near future (which was done — Ed. note.), the next step to be made by the military of the North.
The point was not, of course, in sending the balloons with leaflets to North Korea, especially since many of them had not reached the DPRK. The reasons go deeper. On overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, the DPRK economy is in dire need of economic support, and Pyongyang makes it clear that they are dissatisfied with Seoul’s lack of any steps aimed at restoring inter-Korean economic cooperation. This was stipulated by the agreements reached at the summits of Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in. This is primarily about the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and the Kumgangsan tourist region. The KIC, located in the DPRK near the border with the Republic of Korea, was the largest and most successful inter-Korean project. It housed the production of more than a hundred South Korean small and medium-sized enterprises, which employed about 50 thousand North Korean workers. By 2015, through the work of the Kaesong complex, inter-Korean trade turnover reached USD 3 billion, which made South Korea the second most important trading partner of the DPRK after China. The Kumgangsan tourist region was open to South Korean citizens for ten years, from 1998 to 2008. During this time, almost 2 million South Koreans could visit it, giving the DPRK government an additional source of income.
Pyongyang seems to be counting on the large victory of the ruling Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections in South Korea in April this year, which might create new prerequisites for restarting the inter-Korean peace process. This is all the more since immediately after the elections, the Office of President Moon Jae-in stated that normalization of relations with Pyongyang remained a priority for the country’s leadership and the resumption of negotiations between the North and the South might occur in May-June.
However, the initiator of rapprochement with the North, President Moon Jae-in, found himself in a critical situation. The most important asset of his party in the elections was not an inter-Korean settlement program, but the successful actions of the South Korean authorities in the fight against the pandemic. Now that the unrest around the pandemic has more or less subsided, the economic problems in the country, aggravated by the pandemic and corruption scandals involving people close to Moon, are again coming to the fore in the public consciousness of the South Koreans. So today, the President of the Republic of Korea is clearly not up to talking with Pyongyang.
The pressure of the big ally certainly plays its role. Before the results of the U.S. presidential election, Washington will not only be unable to take any action on the Korean vector, but will also disallow Seoul to take the initiative.
Do all of Korea’s Neighbors Want the Reunification?
In the current alignment of forces near the Far Eastern borders of Russia, the establishment of Korea as a single independent neutral and nuclear-free state would be in its interest. The question, however, is that at this stage, neither North nor South Korea is ready for reunification. The partners of the two Korean states are not ready for this either.
Seoul is concerned that reunification will come at a very high cost, pulling it out of competition at the regional and global levels for a long time. Pyongyang, in turn, does not intend to surrender to the South. They examined the experience of Germany, where the capitalist West brought the socialist East to heel, making former GDR citizens “second-class” and subjecting members of the former East German power elite to all kinds of persecution, including imprisonment. The new young generation of the North Korean elite is actively blending in with the emerging North Korean business under Kim Jong-un. We have already seen something similar in Russia. Both of these classes — the current military party elite and the North Korean nouveau riche — have a vital common interest in preserving a separate North Korean statehood. The unification of Korea under the leadership of Seoul is equally dangerous for both, because in this case, the elite will lose power, and local business will simply be crushed by the South Korean chaebol monopolies.
As for the United States, it is not really in its interest to have Korea reunited rather than having status quo on the Korean peninsula, maintaining tensions there. This is the most convenient way to keep and, if necessary, strengthen the U.S. military-political presence in Northeast Asia.
China is considering the alignment of forces on the Korean Peninsula primarily through the prism of its confrontation with the United States. Beijing will support the reunification of Korea only if it is sure that a united Korea will be pro-Chinese. There is no certainty about this: Korea, united under Seoul conditions, will, at best for China, become a powerful independent state with strong ties to the United States, and at worst, like Japan, the outpost of Washington’s deterrence of China in the region.
The Japanese, in turn, say that the main question for them is who will get the North Korean nuclear weapons. Tokyo will support the reunification of Korea, only being sure that these weapons are destroyed or withdrawn. In fact, the Japanese are simply afraid of the emergence of a united Korea as a powerful competitor in the regional and world arena, similar to the way England and France tried to delay the unification of Germany in the late 1980s.
Therefore, speaking about the reunification of Korea in the current conditions is at least premature. It should be a matter of inter-Korean reconciliation, building bridges between the two Korean states.
Trump and Pyongyang
In 2018 Donald Trump’s transition from the threat of a military attack on Pyongyang to a dialog with Kim Jong-un was largely forced. Both the insistence of South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the issue of inter-Korean detente and the general international attitude against the risk of a nuclear war against North Korea played a role. Special attention should be given to, firstly, the “road map” for settling the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula put forward on July 4, 2017, by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Russia and China. And, secondly, to the unwillingness of the U.S. allies to engage in new American adventures in Korea, which was clearly shown in January 2018 at Vancouver meeting of the foreign ministers of those states whose troops fought in the Korean War of 1950-1953 on the side of the South as part of the so-called UN forces in Korea.
In dialog with Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un voiced the new relations between the DPRK and the U.S. as the main condition for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These relations should be based on mutual trust and free from mutual demonization. It is clear that this is not an easy task for Pyongyang and Washington. But there are examples of how similar challenges were solved in due time in China-the U.S. and Vietnam-the U.S. relations. The future relations of the DPRK and the U.S. could reach the level of today’s communication between Vietnam and the U.S., when they still remember the war, but the memory of the past does not prevent them from working together in the present.
Pyongyang could stop the development of ICBMs, freeze the production of nuclear materials, and open its nuclear facilities for international inspections. And Washington, in return, would officially recognize the DPRK, establish diplomatic relations with it, exchange diplomatic missions, limit military activities at its borders, reduce and ultimately lift sanctions, and provide economic and energy assistance to the North.
The problem, however, is that at least for the coming year, any progress in the U.S.-North Korea dialog is ruled out. Trump is concerned about preparations for the presidential election, the extremely unfavorable situation in the country due to racial unrest, and not about Korea. Both now and in case of winning the elected position, there will be more important issues — China, Europe, Russia, the Middle East. Korea will not be among the U.S. foreign policy priorities even if Biden wins the election (all for the same reasons).
Inter-Korean Reconciliation Matter is in the Hands of Koreans Themselves
The main result of the inter-Korean summits was Seoul being reconciled with the existence of the DPRK and adopting the policy of peaceful coexistence with respect to it. The urgent need for the Republic of Korea today is to recognize the status of the DPRK as a sovereign state, the rule of law and constitutionality of its leadership, and shift the relations between the two Koreas into a bilateral format.
The UN is called upon to play its role in this situation. It has been dealing with the “Korean issue” from the moment it arose in the late 1940s. Yet after the approval of two resolutions on this issue at once during the 30th session of the General Assembly in November 1975 (one initiated by the USA and the other by the USSR (both remained unfulfilled)), it basically removed the issue of a political settlement in Korea from the agenda.
First of all, it is worth changing a completely unnatural situation when, formally it is not the Republic of Korea, that is in the military confrontation with the DPRK, but the UN. To assist South Korea during the Korean War, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution No. 84 of July 7, 1950, the United Nations Forces in Korea were created — the multinational armed forces of 16 states led by the United States. Since these forces participated in the Korean War under the UN flag, and the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on the behalf of these forces opposing the Korean People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteers (and in fact on behalf of the UN), the latter is still formally at war with the DPRK, that since 1991 is a full member of the UN.
It is time to adopt the UN Security Council declaration and to declare that the Korean War was a page of the past, that the UN Security Council turns this page and, accordingly, there is no need for the UN Command in Korea.
As for the American troops in South Korea, their presence should be regulated exclusively by interstate agreements between the Republic of Korea and the United States. In this case, it would be worthwhile to decide on the issue of Operational Command (OPCON) by the ROK/US Combined Forces Command. Now, under bilateral agreements, in peacetime on the peninsula, South Korea commands both its own troops and the U.S. military contingent. However, with the outbreak of war, the command automatically transfers to the United States, which means, in fact, that the President of the Republic of Korea, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces, becomes subordinate to the Lieutenant General of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The question about the need to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement in Korea with a peace treaty repeatedly arose in connection with the inter-Korean summits. At the same time, there is a wide range of opinions expressed as to which states should be parties to this treaty.
The Armistice Agreement of 1953 was not an interstate document. It was an agreement between the commanders-in-chief of the warring parties on the suspension of hostilities, the withdrawal of troops and establishing a demilitarized border between them. Neither the Republic of Korea, nor the United States, nor China in state capacity were involved in the armistice agreement. Moreover, the United States and China did not participate in the Korean War as states.
The peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula should be the treaty of two sovereign independent states — the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. There are certain preconditions for this. A joint communique of the Republic of Korea and North Korea was issued on July 4, 1972, calling for an independent and peaceful reunification of the divided country, without depending on foreign powers and without foreign interference, on the basis of “great national unity.” In December 1991, the heads of government of the North and South for the first time formally recognized the equal existence of two Korean states by signing the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression and Exchanges and Cooperation. Five inter-Korean summits took place from 2000 to 2018, joint declarations being adopted at each of them — a program for the development of bilateral relations aimed at a gradual shift from confrontation to reconciliation and phased rapprochement. None of these documents provided for the participation of any third states in inter-Korean communication. It was and should be about the interaction of the two Koreas exclusively in a bilateral format.
It is noteworthy that during the 2018 Pyongyang Summit the Agreement on the Implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain was signed by the Ministers of Defense of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. This is a fundamentally new and, most importantly, a practical step towards reducing military tension. Confidence-building measures between the military are being strengthened, communication channels are opening up, the parties are going to take all measures to prevent any clashes and conflicts with the use of military force in any territory. This is all the more important, firstly, since the ROK in its own capacity did not sign the Armistice Agreement in Korea in 1953. Secondly, the leaders of the two states announced that they would pursue a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games. That is, the ROK recognized that it did not expect, as in the previous years, the regime to fall in the DPRK and that the North and South would exist separately even in 15 years.
The Korean War that started 70 years ago, has not ended yet. The Korean crisis today is one of the main threats to international security. This crisis has two components: the division of the Korean nation over decades into two separate states and the DPRK nuclear missile program.
These two components of the Korean crisis are interconnected, but their impact on each other is unequal. Pyongyang’s refusal from nuclear development alone will not end the confrontation between North and South. At the same time, normalization of inter-Korean relations is a prerequisite for ending the Korean War matters and solving the denuclearization issue of the Korean Peninsula.
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