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IF PYONGYANG PUTS BEIJING NEAR WASHINGTON

Asia @en di

1280px-The_statues_of_Kim_Il_Sung_and_Kim_Jong_Il_on_Mansu_Hill_in_Pyongyang_(april_2012)

The tone escalation in Northeast Asia is alarming the chancelleries of the region and beyond. The fragile equilibrium on which the peace lies in the Korean peninsula is put to the test on both sides. Trump threatened to send a naval “armada”, putting Pyongyang under pressure during the celebrations for the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, founder of the country. Kim Jong-Un, on the opposite side, renewed its threats to the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, claiming to be ready to use all of its offensive potential in the event of a conflict. The North Korean nuclear dossier, therefore, is again on the top of the agenda, raising the alarm level of the international community.

The nuclear project is for Pyongyang absolutely strategic in terms of detriment of external threats and for this purpose it funds the program with $ 700 million annually, to advance on the technological ground and equip medium- and long-range ballistic vectors  on which, one day, install atomic warheads. The six nuclear tests so far conducted and the progressive technical improvements have allowed the regime to strengthen its position in the chain of regional relations and in the confrontation with the great American enemy, with whom, it should be remembered, a peace treaty was never signed after the end of the Korean War in 1951.

It is not possible to verify Pyongyang’s proclamations and no one knows for sure when Kim will be able to rely on the hydrogen bomb or on a ballistic missile capable of reaching the American West Coast. This uncertainty, however, plays in favor of the regime, which shows the muscles without the enemy being able to understand with certainty whether they are made of flesh or fake.

Nuclear rhetoric is an important instrument of control and affirmation also on the domestic front, as it allows Kim to consolidate its authority both in the eyes of the population and the bureaucratic-military establishment that plays a central role in the country. When he succeeded his father in 2011, Kim was almost unknown at home. Therefore, he immediately had to  exacerbate his rhetoric to build the image of an authoritative and determined leader, relying on the powerful propaganda machine and the systematic cleanup of internal opponents. Paradigmatic example was the physical elimination of Jang Song-taek, uncle of the young leader who had climbed the military hierarchies during the reign of Kim Jong-il and who, in the first months after the succession, played the role of de facto regent of the Regime.

Jang had also become the principal referent of Beijing, the main, if not unique, North Korean ally. And, on the Chinese model, Jang wanted to bring Pyongyang on the road to economic reforms and greater openness . Jang’s specific weight in the power system and his plan to transform the country, moving away from the dynastic and personalistic model in favor of a more collegial conception inspired by the Beijing example, have been probably the origin of its end. Progressively marginalized by the new leader after 2011, he was arrested in 2013 and killed along with other members of his circle.

This demonstration of strength, while serving as an example to other possible internal opponents, marked the beginning of a new phase of isolation of  the country from the rest of the international community. Subsequent nuclear tests and the aggressive rhetoric of Kim have provoked a strong exasperation towards the Pyongyang regime, even in the Chinese ally, traditionally available for patience. After Jang’s execution, Beijing lost its reference man and no longer found trusted interlocutors north of the 38th parallel, losing part of his role as protector and regime controller.

If for a long time North Korea has been a pressure instrument on the international community and a buffered state between Beijing and the Asian allies of the United States, it is now likely to be a risk factor for Chinese interests in the region. North Korean intimidations has had the effect of releasing the arming race in neighboring countries, thus altering the traditional balance in the Pacific and putting Beijing in a situation of unprecedented difficulty. Pyongyang’s defense may therefore be counterproductive for China, which could ultimately opt for pragmatic convergence with the United States, South Korea and Japan.

In 2016, for the first time, China joined the sanctions system against the North Korean government, marking a major breakthrough. Beijing is in fact the first trading partner for Pyongyang and hosts a large number of bank accounts, companies and firms that manage the regime’s legal and illegal activities. In 2017 coal imports from North Korea will drop by about 50%, with estimated economic damage of about $ 700 million, equal to the entire budget for the nuclear research program.

This change of route does not, however, result in a Chinese flattening on American positions. Beijing did not appreciate at all the explicit threats put forth by Trump against North Korea and, at the March bilateral summit in Florida, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the need to find a diplomatic solution and avoid a dangerous escalation in the region. Beijing could not afford to remain a passive spectator in the face of any US military action that would have a direct impact on its national security.

The economic and commercial leverage could allow China to re-enforce its influence on the North Korean military and bureaucratic elites, who base their prosperity on the ability to do business with the powerful neighbor. However, it will be necessary to locate new contact persons in Pyongyang so that it can return to influence the regime’s policy and best manage, in the event of a fall of current leadership, the transition phase. A recaptured influence would also allow China to get a new exchange currency in the relationship with Trump administration, in a delicate historical stage for the relations between the two global giants.

The need to limit the unpredictability of Kim Jong-Un’s regime could be the common ground on which to redefine the boundaries of the relationship between China and the United States. A more assertive role of Beijing towards the regime could therefore be the result of an agreement between the two sides of the Pacific, with a possible marginalization of the role played by Japan and South Korea in determining a new strategy.

Tokyo and Seoul would be on the front line in a possible armed conflict with Pyongyang. If, however, Japan appears ready to support the Trump administration’s muscular approach, Seoul continues to push for the search of peaceful and diplomatic solutions. In the midst of a political crisis that led to the resignation of former President Park, South Korea is likely to find itself without a strong government when crucial decisions are taken, with direct consequences on its national security.

 

Image: Wikimedia

North Korea launches a warning to Trump and Xi Jinping

Asia @en di

 

A few hours before the summit between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese equivalent Xi Jinping, in Florida, the North Korean leader has ordered the launch of a KN-15 medium-range which missile which concluded its trajectory in the Sea of ​​Japan waters, after a short flight of about 60 kilometers.

South Korea strongly condemned the new provocation of Pyongyang, and the US Defense Secretary, Rex Tillerson, coldly addressed the episode: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” The most decisive response came instead from Tokyo, speaking through Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga: “Japan can never tolerate North Korea’s repeated provocative actions. The government strictly protested and strongly condemned it. “

After five nuclear tests, two of which were conducted in 2016, today’s launch has renewed fears of the international community on the North Korean missile program. Pyongynag is still far from the objective of realizing a long-range warhead that can deliver a nuclear weapon on American soil , but analysts have speculated that the KN-15 missile was propelled by a solid propellant, easy to handle and transport, which would increase the striking capacity of the Asian regime.

The show of force occurs in the aftermath of two events that Pyongyang interpreted as serious threats. In recent days, Trump launched its warning: if China decides not to cooperate in containing the inconvenient regional ally, the US is ready to act alone against the enemy. At the same time, a joint military drill between the US, Japan and South Korea, which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for a possible invasion, just came to an end.

According to a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the actions of enemy powers are bringing the Asian Peninsula on “brink of war”.

The current crisis, which undoubtedly will be the focus of talks between Trump and Jinping, was preceded, in February, by the launch of four ballistic missiles by North Koreans who have fallen close to the Japanese coast, and from an SLBM ( Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile) launch system test that would allow Pyongyang to bring its warheads into enemy waters and have an unprecedented second-strike capability, in case of destruction of its terrestrial arsenal. However, this hypothesis, according to analysts, is currently only theoretical and years will occour before Kim Jong Un will be able to rely on such an offensive capability.

In an increasingly overheated scenario, the Chinese government try to throw water on the fire. On the eve of Jinping and Trump summit, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, owned by the US president, a spokesman for the Beijing Foreign Ministry has denied any link between the North Korean missile launch and the meeting between the two powers, urging all actors involved to avoid any further escalation.

China, at this moment, seems to be the only force able to put a stop to the conflict between Pyongyang and its many enemies.

4 North Koreans fled Malaysia after murder of brother's leader Kim Jong

BreakingNews @en di

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) — Four North Korean suspects in the murder of the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fled Malaysia on the day he was attacked at Kuala Lumpur airport and apparently killed by a fast-acting poison, police said on Sunday. A North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian women have been arrested already in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong Nam last Monday, which has triggered a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Pyongyang.

The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been killed in Malaysia

Asia @en/BreakingNews @en/Far East di

The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been killed in Malaysia, a South Korean government source told Reuters on Tuesday. Kim Jong Nam, the older half brother of the North Korean leader, was known to be based mostly outside of his home country. Police in Malaysia told Reuters on Tuesday an unidentified North Korean man had died en route to hospital from Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday. Abdul Aziz Ali, police chief for the Sepang district, said the man’s identity had not been verified.

WPC strengthens the power of Kim Jong-Un

Asia @en/BreakingNews @en di

The General Congress of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, which began last Friday, 36 years after the previous one, continues as planned, further strengthening the power of the president Kim Jong-Un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il in 2011.

Sunday May 8, state television broadcasted a long speech in which supreme leader, in front of 3400 delegates came from every corner of the country, has announced a new five-year plan to restore momentum to the ailing national economy. Despite the emphasis with it was presented, the new plan does not foresee major changes neither politically nor economically.

In fact, the North Korean president was stingy with details, referring vaguely to the need for greater automation of industry and agriculture and an increase in coal production over the next five years. Most of the discussion has focused on the celebration of the efforts and the progress made by the country over the past 36 years, with frequent references to the ideology of Juche, centered on the concepts of autonomy and self-sufficiency. At the same time, the leaders called for an increase in foreign trade, showing little consideration for the tightening of economic sanctions wanted by the UN after nuclear tests conducted last January.

In a country that, despite everything, is growing by about one percentage point of GDP every year, Jong-Un stressed the need to find new energy resources that can generate enough electricity to support the development, in a country still struggling with frequent blackouts, which also affect the capital Pjongyang. To this end, the DPRK intends to focus on nuclear energy and renewable energy sources.

The President also referred to nuclear arsenal, on whose development more of the regime’s efforts are focusing. In a statement by the soothing flavor, Kim has ensured that North Korea does not intend to resort to atomic weapons, “unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes.”.

An unusually diplomatic approach has also featured references to South Korea, with which the regime would like to return to dialogue to lower the level of tension. An offer harshly rejected, in close halfway point, by the Minister for the Unification of the South: “It speaks of inter-Korean dialogue while continuing to develop a nuclear arsenal,” he said, branding statements by Kim Jong-Un as mere propaganda.

The next day, as if to confirm the mistrust of South Korean, the Workers’ Party has decided formally, during the Congress, to further strengthen the nuclear arsenal of the country “for the purpose of self-defense”, again defying the UN and the his system of sanctions.

Although there is not yet a official closing date, the Congress should continue for a few days. Foreign media were invited to attend the historic event, but, until now, journalists have not been able to pass through the doors of the great Palace of Culture, whose parterre covers an area equal to two football fields. The reporters took part in guided tours, under the watchful gaze of party officials but, in fact, have not yet been able to perform the job for which they were accredited.

The climate for the press, actually, is not easy. Last Friday the members of a BBC team, sent to cover the Congress, were placed under arrest and later expelled. As reported by the Chinese press agency, the British were expelled for ” attacking the DPRK system and non-objective reporting.”

While the foreign press has to deal with the North Korean idea of ​​objectivity, the supreme leader of the country further strengthens its power. Monday, in fact, delegates awarded Kim Jong-Un of a new title: President of the Workers Party, a position he joins that of first secretary.

 

Luca Marchesini

Luca Marchesini
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