North Korea: Dealing with the “Rocket Man” via Negotiation, not Threats


September 20, 2017

North Korea: Dealing with the “Rocket Man”via Negotiation, not Threats

by Editorial Board, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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War? “Look at the Map”, says French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at United Nations, New York

The North Korean nuclear threat has ratcheted up in recent months, following new rounds of missile and nuclear weapons tests by Pyongyang. In July, North Korea undertook two tests of an intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM). Then on 3 September, it undertook its sixth nuclear test of a new thermonuclear bomb designed to be used with its ICBMs. US President Donald Trump responded to the ICBM tests by promising to deliver ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea again threatened the United States, to which North Korea responded in turn by threatening to deploy missiles into the seas near US military bases in Guam. And in the midst of all this, Pyongyang continued to unnerve the Japanese government and population by launching two ballistic missiles into the seas beyond the island of Hokkaido.

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The “Rocket Man” says to President Donald Trump: “Show me some respect. I am the leader of North Korea,an independent and sovereign nation. My duty is to protect my people from warmongers like you and to act in the best interest of my country. Aren’t you doing the same for your people when you say to the world, “America First”?

North Korea’s most recent tests and launches are significant. Like it or not, they demonstrate that the regime has crossed the technical threshold of being able to target the continental United States — as well as US allies in Asia — potentially with a nuclear warhead.

Throughout the growing crisis, the Trump administration — along with most of the international community — has viewed China as the key player in bringing North Korea to heel. This perception of China’s special leverage stems from China’s decades-old treaty of friendship and mutual assistance with the North Korean regime and, even more importantly, the fact that around 90 per cent of North Korean trade now takes place with or through China. Given North Korea’s near total dependence on China for its international economic ties, the United States and others have consistently called for China to tighten economic sanctions.

China had resisted tightening sanctions on North Korea for fear that economic pressure could prompt massive inflows of refugees into China’s Northeast, or even the collapse of the North Korean regime. Although North Korea remains China’s most troublesome and unpredictable neighbour, it also serves as a strategic ‘buffer’ between China and US forces stationed in Japan and South Korea.

Yet a combination of growing international pressure, and Beijing’s own frustration with Pyongyang over its unwelcome nuclear program, has made China more willing to apply sanctions and other economic measures. In February, in the wake of North Korea’s test of a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan, and the assassination in Malaysia of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, China announced it was suspending coal imports from North Korea for the remainder of 2017. More significantly, on 11 September China (and Russia) agreed to a new round of UN Security Council sanctions which will ban North Korean textile exports, freeze its imports of crude oil at current levels and introduce a cap on its imports of refined petroleum. These are the most far-reaching sanctions that have so far been applied to North Korea. In addition, Chinese state-run banks have begun to ban North Koreans from opening new accounts and to suspend transactions on accounts already held by North Koreans.

Yet the key problem in all of this is that there is little evidence that sanctions applied in the past have worked in checking North Korea’s nuclear program. Most regional analysts are fairly pessimistic that even this latest round of sanctions will have much effect on the regime’s nuclear development plans.

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In our two lead pieces this week, Chen Dongxiao of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, and Jia Qingguo of Peking University, underscore the urgent need for new thinking in managing the North Korean nuclear issue. Both highlight diplomatic engagement, with Pyongyang and among other key states in the region, as the only way forward.

Chen suggests that it is futile to hope that increased Chinese pressure will somehow encourage North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons. He underlines Pyongyang’s lack of regard for China’s interests to date, suggesting that, ‘Pyongyang will never shy away from pressing for more concessions by leveraging its nuclear weapons program, even at the expense of China’s national security interests and overall regional stability’.

Instead, the region must find new diplomatic and economic incentives to encourage Pyongyang to come back to the negotiating table. As a first step, both authors nominate China’s ‘two suspensions’ proposal as a way to reduce the dangerous tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. This proposal would see ‘North Korea…suspend nuclear and missile tests in exchange for suspension of joint US-South Korea military exercises’, explains Jia.

As a second step, Jia calls on Beijing to begin active ‘contingency planning’ talks with Washington and Seoul. In the past, Beijing has been hesitant to take part in such talks, out of concern for the signals that this would send to Pyongyang. Jia and Chen carry clear messages for Pyongyang and Washington. Given the gravity of the situation and the risk that North Korea may continue to ignore Beijing’s diplomatic efforts, it is now time for China to put aside its hesitation and engage in serious talks with Washington and Seoul, Jia argues.

Contingency planning talks should cover a range of critical issues including: who would control North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal in the event of a collapse of the regime; how to deal with the North Korean refugee problem; who would be responsible for restoring domestic order in North Korea in the event of a crisis; post-crisis political arrangements on the Korean Peninsula; and removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system when and if North Korea’s nuclear program has ended.

Each of these issues is a source of considerable anxiety in Beijing, and so far they’ve stymied closer regional cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. Indeed, these issues have, in Chen Dongxiao’s words, showcased the ‘deeply entrenched strategic suspicion’ between the US and China. Dialogue and negotiation on these questions may therefore help to alter the current impasse between China and the United States, and lessen Pyongyang’s ability to exploit the lack of unity among its neighbours.

As is now widely understood, both in Pyongyang and around the region, there are no good military options for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. That will crucially require countries to get much better at talking to their adversaries and negotiating on fundamental, long-term political and security questions.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Why China won’t push North Korea into a corner of isolation


September 20, 2017

Why China won’t push North Korea into a corner  of isolation–It’s a Question of Trust

by Evan Osnos

http://www.newyorker.com

It is a question of trust–Chinese Leaders trust Trump less than the Rocket Man of North Korea.

At the center of the North Korean nuclear crisis is a pivotal question: How much is China really willing to pressure and punish its longtime ally in Pyongyang? Recent conversations in Beijing and Washington suggest that Chinese leaders have decided to increase pressure substantially but are not—and probably never will be—willing to help President Trump strangle North Korea into submission. China doesn’t trust Kim Jong Un—but it trusts Trump even less.

For decades, China backed North Korea in hostilities with the United States. The fellow Communist armies had fought alongside one another in the Korean War, and North Korea still relies on China for as much as ninety per cent of its overseas trade. In Chairman Mao’s analogy, the two nations were as close as “lips and teeth.” But that is no longer true; since taking power, in 2011, Kim Jong Un, who is suspicious of China’s efforts to control North Korea or spur it to follow its model of economic reform, has openly antagonized the government in Beijing, including launching rockets that would embarrass the Chinese leadership. (Earlier this month, Kim fired a rocket just as Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, was opening an annual summit of developing countries in the Chinese city of Xiamen.)

By several measures, Chinese leaders have become more willing to get tough with Kim. Until recently, Chinese intellectuals rarely questioned China’s commitment to North Korea. But, in March, Shen Zhihua, one of China’s best-known experts on the Korean War, said, in a speech, “We must see clearly that China and North Korea are no longer brothers-in-arms, and in the short term there’s no possibility of an improvement in Chinese-North Korean relations.” The speech circulated widely, without much in the way of official censorship—a sign, to many Chinese analysts, that some of the country’s leaders agree.

When I met Shen last month, in Beijing, he told me, “I think more and more leaders share this view. At a minimum, they think that multiple views should exist.” Shen is a calm, silver-haired scholar who works in a research center at East China Normal University, in Shanghai. As a historian, he believes that long-standing tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang are becoming irreparable. “Officially, they tried to paper over the cracks, but the differences were inevitable,” he said.

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“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”–President Donald Trump at The United Nations

Shen does not speak for the leadership or advise powerful officials. Rather, his views should be understood as a reflection of the change that is under way in the Chinese establishment. Of North Korea, he said, “I think China doesn’t care who is running the country. Xi and Kim have not met. It used to be a tradition if there is a new leader, to meet him. But not now.” Fundamentally, he said, some have come to believe what was once anathema—that North Korea could one day turn its aggression on China: “Many in China don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are, first, threatening to China.”

I wondered if Shen was expressing a minority view. When I met Zhao Tong, who specializes in nuclear issues as a fellow at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, I asked him about Shen’s speech. “I think most people would broadly agree,” Zhao said. “It’s not a warm relationship of ‘brothers.’ ” Given that North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons in the face of Chinese protests, he said, China would not feel automatically compelled to defend North Korea under their mutual-assistance treaty. “Most Chinese would laugh at the proposal that China should provide security guarantees,” he said.

Zhao ticked off examples of China’s new pressures on Pyongyang: “China has stopped coal imports. That’s a big step. It’s stopped supplying diesel and gas. That’s a big step. It has tightened regulations on companies and financial institutions, and the big ones have stopped doing business with North Korea. It’s the smaller ones that are motivated by narrow interests and are still doing business. China has enhanced inspections of goods at the border. They made efforts to help private-sector companies strengthen their export-control practices.”

But, importantly, Zhao added that it would be a mistake to misread those steps as China signing on, wholesale, to American efforts to force North Korea to the edge of collapse—a tactic, favored in Washington, known as “strategic strangulation.” “No, it’s just balancing Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Zhao said. “The reason China agreed to much tougher sanctions is to calm Trump down.” China has strategic tensions of its own with the U.S., so it is keeping both countries off balance. “It’s basically, ‘Who is the bigger evil?’ For China, the U.S. is always the top geostrategic concern, the top threat.”

Zhao notes that the U.N. sanctions against North Korea that were passed on August 5th, which China supported, stopped short of seeking to undermine trade and humanitarian activities. “They are trying to draw a line between North Korea’s military program and civilian trade. To put more pressure on North Korea, without undermining it. China has been taking the incremental approach,” he said. In Zhao’s view, even though China has agreed to limit oil exports to North Korea, it is unlikely to cut them off entirely, which the Trump Administration believes is a vital step to change Kim’s behavior. “If China remains the sole supplier, meaning Russia won’t step in, I think China would find it very hard to do that,” Zhao said.

There are hard limits to China’s willingness to advance American interests in Asia, because the two powers have deep disagreements—about trade, contested territory in the South China Sea, and Taiwan. As the North Korea crisis has escalated, China has urged the U.S. to consider offering North Korea a deal known as “freeze for freeze,” in which the North would halt further tests if the U.S. halts or reduces joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan—exercises that China resents as well. “I think some Chinese are secretly hoping the North Korean position can actually help drive the U.S. forces away from the Korean Peninsula,” Zhao said. “It is in China’s interest if, in the mid-to-long term, the North Koreans can have a deal with the United States where the U.S. reduces troops or reduces its exercises.”

In recent years, overly hopeful U.S. politicians and commentators have repeatedly misunderstood China’s views of North Korea and assumed that Beijing was, at last, turning against its irksome ally. In private meetings with President Obama, and later with President Trump, Xi has repeated a bottom-line principle about North Korea: “No war. No chaos. No nukes.” A former U.S. official, who was at several of those meetings, told me, “Every American senior official that I know hears, ‘Blah, blah, blah—no nuclear weapons.’ And thinks, ‘Oh, we agree! Excellent!’ So the Chinese ought to be willing to limbo under this bar for us. But, no, that’s third in the list of three strategic priorities. The first two are avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula, and avoiding chaos and collapse.” In that spirit, China has sought to limit the scope of U.S.-backed sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. In the latest round, earlier this month, China succeeded in forcing the U.S. to drop its pursuit of a full oil blockade, which China fears would drive North Korea to collapse.

Nothing worries Chinese officials more than the following scenario: the U.S. uses harsh sanctions and covert action—and possibly military strikes—to drive North Korea close to the point of regime collapse. In turn, Pyongyang lashes out with violence against America or its allies, sparking a full-blown war on China’s border, just as China is trying to maintain delicate economic growth and social stability. Xi, in separate sessions, has offered Obama and Trump the same Chinese adage in reference to North Korea: “When a man is barefoot, he doesn’t fear a man with shoes.” In other words, even if attacking America would be suicide for North Korea, if it sees nothing left to lose, it just might do the unthinkable. For that reason, China, above all, wants the U.S. to avoid backing Kim into a corner from which he has no exit.

Trump is fervently seeking China’s coöperation, but, ironically, his rhetoric and aggression may be putting that further out of reach. On Sunday, Trump mocked Kim as the “Rocket Man.” Members of his Administration have repeated their openness to “military options,” despite projections that air strikes, or other attempts at targeted attacks, could spark a wider war. Chinese intellectuals have taken to joking that “Telangpu”—which is one of the Chinese pronunciations of Trump’s name—sounds like “te meipu,” which means clueless or lacking a plan. In recent months, Trump has alternately praised China and threatened it with a trade war. “I don’t understand Trump,” Shen, the historian, told me. “One day he is saying something good about Xi Jinping and the next he is criticizing him. Trump is becoming more and more of a problem. China is becoming more and more stable.”

The China Puzzle


September 18, 2017

SundayReview Editorial

 

Steve Bannon, the former presidential confidante, was as apocalyptic as ever about China on the eve of his trip to Hong Kong. The man who had all but declared “economic war” with China in earlier interviews said to a Times reporter, “A hundred years from now, this is what they’ll remember — what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination.” On arrival, in a speech to a big investor conference, he seemed to have softened a bit, praising China’s leadership and offering hopes that a trade war could be averted.

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Mr. Bannon reflects a basic tension in the Trump administration: whether to challenge China (and if so, where and when) or work with it. There is, on the one hand, huge resentment toward Beijing — which Mr. Bannon shares — among those who believe that China has grown its economy at the expense of the working and middle classes. (The focus of his speech was instructive: “American economic nationalism and the populist revolt and Asia,” the three intertwined in his mind.) And then there are those who believe that without China’s help there can be no serious deterrent to North Korea (which fired off another missile near Japan last week), no lasting stability in the South China Sea and the Asian rim as a whole.

This much is true: For the foreseeable future, no relationship is more crucial than that between these two nations. Together, they have a combined population of more than 1.7 billion people. Their economies dwarf all others, they both have nuclear weapons, they both have veto power in the United Nations Security Council. Their appetites and ambitions shape the globe: Together they can make for a more peaceful world; as adversaries, they can make a mess of things.

To some extent, President Trump seems to understand all that. He engaged early with President Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago resort, and has sought to regularly consult the Chinese leader, including a recent exchange that the president described as a “very strong phone call.” Yet, at the same time, he has failed to articulate a coherent strategy toward China or to achieve significant progress on the many consequential issues. He seems also to lump all China-related issues into one big, menacing ball — trade, tariffs, North Korea — rather than dealing with them separately, and this has added more complications.

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Credit Tyler Comrie

Additionally, the administration has been slow to get China experts into senior posts at the White House and State Department; for good or ill, Mr. Bannon was one person with Mr. Trump’s ear who took a big interest in China. Now there is no senior person with close ties to the president to oversee China policy, which does little to foster a consistent policy or reflect well on American leadership.

Against Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness and his espousal of an America First agenda of isolationism and protectionism, Mr. Xi projects a steady hand as he tries to remake the global economic and political order and entice nations into Beijing’s orbit.

Chinese trade is undeniably a big draw for many countries. So is Mr. Xi’s promised, though perhaps quixotic, $1 trillion investment in his One Belt, One Road initiative, an ambitious network of trading routes and development projects — roads, ports, pipelines and the like from China to Africa and Europe — that seems also to have drawn Mr. Bannon’s admiration. Having long operated quietly in Russia’s shadow at the United Nations, the Chinese are also speaking out more forcefully and engaging more robustly across multiple regions, a trend that has accelerated under Mr. Trump.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who worked to expand American influence in Asia, has ceded significant ground to China, especially by withdrawing from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and thus allowing Beijing an opening to set trade rules in the region. The American president will share the world stage with Mr. Xi for the first time this week when both men address the annual United Nations General Assembly.

Can there be robust cooperation? In 2005, when President George W. Bush was in office, Robert Zoellick, then a deputy secretary of state, encouraged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” and help strengthen the Western-designed postwar international system from which it benefited. Yet today more officials and experts are putting China in the adversary category, or leaning toward doing so, not least because of Beijing’s decision to expand its military capability and project it further into the South China Sea.

Here’s one thing that is not much talked about: counterterrorism. Mr. Trump worries about the Islamic State, Mr. Xi about Muslim Uighurs in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. Beijing could benefit from American intelligence about militants returning from the Middle East to Xinjiang; Washington would be interested in China’s help in persuading Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban.

On trade, there may be an opportunity for progress on a bilateral investment treaty, with American investment offered in exchange for broader access to the Chinese market for American companies. On intellectual property, now that China is putting energy into developing its own technology instead of just stealing America’s, the two could work together on stronger protections.

And then, of course, there is North Korea. Mr. Trump has insisted far more strongly than Mr. Obama that China, as the North’s main supplier of food and fuel, could single-handedly resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis if it wanted to. China can do a lot, and it did support the United States in passing tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions last week. But it has no interest in seeing North Korea collapse, and doubts remain about whether it could force the North to negotiate.

There is a template for cooperation, and while it involves an issue in which Mr. Trump has no interest, it provides a glimpse of a way forward. The issue is climate change. A combination of arduous negotiation by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama White House, plus China’s own horrible air pollution problems, brought Beijing around to signing the Paris accord and making a major commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. Self-interest and patient diplomacy: a combination that could work to the benefit of the entire world.

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent


September 17, 2017

Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman: Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent

by Anifah Aman

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COMMENT | I refer to the comment article written by Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of PPBM, entitled All that glitters is not gold in US-Malaysia relationship which was published by Malaysiakini on 15 September 2017.

I noted Rais Hussin keen interests on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy. As Rais Hussin would appreciate, Malaysia’s foreign policy is clear and consistent. Malaysia continues to pursue an independent, principled and pragmatic foreign policy, with the overarching thrust to safeguard its sovereignty and national interest as well as to contribute meaningfully towards a just and equitable community of nations.

The conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be guided by the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non–interference in the affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes, peaceful co–existence and mutual benefit in relations.

Therefore, I am perplexed to discover inaccurate and false narrative in his comment article, and wonder whether Rais Hussin was being deliberately obtuse. As such, I am compelled to address the inaccurate and false narrative, point by point as below:

1. Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence both commercially and militarily. On any given week, many illegal Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia.

As a small nation that relies heavily on international trade, Malaysia has no choice but to have relations with all countries in the world. As threats to peace and security become more complex, Malaysia has no choice but to work together with all countries in the world.

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Increased economic and investment activities between Malaysia and China were the result of globalisation and the law of supply and demand. Likewise, increased activities in the sphere of security would include closer military cooperation. It should in no way be construed as a sign that Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence. Malaysia has similar relations with many other countries, including the United States of America, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Singapore, etc.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agencies (MMEA) will arrest any fishing vessels that conduct illegal fishing activities in Malaysia’s maritime areas. MMEA vessels and aircraft, as well as vessels and aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Armed Forces conduct routine patrol and surveillance of Malaysia’s maritime areas. Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted only sporadically, and therefore it is completely untrue and utterly erroneous to suggest that Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia on a weekly basis.

2. More oddly, the Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with the most recent berthing taking place just before Trump met Najib in the White House. The very act of allowing Chinese submarine to break into Malaysian waters, all without the formality of conducting a joint exercise, suggests that Malaysia is now a quasi-alliance of China that is willing to listen to Beijing at every turn. Thus, how can the US-Malaysia relationship serve as a building block of a stronger international maritime order?

It is true that Chinese warship and submarine made a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in early September 2017. That was not the first time that Chinese military vessels make a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and would not be the last.

Military vessels from numerous countries including the United States of America, Australia, Japan, France, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc., have made port calls to various Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and will continue to do so.

Therefore, it is clearly a fallacy to equate the recent docking of Chinese military vessels as a sign of Malaysia quasi–alliance with China.

Military vessels undertake port call at foreign countries to replenish supply, provide shore leave to the crew after long period at sea, as well as to undertake minor maintenance. Port call by foreign military vessels also contribute to local economies.

With regard to the procedure, any foreign military vessels planning to make port call at Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, must submit such request to the Government of Malaysia through diplomatic channels. Such request would be considered by the relevant Malaysian agencies before being submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for final approval.

It is also timely to state at this juncture that Malaysia upholds the supremacy of the rule of law. Malaysia believes that international law is the equaliser amongst states, regardless of their political, economic or military power. All countries must work together to ensure peace and stability, as well as maritime order.

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3. Fourthly, Malaysia did nothing monumental with regards to ASEAN and the East Asian Summit in 2015 when Putrajaya was the chair of both entities, except holding grandiose and well-choreographed meetings as a public relations stunt.

4. Yet, 2015 was the year when China’s militarisation of the South China Sea began in earnest.

5. If Malaysia couldn’t contain the situation in the South China Sea and North Korea, why should one believe that without chairing Asean and the East Asian Summit, Malaysia could wield even more influence?

Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 was well–regarded by many countries. Malaysia’s constructive approach on various issues including the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula (and North Korean nuclear issue) was well-received.

Malaysia has done admirably in advancing discourse on these issues, taking into account that ASEAN works on the principle of consensus, and as chairman, Malaysia is merely a facilitator.

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Malaysia’s policy on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. Throughout its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015, Malaysia has impressed upon all countries the need to ensure peace, security and stability and to avoid the threat or use of force, as well as to avoid activities that could escalate or complicate situation. Malaysia further stated that recent activities have eroded trust and confidence amongst parties. Malaysia also called on all parties to ensure non–militarisation in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s principled and consistent position was well–received and well–accepted, and reflected as agreed texts in various documents issued during Malaysia’s chairmanship including the various chairman’s statements, joint communique of Asean ministerial meeting, etc. The texts were also used in various documents during Laos chairmanship in 2016.


ANIFAH AMAN is Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic? by Dr. Fareed Zakaria


September 17, 2017

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

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I am sometimes asked what world figure I most want to interview. For me, the answer is obvious: Kim Jong Un. The general impression around the globe continues to be that the North Korean leader is crazy, provocative and unpredictable, but I think that he might well be strategic, smart and utterly rational. Because I am unlikely to get that interview, I have decided to imagine it instead.

Q: Marshal Kim, why do you keep building and testing nuclear weapons and missiles, even though they result in massive, crippling economic sanctions?

A: My nation faces a fundamental challenge — survival. The regime is more threatened than ever before. My forefathers had it easy. The Great Leader, my grandfather, ruled with the support of the world’s other superpower at the time, the Soviet Union, as well as our gigantic neighbor, China. The Dear Leader, my father, still had Beijing’s help for the most part. But today, the Soviet Union is history and China has become more integrated with the Western system. And the sole superpower, the United States, has made it clear that it seeks regime change in my country. And yet, we have survived with our ideology and system intact. How? Because we have built a protection for ourselves in the form of nuclear weapons.

Q: But China still provides you with crucial supplies of food and fuel. Don’t you see it as an ally?

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2017 News Maker of The Year–Keeping Trump, Xi,  Putin Abe and Moon Jae-in on on their toes

A: China is ruthlessly pragmatic. It supports us for its own selfish interests. It doesn’t want millions of refugees — or a unified Korea on its border that is a larger version of what South Korea is now, with U.S. troops and a treaty alliance. But I believe that China no longer considers us an ally. It has voted to sanction us in the U.N. Security Council. The current president, Xi Jinping, cultivates close relations with South Korea. He has never met with me, the leader of North Korea, something that the leader of China has always done. Meanwhile, he has had about 10 meetings with the last two presidents of South Korea. At the grand celebrations in Beijing two years ago commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he placed the president of Russia and the president of South Korea at his side. In North Korea, we pay a lot of attention to ceremonies and what they signal.

Q: Is that why you seem to go out of your way to embarrass China and Xi specifically?

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What does it  take for him to sit down and talk since sanctions only strengthens his resolve to pursue the nuclearisation of his country and unify his proud people?

A: We will not be pushed around. We heard that senior officials in China and the United States were discussing whether to encourage a coup in North Korea to get a more pliable ruler. So I’ve taken steps to ensure that this can’t happen. The man in our government closest to the Chinese, who could have arranged such a coup attempt, was my uncle. The man who would have been my natural replacement was my half brother. Both have been liquidated, as have more than 100 disloyal high-level officials.

Q: So will you come to the negotiating table? Will you agree to denuclearization in return for the lifting of sanctions?

A: Yes and no. We will readily come to the table. But we will never give up our arsenal. We’re not stupid. It’s all that is keeping us alive. Look at Saddam Hussein — and we never forget that North Korea was named as part of the “axis of evil” a year before the United States invaded Iraq. Look what happened to Moammar Gaddafi in Libya after he agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Look at what’s happening to Iran right now. After Washington signed a deal and the Iranians have been certified to be adhering to it, President Trump now says he’s going to tear it up anyway. Do you think we would be stupid enough to believe American promises after all this? We are a nuclear power. That is not negotiable. We are willing to talk about limits, test bans, freezes — but we would need to be given something in return, and not just money. We need security, in the form of diplomatic recognition by Washington and guarantees of nonaggression from China, Japan and the United States.

Q: Many Americans worry that you will soon have the capacity and the intention to launch missiles at the United States.

A: We will have the capacity. And it serves my purposes to keep you off guard. But why would I strike America and invite a retaliatory counterstrike that would put an end to my regime? Keep in mind, the whole point of this — my entire strategy, all our efforts and the hardships we have borne — is to ensure that my regime and I survive. Why would I risk that? I believe in assassination, not suicide.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington DC


September 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington can be strategic, admits Ambassador Emeritus Dennis Ignatius

www,malaysiakini.com

 

COMMENT | Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent White House soirée has brought Malaysia an unprecedented level of scrutiny and negative publicity. All major US newspapers, for example, unanimously panned the visit, highlighting the inappropriateness of inviting someone linked to an ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation (into 1MDB-related money-laundering charges).

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Najib’s Chequebook Diplomacy–Helping America Great Again impresses Donald J. Trump

It is a measure of just how far his reputation has fallen internationally after once having been feted everywhere as a reformist and moderate Muslim democrat. It is also a reminder of how little all of this really matters in a world dominated by realpolitik and the pursuit of strategic advantage.

Certainly, Najib himself didn’t appear to lose too much sleep over all the bad press. For him, the visit was clearly about positioning himself for the next elections and burnishing his credentials as a well-respected international leader able to run with some of the most powerful leaders in the world.

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Taken together with earlier high-profile meetings with President Xi Jinping, King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the meeting with Trump, as well as Britain’s Theresa May, lends credence to Najib’s narrative that under his stewardship, Malaysia has become “a rising star” and a “global player.”

While the urban crowd and opposition supporters will no doubt shake their heads in disbelief, it will play well with Najib’s rural base, effectively neutralising the 1MDB issue, arguably Najib’s most troublesome political challenge.

Najib’s grand strategy

Beyond the optics and the controversy over 1MDB, the visit also revealed a side to Najib that will surely drive the opposition to further despair: he is proving to be a far better strategist than he’s been given credit for.

He has parlayed the powers of his office and all the levers of state control at his disposal to successfully play off both China and the US to his advantage.

It might be recalled that he deliberately pivoted to China after his falling-out with the Obama Administration.

In Beijing, last year, he complained about foreign meddling, of being treated unfairly, of being lectured to by Western powers. In not so many words, he went on to contemptuously dismiss the US and other Western powers as has-beens with no future in Asia and hinted about a new strategic partnership with China.

It appears that Washington, already alarmed at China’s growing clout in the region, quickly got the message. Washington will now play along to get along.

Furthermore, with a more amoral (some would say unscrupulous) occupant in the White House to do business with, and with Beijing beginning to get too demanding (as witnessed by the unravelling of the Bandar Malaysia deal), Najib might have also seen the need to recalibrate the balance between the US and China.

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Playing the China-US Hedging Game

Better relations with Washington will now give Najib more room to manoeuvre. It will also allow Najib to undercut opposition criticism that he is too close to China.

He has thus put both Washington and Beijing on notice: be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. It is, in fact, the global application of his domestic political approach: as he once told Chinese Malaysians, “If you show support [for UMNO-BN] we have no problem giving more… if not, difficult lah.”

Though it is still too early to predict how all this will turn out, no other prime minister has displayed such a flair for big power gamesmanship as he.

Buying his way to respectability

In order to demonstrate to both the US and China that they have much to gain both strategically and economically by being supportive of his administration, Najib has resorted to a form of chequebook diplomacy hitherto only used by rich and powerful countries – promising contracts, investments and big-ticket purchases in exchange for support and endorsement.

With China, Najib generously granted PRC corporations billions of ringgit in infrastructure contracts, even favouring PRC contractors over our own.

He has also earned the undying gratitude of President Xi by wholeheartedly embracing the latter’s One Belt One Road (Obor) initiative, dismissing concerns about the viability and lack of transparency of many Obor projects.

And under his watch, Malaysia made its first purchase of defence equipment from China.

In Washington, Najib opened his chequebook once again promising to buy more than RM42 billion in new aircraft for Malaysian Airlines (MAS), RM300 million in fighter jets for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), and to direct RM12 billion to RM16 billion in new investments from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Kazanah Nasional to US infrastructure projects.

He also promised to “persuade” AirAsia to switch from British-made Rolls Royce engines to American-made GE engines.

No doubt, this was all music to Trump’s ears, a small contribution to making American great again.

American officials, of course, deny the visit will have any impact on the DOJ investigations but does anybody really believe that Najib would have made all those expensive promises simply to make Trump feel good?

After this, expect European and Japanese salesmen-politicians to come knocking at our doors with hat in hand and high praise for Najib on their lips. For so long as there’s money to be made, inconvenient issues like human rights and good governance will not be allowed to get in the way.

Cost of Najib’s generosity

The downside, however, is that Malaysia’s already beleaguered opposition, as well as its human rights defenders, can now expect no sympathy or moral support from the US and other democracies.

Najib has neatly turned the tables on his detractors; far from isolating him internationally, he has now marginalised them at home.

Worse still, the nation will have to pay a heavy price for Najib’s extravagant chequebook diplomacy.  We are already heavily indebted to China; now we will be driven into even greater debt with billions of new borrowing to pay for Najib’s Washington promises.That the government of a cash-strapped developing country, which has had to impose a new tax (GST) on its own hard-pressed and long-suffering populace just to stay afloat, would offer such an extravagant economic boost to one of the richest economies in the world is both unprecedented and mind-boggling.

DENNIS IGNATIUS, a former Malaysian ambassador, firmly believes that we should put our trust not in the leadership of politicians but in the sanctity of great institutions – our secular and democratic constitution, a democratically-elected parliament, an independent judiciary, a free press and a government fully accountable to the people. He blogs here.

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