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April 16, 2013

On Julia Gillard’s China Diplomacy

April 5, 2013 by

Pictured: Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister. Lukas Coch/AAP

What happens to Australian delegations when they go overseas? They whimper, whine or fawn; they stumble into positions of prostrate foolishness. They resemble, as Malcolm Muggeridge described British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev, Don Quixote mounting Rocinante, with Sancho Panza by his side. In this instance, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has several Panzas – the foreign minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten. It is a true fools cast, and one fitting for a secondary power which is only relevant by the speed it digs up its resources and sends them to imperial powers, current and future.

A previous visit by the current prime minister went wrong. It seemed like an afterthought, clumsy, ill-executed. Her speech was appalling. As with her visit to the United States, the current leader of Australia is incapable of finding gravitas. She is, however, able to hit the hidden shallows. The latest is her insistence on pressuring China to “rein in” North Korea’s belligerent stance, a view that shows how ill-informed the Australian delegation is by the influence Beijing can exert over Pyongyang.

Aside from the usual blunders, Gillard’s press briefings have been slightly better, though the size of this Australian delegation comes across as overcompensation. The Australians want to make their small presence felt at the Boao Forum, a premier trade gathering that hasn’t previously figured too highly on the current government’s list of priorities. No high level representatives went last year.

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Beijing and Moscow: Pyongyang’s Silent Partners

April 3, 2013 by

Photo released by KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013 shows top leader Kim Jong-Un

As tension mounts on the Korean Peninsula, consider the two most reluctant participants, Russia and China. Russian involvement in Korean affairs can be traced back to the 19th century and China has been involved for several centuries. Both states are trapped into supporting Pyongyang for economic and diplomatic rewards.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin gambled that the cancellation of economic aid would lead to better economic relations with the Republic of Korea. The gamble failed because China entered the void that Russian influence had once filled and consequently it partly restored its traditional suzerain relationship with Korea. Yet to gain this influence, China took over the burden of aid to Pyongyang, which now accounts for 70% of energy and regular donations of over $1m in food aid.

Without significant influence over Pyongyang, the weakest partner in the Six Party Talks, President Putin and Medvedev have both attempted to rekindle relations. This has gifted Kim Jong-Un an opportunity to take advantage of Sino-Russian competition for influence. He and his father, Kim Jong-Il, exploited this opportunity by continually refusing to settle Cold War era debt, stating that they were donations.

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Mr. Kim and the Envelope

March 31, 2013 by

Photo released by KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013 shows top leader Kim Jong-Un attending an urgent meeting with top military officials. KCNA/Xinhua via ABC News

Like his father, Kim Jong-Un is best compared to a bellicose 13-year old child who stomps his feet and makes a fuss until he gets his way. Unlike an ordinary child, this one’s tantrums come with high stakes. The young Mr. Kim has now taken his game of chicken as far as it can go without actually pulling the trigger. The series of exchanges and threats are indeed worrisome for Washington and its allies; China, Japan, South Korea and the United States are taking it all seriously. Is Kim Jong-Un dumb enough to actually follow through?

According to a statement released by state-run KCNA, North Korea has stated that it is in a “state of war” with South Korea. “Situations on the Korean Peninsula, which are neither in peace or at war, have come to an end,” the statement read. “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.”

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North Korea’s Provocative Pattern

March 17, 2013 by

The United States will add more ground-based ballistic missile interceptors to its arsenal to guard against increased threats from North Korea and Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced at the Pentagon on March 15, 2013

The United States will add more ground-based ballistic missile interceptors to its arsenal to guard against increased threats from North Korea and Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced at the Pentagon on March 15, 2013

North Korea, the recalcitrant hermit kingdom, has decided yet again that the international community is ignoring it. Pyongyang has voided the 1953 Korean armistice and warned that it will launch a nuclear attack on the United States as U.S.-South Korean military exercises involving 3,000 American and 10,000 South Korean soldiers began earlier this month.

Exactly how Pyongyang plans to launch a nuclear salvo on the United States is still unclear and whether it has the capacity is questionable. Most North Korea watchers remain doubtful that the belligerent nation has the technical means to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. This does not, however, undermine the seriousness of the threat nor detract from North Korea’s intentions to up the ante.

Already, Pyongyang has severed communications with South Korea and launched a propaganda campaign designed to seek out concessions from the United States while at the same time bolstering the credentials of Kim Jong-Un among North Koreans and the country’s military establishment.

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Petulant Child: North Korea and Chastisement

March 15, 2013 by

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Image via Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

It is treated as a petulant child, the infelicitous member of the world community, and devoid of fidelity. Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, struggling with his crystal ball gazing, tries to find the tempo the DPRK clicks to. He decides that Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself a second time as farce after tragedy requires a third phase: North Korea.

The assumptions, for there are only assumptions, are many. The decisions are not coming from the leader himself, the seemingly child-like steward Kim Jong-Un. No, that would be too much. As with previous ideologies of watching, be it with China, or with the Soviet Union, leaderships can be hostages to factions, to cliques, Mikado-like in their ceremonial impotence. The “experts” are, however, often the last to know.

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Taiwan: Enhanced Bilateral Ties Spur Chinese Espionage

March 14, 2013 by

2006 photo of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian riding past one of Taiwan’s E-2K Hawkeye early warning aircraft

Successful Chinese recruitment of high-level Taiwanese military leaders for espionage demonstrates a systemic counterintelligence challenge and an inherent weakness in Taiwan’s state security apparatus. A series of recently publicized examples of intelligence and military penetrations underscore the double edge sword of Taiwan’s desire to enhance bilateral relations with Beijing while protecting its core strategic national security interests.

China’s main espionage target has focused on military technologies, most of which have been exported to Taiwan from the United States. Internal security failures and unsuccessful counterintelligence by the Taiwanese has likely increased tensions between Taipei and Washington, its strategic ally and largest military benefactor.

For the full analysis, please visit LIGNET.com

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Consequences of Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’

March 11, 2013 by

President Barack Obama at the White House

In the kaleidoscopic world of power politics in Asia, the United States’ pivot to that region may yield the unintentional consequences of fostering closer strategic ties between the two Asian giants - China and India – which could result in a strategic alliance ostensibly hostile to Western interests in the region.

Analysts will be quick to point out that the ‘all weather friendship’ between the two countries, has hit a natural ceiling due to the strategic competition between the (re)emerging powers. For example, China is deepening its ties with Pakistan militarily (both countries signed a military cooperation agreement in September 2012), provides nuclear support, and has finally taken over management of the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. India on the other hand is trying to counter China’s influence in Asia by fostering closer ties with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in the field of naval cooperation, which adversely affects China’s position in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Both countries’ increasing energy demands also put the two giants on a collision course.

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Understanding China’s Internal Migration

March 3, 2013 by

China’s President Hu Jintao talks to Vice President Xi Jinping after the closing ceremony of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2009. Alfred Cheng Jin/Reuters via Council on Foreign Relations

In November 2012, China began a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that will continue through this month when Xi Jinping succeeds Hu Jintao as President of the People’s Republic. Xi has been primed to carry his nation into the second decade of the twenty-first century, as the country prepares itself for an unprecedented international role. With its new economic, political, and military clout, Xi’s China stands ready to be both a regional and global leader.

Amidst this historic shift, however, lies a set of deep challenges that Xi will be forced to confront on the international front. These include a ‘pivoting’ United States, growing nationalism in Japan, and a more caustic North Korea, among many others.

However, an often overlooked and more dangerous domestic problem is a result of the restrictions placed on the migrant workers that have been fueling China’s monumental growth. Understanding the causal factors that explain rural migrants’ flock to urban areas will be crucial for the fifth generation of leadership, which is dealing with one of the largest human movements in the world.

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Can Everybody Shut Up About the Senkakus?

February 23, 2013 by

A demonstrator bares a shirt declaring the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as Japanese territory. Image via Al Jazeera

Prime Minister Abe was compelled to get into China’s grill about the Senkakus dispute in a Washington Post interview setting the table for his meeting with President Obama, claiming the PRC had a “deeply ingrained” need to challenge neighbors over territory.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs laid into Abe:

“It is rare that a country’s leader brazenly distorts facts, attacks its neighbor and instigates antagonism between regional countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “Such behavior goes against the will of the international community…We have solemnly demanded the Japanese side immediately clarify and explain.”

People’s Daily ran with the ball under the heading “How Japan Misleads the US”, proving that the PRC will not hesitate to take offense any time Japan makes an overt play for US strategic support against China—and will avoid criticizing the US on the issue in order to work the wedge between Tokyo and Washington a little deeper.

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Amidst Japan’s 3/11 Anniversary, Dubious Progress at Rebuilding

February 21, 2013 by

A distraught woman carries an elderly woman on her back, away from the piles of debris that are the flattened remnants of Tohoku, Japan shortly after the tsunami struck in 2011. Photo by Kahoku Shimpo

The anniversary of Japan’s 3/11 is approaching. “3/11” is what the Japanese call the series of disasters which struck northern Japan in March of 2011; the earthquake, tsunami, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. It is time yet again to examine what happened, how it happened, what the prognosis is for the future.  Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered two atomic attacks by a foreign power during World War II and a third, a homegrown nuclear disaster fomented by its own Nuclear Power Company, just two years ago.

I have spent most of the last year closely following Japan and the world’s response to that nation’s string of disasters. I spoke on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and addressed the country’s progress in dealing with the disasters and creating constructive change for the people of northern Japan.

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North Korea: Martial Law Declared Ahead of Possible Nuclear Test

February 1, 2013 by

Kim Jung-Un has ordered his troops to ‘be ready for war’. Image via Timothy W. Coleman

The South Korean media reported yesterday that a secret domestic security order was recently issued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.  The secret order essentially implements martial law.  Reports indicate that senior North Korean security and military officials met on January 26 to discuss increasing the nation’s readiness level.

Following UN sanctions that were passed earlier this month North Korean officials stated that their nuclear weapons development effort would not be deterred.  Reports that additional domestic security measures are being implemented and that the North Korean military is upgrading its readiness status reinforces analysis that the country may be preparing for a new provocative action, possibly a nuclear test.

To read more, please visit LIGNET.com

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Is the East China Sea heading towards War?

January 21, 2013 by

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama bow for the Nanjing Massacre victims at the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province, Jan. 17, 2013. Han Yuqing/Xinhua via China Matters

China’s PRC regime has been preparing for escalating confrontation with Japan if Tokyo decided it really wanted to test the commitment of the United States to back it in the crisis over the Senkaku/Daioyutai Islands.  Showing Japan the undesirability of openly aligning with the United States as the U.S. pivots into Asia—instead of giving some lip service at least to PRC interests and priorities—is pretty close to an existential issue for the PRC.

And the PRC knows that the U.S. appetite for giving Japan military support over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai is extremely limited, despite the brave talk of the U.S. defense appropriations bill. If an incident had occurred between the PRC and Japanese ships and planes jostling around the islands, the U.S. would have been faced with the very difficult choice between exacerbating a crisis in Asia and admitting the limitations of the “pivot”, not only to Japan but to Vietnam, the Philippines, and, for that matter, everybody else.

So, if the Japanese forces had decided to engage in some pushback on the provocative PRC actions around the Senkaku/Diaoyutai, the PRC would have made sure that things got pretty ugly pretty quick.  And if the PRC wanted to try to strangle the pivot in its cradle, they might have rolled the dice, provoked an incident, and let the crisis escalate.

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Could the Global Bond Market cause another Global Financial Crisis in 2013?

January 5, 2013 by

With Christmas and New Year cheer and optimism still bubbling away for most of us we now need to turn our attention to the major risk factors that are likely to impact upon the world economy and financial markets during 2013.  While the world economy is estimated to have grown by over 3 percent in 2012 overall and has enjoyed such a remarkable escape from the paralysis affecting some of its constituents like Europe, a major issue is whether this stable growth trajectory will continue for the foreseeable future.

At the end of the day the global stock market has been a secular bear market for over a decade and we are now at the juncture of ascertaining whether the bear will have its final growl in 2013 or we will enter a new market phase.

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Which way will Japan Swing?

December 16, 2012 by

Yoshihiko Noda with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011. Photo by F. de la Mure/MAEE

The Meiji Period in Japan is known for having transformed the country’s social structure from feudalism to one based on market capitalism. Meiji the Great had realized that if Japan were to survive colonization, industrialization would be key. Japan would either have to reform or perish. Young Japanese students were sent to European nations to learn the tricks of their trade and what resulted was state investment in education and the transfer of science & technology to Nippon. Wealth and power soon followed and from a marginal presence in Asia, Japan rose to become the dominant non-European power on the continent. Japanese nationalism in this period served as an essential tool to beat back European powers.

Japan’s electorate has voted and it is suggested that the Liberal Democratic Party is coming back to power (after having left office only three years ago). The Liberal Democratic Party has ruled Japan for the majority of the country’s post-war history. Smacking of conservatism, the comeback of this centre-right political outfit may not be altogether unrelated to the steady rise of nationalism among the youth of the country. Earlier this year, the former Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, caused protests in neighboring China when he offered to buy the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu in China) Islands in the East China Sea–was he Emperor Meiji reincarnated? Well, not quite but he has since resigned and regenerated the old Sunrise Party.

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Rockets and Pyongyang

December 11, 2012 by

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket. Image via ABC News

There is a lot of noise at the moment on the Korean Peninsula. One might argue that there always is, but on this occasion, interest is centered on whether the DPRK will test a new disguised ballistic missile, ostensibly to launch a satellite into space sometime this month.  Officially, the test has been pushed back to December 29th. South Korean sources claim that the delay was occasioned by a faulty component in the Unha-3 rocket.

What a busy month this is proving to be. The first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, to be marked on December 17th; the South Korean presidential elections, slated for December 19th; and the Japanese elections on December 16th. Add to this the arrival of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, and we have a considerable fruit salad of variables.

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