Moon and Trump and North Korea–Divergent Path between Diplomacy and Confrontation


July 20, 2017

Moon and Trump and North Korea–Divergent Path between Diplomacy and Confrontation

Image result for South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump and North Korea

Moon and Trump in The White House Lawn

by Jeffrey Robertson @at Yonsei University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

During a recent sit-down with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in at the Oval Office, a larger than normal media contingent surged forward, knocked over some furniture and invited rebuke from President Donald Trump. The media expected the perfect storm — a reserved and determined South Korean leader who wants dialogue with North Korea meets an impulsive and egoistical US leader who wants to sanction and pressure North Korea. Instead, the media received a lesson on how well-trained and skilful diplomats can avoid the perfect storm.

The incompatibility of Moon and Trump was recognised from an early stage. Commentators noted during the South Korean election that in ideological convictions, policy objectives and personalities, Moon and Trump appeared to be irrevocably incompatible.

Image result for South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea

 

And signals the beginning of diplomatic engagement with North Korea for Peace and Stability

Moon’s election position was to ultimately engage North Korea through increased interaction by civic organisations, re-opening tours to the South Korean-constructed and managed Mount Geumgang resort, re-opening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and even potentially holding an inter-Korean summit. Of particular concern to the US was Moon’s inconsistent position on the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system — Moon positioned himself between his core supporters and the swinging voters concerned about China’s retaliatory economic pressure.

Image result for War Monger Trump with North Korea

Tough Talking President Donald Trump prefers isolating and sanctioning North Korea

Trump’s position on North Korea could not be more different. Officially, it appears Trump has little interest in Korean Peninsula affairs. He lacks a strong East Asia advisory team and is yet to appoint an Ambassador to Seoul (although rumours suggest it will be Victor Cha) or an Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs to the State Department. There have been no formal processes to elaborate a clear strategy. But from his first Tweet to his last, Trump has consistently called for isolating, sanctioning and pressuring North Korea.

The media sensed the potential for a clash of wills. Harold Nicolson, the renowned British diplomat and scholar, long ago warned against the risks of politicians playing diplomatic roles. Diplomats, he argued,  are not prone to emotional outbursts, zealotry or partisan short-term goals. By contrast, politicians are prone to ‘impulsive settlement’, ‘imprecision’ and the pursuit of ‘short-term victories’. Moon and Trump seemed destined to clash.

But seven hours after the two leaders completed their talks, the two sides released a Joint Statement. The significance of the statement lies not just in the fact that one was released, but also in the timing. In meetings with Japan and India joint statements were issued immediately, and with Vietnam and Saudi Arabia after several days. The seven hour delay was reportedly caused by either poor administration or (more likely) wrangling over wording.

Regardless of the delay, the media in both the United States and South Korea applauded the meeting. There was something to placate all sides. The South Korean media emphasised Trump’s acquiescence to Moon’s desire for a dialogue-first approach to North Korea and his openness to direct dialogue under the ‘right conditions’. The US media emphasised the renegotiation of the Korea–US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and the renegotiation of burden sharing for the support of United States Forces in Korea. Through skilful diplomacy, the diplomats of South Korea and the United States established a difficult modus vivendi between two presidents with two very different positions.

But the diplomats of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Department cannot rest on their laurels. On the issue of North Korea, Moon and Trump are on inherently divergent paths. As Moon settles in and consolidates his administration, these divergent paths will become clearer. In particular, if Moon is able to secure a stronger position after the April 2020 National Assembly elections, he will have the legislative capacity to push through a more progressive agenda.

For Trump, North Korea has been a welcome distraction, and South Korea represents an ideal target to make good on election promises to renegotiate trade deals and push allies to pay more for US support. But the sustainability of his approach is rapidly disintegrating, and the Korean Peninsula will soon require substantially more attention — not in sporadic Tweets but in the form of considered and responsible strategic policy.

The diplomatic modus vivendi is a cautious first step. On 4 July, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile — reported as a game-changing test that transforms the strategic calculus. President Trump pledged to react ‘very strongly’. On 6 July, South Korea’s President Moon delivered a key policy speech in Berlin, expressing his aim to engage North Korea, and a willingness to meet Kim Jong-Un ‘at any time, at any place’. There will be no slowdown for the diplomats smoothing over the Moon–Trump relationship.

  • Jeffrey Robertson is Visiting Fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, The Australian National University and Assistant Professor at Yonsei University.

 

Trump and China: Implications for Southeast Asia


July 15, 2017

Trump and China: Implications for Southeast Asia

by Robert Sutter@www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Trump and Xi

Before his inauguration, Chinese specialists judged that Trump, as a pragmatic businessman, could be ‘shaped’ to align with Chinese interests and would ultimately be easier to deal with than Clinton. President-elect Trump soon upended these sanguine expectations with a few gestures, comments and tweets. After accepting a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, Trump went on to question why the United States needed to support a ‘one China’ position and avoid improving contacts with Taiwan.

 

President Trump eventually was persuaded to endorse — at least in general terms — the traditional US view of the ‘one China’ policy. Though his informal summit meeting with President Xi Jinping in early April went well, Trump has put his Chinese counterpart on the defensive. He made clear how quickly he could take a wide range of surprise actions with serious negative consequences for China. Beijing was compelled to prepare for contingencies from a US president who values unpredictability and tension in achieving goals.

After the summit, the Trump government kept strong political pressure on China to use its economic leverage to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. While stoking widespread fears of conflict on the peninsula, President Trump stressed his personal respect for President Xi. He promised Beijing easier treatment in pending negotiations on the two countries’ massive trade imbalance and other economic issues.

China’s new uncertainty over the US President added to reasons for Beijing to avoid — at least for now — controversial expansions in the disputed South China Sea. How long this will last is a guessing game.

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Trump is preoccupied with North Korea

Further, the Trump administration’s preoccupation with North Korea and China reinforced a prevailing drift in US policy in Southeast Asia. Trump and his officials have announced the end of the Obama government’s ‘pivot to Asia’ policy and repudiated its economic centerpiece — the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

What exists of Trump’s Southeast Asia policy at best reflects belated and episodic attention based on a poorly staffed administration with no coherent strategic view. Only very recently have they begun to take steps to show interest in positive engagement with Southeast Asia.

On the South China Sea disputes, the Trump government has followed a cautious approach. It avoided for some time the periodic freedom of navigation exercises by US Navy ships targeted against Chinese claimed land features deemed illegal by an international tribunal in 2016. In Indonesia, Vice President Pence repeated the administration’s insistence on ‘fair trade’ with Indonesia, one of many Asian countries whose trade surplus with the United States has placed them under review by the new administration.

Human rights issues in Southeast Asia — ranging from authoritarian strongman rule in Cambodia and Communist dominance in Vietnam to the newly democratic Myanmar government’s controversial crackdown on the oppressed Rohingya community — have received much less attention from the Trump government than from previous administrations. Recent presidential invitations to Philippine and Thai leaders underline this new US pragmatism on human rights issues.

Southeast Asian officials are correct in complaining that they have few counterparts in the Trump government, particularly in the State and Defense departments, due to the administration’s remarkable slowness in nominating appointees. As they wait, those seeking a coherent and well-integrated US strategy toward Southeast Asia are likely to be disappointed. Barring an unanticipated crisis, the preoccupations of the Trump administration with other priorities seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

On key issues in Southeast Asia, there appears to be broad agreement within the Trump government — shared by congressional leaders — on the need to strengthen the US security position in Southeast Asia along with the rest of the Asia Pacific. President Trump’s proposed increase in defence spending will presumably support recent congressional legislation such as the Asia Pacific Stability Initiative and the Asian Reassurance Initiative Act.

But achieving a unified and sustained position on US economic and trade issues — with Southeast Asia or elsewhere — promises to be more difficult than consistency on security and foreign policy values. Key appointees have records very much at odds with one another. Some strongly identify with the president’s campaign rhetoric pledging to deal harshly with states that ‘treat the United States unfairly’ and ‘take jobs’ from US workers. Others stick to conservative Republican orthodoxy in supporting free trade. Policy is said to move back and forth between these two camps, and where Trump himself will come down in this debate is very unclear.

How much influence the United States will lose or gain in these uncertain surroundings remains to be seen. Much will depend on how well or how poorly China ‘fills the gap’ caused by drifting US policy. For now, it seems that US–China competition in Southeast Asia is more likely than not to remain a muddle for some time to come.

Robert Sutter is Professor of Practice of International Affairs at he Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University.

An extended version of this article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Strategic diplomacy in Asia’. 

 

American Dignity on the Fourth of July


July 5, 2017

American Dignity on the Fourth of July

Reading Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day address from 1852 may ease the despair caused by listening to the President.

More than three-quarters of a century after the delegates of the Second Continental Congress voted to quit the Kingdom of Great Britain and declared that “all men are created equal,” Frederick Douglass stepped up to the lectern at Corinthian Hall, in Rochester, New York, and, in an Independence Day address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, made manifest the darkest ironies embedded in American history and in the national self-regard. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass asked:

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

The dissection of American reality, in all its complexity, is essential to political progress, and yet it rarely goes unpunished. One reason that the Republican right and its attendant media loathed Barack Obama is that his public rhetoric, while far more buoyant with post-civil-rights-era uplift than Douglass’s, was also an affront to reactionary pieties. Even as Obama tried to win votes, he did not paper over the duality of the American condition: its idealism and its injustices; its heroism in the fight against Fascism and its bloody misadventures before and after. His idea of a patriotic song was “America the Beautiful”—not in its sentimental ballpark versions but the way that Ray Charles sang it, as a blues, capturing the “fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top.”

Image result for Donald Trump July 4 in America  New Yorker Cartoon

Donald Trump, who, in fairness, has noted that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job,” represents an entirely different tradition. He has no interest in the wholeness of reality. He descends from the lineage of the Know-Nothings, the doomsayers and the fabulists, the nativists and the hucksters. The thematic shift from Obama to Trump has been from “lifting as we climb” to “raising the drawbridge and bolting the door.” Trump may operate a twenty-first-century Twitter machine, but he is still a frontier-era drummer peddling snake oil, juniper tar, and Dr. Tabler’s Buckeye Pile Cure for profit from the back of a dusty wagon.

As a candidate, Trump told his followers that he would fulfill “every dream you ever dreamed for your country.” But he is a plutocrat. His loyalty is to the interests of the plutocracy. Trump’s vows of solidarity with the struggling working class, with the victims of globalization and deindustrialization, are a fraud. He made coal miners a symbol of his campaign, but he has always held them in contempt. To him, they are luckless schmoes who fail to possess his ineffable talents. “The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump once told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination—or whatever—to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.’ ”

Trump is hardly the first bad President in American history—he has not had adequate time to eclipse, in deed, the very worst—but when has any politician done so much, so quickly, to demean his office, his country, and even the language in which he attempts to speak? Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more. He tells a lie. He tells another. He trolls Arnold Schwarzenegger. He trolls the press, bellowing “enemy of the people” and “fake news!” He shoves aside a Balkan head of state. He summons his Cabinet members to have them swear fealty to his awesomeness. He leers at an Irish journalist. Last Thursday, he tweeted at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came . . . to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” The President’s misogyny and his indecency are well established. When is it time to question his mental stability?

The atmosphere of debasement and indignity in the White House, it appears, is contagious. Trump’s family and the aides who hastened to serve him have learned to imitate his grossest reflexes, and to hell with the contradictions. Melania Trump, whose “cause” is cyber-bullying, defends the poisoned tweet at Brzezinski. His righteously feminist daughter Ivanka stays mum. After the recent special election in Georgia, Kellyanne Conway, the counsellor to the President, tweeted, “Laughing my #Ossoff.” The wit! The valor! Verily, the return of Camelot!

Trump began his national ascendancy by hoisting the racist banner of birtherism. Since then, as candidate and as President, he has found countless ways to pollute the national atmosphere. If someone suggests a lie that is useful to him, he will happily pass it along or endorse it. This habit is not without purpose or cumulative effect. Even if Trump fails in his most ambitious policy initiatives, whether it is liberating the wealthy from their tax obligations or liberating the poor from their health care, he has already begun to foster a public sphere in which, as Hannah Arendt put it in her treatise on totalitarian states, millions come to believe that “everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

Frederick Douglass ended his Independence Day jeremiad in Rochester with steadfast optimism (“I do not despair of this country”). Read his closing lines, and what despair you might feel when listening to a President who abets ignorance, isolation, and cynicism is eased, at least somewhat. The “mental darkness” of earlier times is done, Douglass reminded his audience. “Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.” There is yet hope for the “great principles” of the Declaration of Independence and “the genius of American Institutions.” There was reason for optimism then, as there is now. Donald Trump is not forever. Sometimes it just seems that way. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the July 10 & 17, 2017, issue, with the headline “Dignity and the Fourth.

David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Martin Khor looks back at the East Asian Financial Crisis 1997


July 5, 2017

Martin Khor looks back at the East Asian Financial Crisis 1997

http://www.thestar.com.my

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Suharto_resigns.jpg

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation. Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

Image result for Mahathir and The East Asian Financial Crisis 1997
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin introduced selective capital controls and pegged the Ringgit at RM3.80 to USD1.00.

 

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies (The Washington Consensus). The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy. But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

Image result for Korea and The East Asian Financial Crisis 1997

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis. A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors. However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare? These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

 

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/global-trends/2017/07/03/the-asian-financial-crisis-20-years-later-it-is-useful-to-reflect-on-whether-lessons-have-been-lear/#EEkW3MiZXu87cFZM.99

Losing outstanding minds to Singapore and elsewhere because UMNO practices racial discrimination


May 28, 2017

Losing outstanding minds to Singapore and elsewhere because UMNO practices racial discrimination

by Mariam Mokhtar

Image result for tan zhongshan cambridge

In 2010, another Ipoh born caused a sensation in the newspapers. He did his parents proud, his teachers were equally elated, his birthplace was euphoric to claim he was one of them, and his country would have been ecstatic. His name is Tan Zhongshan and he was born in Ipoh. He chose to read law at university because he said, “Being in the legal line gives you a chance to make changes that have a far-reaching effect.”

Won the “Slaughter and May” prize

In June 2010, Tan received a first–class honours in Bachelor of Arts (Law) at Queen’s College, Cambridge, one of the world’s topmost universities. Cambridge, England’s second oldest university, usually contends with Oxford for first place in the UK university league tables.

Tan excelled as the top student in his final-year law examinations, but he also won the “Slaughter and May” prize, awarded by the Law Faculty for the student with the best overall performance.

In addition, he managed to bag the Norton Rose Prize for Commercial Law, the Clifford Chance Prize for European Union Law and the Herbert Smith Prize for Conflict of Laws.

Tan distinguished himself and was a source of help to his fellow students, according to his tutor and the dean of Queen’s college, Dr. Martin Dixon.

Dr. Dixon said, ““He is probably the best Malaysian student I have seen in the last 10 years. He is the most able, dedicated and one of the most likeable students I have taught in more than 20 years at Cambridge. He works really hard, has great insight and intuition. He is a problem-solver, listens well and learns.”

However, the 23-year-old Tan shrugged off his accomplishments which he said was due to “consistent work and a detailed understanding of the subjects.”

Tan, who plays classical guitar, was modest about his success, “It was a pleasant surprise as it is hard to predict the end results.” Sadly, this brilliant, young Malaysian will not be working in Malaysia.

Tan, who went to Singapore in August 2010, completed his Bar examinations at the end of 2011 and then joined the Singapore Legal Service.

 Malaysia’s loss is Singapore’s gain

 

After completing his A-levels at the Temasek Junior College, the Singapore Ministry of Education awarded Tan an Asean scholarship. Tan will not be the first nor last Malaysian who we let slip through our fingers.

It makes many ordinary Malaysians quietly fill with rage that the policies of our government reward the mediocre or the ‘can-do’ or so so” types and ignore the best and the brightest. When will this madness end?

Image result for Malaysia's Judiciary

Our judiciary was one of the best in the region, but today…Sadly, we have clowns and fools to dictate how our courts are run. The best comedy act was played out in the Teoh Beng Hock trial when renowned Thai pathologist Pornthip Rojanasunand was cross-examined by presumably the best of the Attorney General’s bunch of merry-men.

If that is how Malaysian lawmakers prefer to project their image to the world, then they really need their heads examined.

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Follow Malaysia by setting up a Talent Corp

We are haemorrhaging our best talent to countries that receive them with open arms. Record numbers of Malaysians are leaving – doctors, surgeons, nurses, lawyers, accountants, lecturers and academics, engineers, quantity surveyors. We are experiencing the biggest exodus in our 59-year history.

It is estimated that there are over 1 million Malaysians living and working abroad, many of whom are highly qualified personnel. If the government thinks that it is only the non-Malays who are leaving then they are wrong. Malays are also leaving in large numbers.

Feeling appreciated

What other countries do is to offer Malaysians opportunities – something which is not available, to the majority of Malaysians, of whichever racial origin. Our government fails to realise that people need to feel appreciated and thrive in conditions which stimulate personal development.

Government interference in the things that affect the personal lives of its citizens is what has kept many overseas Malaysians away. At the end of the day, most people value the things that have to do with their quality of life (not just for themselves but especially for their families), the laws, bureaucracy and tax.

Malaysia will soon pay the price for its crippling policies which our government feels unable, incapable or fearful of changing.

Bilahari Kausikan: 4 Hard Truths about North Korea


May 27, 2017

Bilahari Kausikan: 4 Hard Truths about North Korea

There are no good options, only least bad ones. Unilateral US action will harm US allies in the region and permanently damage trust.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/hard-truths-from-hard-nosed-diplomat-bilahari-kausikan-on-us-north-korea-policy

Veteran Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan has a habit of speaking truth to power, no matter how hard the truth, or how big the power.

Image result for bilahari kausikan at The University of Cambodia

Singapore’s Ambassador at Large Bilahari Kausikan at The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In a speech reprinted in The Straits Times titled US Military Action Against Pyongyang Could Undermine Trust, he says there are no good options on North Korea, only least bad ones.

Here’s the gist of his argument in four hard truths.

1. Pyongyang is hell-bent determined to develop a long-range missile that can hit the US and no one is going to be able to stop it.

Mr Kausikan writes: “North Korea does not yet have nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the continental US; it has probably not yet weaponised its nuclear devices to make them deliverable by missiles. But Pyongyang is determined to acquire survivable, nuclear-armed ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles)… Pyongyang will persist and it will eventually succeed – unless the US and its North-east Asian allies are willing to fight a full-scale war to stop it. I do not think they are prepared to pay the price.”

China doesn’t want war. The United States would like to stop North Korea, but its own options are limited. (See hard truth No. 2) So it’s leaning on China to do so – but China won’t lean on Pyongyang enough to make it stop. It wants Pyongyang to behave better, but won’t want to destroy the Pyongyang regime, fearing that doing so will destabilise its own society.

2. Any US military action against North Korea will come at a heavy price – Asian allies will suffer the brunt of Pyongyang’s retaliation, and trust in the US will be permanently eroded.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and US President Donald Trump spoke by phone on April 5, 2017 – a day after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. PHOTO: AFP

He explains: “Seoul is within range of conventional artillery, and South Korea and Japan are within range of North Korea’s existing missiles. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned that North Korean missiles could be armed with sarin, a nerve agent.

“Unilateral military action by Washington would thus impose serious direct risks on its allies at a time when the US itself does not yet face a direct threat. If the US acts unilaterally, it will, in effect, force its allies to immediately bear the very heavy costs of mitigating threats to itself that are still theoretical or putative as far as the US is concerned. This would cause grievous political damage and could permanently undermine trust in America well beyond North-east Asia.”

3.  The US will not sacrifice American cities to save Asian capitals, when North Korea eventually develops a missile that can hit America.

Mr Kausikan writes: “When North Korea has nuclear-capable ICBMs able to threaten the US, the question is bound to be asked – will San Francisco be sacrificed to save Tokyo? Since the answer is obviously ‘no’, Tokyo will have to seriously consider its own nuclear options.

“Japan has the capability to develop an independent nuclear deterrent very quickly and has, in fact, been quietly developing this capability – with American aid and acquiescence – for 30 years or so… The decision will be politically very difficult. But Japanese public opinion has changed very abruptly several times in modern Japanese history, and since the alternative is to accept subordination to China, I believe it is only a question of when and not whether Japan will become a nuclear-weapon state. I do not think the US is eager to see Japan become a nuclear-weapon state. Neither do I think that Japan is keen to become a nuclear-weapon state. But, for both, this will eventually be the least bad option.

“Where Japan goes, South Korea must follow since Seoul is bound to wonder whether it will be sacrificed to save Tokyo.”

Image result for North Korea, Japan and South Korea

Trump’s America  threatens to go Alone on North Korea–Not possible since its arrogance of power will destabilize North East Asia and undermine regional stability..

The likely result: Japan and South Korea will move out from under the US nuclear umbrella protection and want to develop their own nuclear capabilities. A nuclear arms race may result in the region.

4. Denuclearisation is not an option. Nuclear escalation is more likely. But luckily, mutually assured destruction is not as mad as it sounds.

If regional countries become nuclear powers, will the situation become more volatile? Mr Kausikan says not necessarily.

 “A balance of mutually assured destruction in North-east Asia will not be a satisfactory situation for anyone. But it will not necessarily be unstable – in fact, it may well be more stable than the current situation – and it may be of some small consolation to Washington, Tokyo and Seoul that the implications for Beijing are somewhat worse. A balance of mutually assured destruction will freeze the status quo and is an absolute obstacle to Beijing’s goal – which is implicit in the essentially revanchist narrative of the ‘Great Rejuvenation’ of China by which the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) legitimates its rule – of recreating an East Asian order with China at its apex.”

For the full article, go to http://str.sg/46xe