Sunday 26 June 2022

EU forgets own sermons, returns to coal (The Sunday Guardian)

 Past governments ensured that India lost the advantage that would have accrued to the country were it to utilise its immense coal reserves to their full potential. Nationalisation of coal and mismanagement resulted in the country having to expend scarce foreign exchange to buy coal from countries such as Australia. Interestingly, those from abroad who were most active in the NGOs advocating that India cut back its domestic coal production came from major coal-extracting countries, including the US, Australia and the UK. The consequence of succumbing to such anti-Atmanirbhar advocacy was, of course, not that India sharply reduced the share of coal in its energy sector, but that the country had to import coal from outside, a practice that continues to this day. Whether it be coal, copper or other such resources abundant in India, by one means or the other, India became dependent on foreign countries for much of its supply. Pharmaceuticals is an example of such excessive dependence, as the Indian pharmaceutical industry has grown steadily more dependent for pharmaceutical intermediates on China. After the disruption in supply chains caused by Covid-19 and geopolitical challenges in 2020, efforts by the Government of India to reduce such a high degree of dependency in a premier sector increased. Nuclear energy is far “greener” than energy that is generated through the use of coal as a feedstock. Given that there is a need to reduce if not eliminate India’s dependence on foreign suppliers for the uranium that its nuclear industry needs, this is another essential feedstock, the domestic supply of which has been sharply reduced by use of the executive as well as the other branches of government to discourage uranium mining within the country. As for coal, until such time as its necessity gets reduced to insignificance, efforts need to be made to increase production within the country rather than remain reliant on foreign coal. In such a context, getting a chipmaking company from the US, South Korea or Taiwan to begin production locally needs to be a priority for Ministers Ashwini Vaishnav and Rajeev Chandrashekhar.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has had an outsize effect on global supply chains, in large part caused by the range of financial and other sanctions that have been slapped on the Russian Federation by NATO together with Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The three are facing a threat from China, especially Taiwan, while in the case of South Korea, the hawkish (on Pyongyang) newly-installed Yoon administration has generated a sharp rise in North-South tensions. It is apparent that the roster of sanctions was not properly thought through, or else that key members of NATO believed that Russia would soon dissolve into chaos as a consequence of the measures taken against the largest country by far in the world in terms of size. Instead, President Putin has recovered his popularity as a consequence of the war, while the Russian people have a long history of stoically bearing up to adversity in a way that the populations of most of the countries in the European Union would not. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, seems to have a somewhat simplistic view of situations, as witness her advice to India to go solar on a fast track, no matter what the cost of following such guidance would be, if it were even practical, which it is not. Von der Leyen has suggested that the population of the EU should each adjust the thermostats in their gas-fired heaters to two degrees less than normal. What “normal” is has not been specified by her. In contrast to her advice to India to go solar, the EU Commission President is backing a comeback of coal. Causing further damage to the planet would in this view be a lesser evil than cutting off purchases of oil and gas from Russia. Meanwhile, Asia these days is gulping up all the oil and gas it can absorb from the Russian Federation, while NATO through its sanctions on Russia is ensuring that the cost to the European consumer of oil and gas goes up, owing to greater dependence on higher-priced US supplies. Once Russia completes its logistics chains to major Asian customers of its natural resources, Middle Eastern countries may find that demand from that continent to their gas and oil may come down. Most probably in 2022 itself, there will be a whiplash effect from the public towards the leaders of the Atlantic Alliance who have collectively inflicted so much misery on not just their own people but the rest of the world as well in their effort to prevent a country brimming with natural resources from exporting any of it. The Ukrainian side needs to read the portents correctly and sue for peace with Russia, giving Biden, Johnson and others an excuse to remove the sanctions designed to punish Russia but which are instead causing stagflation in their own countries. Helping kill the planet through going back to the use of coal instead of oil and gas is just one of the many ways in which the Russia-Ukraine war is on track to cause even more economic and societal devastation than Covid-19 and the attendant measures did.

Saturday 25 June 2022

We are all Indians together, treat us as that (The Sunday Guardian)


From 15 August 1947, Nehru and others in the Congress leadership adopted a policy of ignoring the wound in the Hindu psyche caused by Partition.

The Congress Party took over what was left of the Indian subcontinent (after Partition and the earlier breaking away of Burma) on 15 August 1947. The partition of India into India and Pakistan represented a defeat for the saintly Mahatma Gandhi, who had sworn to agree to Partition “only over my dead body”. After the Quit India movement was launched by the Congress Party in 1942, those in positions of responsibility in London who favoured the handover of a unified subcontinent began to lose ground to the faction led by Winston Churchill, which opposed freedom for the people of India but sought to ensure a truncated India were freedom to come about. While M.A. Jinnah and the Muslim League fully backed the victory of the Allies over the Axis during wartime, the Quit India movement, combined with the journey to Germany and Japan by Subhas Chandra Bose, created an impression in the portals of power in London that the future ruling party of India had tilted towards the Axis. 1942 was not 1944, by which time the war had turned decisively against Adolf Hitler and his Japanese ally Hideki Tojo. When the call for the British colonial authorities to Quit India was made, the German war machine was in control of vast tracts of land across Europe, as was Japan in the South-eastern and Far Eastern territories that had been previously under the control of European powers. There was a strong possibility during that time that the Japanese army may be able to (i) win over more Indian soldiers to its side via the Indian National Army and thereby (ii) take over much of the British empire in India. Mahatma Gandhi had calculated that the reverses suffered during 1940-42 by the British in their colonies in Asia and North Africa would put them in a frame of mind to assure freedom for India once the war ended. As long as Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, that was an impossible prospect. Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee of the Labour Party had little understanding or sympathy for the freedom fighters of India, and he usually went along with Churchill’s views, as did the rest of the War Cabinet. Had the British given a pledge that the “Jewel in the Crown” would be given freedom shortly after World War II ended, the Congress Party would most probably have supported the Allies the same way Jinnah had. There was, after all, little love lost for Subhas Bose in Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues, and none whatsoever for the racism and propensity to violence of the Nazi party. After the Quit India agitation by the Congress Party was swiftly extinguished by the jailing of the leaders of that party for the duration of the war, sympathy in London for Jinnah grew. This gave impetus to his call to the British to “Divide before Quitting” India. Historians of the time wrote about the Quit India movement in the most glowing of terms, as they do almost all the Congress Party’s actions from the 1930s onwards. It was rare to find an individual who publicly pointed to some of the unintended consequences of the Quit India call. Not to mention earlier decisions by the Congress Party leadership, such as the resignation (and consequent full transfer into British hands) of the many provincial ministries that at the time were in its control. This was a decision that played completely into the hands of Lord Wavell, the Viceroy. The decisions and events by the principal players within the subcontinent that followed the UK’s declaration of war in 1939 that turbocharged the Muslim League. The party became the favourite of the Raj not just in the eyes of colonial officials in India but their superiors in the UK.
Jawaharlal Nehru adopted the same model as Winston Churchill, who himself wrote the history of his life and of course the 1939-45 war. Not surprisingly, Churchill presented the sequence of events in a manner that ignored his numerous errors and puffed up his achievements. Similarly, the first Prime Minister of India was a prolific writer, and never shied away from writing about events in which he had played a part. In such accounts by him and later his admirers, the problems created by some of his decisions and even stray remarks were either ignored or blamed on others. Historians who did not follow the example of Nehru’s acolytes are unknown, as their works were ignored in favour of those who wrote in admiring tomes about the Congress Party and its participation in the freedom movement. Among the facts ignored was an adequate description of the disaffection in the Indian armed forces once the war got over in 1945 without any promise of freedom. Without the backing of the Indian component in the armed forces, the colonial authorities knew that they could not hold India. Soon afterwards followed a declaration of impending independence that ought to have been given in 1939 but which the then Prime Minister of the UK opposed, probably saying to his intimates that freedom would come to India “only over my dead body”. Just as the Mahatma lived to see a partitioned India, Churchill lived to see a free India.
During the 1930s and into 1947, both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru sought to wean away the Muslim community from Jinnah, but were less than successful as a consequence of the false narrative of Jinnah and his party that Islam was in danger in India. From 15 August 1947, Prime Minister Nehru and others in the Congress leadership adopted a policy of ignoring the wound in the Hindu psyche caused by Partition. Indeed, anything that they regarded as linked to the religion of the majority community remained almost totally out of school textbooks, including epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both of which ought to be comprehensively taught in schools together with classics such as the Hitopadesha and the Panchatantra. These are epics that belong to the whole of India, and should not be placed in the narrow box of a single religion, thereby denying through absence of official interest many within the young the knowledge of India’s epics, and absorbing the wisdom contained in them. Where matters of faith are concerned, a uniform civil code is still not in sight, while only a Hindu code bill was passed in the 1950s, not an omnibus reform that ought to have been applicable to all citizens. Such universality is an integral component of secularism. What was needed but not attempted until recently was to assist in the knowledge of a common heritage and respect without exceptions for the Rule of Law. Recently, a decision by a court was reported that for those girls born in a particular faith, the legal age of marriage was two years less than that applicable for girls belonging to other faiths. A girl of 16 should have the same rights in marriage as in other matters as any other girl of 16 who is a citizen of India. We are, after all, Indians, and need to be treated as such by each of the Estates of the governance system.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Biden’s Putin obsession batters global growth (The Sunday Guardian)


An early conclusion to the Ukraine war may seem unjust. Yet that sacrifice is needed to prevent global turmoil.

Poll numbers are helping President Joe Biden to slowly comprehend the reality. Which is that it is his transformational $2 trillion Societal Stimulus package getting passed that ought to be the White House priority. Instead, this year he has been acting as Sir Joe, riding forth to avenge the electoral defeat of Lady Hillary in 2016. According to the Clintonistas (including those now masquerading as Bidenistas), the defeat of Hillary Clinton at the hands of Don Trump was due to the machinations of Vladimir Putin. Much of the election-related received wisdom in the ranks of the Democratic Party is clearly the content of nursery tales or morality fables rather than fact. To seriously claim that the current occupant of the Kremlin has the capability to overturn a presidential election in the US implies that today’s Russia (at least under Putin) is way more powerful than the USSR was in its heyday. The Clinton fable that Russia stole the 2016 election created the momentum required for the next nursery tale, which was the Trumpian view that Biden somehow stole the 2020 election although it was Trump who was the President. There were indeed US presidential elections that were unusual in the causes of the final outcome, as for example the victory of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, which was decided not by the voters or the electors but by that faithful associate of the Republican Party, the US Supreme Court. Loser Al Gore accepted the verdict of the court with grace, while President Bush went on to rescue Al Qaeda and their ISI friends through the Kunduz airlift in Afghanistan. Not to mention rewarding Iran by ensuring that Iraq moved into Tehran’s sphere of influence in two years later, whereas the former regime had been virulently against Iran since the Khomeinist takeover in 1979. Joe Biden would have been able to defeat Trump in 2016, but his innate generosity of spirit towards the Clintons made the then Vice-President step aside and allow Hillary to be the Democratic nominee.
From the moment Hillary became her party’s candidate, Donald Trump had the edge, and he retained it by promising change, which was in a way delivered. Tossing aside the Lincoln dictum, the Trump White House was of, for and run by billionaires, no questions asked. As President Biden reminded voters some days ago, billionaires in the US each pay less than 10% of their incomes as federal taxes. What was Biden doing about such a scandalous state of affairs during his tenure as a Senator, or has done since heading the executive branch of the US? Biden soon lost interest in taxing billionaires fairly or in getting passed his Social Stimulus plan, focussing instead on getting bipartisan support for his mission of punishing Putin for what he believed was responsibility for the defeat of Hillary Clinton at the hands of Trump, the (in the restrained and measured language typical of her) “a puppet of Putin”. President Biden was joined by Boris Johnson and other European leaders in what they advertised as a Righteous War against Putin-led Russia. Four months on, even cheerleaders of the war such as CNN and BBC are having difficulties in claiming that Saint Volodymyr and his no-longer-merry men are having the advantage over the Russian military. The US-UK-EU stream of economic sanctions against the Russian Federation have not prevented Ukraine from losing more territory to the Russians. Instead, they have created global supply and logistics difficulties that are pulling the world into a recession that will develop into a depression unless the war in Ukraine is swiftly brought to a close. Biden’s shift of focus from domestic priorities to the Russia-Ukraine war are on track to ensure the wipe-out of the Democratic Party in the November midterms. Such a catastrophe would thereby render President Biden not a lame duck but a legless duck during the balance of his Presidential term.
President Zelenskyy is undergoing the pain of watching his country slowly drown in a morass of blood and treasure as a consequence of his lack of understanding of the imperative of good relations with Moscow in creating stability in Ukraine. Being a maestro in comedy may not always be the best training for a grasp of the realities of realpolitik. Even as Ukraine sinks, Zelenskyy is calling out for and getting more weapons. The effect of this would be to ensure a catastrophic global impact. What is needed is not to continue the war but Ukraine cutting its losses and ending hostilities with its much stronger foe. Across both sides of the Atlantic, disregarding their own and their countries interests, the message is the same: the war must go on, no matter what the price, including to countries that have zero role in the escalating fiasco. Still fixated on vanquishing Putin rather than fending off the Republican challenge to the Democrats in the midterms so as to get passed his $2 trillion stimulus package, President Biden is leading the NATO charge against Russia. The 2020 election was won by Biden on his promise to focus on a domestic agenda designed to rectify several of the injustices that have long plagued US society. Getting passed by the US Congress his $2 trillion social justice stimulus is essential for the US President to achieve this. That priority appears to have been forgotten in the White House obsession with Putin. The USSR-US Cold War 1.0 may have ended in 1991 but its ghosts still haunt much of the thinking in Washington. Wall Streeter and economist Larry Summers ignores the havoc the Ukraine war is causing and repeats that the need is to double down on prolonging the conflict. This despite the fact that the war is causing the very inflation that Summers incessantly warns about. Meanwhile, NSA Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are busying themselves in trying to win over Beijing. Defense Secretary Llyod Austin in contrast talks about “standing up to China” in a way his own colleagues fail to do. Commander-in-Chief Biden is seeking a personal meeting with Xi Jinping in the belief that the latter will help the White House rein in Putin from prosecuting a war that is boosting the strategic interests of the PRC. What is obvious to those not in thrall to nursery tales and fables is that Biden needs to ensure that the war in Ukraine ends soonest, which is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seeking for over three months and counting. What is lost by Ukraine is lost, and the longer the war carries on, the more will be lost to Russia, the more will be the cost to the globe. An early conclusion to the war, by removal of the life support provided by NATO to Ukraine may seem unjust. Yet that sacrifice is needed to prevent the world from going in for economic and societal turmoil that would be inevitable should the conflict continue. An end to the war and the attendant US-UK-EU sanctions would immediately send oil and gas prices down, damp down inflation and boost economic prospects as well as food security. In a choice between evils, such an option is the lesser evil. If done in time, its effects may even ensure that the US House and Senate after the 2022 midterms is such as to pass the legislation on the $ 2 trillion stimulus that is essential for stability in the US. Getting that passed after his party wins in the midterms ought to be President Biden’s obsession rather than his quixotic quest for securing the defeat of Russia in Ukraine, and the removal from the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin.

Monday 20 June 2022

Kim Jong Un edges towards a nuclear test in North Korea (The Sunday Guardian)

Given the low probability of high-level negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang soon taking place, those in the first circle of power around Supreme Commander Kim, who favour a nuclear test, appear to be prevailing.


NEW DELHI: Speculation is rising in key capitals that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is on the verge of testing a newly developed thermonuclear device. Authorities there believe that a fresh nuclear test would be advantageous in view of the impasse being faced with an unresponsive Biden administration. There has been an absence of any forward movement by President Biden on talks with the DPRK aimed at reducing tensions in the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, there is no progress on removal of the US sanctions imposed over the years on the DPRK. Such stasis has confirmed the view of hawks in Pyongyang that what is actually sought by the US-Japan alliance is the downfall of the Kim dynasty that has ruled the country since its founding in 1948. After such a change at the top, the calculation that is believed to have been made in Tokyo and Washington is that a new leader of North Korea would (as a consequence of the aftershocks of the fall of the Kim dynasty) be amenable to the elimination of the nuclear program, unlike the stand taken by the Kim family. Given that North Korea is considered to have built up nuclear weapons and delivery capability sufficient to obliterate US bases in Japan, Guam and Hawaii, it is seen in Pyongyang as axiomatic that the Biden administration would not go to war as a consequence of resumed nuclear testing. As for sanctions, the calculation is that a demonstration of enhanced DPRK nuclear capability would increase rather than reduce prospects of US-DPRK talks to lower the rise in tensions caused by a resumption of testing. A fresh test, in Pyongyang’s view, as conveyed by sources spoken to, would highlight the “wrongness of believing that sanctions can shake the iron resolve of Supreme Commander (Kim Jong Un) to ensure security” for the DPRK through nuclear capability. Another nuclear test (of a more advanced device) would, in the thinking within the first circle of power in Pyongyang, be a reality check to the “daydream

ers and evil schemers who believe that they can scare into submission the Supreme Commander (Kim Jong Un) by threats of war or more sanctions”.

These sources point to the numerous personality traits that Kim Jong Un shares with his grandfather Kim Il Sung, who founded the dynasty that has thus far ruled North Korea. Judging by his invasion of the South, it is evident that Kim Il Sung was a risk taker who had immense confidence in the resilience and capabilities of both himself and the people he led. Interestingly, several in the Korean peninsula believe that a part of the DNA of the Korean people originated in India courtesy a Royal Princess and her retinue, who is said to have moved to Korea millennia ago. The noble ladies who accompanied the princess from India (who was probably from a coastal area) are said to have married into the Korean aristocracy of the time. Having waited more than a year for Washington under the Biden administration to enter into “realistic and equal” negotiations with Pyongyang, nuclear restraint in that capital seems to be on the way out. This is especially so after numerous missile launches have failed to persuade the White House to restart talks, including on the subject of sanctions. Of significance is the claim that the DPRK (according to the sources spoken to) appears to have made a breakthrough in the type of nuclear device that the country is capable of producing and deploying. What appears to be a functional ICBM has been test launched since Joe Biden became the 46th President of the US. Now “all that remains is to show that the rocket can be armed with a nuclear device of sufficient destructive capability to deter even thoughts of attack” in the minds of either Japanese or US leaders. What has generated considerable “anger and doubt” in the first circle of policy in Pyongyang, which includes the “fiercely loyal, patriotic and capable” sister of the Supreme Commander, Kim Yo-jong. Suspicion about US intentions aimed at regime change has been reinforced by the refusal of the White House to have permitted a peace treaty between the DPRK and the RoC, despite the former President of the RoC favouring such a move. His successor Yoon Seok-youl has walked away from his predecessor’s accommodative stance and aligned himself fully with the Washington-Tokyo hard line on North Korea.

Kim Jong Un has been going ahead at accelerating speed despite US-led sanctions with the DPRK’s nuclear and missile development. Evidence of the capability and resilience of the Korean people as a whole is present in the spectacular economic success of the southern part of the peninsula, the Republic of Korea (RoC). Given the nature of the Kim regime, acquiring accurate information about its inner workings is problematic, but sources known in the past to be accurate claim that the only window for ending the DPRK’s nuclear and missile program voluntarily was during the period when Kim Jong Il was in charge of the DPRK after the passing of his father Kim Il Sung in 1994. The problem was, according to the sources communicated with, that the Clinton administration negotiators were insistent on North Korea completing the decommissioning of its nuclear and missile program before the US went ahead with significant sanctions relief. The sanctions relief offered in advance of complete fulfillment of US demands were merely cosmetic, high on symbolism but low on substance. The excuse trotted out by Clinton era negotiators was that it was “politically impossible” for President Clinton to give more upfront relief to the DPRK, as there would be adverse opinion even within the Democratic Party at any such substantive concession. Whatever the reasons, the best (non-kinetic) chance available for the denuclearisation of North Korea was passed up during the period of the Clinton administration. As for seeking denuclearisation through kinetic means, by the time Barack Obama stepped down as President of the US in 2017, advances in nuclear and missile systems by the DPRK made what was an improbable into an impossible option.

Even during the Trump presidency, sources aver that DPRK Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il knew “from the start” that he was being asked to carry out “irreversible actions in exchange for just promises of relief” by the US. Steps that could swiftly be reversed once the DPRK had carried out its part of such a (in the view of the first circle in Pyongyang) one-sided bargain. According to these sources, some of the comments being made by “influential theoreticians” in Tokyo and Washington during the Trump-era DPRK-US negotiations made it very likely that such a snapback of US concessions would take place once the DPRK trustingly delivered, on some “silly pretext”. The George W. Bush presidency was regarded by the other side as a period of intensified efforts at “forcing rather than persuading” the other side to make irreversible commitments in exchange for cosmetic concessions by the US. Such a zig (of progress in talks being followed by the zag of reversal of gains) continued during the Obama period. It seemed as though the 44th President of the US had left the matter to his staff rather than get personally invested in securing a binding agreement in the manner President Trump later was. The consequence was that the Obama staffers who were engaged in negotiations substantively followed the Clinton-Bush line, offering only “small steps forward in exchange for big steps backward (from the nuclear and missile program)” by the DPRK. During the Trump presidency, the perception on the other side was that the US President was never on the same page as key staff members, “many of whom wore scornful expressions on their faces (even while President Trump was speaking)”. The difference in “mood and tone” between President Trump and his key associates that was tracked by the other side strengthened the impression that President Trump was not politically or administratively truly in charge, and was “not strong enough to carry out any of the promises that he brought to the discussions in the manner of flower petals”.

Once Kim Jong Un took charge in 2011, the window of opportunity available during the period in office of his predecessor Kim Jong Il for any voluntary reversal of the DPRK nuclear weapons program effectively closed. The new Supreme Commander of North Korea, from the start, was clear that the DPRK “needed to be treated as an equal of the US”. This included at least tacit acceptance of its nuclear status. In the view of the North Korean leadership, a credible nuclear deterrent was an indispensable component of regime security for the Kim dynasty. The Korean nation, “once unified, must be a nuclear weapons power for the world to show it respect” was the view of the inner ring of the North Korean leadership, according to the sources accessed. In the meantime, what was in effect on offer by Pyongyang was a non-aggression pact between the US plus allies and the DPRK, in which neither side would mobilise (much less use) conventional or non-conventional (as distinct from asymmetric) weapons against the other. The Trump-Kim talks were, therefore, a non-starter ab initio, given the perceived inability of President Trump to ensure compliance from his staff to action any up-front concessions as evidence of US good faith where matters of regime security in the DPRK were concerned.

The founder of the dynasty, Kim Il Sung, is held to have sought to restore his country to what he regarded as its former glory. The cloak of communist doctrine was a means towards that, in that such a system favoured the authoritarian control that the Founder regarded as essential to steer a unified peninsula of the “noble Korean people” towards greatness. In contrast, democracies were seen as “unstable and chaotic”, terms that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping clearly concurs with. Reports reaching Pyongyang of “political and administrative conflicts, confusion and turmoil” in matters of policy and governance in the US during the Obama and Trump periods reinforced such a view. Such a situation was a contrast to the swift assertion of authority in China by Chairman Mao Zedong once the CCP took over China in 1949. The founder of the Kim dynasty, Kim Il Sung, sought from the start to unify the peninsula by force of arms. According to the sources accessed, Kim Il Sung, believed that the US would keep aloof from the conflict that he launched against South Korea in 1950. Kim believed that US non-involvement would be the consequence of not wanting to tangle militarily with the USSR in Asia at a time when Washington was already facing headwinds from Moscow in Europe. To Kim’s surprise, despite advance warning being given to CPSU General Secretary Marshal Stalin about the impending attack, Soviet forces remained concentrated in Europe. It was thereby made clear to all sides that the USSR would not intervene militarily should there be a war between the DPRK and the US in the Korean peninsula. The North Korean side was convinced that prior knowledge of Soviet forbearance in the matter of entering the Korean war militarily was crucial in President Harry S. Truman’s decision to intervene after DPRK forces overwhelmed the defences of the RoC.
The initial successes of US forces were leading to the unification of Korea, but under the RoC and not the DPRK. This was when General Douglas MacArthur disregarded the warning given by PRC Premier Zhou Enlai through Indian diplomats that the PLA would enter the war, should US troops move to the Yalu (Amarok) river. The entry of the PLA into the conflict was ordered by Mao Zedong, who, according to those in Beijing familiar with the thinking of the “Great Helmsman”, was of the view that General Douglas MacArthur would press on past the Yalu into the PRC in order to create a base from which US and KMT forces would seek to wrest back China from the control of the CCP. Some of the statements made by General MacArthur in the initial process of operations in Korea are seen as not contradicting but reinforcing this view in Zhongnanhai. In contrast to his father, Kim Jong Il was not expansionist, and was therefore more cautious. In contrast, his son Kim Jong Un has, according to the sources accessed, “treasured in his mind” the objective of Kim Il Sung for a unified Korea. The present leader of North Korea has set a far more ambitious goal for himself than simply his father’s focus on regime survival. Following the path of not his father but his grandfather, Kim Jong Un wants to unify the Korean peninsula under his leadership. Kim Jong Un has, according to the sources accessed, less than full confidence that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, unlike Chairman Mao, would intervene militarily to assist the DPRK in the event of a kinetic conflict between North Korea and the US-Japan alliance. The 2022 Ukraine war has strengthened Kim Jong Un’s belief that only the acquisition of capability to reach both coasts of the continental US with nuclear weapons is sufficient to deter the White House from sending another MacArthur to Korea to expand what (policymakers in Pyongyang believe) is already a comprehensive thus far non-kinetic war by the US-Japan alliance against the DPRK. The insistence by Washington of “irreversible steps” to DPRK nuclear disarmament even to get “symbolic and cosmetic” concessions is seen in the North Korean capital as proof that the Biden administration is following the same playbook used by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama against Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi (and later attempted with unsuccessfully against Bashar Assad). This is to “ensure the destruction of the offensive capabilities of the adversary through negotiations before attacking it in a fatal blow” against a now “defenceless foe”.

While President Donald J. Trump was attacked by political adversaries as having conceded much for little simply by agreeing to meet Kim Jong Un, the DPRK side was disappointed that throughout “it was the Bolton line that was being pushed” behind (in their view powerless) “President Trump and his friendly face”. Then National Security Advisor (NSA) John Bolton was clear that a “Libyan solution” was what was needed in North Korea. This revived memories in the first circle of the final moments of Muammar Gaddafi, images of which have been watched over and over again in Pyongyang, including the glee in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s expression at the savage manner in which the Libyan dictator was executed. There was no desire in Pyongyang to watch similar expressions appear on the faces of US officials once their objective of ensuring a “Libyan solution” was achieved by the US under the cover of President Trump’s show of friendship. Simply put, the conclusion reached after the failure of President Trump’s doomed mission to charm “Rocket Man” into handing over his nuke capabilities to the US was that only the North Korean nuclear deterrent was preventing the “Pentagon and CIA” from attempting regime change through war against the DPRK in the manner carried out in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and attempted in Syria. And of what use is a deterrent unless its potency is demonstrated in public? The view in the first circle of leadership, according to the sources accessed, is that “the low level” (of US) officials attempting negotiations under President Biden indicates the “lack of seriousness to remove the poison that has been injected (by previous administrations)”.


Given the low probability of high-level negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang soon taking place, those in the first circle of power around Supreme Commander Kim who favour a nuclear test appear to be prevailing in the ongoing argument over whether the nuclear device newly developed by the DPRK should be tested soon or not. If Kim Jong Un accepts such a view, the test by the DPRK of a thermonuclear device will take place before long. Once that happens, even to the hardline new administration in Seoul, the view on the other side of the 38th parallel is that it would become clear that policies based on going along with US-Japan efforts at regime change in Pyongyang would only lead to “unbearable rise in tensions and a cloud of crisis and uncertainty” that would affect economic prospects in South Korea severely. For those in Washington, Tokyo and perhaps Seoul who are eager to punish the people of North Korea by harsher sanctions for the decisions of their unelected government, it may be pointed out that sanctions have not worked in stopping the nuclear and missile programmes of the DPRK. Neither, halfway across the world, have they succeeded in deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking control of more and more territory in Ukraine, even as the disastrous effects across continents of the escalating Biden-Johnson sanctions on Russia push up global inflation and shortages, and bring Johnson and Biden closer towards a political meltdown. 

Kim Jong Un edges towards a nuclear test in North Korea

Saturday 4 June 2022

After Solomons, Vanuatu is PLA’s next Pacific island base (The Sunday Guardian)


The carefully curated list of ten island countries visited by Wang Yi was chosen for having kinetic strike access to actual or potential military bases, especially of the Quad.


New Delhi: As has since the 1950s been the case in Pakistan, in the Xi era, the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) goes by the agenda set by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Ever since Xi Jinping took over as CCP General Secretary in 2012, the PLA has been placed in the forefront of policy, the reverse of what took place during the era of Deng Xiaoping, when PLA influence over other fields of government was curtailed. Advanced planning for a kinetic conflict on land, sea, space, cyberspace and air with the United States and its allies has been the primary preoccupation of the PLA since 2015. Strategies have been worked out within the Central Military Commission (CMC) to inflict a “politically unacceptable” cost to US forces. In Vietnam, although the US military could have continued the war against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong for longer, Ho Chi Minh succeeded in making the political cost to the White House of such a continuation unbearable. Ironically, Henry A. Kissinger, who persuaded President Richard M. Nixon to prolong the war for three more bloody years rather than speedily deliver on Nixon’s electoral promise of peace, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Presumably, this was for his success in population control in Southeast Asia. Given the slowdown in the PRC economy and the effect this is having especially on middle income living standards across China, CCP Supremo Xi needs a victory on the battlefield against India or Taiwan to prevent the unease within party cadres at the quality of his leadership. To ensure this, the PLA is planning to build a system of “defensive offense” across the locations where such a contest may most likely take place: the Himalayan ranges, the South China Sea and the Pacific segment of the Indo-Pacific.
Securing bases in the Pacific island countries is an essential part of Xi’s plans. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s 10-nation trip through the Pacific islands was to ensure that besides the Solomon Islands, other Pacific island countries could be persuaded to sign agreements that would permit PLA berthing, landing, storage and maintenance facilities that would be helpful in the advent of a conflict with the US and its allies.
A comprehensive list of presently disused World War II airports and present and potential naval berthing facilities in the island countries has been drawn up by the CMC for Wang Yi to take up. These are locations that the CMC believes would be desirable for the PLA (including the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force) to secure sole access on a permanent basis. They have been listed in the notes given by the Office of the General Secretary on the advice of the Central Military Commission (CMC) to Wang Yi. The carefully curated list of ten island countries visited by the PRC Foreign Minister were chosen by the CMC on the grounds of (a) having at decision-making levels a sufficient number of individuals who are beholden to the PRC, (b) having kinetic strike access to actual or potential military bases, especially of the Quad, and (c) already having a significant number of resident or long transit PRC citizens located there. Prime Minister Sogavare of the Solomon Islands is as reliable a “dear friend” of the PRC as are former Prime Minister Oli of Nepal, Former President Yameen of the Maldives and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. The problem for Sogavare and his patrons in Beijing is that the country’s largest province, Malaita, is under the control of the elected Prime Minister, Daniel Suidani. He is opposed to the Solomon Islands becoming a vassal state of the PRC. Premier Suidani has been campaigning against such a sellout by the ruling group of politicians in Honiara, the national capital. Unfortunately for him, the tentacles of the Sino-Wahabi lobby in Australia and New Zealand have ensured that Suidani has not been given any backing by either Auckland or Canberra in his campaign against the Sogavare doctrine, which is that what is good for the PRC is good for the Solomon Islands. Even Quad partner India appears to be looked upon with caution in Canberra, so much so that influential persons in the Pacific island nations needing to make a transit stop in Australia, en route to destinations in India, get subjected to unexplained visa delays and queries by Australian authorities. Given the power and resources of the Sino-Wahabi lobby, such a situation is likely to continue until a direct flight gets launched between India and Fiji, a country that does not require a visa for citizens of the Pacific island countries. There are India-friendly individuals in many of these island nations who are willing to serve as Honorary Consuls of India, and some have sent requests for such appointments to South Block, but as yet, with no success.

Members of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in Beijing, on 30 September 2021. REUTERS

This may change, however. Close relations between India and the Pacific island countries is reported to be a priority of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and it is therefore expected that proposals for the appointment of at least a few Honorary Consuls in key Pacific island countries such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga will finally be actioned in a context where there has been excessive reliance on Australia where relations with this group of countries in the Indo-Pacific are concerned. In actuality, Canberra and Auckland have made themselves unpopular within the group, as their diplomats are considered overbearing and patronizing, a fault that Beijing has sought to take advantage of. India’s advantage is that in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country has a Head of Government who is respectful of all countries, and who demonstrates in his attitude and diplomacy a stance of complete equality, no matter what the disparity in size and population of the country concerned and India may be.
Although as yet the Pacific islands as a group have declined to be drawn into the PLA embrace, Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been successful during his visit in the signing of a protocol between Vanuatu and the PRC. The document provides for assistance, such as an exhaustive survey of the seabed around the island country (and nearby) areas by the PRC Directorate of Hydrology. Such mapping would be helpful for future naval operations, as also in accessing the seabed resources of the zone that is to be comprehensively surveyed. Wang Yi has secured Vanuatu’s agreement for twice weekly flights from the Chinese mainland to and from Vanuatu. Such flights “would be increased once traffic on the route grows” as a consequence of PLA personnel and members of the security agencies, besides PRC citizens looking to establish deep roots in the islands, making regular visits to the newly established PRC facilities in Vanuatu. A naval vessel is to be gifted to the island country, in exchange for which coast guard officers of Vanuatu will be “comprehensively trained” by PLAN officers. In three of the islands that are part of Vanuatu, “humanitarian aid” warehouses and storage complexes are to be set up. Any checking of what “humanitarian assistance” is arriving from the PRC to these facilities would of course be done by Chinese authorities. Such assistance may be of the same type as the humanitarian assistance being sent to Ukraine by the US and its EU partners in NATO, much of which is produced by armaments manufacturers. Under the protocol, the PRC has contracted to set up an intrusion-proof communication system for the “internal security of the friendly nation of Vanuatu”. Such a network would give Chinese agencies access to messaging via communications systems across a wide swathe of territory, possibly including countries other than the Pacific island countries. In order to ensure speedy deployment of PRC police and military forces wherever needed in the nation, a network of roads is being set up. This is entered in the protocol as part of the PRC effort at “promoting development in friendly Vanuatu”. Neither Canberra nor Auckland, much less Washington, seems to be willing to react in the manner necessary to prevent the building of such stepping stones towards a robust PLA kinetic and non-kinetic capacity in the Pacific islands. These would be in preparation for possible US and allied intervention in the event of an attempted takeover by the PRC of Taiwan, or moves by the military and asymmetric forces acting under the direction of the CMC guided by Xi Jinping Thought to create a chokehold for traffic within the South China and East China Seas. Whether President Biden will get over his obsession with punishing Putin in time for him and his partners in the region to ensure that such outcomes be prevented remains an open question. What is certain is that the consequences of President Joe Biden’s Putin obsession will be much greater than the fallout caused by a similar emotion in President George W. Bush towards Saddam Hussein. Interesting times beckon.