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John Lee on Korea’s election, North Korea, and why South Korea isn’t “ethnically pure”

John-Lee-copyJohn Lee is the Conservative Columnist at NK News and the writer behind The Korean Foreigner. Born in Brunei to immigrant parents, Lee was educated in English (a legacy of British colonialism) and then went to study in the U.S., before taking up citizenship in his ancestral Korea. As such, he says he feels like “a foreigner in my own country.” I interviewed him about the upcoming Korean elections, policy towards North Korea, Korean politics, and other topics.

Mitchell Blatt: There’s been lots of news about North Korea launching missiles and threatening to test an ICBM that could hit the U.S. South Korea is having elections, and the Trump administration seems to be suggesting that they might take a more aggressive policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the time for “strategic patience” is over. Do you think that Trump and Tillerson are going in the right direction on this?
John Lee: I don’t think that either Donald Trump or Tillerson are going in any direction regarding North Korea. Just recently they said that all options are still on the table. But that’s the same thing they’ve been saying since the Clinton administration. And anytime you say, ‘All options are on the table,’ what that means is, yeah, we have options, but we haven’t picked one yet. So I think they’re just going with being ‘tough’ on North Korea as far as their rhetoric goes, but I am not convinced that their rhetoric can be backed up by any significant actions.

Blatt: Suppose there was an attempt to go in a new direction. Do you think a new direction is needed?
Lee: If by “new direction,” you mean something more kinetic, then I think that would be a horrible idea. I think deterrence has worked for the past seventy years, and I think it can continue to work. Strong deterrence militarily and economic sanctions, I believe will help contain the situation as much as possible, but something more kinetic would involve a lot of human lives being lost. I think that would be the absolute worst case sanctions.

Blatt: China is talking about trying to open up four party talks. What kind of role does China play in this, and is there any possibility for China to play a bigger role in keeping North Korea in check?
Lee: I think China’s role is more limited than people think it is. It has been proven repeatedly that the North Koreans do not listen to China all that much. China does not want the North Koreans to conduct these missile tests, but they’re conducting them anyway. Recently, because of the unofficial sanctions that the Chinese has imposed on South Korea, China has lost a lot of good will with the South Koreans, too. Four party talks might be enticing for the next progressive government, but I think they will have a hard time juggling the economic interests of China with the military alliance of the United States. The military alliance, as much as they [the progressives] disdain it, is not something that they can just ignore. It would just be irresponsible.

Blatt: One of the big sticking points there is THAAD, and most of the Minjoo Party candidates over the past year have opposed it, but now they seem to be shifting their positions. Do you think in the end, they are going to—if not support THAAD—support the status quo, which is the deployment of THAAD?

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Trump, China and trade war : two short op-eds

Trump declares (trade) war…for now

Donald Trump’s inauguration marked a change in the world order, the free market liberal order that continued from 1945 in the West, and spread across the world around 1989. Here’s the transcript of the entire speech. But here are my quick three takeaways. The speech means, firstly, Trump is planning a 1930s-type national nation building project. Secondly, and inevitably, there’s now all possibility of a devastating trade war. And thirdly, Islamists are now the prime target of the administration.

The speech highlighted the new American credo of manufacturing in US, with American workers, and American infrastructure getting priority. It is unclear how he can do it, however, as if he imposes legal procedures on manufacturing outside US, his own company which outsources to China, will also suffer. The world is not stuck in the 1930s, and one cannot change the direction of capital flow or alter the comparative advantages. The center of gravity of economy moved to the East, and one can only adapt so far.

Trump’s inauguration statement was straightforward and refreshingly neutral in tone. In a certain way, it was without all the ridiculous and optimistic and hopeful balderdash we seem to have expect from American inaugurations. This was like a whistle for a firing squad. The world is now without leadership, and every power for its own. If you’re a strong power, then be stronger, if you’re weak, choose a side. Simple as that.

Researchers who deal with grand strategy often tries to find historical patterns in foreign policy. 

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The implications of Park’s removal from office for Korea

Korean president Park Geun-hye was officially removed from office this morning, Korea time, three months after she was impeached in a bribery scandal. New elections are scheduled for before May 9. The opposition is almost certainly going to win–either the Minjoo Party, which is currently the plurality in the legislature, or the People’s Party. Moon Jae-in is the frontrunner for the Minjoo Party nomination and thus probably the frontrunner for the presidency.

Korean parties fuse and change and rebrand all the time, so of course Park’s Saenuri party has already rechristened itself the Liberty Korea Party. It stands little to no chance. In the last poll released before Park’s impeachment, Park’s approval rating was 5 percent, and the Saenuri/LKP’s support dropped from 34 percent in November 2016 to 12 percent in January 2017.

What this means for the future of THAAD’s deployment is uncertain. (Maitra: THAAD deployment will not soothe Korean tensions.) The Korean opposition had opposed THAAD for the past year, but in January both Moon and People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo expressed that they might be reconsidering their opposition on the basis that it would hurt U.S. relations to retreat from a decision that was already made (by Park’s administration).

Bombs + Dollars will have more coverage of Korea and its elections over the next weeks and months from editor Mitch Blatt, who is on the ground here. For now, enjoy this article I wrote for my travel blog, which explains some of the divides in Korean politics and society: Why some Koreans are still supporting Park Geun-hye at a March 1 Independence Day rally.

And enjoy these photos from the scene of the celebration by Park’s opposition:
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Will Trump change US-Russia relation?

I was interviewed by Radio Sputnik, Moscow, yesterday. 

The audio clip is not very good, but I am attaching it here

The transcript is below.

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Chin-Nat Study (1)

New research suggests that conflict with China is not inevitable

Extraordinary research came out yesterday in International Security Journal, which concludes that

  1. Nationalism declining in China.
  2. China views, any potential Great power conflict from geopolitical and not ideological lens.

Here’s the paper.

And some data set.

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Taiwan will suffer most in any Sino-American brinkmanship

So, once again, as usual, Donald Trump when faced with allegations about Russian hacking in his election, quickly gave an interview to Fox News about Taiwan. That helped in diverting much of the traffic towards the issue, in a communication diversion strategy that Trump has mastered since he decided to stand for election. The interview itself was obviously incoherent, and Trumpian…as in he said a lot of things, half said even more, and almost all of them contradictory. Typical example being he claimed Obama’s policies were a failure, but simultaneously claimed that President Obama has been a terrific president. If any observer was watching for signs of Trump’s pivot towards centrism, this is as good as it gets.

However, the important part was his comments about One China policy. Trump said, he understands completely what a One China policy is, and why US governments have followed it for over forty years, but he fails to comprehend why it should be continued if there’s no deal with China. “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump told Fox, as reported by Reuters.

(For a Military comparison, check GlobalFirePower)

Well, that’s a bold statement, because for a start, he doesn’t understand One China policy. And, a deal is already in place. The deal is so the planet earth doesn’t look like a sequence from Fallout 4. But on the other hand, he cleverly didn’t say that he wants to topple the One China policy and chart a new US foreign policy towards China. It’s like an art of saying things, without saying things; kind of like thinking out aloud, wondering, what does it matter if the policy is overturned. If the Chinese administration was looking for hint, this is it. Let me explain.

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Two articles on Trump

I don’t want to pile you with cliches, but the unthinkable happened.

Now, I have decided to focus on some other areas of my expertise, and my research…just because there are so many interminable, paranoid, hot takes going on, like this one for example…with nothing concrete, just peddling fear.

Anyway, I wrote two articles…first one for Quillette Magazine, where I critique this hysteria after Trump’s win.

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Second one for National Interest, where I chart the foreign policy course for Trump in the near future, and the structural limitations he might face.

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Have a read and let me know what you think!

 

Kayes recovering from injuries.

“Then they decided to kill me”: Shahed Kayes on his campaign against illegal sand mining in Bangladesh

The population of Bangladesh has increased by 60% since 1990. Its capital Dhaka is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, expected to have a population the size of Shanghai’s current population within the next decade. This unstoppable growth is fueling an explosion in construction. Bangladesh isn’t alone. Countries throughout South Asia and South East Asia are growing at breakneck pace as well as urbanizing.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

All of this construction needs massive amounts of concrete. And concrete needs sand. But where does the sand come from? Shahed Kayes is founder of the Subornogram Foundation, which established schools for poor and marginalized families like the fisherfolk who live on islands in the Meghna River. There, he found sand mining companies dredging sands from close to the islands, causing the islands to erode and disappear. When he began to protest the practice, getting Bangladesh to pass laws against it in 2012, he was met with threats–and nearly killed.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class. Screen capture from AdvocacyNet.org video.

I met him in Gwangju, South Korea this summer, where he is working towards promoting democracy at the May 18 Memorial Foundation and studying at Chonnnam University, and then interviewed him. Following is an edited transcript and audio. The audio also includes conversation about South Korea’s historic democracy movement and the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, which was the impetus for the creation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Here’s the audio:

Here’s the text:
Mitchell Blatt: Many people do not think of how much sand is used in the world. But when it comes to building towers or anything that uses concrete, it involves a lot of sand [also for glass, and expansion of landmass in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and China’s east coast]. Can you give an introduction as to why sand mining is important?

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Special Post: Lionel Shriver’s full speech

Editor’s Note: We usually follow a strict editorial line, of freedom of speech. The recent needless controversy regarding Lionel Shriver’s speech on Cultural Appropriation is phenomenal, and we at Bombs and Dollars believe therefore that it is our duty to repost and share the speech for everyone to read and share. (Source:The Telegraph, Photo Courtesy: Google Creative Commons.)


 

I hate to disappoint you folks, but unless we stretch the topic to breaking point this address will not be about “community and belonging.”

In fact, you have to hand it to this festival’s organizers: inviting a renowned iconoclast to speak about “community and belonging” is like expecting a great white shark to balance a beach ball on its nose.

The topic I had submitted instead was “Fiction and Identity Politics,” which may sound on its face equally dreary.

But I’m afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around “Identity Politics” has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing.

Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all.  Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we are “allowed” to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.

Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

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Moral ambiguity and coffee in London, with Laura Canning

I didn’t plan or expect to meet Laura this time when I was in London, infact I didn’t plan my second trip to London within a week 17250363anyway. Considering what is happening in the political circles in UK (and broadly, Europe) planning seemed to me an exercise in futility.  So when I met her in the holga-ish Cafe Nero in Buckingham Palace road after two whole days of covering the coronation of the new UK PM, I was distinctly under-dressed as a classic political correspondent with shabby army green t-shirt, jacket, scarf and jeans, increasingly aware of the uncomfortable dark moist growing patch near my armpit. Thankfully I had deospray in my laptop bag, as the person who greeted me with a copy of her first published novel was in a proper burgundy dress, smelling fresh and soinding Oirish; capable of giving a seven hour Sun-dried man enough complex for the rest of the day. We proceeded, appropriately in my opinion, to talk about her novel and lead character Lisa (a working class, domestically abused, societally neglected early teen, on her way to drugs, larceny, prostitution and “freedom”), on a day Britain had her second Conservative female Prime Minister.

Her debut novel “Taste the Bright Lights” (which I read in the next twenty four hours on my way back to Nottingham) is contemporary urban drama, tracing fourteen year old Lisa “growing up” in Northern Ireland. Imagine Chetan Bhagat’s early writing, meeting “This is England”, just more gritty, grimy, and grainy…a jarring experience, like watching a slow quaint mutiny unfolding, being shot in sepia lens. It shares occasional debut novel characteristics, like overuse of certain typical urban colloquial words, and it’s not an easy read, and not only because of the sheer powerful narrative force, but because of the moral ambiguity that reigns within.

It is in spirit of that moral ambiguity, I asked Laura these questions for Bombs and Dollars, published below unaltered and unabridged.


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