BBC Radio Ulster, 12 March, 2018, Trump-Kim Talks


There is a slim but real chance of peace in Korea – as long as the US doesn’t concede too much


The Telegraph9 March, 2018

Happy day: the news that President Trump has agreed to a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jung-un sometime in May at last raises the possibility of de-escalating the long-simmering crisis. But before we start cracking out the bubbly and nominating for Nobel Peace Prizes, a cold assessment of the negotiations is necessary.

Even presuming that this isn’t simply another North Korean time-buying exercise, there are still big obstacles to a resolution. First, when both sides talk about “denuclearisation” they mean very different things.

As the Korea scholar Duyeon Kim has pointed out, Kim Jong Un’s regime says it wants arms control talks with Washington, and might be willing to denuclearise – but only if “both sides reciprocally reduced and eventually eliminated their nuclear weapons.” Well, North Korea is not the USSR, and Kim Jong-un is no Gorbachev, so that will be a problem.

Then there is North Korea’s demand for “security”: easy in principle, difficult in practice. While past US presidents such as George W Bush have written letters guaranteeing the regime’s security (an awful dilemma for Washington on the human rights front), it’s not clear what this time would actually entail.

If it involves the US being asked to reduce or eliminate its troop presence in South Korea, then we have another problem. Washington cannot forgo its defence of an ally that has been attacked repeatedly by the North merely for the possibility of an unknown “peace”. It’s like promising an arsonist that you’ll disband the local fire department.

So what can the two sides offer each other by way of realistic concessions? With all the obstacles to mutual understanding, should we even be having these meetings? The answer is that there is always a moral imperative to attempt negotiations if war is a real possibility. And by all accounts from Washington, war is a real possibility.

The most obvious move for both sides would be to attempt a return to the conclusion of the 2007 Six Party Talks. Despite criticism of the whole Six Party format, much was accomplished during these negotiations, including a DPRK commitment to disable all nuclear facilities and a commitment by Japan, South Korea and the US to normalise relations with Pyongyang and provide forms of energy and development aid. The primary problem would be – as it was at the time – that of verification. Who will verify that North Korea has carried out its commitments?

Less obvious moves include some sort of peace treaty being offered by the United States to the North. DPRK has long called for the US to normalise relations and end its threatening attitude. Again, for this to work, Pyongyang would have to be willing to include Seoul. If North Korea were to accept a peace deal with Seoul as well, it’s the type of symbolic move that could pave the way to further talks, and perhaps to a formal US treaty guaranteeing North Korea’s regime security. While morally distasteful, this would at least help avoid a horrific war.

As for sanctions, the best Washington and Seoul could do is offer a timeline for reducing them that parallels DPRK denuclearization, a sort of positive tit-for-tat. The danger with this, as with the entire idea of talks, is that American and Korean governments will rush into having talks for the sake of talks without any clear agenda.

Without a clear idea of what they want and what their red lines are, they could simply be outsmarted by the wily team of North Korean negotiators and bounced into giving away concessions which they or their allies cannot afford.

So yes, we have all been here before. The prognosis is not sunny. But what other choice do we have?


The Myth of Chinese Containment


The Interpreter, 9 March, 2018

The great debate on the meaning of China’s rise is coming to a close. Where academics once argued over whether the Asian power would be a status quo or systemic challenger, there is growing consensus that China intends to reshape the global system in its image.

From its criticism of the US alliance system in Asia, to its use of military coercion to claim a major global trading route as sovereign territory, to a growing intolerance of international and treaty law, to its majestic dreams of a new silk route tying central Asia and Eastern Europe to its economic system, China clearly intends systemic change. The possibility of a newly enriched China that incrementally liberalises and democratises has turned a corner irrevocably after the People’s National Congress rubber-stamped President Xi Jinping’s permanent tenure as leader.

We now know the answers to two of the great questions of the twenty-first century: will China become a democracy? And what will it do once it has risen?

Various mainstream China watchers in Asia and the West have finally come off the fence, correctly realising that the assumptions of US policy towards China over the past 20 years have been wide of the mark. That they have yet to think of a replacement strategy reveals the power of Beijing’s strategic communications. China’s leaders have used a number of useful phrases, such as “bide your time, hide your capabilities” and “peaceful rise” to allay the fears of, and thus stymy any counterbalancing from, China’s opponents.

China’s most successful strategy, perhaps, has been to attack any response to its actions with the “containment” concept. The Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia”; trade deals such as the TTP and TTIPUS–Republic of Korea exercises; the JapanIndia nuclear agreementthe “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”; various US presidential visits to the region; US reactions to Chinese moves in the South China Sea; the US–Japan–India–Australia Quadrilateral; and even Western values and the Nobel Prize have been seen as “containment” by China’s diplomats and media.

As a concept, containment dates back to the beginning of the Cold War and US diplomat George Kennan’s infamous Long Telegram which first articulated the outlines of a policy that could be used to peacefully contain Soviet efforts to globalise their ideology and influence. American policymakers have continually disavowed such a strategy against China, as have Australiancounterparts, saying it would be impossible and undesirable due to China’s integration with the global economy. This, however, has had little effect on the use of the term by Chinese policymakers and diplomats. It’s not difficult to tell why.

In terms of strategic messaging, “containment” has sown confusion among Western trading and security policy elites about how to react to the less positive aspects of China’s rise. The concept has been used to shift responsibility and agency from China itself to the West: “China isn’t behaving assertively, it’s reacting to an unfair containment policy”. The decision by Australia to abandon the US–Japan–Australia–India Quadrilateral under Chinese pressure in 2008 was a reaction to Chinese pressure, and its resurrection nearly nine years later saw Chinese diplomats attempt to reframe it as “containment” or “NATO-in-Asia”.

The primary outcome of the myth of Chinese containment has been to divide American, Australian, and Indian policymakers at the domestic level, and to keep regional states forever on the back foot, forever apologising for making China “feel” surrounded. Most importantly, it has prevented them from pursuing their legitimate national interests.

It is an easy message to absorb: at some level, any policymaker can see the conceptual logic of security dilemmas, where one state attempts to balance insecurity by adding to its hard-power capabilities. This cycle of distrust is an easy concept to recognise and has become a prominent part of how Western states have sought to allay Chinese concerns. The US, Australia, Japan, and others, for example, have done this by seeking closer military-to-military links with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); the US helped China’s entry into the WTO; and nearly all have overlooked egregious trade practices and IP-harvesting, and sought to give China representation in all the major international forums.

Yet the neither the Quadrilateral nor the term “Indo-Pacific” are about ganging up on China. These states feel insecure because China has taken over a major global trade route upon which they depend, militarised it, and then brushed off their concerns.

Western states have reacted by seeking collective security, and approached the region within an inclusive framework – one that seeks to balance China’s unequal weight. Naturally, Beijing dislikes these groupings for challenging its expansion, and therefore accuses them of containment.

All states have interests, and if there is no diplomatic compromise, countries naturally begin to band together against another that is behaving in a way perceived as threatening. Reacting to this, and attempting to ameliorate insecurity might be defensive, but it is certainly not containment.

The Telegraph: Brexit Britain should be wary of striking quick trade deals with China, Indian CEO says

The Telegraph, James Rothwell, 5 March, 2018

“Experts pointed out that several countries have forged close trade links with China while co-operating with India on security issues without running into major trouble.

‘There is no contradiction in strong economic ties with China on the one hand, and strong security ties with states like Japan, India, and the United States,’ said John Hemmings, the director of the Henry Jackson Society’s Asia Centre.

‘Indeed, all of those states have themselves very robust economic relationships with Beijing.'”

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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