03.03.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi Visits the US

345345345345The widespread, genuine interest in the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the USA, undertaken on February 23-25 of this year, was sparked by the unceasing escalation of the situation in the areas adjoining the eastern coast of the People’s Republic of China. The current situation is fraught with direct confrontation between the two leading world powers. It is highly likely that the countries of Northeastern and Southeastern Asia would also be involved in the dispute should it develop further.

It is of particular note that the Ministers have met for the third time this month. This is a clear sign of the severity of the problem at both the bilateral level, in terms of China-United States relations, and at the global level, where this duo is perceived as playing a “special role.”

The statements Wang Yi and John Kerry made in the course of their meeting are posted on the site of the State US Department and provide an insight into the meeting’s content. The speech Wang Yi delivered to the employees of a leading American “think tank”, the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, is also an important source of “food for thought.”

Up until recently, the foreign policy of the two countries was focused on the southern part of the aforementioned area. However, in recent months, the processes in the eastern and northern parts have been watched with the same degree of alertness. This is quite natural in light of the potential escalation of the situation in the Taiwan Strait and rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

This does not mean, however, that the recent changes in the South China Sea region were not a priority on the agenda of Wang Yi and John Kerry. In fact, the steps that the chief participants of the risky political game took in recent weeks did nothing to bring relief to the South China Sea region.

For example, on January 30, a US navy missile destroyer passed within 12 miles of one of the artificial islands de facto controlled by China. This incident was protested by the Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China. Two weeks later John Kerry said, “There is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another,” on the islands of the South China Sea. He also made it clear that this problem would be discussed during the forthcoming meeting with Wang Yi.

As for the Taiwan Strait, the situation described as a “stable uncertainty” remains unchanged there. It developed after Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party she heads won the presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2016.

Beijing, Washington and Tokyo (i.e., the chief players in the situation unfolding around Taiwan) as well as Taipei are refraining from steps that could abruptly disturb the current status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Its stability will, apparently, be tested right after Tsai Ing-wen is sworn in as President of Taiwan in the coming May.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating very rapidly. It went from a state of “delicate equilibrium” in the first six months of the last year to that of “a sharp decline” in the last six months. Two events: the testing of a nuclear (or thought to be nuclear) device conducted by North Korea on January 6, 2016 and putting a satellite into orbit with a rocket launch on February 7, marked the lowest point in recent negative relations.

The author of this article believes that these actions were honest (perhaps provoked) blunders of Pyongyang’s foreign policy, since none of the participants of the political game in Northeast Asia (Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing) benefited from them. Both North and South Korea are among the losers because the subsequent escalation of tension on the peninsula will make the prospects of resolving the major problem of all Koreans—the division of the single nation—even more elusive.

The prospects of establishing relations with North Korea (ever more important in view of its complicated relations with South Korea) are “slipping through Japan’s fingers“. In 2012-2014, using the “problem of abductees” as a pretext, Tokyo and Pyongyang began probing for a way to establish closer relations.

Now that Pyongyang has declared that it is no longer interested in the rapprochement (in response to Japan’s accession to the sanctions against North Korea), Tokyo has lost its opportunity to establish connections with North Korea for the foreseeable future. This twist of fate will definitely be lauded by Washington, (and, perhaps, by Beijing).

Losses suffered by China will be discussed a little later since, first, the beneficiary of the turmoil on the Korean Peninsula should be identified. Quite predictably, it was Washington. The world’s chief policeman that put itself in charge of the planet after the end of the Cold War has once again appeared on the stage of the global political theater playing the character of principle sheriff against “international law offenders.”

But besides benefiting from its “fair guy” image, Washington also saw one of its key strategic problems in the western part of the Pacific Ocean resolved following the North Korean nuclear missile test. Now its “advanced position” in the escalating confrontation with China is secured. Who would dare to even hint that the US should withdraw its troops from South Korea now, in the face of the alleged “nuclear threat” posed by the “North Korean nut”?

As for (the alleged) North Korean missile nuclear capabilities to deter the US, it is clear as day that should a necessity arise, one pre-emptive air strike would decide its fate. More than 30 years ago the effectiveness of pre-emptive strikes was demonstrated in the Middle East, and since then, that effectiveness has only grown.

In other words, the US is cashing in on the (alleged) North Korean nuclear potential in terms of maintaining its security at zero risk.

There is, of course, a (hypothetical) problem of the leakage of nuclear missile technologies from North Korea to other countries. But Pyongyang can hardly be the main reason of the de facto failure of the international nuclear non-proliferation program.

It looks like Washington had an ace up its sleeve, and John Kerry, apparently, put it on the table during the meeting with Wang Yi. He most probably said something along those lines, “Dear honorable chief geopolitical opponent. You have your people in Pyongyang, who (and there is no point in denying it), apparently, have gone crazy. Do something with these nuts. Either yourselves, or with us in the United Nations Security Council.” This monologue would fit nicely in the trend of Beijing’s growing irritation with its uncontrollable “younger brother” (North Korea).

But China supported the rather tough UN resolution on North Korea drafted by the US not only because of problems with its “younger brother” that had “gotten out of hand” and violated prohibitive resolutions of the UN Security Council (China being a permanent member).

In the recent months, the US surprised China with another ace in the hole. This time it was leaked information about the possible deployment of an “intermediate range” ballistic missile defense in South Korea with the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. What purpose did it pursue in playing this card? Naturally, to “neutralize another of Pyongyang’s threats.”

It is highly unlikely that this perspective would have catastrophic consequences for the Chinese nuclear missile deterrence strategy against the US. Primarily, because China has been transferring its nuclear potential to nuclear submarines. However, that John Kerry demonstrated this ace in the meeting to “increase” Wang Yi’s “flexibility” is beyond doubt. Most probably, the draft resolution on North Korea was coordinated right there and then.

In the opinion of the author of this article, the last series of nuclear missile tests were, most probably, carried out by Pyongyang out of despair. It conducted them to demonstrate its dissatisfaction with the results of the backstage negotiations “on the problem of elimination of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula” (allegedly, Washington is very much concerned about this topic). Pyongyang was most probably bargaining for a more or less acceptable outcome for itself there. Perhaps the test was Pyongyang’s last trump card in the political game unrolling on the Peninsula, but the move turned out to be “one card short of a deck.”

In the past, North Korean leadership was able to make the right moves in the escalating political game forced upon them in 2008. It started when President Lee Myung-bak, not unfairly called an “American puppet” by Pyongyang, came to power in South Korea. In particular, North Korea managed to ride out the storm that erupted after the previous nuclear missile test.

But the recent test was conducted at the wrong time, and North Korea will have to pay a hefty price for it. Pyongyang could make this sobering conclusion from the results of Wang Yi’s visit to the US.

It has to be admitted that the designs of the major global player were not devoid of mastery this time. It used manipulations to confuse its victims causing them to make errors in difficult situations developing in crisis spots.

There is great skill demonstrated in ignoring the letter of “international law” (yet, usually, without any formal violation). It is only the winner in the previous global conflict, coined “the Cold War”, and the superpower managing the contemporary world order that can act in such a manner.

Everybody had better accept the key provision of the “realpolitik” (that cares little about moral aspects of human life) before getting involved in risky geopolitical games. North Korea got itself into hot water mostly because it underestimated the importance of “being compliant” with the “current world order.”

Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

Please select digest to download: