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China and Hong Kong

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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.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

East Asia

No Prospects for Denuclearization of North Korea

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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 [1] 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 [3] 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 [2] 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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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East Asia

Kissinger Again Warns US, China Heading for Armageddon-like Clash

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image credit: John Harris/U.S. Navy/Flickr

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.”

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East Asia

Post COVID-19, Can China Emerge as the New Global Power?

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China Beijing

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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