Category: Asia (Page 2 of 6)

Ian Bremmer on North Korean nuclear test and trade deal withdrawal

“China would be the big winner.”

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, using a weapon it said was missile-ready that made a blast over 100 kilotons in magnitude, its biggest yet. Yesterday, it was also reported that Donald Trump is ready to pull out of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, news which editor Mitch Blatt commented on. Following are links and comments from others about the implications:

Ian Bremmer:

“Timing is more important here, given the economic pressure on South Korea from Beijing and the challenges of the North Korea conflict,” Bremmer said. “China would be the big winner, with [South] Korean president Moon [Jae-in] harder pressed to maintain present levels of security cooperation with the United States. If China is your key economic partner, there’s a lot less reason to listen to Washington.”

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham: “I am 100 percent certain that if Kim Jong-un continues to develop missile technology, that if diplomacy fails, there will be an attack by the United States against his weapons systems. I’m assuming the worst…”
BBC interview

Harry Kazianis:

My assessment is that Kim does not yet have an operational H-Bomb, but is doing what he always does—proving to the world he has the resources, technology and capability to deploy a powerful nuclear deterrent. But he could have taken an important first step towards testing a viable design.

What is to be done?

As a first step, it’s time to pull out all the stops to make sure we restrict the amount of financial resources going into North Korea and make it as hard as possible for Kim to build up his nuclear program and H-bomb designs…

Leif-Eric Easley, Foreign Policy: North Korea’s Nuclear Tests and Missile Tests Are Aimed at Splitting Its Rivals

James Palmer, Foreign Policy: North Korean Nuclear Test Spites Both Washington and Beijing

Korean Security Chat, I: Fallout from Trump-Kim confrontation

Yesterday morning, B+D editor Mitchell Blatt chatted with former Korean army soldier Daniel Kim about the tense situation on the Korean peninsula in the first of a new series. Later that day, North Korea launched a missile over Japan. In our conversation, we discussed Korea’s relations with Japan, White House shakeups and what effect they will have on U.S. policy towards Korea, and Korean President Moon’s “North Korean sympathetic” policy.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: First off, White House advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have both been fired/resigned in the past two weeks. How do you think it will affect White House policy?

Let me start with my thoughts: Bannon was pushing for a minimalist response to North Korea. He let loose in an interview with The American Prospect the night before leaving, promising to fire many of the State Department’s East Asia specialists and undercutting Trump’s threats of military force against North Korea by saying, “There’s no military solution.” Trump was saber rattling, but it seemed like Trump was bluffing the whole time. I think Bannon leaving reflects existing White House policy more than meaning any changes. Mattis and McMaster have the situation in their hands. They want to increase pressure but do so rationally, knowing the risks of war.

You?

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North Korea calls Trump’s bluff (Update on Trump’s statement)

Yesterday I wrote that Trump’s threat to send “fire, fury, and power the likes of which the world has never seen before” raining down on Pyeongyang if Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the U.S. was reckless because it would put American credibility at stake.

I said:

There are only two things that can come of Trump’s threat to respond with “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”:
1.) Trump is bluffing, and he doesn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea. Many lives are initially saved, but America’s credibility is damaged, causing North Korea to push forward with its nuclear weapons program and raising the risk of war later.
or
2.) Trump does incite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.

It was just a few hours later that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam. As I wrote at the time, North Korea makes implausibly bellicose threats all the time, and it is wise not to always take them at face value. Yet Trump specifically mentioned “threats” in his statement (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States”), so for him to not follow through would mean North Korea once again found his words to be not credible.

The result:
Trump just set his own, uncrossable ‘red line’ — and North Korea crossed it instantly – CNBC
North Korea just called Trump’s bluff. So what happens now? – Washington Post

Trump appears (wisely, it should be said) to have opted for choice #1 of the two choices, at least for now.

If and when the President does a real red line, however, will North Korea believe him? And if they don’t, would that mean war?

Maybe world leaders will realize that Trump is a buffoon and take their cues on America’s position from smarter men like Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Advisor McMaster (who is currently facing an attack from the alt-right).

To that end, Mattis put out a statement, in much more refined language, that threatened strong actions should North Korea go too far but also affirmed America’s strength and ability to deter:

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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Otto Warmbier Story: Don’t make North Korean policy off the news

Making good policy requires sober analysis. Emotionally-charged words devoid of any real meaning do a disservice to the pursuit of sound policy.

North Korea represses 25 million people. Its government has killed hundreds of thousands of the people who live there by policy-induced starvation, assassinations, and death camps. It is building nuclear weapons, and just a few months ago it brazenly assassinated the exiled brother of the dear dictator on foreign soil. But now it is the death of an American tourist that has caused National Review to call for kicking North Korea out of the United Nations.

Calling the death of Otto Warmbier an “act of war,” National Review calls for ratcheting up pressure on the rouge regime to punishing levels. That’s all well and good–North Korean tyranny deserves to be resisted–but why did it take the death of an American to inspire such passion?

To be sure, National Review mentions the horrible crimes North Korea commits against Koreans and others in its article. But it is only now that they said the U.S. should emphatically step up its game: “North Korea’s brazen murder of an American citizen is reason to reevaluate.”

North Korea’s ongoing campaign of torturing refugees wasn’t reason to reevalutate? Its sinking of the Cheonam wasn’t reason to reevaluate? Its continued threats to turn Seoul into a sea of fire?

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Otto Warmbier and North Korea: The larger meaning

Otto Warmbier was released from North Korea in a coma and died.

The story of the American arrested in Pyongyang and sentenced to 15 years for allegedly trying to take a propaganda poster back home captivated the American media and was the source of a fair share of hot takes. As usual, it was quickly turned into a pointless political football to be tossed around by the cultural right and the social justice left. Some idiots on the left (a Huffington Post unpaid blogger, Salon, Larry Wilmore — no one of too much influence) took a sick kind of schadenfreudic pleasure in seeing a white man arrested and sentenced to a harsh prison term. Conservatives took these silly statements by a few liberal bloggers and thus used them as examples of the “moral perversion” of the “social justice left” (Noah Rothman of Commentary, Nick Gillespie of Reason).

It’s a distraction from the issue here. North Korea arrested someone for a minor offense and sentence him for one and a half decades–and possibly mistreated him (we can’t speculate too much without facts). For race-obsessed morons who have no sympathy for white people, consider this: The vast majority of North Koreans are Korean people. The same government that uses Americans–of all races and genders (including journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling and professor Kim Sang-duk) as bargaining chips tortures and kills Koreans. An estimated 200,000 Koreans are in concentration camps as a result of political “crimes.”

The same government that will throw an American in jail for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign forces local people to have portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on every wall. In the same place that an American may have contracted botulism, hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, have starved to death over the years.

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Modi’s newfound pragmatism towards China

A month back, Indian hyper sensationalized news media was jingoistically pointing out how much Indian government is correct in not taking part in the OBOR initiative, while every serious political commentator with half a brain was saying, how terrible a mistake that was. From boycotting a summit on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in May, to being hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) summit it looks like a total 180 turn for Indian foreign policy.

This is not baffling. Here’s what is happening.

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Optimism in Korean peninsula

After months of political drama liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won in South Korea, a victory that ended over a decade-long conservative rule, which was by the end tarnished by extreme corruption and scandal, and ended in the impeachment and arrest of Park Geun-hye which triggered a snap election. The liberal victory was expected, given the current mood of South Korea, and a high turnout almost guaranteed the defeat of the incumbent conservatives. A simple plurality was needed for the liberals to win. Speaking at a makeshift podium, Moon was quoted to say “I will make a just, united country. I will be a president who also serves all the people who did not support me.”

In an interesting development, Moon said that he would be willing to go to North Korea to meet its leader Kim Jong-un, in a notable change of track from the previous conservative governments. Signaling that he is flexible and expressing willingness to negotiate immediately, the left-liberal-leaning Moon said that he is willing to do anything that might help bring peace to the continent. “I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean peninsula if needed. I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo. If the conditions are right, I will go to Pyongyang,” he was quoted by Guardian.

Perhaps in a further indication that the new administration would be different than the old one, Moon even considers reviewing THAAD system placed in South Korea. The system has been a bone of contention between China and United States and was installed just a week before the elections. China has consistently opposed and urged the new president to scrap the system.

There has been talks reported by Reuters, where US officials have anonymously raised their concerns, about the new volatility in ties between South Korea and US. Moon and US President Trump are very different characters. There are chances of confrontation. Trump recently also demanded payment for THAAD placed in South Korea. That, added to the fact that Trump is positioning himself as a North Korea hawk, means that there are chances of difference of interest.

The US, of course, as per diplomatic rituals congratulated Moon, just as China and Japan did. The White House press secretary spoke of a continuing a strong alliance and enduring partnership.

That said, I would suggest a few cautions for both South Korea, and US. First of all South Korea needs to realise that any diplomatic maneuver, especially in such a volatile situation will inevitably bring up risks of cheesing off partners and adversaries. Any individual single effort to solve the Korean crisis would anger hardliners in both Washington and Tokyo. It is unlikely that Seoul, despite its good intentions is willing or able to take that risk or go that far. The idea in Washington is simple, that America is unwilling to coexist with a nuclear North Korea and that North Korea is a danger to American interests in the Pacific. Given that situation, if any country, especially South Korea intends to bypass American intentions to hand olive branch to the North, they will risk a collision course with Washington.

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First thoughts on election of Moon Jae-in as president of Korea

The election turned out just as expected. Moon Jae-in won with just over 40 percent, right around where the final polls predicted. The moderate and conservative split the hard-on-North-Korea vote. In fact, the next three candidates combined, conservative Hong Jun-pyo (KLP), moderate reformer Ahn Cheol-su (People’s Party), and reformist conservative Yoo Seoung-min (Baerun), combined for over 50 percent.

While Moon has expressed the desire to visit North Korea “if the time is right” and talk, he might be constrained by the political and security situation, I write in a forthcoming column I will link to.

UPDATE: My article is now published: A new president and new opportunities in Korea

To continue growth, keep out of conflict

When the Soviet Union was there, a field called Kremlinology was prevalent in the West. It was the study of the secretive Kremlin to understand and fathom what was happening behind the iron curtain. Things such as chair placement, who sits next to whom, etc was supposed to give an idea on how Soviet economy is supposed to perform. It was pseudoscientic, and most of it was of course threat inflated guesswork. Obviously sitting arrangements might give a hint of who within the Kremlin walls are falling out of fashion or not, but in no way can it give any hint about the overall direction of the country. Naturally the Kremlinologists couldn’t for the love of God, predict anything about Soviet economy, and couldn’t foresee the primary reason behind Soviet collapse.

In recent days, something similar is back in vogue. There is a steady stream of prediction about Chinese economy. As recently as in Davos forum last year it was predicted that Chinese economy was in for a hard landing. It wasn’t. China’s economy actually grew 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year, which was slightly better than expected, as well as predicted. 

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