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Vice, David Gilbert, 22 March 2019

“The sudden decision by North Korea to remove its officials from the liaison office is no doubt aimed at the Moon Jae-in administration, which is keen to push peace talks forward,” John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News. “It’s really a less-than-subtle attempt to split Washington and Seoul over the added sanctions.”


South China Morning Post, Wendy Wu, 19 March 2019

Dr John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre and deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society, a Britain-based think tank, said at the same event in Washington that Britain was considering formalising a policy of sharing intelligence with Japan.

He said about US$124 billion worth of trade – 12 per cent of Britain’s total – went through the South China Sea each year, “quite a significant amount of our revenue, so we would be concerned about anyone – China or whichever regional country – trying to control that waterway”.

“[Britain] will not lead, but certainly it will follow and will join and become a responsible partner of the community of the states that are interested in an Indo-Pacific concept,” Hemmings added.

The Netherlands said in October that it would send a warship to join British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its first operation deployment in Indo-Pacific waters in 2021.

“We’ll see more of that,” Hemmings said, adding that Britain, Canada, Australia and various European countries would be “banding together and operating in groups like this”.


What Happens Next in U.S.-North Korea Relations

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The National Interest, 12 March, 2019

No doubt those North Korea experts who predicted that the Hanoi Summit would fail, have found cold comfort in the news over the past two weeks. The apparent collapse of the summit seemed to come partly as a result of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unwillingness to put more of North Korea’s programme on the table. Failure also stemmed partly from the Trump administration’s apparent walk-back from the step-by-step approach. There are really two questions that have arisen from Hanoi’s failure: “what went wrong?” and “what next?” In attempting to answer the latter question, one must ask whether we will return to the tense period that marked the early part of the Trump administration, with North Korea and the United States shadow-boxing over U.S. attempts to impose an effective economic blockade.

Already, we are beginning to see emerging (or re-emerging) signs of that more familiar relationship dynamic, with the North Koreans apparently restoring facilities at a long-range rocket launch site it had dismantled last year. The revelation—acquired on March 2 from commercial satellite imagery—was discussed in a recent event at Center for Strategic and International Studies, where Victor Cha and Joseph Bermudez showed how the rail mounted transfer structure and vertical test engine stands at Sohae launch facility had been restored over a matter of days. Given that the site had been dormant since August 2018, it has been suggested by many North Korea experts that we are due a return to the provocation cycle that has characterized North Korean tactics for so long.

When one looks at the U.S. position, one can also see signs that the United States is returning to a hardline posture. For instance, take Trump’s allegations that North Korea wanted sanctions lifted in their entirety and his statement at the press conference immediately after Hanoi. There are also those who point to the recent shift in the Trump administration’s negotiating strategy from a step-by-step approach to a “go big” approach. Special Representative Steve Biegun’s shift in this direction is likely to doom future progress by making the choice between unilateral disarmament and doubling down on the nuclear weapons strategy. A third—and as of yet, unstated, question—is can the United States persuade regional partners and allies to re-exert “Maximum Pressure” after the long interval? This question takes on even more salience when one considers how far things have drifted between South Korea and its traditional partners, Japan and the United States.

In a report co-authored by Henry Jackson Society and others last year, an expert panel predicted three future scenarios; a best-case scenario, a middle-of-the-road, and a worst-case scenario. This last scenario saw a breakdown of negotiations, followed by a breakdown in regional support for the U.S. “maximum pressure.” We see signs of this third scenario emerging.

One hopes the administration will approach this new stage with great care and diplomatic acumen.


Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli, 11 February, 2019

Report authors James Rogers and Dr John Hemmings, said: “In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to revise the Law of the Sea by asserting a number of unlawful and excessive claims over various international waters and low-tide elevations.

This is important because the UK, a maritime trading power, relies on maritime communication lines, which in turn depend on the cohesion of the rules-based international system.

“Maintaining a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Pacific – not least the South China Sea – comes at a cost.”


North Korea and America’s Second Summit: Here’s What John Hemmings Thinks Will Happen

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The National Interest, 06 February, 2019

It is unlikely that President Donald Trump will be able to convince North Korea to lay down its nuclear weapons system, despite some excellent—if unorthodox—displays of diplomacy. Trump’s approach in the North Korean negotiations has been distinct and offered a combination of pressure, unpredictability, flexibility, respect-culture, and cultivation of the personal touch.

The “maximum pressure” approach toward North Korea was unprecedented, not merely in the sanctions—particularly secondary sanctions—field, but also in the sector of military pressure. For all the decades of American experts telling us that China had no leverage in North Korea, Trump proved that pressure applied to on Chinese could be very effective, indeed. Presidents Obama and Clinton had asked Beijing to help them. It made North Korea America’s problem. Trump raised the spectre of war on China’s doorstep. Suddenly, it made North Korea China’s problem. North Korea quickly folded under the double pressure.

The real question is can Trump deliver? While the summit at Singapore had little meaning in real terms, it was the starting gun in a long, drawn-out process in which we have seen both signs maneuver with much fanfare, but with little actual progress. We also now have the spectre of the second summit (in Vietnam), announced during Trump’s State of the Union address. Seen against the light of Kim’s own New Year’s Day address, it is unclear where the two can compromise. In his address, Kim summarized North Korea’s economic situation—in terms of the second part of his Byungjin policy—now called the “new strategic line.” While this appears to emphasize North Korea’s economy, it is unclear whether or not the North believes this will entail denuclearization as the United States understands it.

In the speech, there are other “promising” signs that are actually quite worrying. First, he portrays North Korea as a responsible nuclear weapons possessor, which strongly hints at his continued belief in an India-style deal whereby he is allowed to keep his weapons. Second, it is becoming increasingly clear that the North Korean regime is confident it can de-link the United States from its South Korean ally, something to which the progressive Moon Jae-in government’s deal-at-any-cost approach has unwittingly contributed. Given the country’s role in hosting U.S. troops and upholding sanctions, it is a vital part in sustaining Washington’s maximum pressure campaign should talks fail. The North Korean leader’s confidence is a disconcerting sign of the unraveling of the U.S. position. Whether Donald Trump can rectify these structural issues remains to be seen.


Global Britain and Global Japan: A New Alliance in the Indo-Pacific?

With James Rogers, Asia Pacific Bulletin, 31 January, 2019

In January 2019, amidst all the Brexit-related commotion and confusion, British Prime Minister Theresa May took time out to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to London. Although the media focused on the timing of the visit – not least because of his warning over the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit and follow-on visit to the Netherlands, where a handful of Japanese companies may relocate or establish satellite offices – this was much more than just a shoring up of one political leader by another. The fact is that Japan and the UK have been moving closer together for over a decade, and not only in the diplomatic-economic sphere. For some time,
the two have been deepening their strategic and military cooperation.

In 2012, for example, the UK and Japan signed a defense cooperation memorandum, making Britain the first country other than the United States that Japan was willing to cooperate with militarily. A 2017 agreement saw an uptick in the willingness to play up the public profile of the growing relationship, whereby the two countries asserted that they were each other’s “closest security partners respectively in Asia and Europe.” Japan’s latest National Defence Programme Guidelines also highlight cooperation with the UK. Given that Japan’s other main partners in the Indo-Pacific – the United States, Australia, and India – also have deep historic and institutional linkages to the UK, a deeper strategic logic is likely at play and could be further leveraged. As China seeks to
revise the rules-based system in both maritime law and trade, powers that depend heavily on the system are beginning to band together in quasi-alliances.

Military cooperation and defense-industrial collaboration between the UK and Japan have continued to grow. A recent Henry Jackson Society report examining geopolitical rankings showed that, despite their geographical distance, the UK and Japan complement one another well. Japan has a significantly larger degree of “economic clout”, with greater net wealth and national income. Where the UK stands out is in terms of its “diplomatic leverage” and “military might”, particularly its naval strength, which is larger than France, Italy, and Germany combined. So Japan may be able to assist the UK as it withdraws from the European Union, just as the UK supports Japan’s strategic “normalisation”.

There are other attributes which the two island nations share. Both have an “offshore” approach in relation to their respective continents, Asia and Europe, fostering in each a “maritime” strategic culture. Both are liberal democracies with a strong support for human rights and global governance. Both are strong supporters – financially and diplomatically – of the rules-based system, including the United Nations, the World Trade
Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations. Both are also good “international citizens”, spending money on international development across the world.

However, closer strategic cooperation depends on more than just national similarity. Here, too, there are three drivers: China, Russia and the US. Japan has sought to “normalize” its post-Second World War strategic posture to hedge against China’s rise and revisionist inclinations. Tokyo’s decision late last year to procure the F35B and transform its two large new “helicopter carrying destroyers” into small aircraft carriers is evidence of the speed of the change. The UK, meanwhile, is keen to shore up the rules-based system – which it has done much to generate and underpin – particularly in light of China’s revisionism in the South China Sea, a major trade route upon which it relies. Brexit, disenchantment with Europe, and the wider “Global Britain” agenda add to this renewed focus.

Second, just as Britain has become more aware of China’s behavior, Japan appears more ready to react to Russian revanchism – having implemented bilateral sanctions in 2014 after the invasion of Ukraine – and continues to press for negotiations with Moscow over the Kuril Islands. While it would be a stretch to say that Russia is perceived as a threat by both island nations equally, both countries are increasingly alarmed by Russia’s “nonlinear” attacks on weaker powers and information offensives inside the West more generally.

The third factor is the evolving strategic posture and politics of the United States. As President Donald Trump secures bipartisan support from foreign policy elites for his push-back against the People’s Republic of China – one of the few areas where the president has support from both the Republicans and Democrats – Tokyo and London have begun to reorient themselves around America’s new strategic imperatives. The government review of telecommunications vendors in the UK and Japan’s decision to block Huawei from government contracts, is one example. Support for America’s World Trade Organization action against China is another.

So what is in store? In a recent edition of The Economist an unnamed British official went so far as to suggest that London and Tokyo may be heading towards a formal alliance with one another. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, similar to the British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s recent proposal to re-establish naval bases in Southeast Asia. However, the tenuous state of the international system, not least in the Indo-Pacific, is rapidly bringing such propositions into the realm of policy.

In such circumstances, a UK-Japan alliance does not sound so unreasonable. Both nations are global leaders. Both flank either side of Eurasia, which is gradually emerging as an integrated space. And both nations are backed by –and in turn reinforce – US global power. Indeed, as China’s rise and revisionist inclinations develop further, it is not unthinkable that security alignments like the Quad could develop into broader NATO-like defense organizations, drawing together like-minded states and allies in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australasia.

As two of the world’s leading powers, the UK and Japan have the power to lay the path towards a more secure and prosperous future. This requires their closer alignment to generate a center of gravity from which to attract other countries into a wider project to re-stabilize the rules-based system to the extent that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open. This should help to ensure that the People’s Republic of China rises in a more peaceable fashion, while providing a counter to temper its authoritarian appetites. We are in a new age of geopolitics. Japan and the UK are thinking and acting geostrategically and globally once again.


China now appears ready to use execution as a weapon of diplomacy

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CapX, 17 January, 2019

The recent decision by a Chinese court to sentence Canadian Robert Schellenberg to death has led many international observers to claim that the decision is a political one, part of Beijing’s ongoing diplomatic pressure campaign against Canada over its detention of Meng Hanzhou, a senior Huawei executive and daughter of the company’s founder.  Schellenberg’s sentencing comes after two other Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in December.

If this were true, it would add to the horrific realisation that the People’s Republic of China is fundamentally changing for the worse. It would – as Donald Clarke, a professor of Law at George Washington Law School has stated – indicate that “China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy”. Now it appears that it is willing to sentence one to death.

According to his analysis, a number of features stand out that support the idea that the retrial of Schellenberg is related to Ms Meng. These include the original delay in trial and sentencing – he was arrested in 2016, after all – which might indicate that the evidence was weak, but that courts didn’t want to embarrass the police by throwing it out. Second, it is very rare for a retrial to find heavier punishment was merited (Schellenberg appealed after being handed 15 years in the first trial). Third, the retrial was rescheduled very hastily, with the punishment being handled down in only 20 minutes. Finally, it is odd that of all the individuals indicted in the original case of drug smuggling, Schellenberg had the smallest supposed role. It makes his sentencing particularly repugnant.

Naturally, China has used just enough legal cover to maintain the fiction that Schellenberg’s case is a legitimate example of the fair workings of its legal system, but few are convinced. Even those with strong links to the state have openly said China would take revenge.

Hu Xijin, editor of the virulently nationalist English-language propaganda outlet the Global Times recently published a video in which he warned that Canada should expect “far worse” retaliation from Beijing if it did not free Ms Meng. “Meng Wanzhou was released on bail, but Canada must do more to restore her freedom and put an end to this incident.” He stated. “Otherwise China will definitely take retaliatory measures against Canada.” Ms Meng is currently on bail, living in one of her luxury homes in British Columbia. The contrast with her situation and the three Canadians now in Chinese prisons could not be more stark.

To some extent, travel to China has always come with risks. Ten years ago, if someone working in government or business went to China, they tended to leave their electronic devices at home. There was a realisation that the state has a very aggressive attitude toward information, both proprietorial and strategic. According to cyber expert Peter Varnish, a visiting professor at the University of Coventry, Chinese police and security personnel are able to access the data of unwary travellers within hours of arriving in the country. Now, it seems that personal safety must be added to data security. One hopes that travel warnings will be added to the pages of Western diplomatic websites.

The fact is that the world is going through a major overhaul of its thinking on China. Much of this has been accelerated by the leadership of Xi Jinping, under whom party control and influence have grown, and authoritarian policies and traits have flourished – including the suppression of human rights groups, religious minorities, and free media. The use of diplomatic hostages now adds China to a list of countries such as Iran, Iraq, and, most recently, NATO ally Turkey, which took an American pastor hostage. Unfortunately, China’s turn toward authoritarianism also comes as it arrives on the global stage as a preponderant power, one capable of re-shaping the global order.

We can no longer treat China as a country just like any other. Its leadership has decided that the party must be protected at all costs, and this requires a super-nationalistic approach toward domestic and foreign policy. “Face” is more important than law. It is this desperate need for status and rank that is beginning to drive its relations with the Uighurs, driven to detention camps in the millions, and with the West, driven by the party mantra of historic humiliations. Its concentration camps and its take-over of large parts of the South China Sea are reminiscent of the rise of other authoritarian powers in the 20th century.

It is this same desperate need for face which could see China execute Robert Schellenberg, a 36-year-old Canadian citizen, a man who still protests his innocence, a man whose biggest mistake may have been to travel to a country in the midst of change.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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