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Will North Korea Conduct Intercontinental Missile Test?

Within hours of Kim Jong Un’s televised New Year’s address, the Pentagon issued a statement urging countries to impose “consequences” on North Korea should it test a ballistic missile. The North’s leader suggested his regime will soon conduct an “intercontinental ballistic rocket launch,” which appears to be code for a missile test prohibited by the UN Security Council. 

Donald Trump also reacted. On Monday, he suggested the young Kim will not make good on his first boast of 2017. “It won’t happen!” declared the president-elect in a tweet.

Kim has three missiles—the Taepodong-2, the KN-08, and the KN-14—capable of reaching the lower 48 states. None of them is thought to be reliable or accurate. But a test firing, especially an unsuccessful one, will provide Kim’s technicians with data to help them correct deficiencies.

Did Trump Renew the Nuclear Arms Race?

“Can a tweet start an arms race?” asked Joseph Cirincione of the Plowshares Fund. “This one may just have done that.”

Arms-control advocate Cirincione was referring to President-elect Donald Trump, who declared last Thursday on Twitter that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Trump’s statement was right on the mark, even if it lacked months of interagency review. And, no, it did not start another competition to build the world’s most destructive weapons. That contest, unfortunately, is already under way.

Many wonder why the president-elect, seemingly out of the blue, would tweet about this subject.

China’s Smog Refugees Flee Poisonous Air

Much of northeastern China was under an air emergency the early part of this week, with 460 million people affected according to one estimate. On Tuesday, 24 cities had posted the red alert signal.

Under the alert, Tianjin closed all roadways leading to the city but one. In next-door Beijing, more than 700 enterprises stopped production. Airports cancelled flights as planes could not land in the goop. Governments warned people not to go outside. Even short travel to North China, a friend wrote to me this week, is a “Death Warrant.”

No surprise North China’s residents are temporarily leaving the region, making them “smog refugees.” As the South China Morning Post reports, “Legions of Beijing residents are fleeing the capital and heading south in search of cleaner air as the year’s worst smog lays siege to the city.”

Will China Retaliate Over Trump’s Taiwan Moves?

American businesses seem concerned they could be subject to Chinese retaliation for the recent pro-Taiwan moves of President-elect Donald Trump.

And there is reason for apprehension. On December 2, Trump took a call from Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen. The Trump staff summary of the conversation reports the president-elect called Tsai “President of Taiwan,” suggesting he considered the island a sovereign state, a position anathema to Beijing.

Moreover, on Sunday in comments to Chris Wallace of Fox News, Trump questioned whether he was bound by America’s One-China policy, thought to be the foundation upon which relations have developed since 1979 when Washington broke off formal relations with Taipei.

Will China Shrink in 2018, Ten Years Ahead of Schedule?

The South China Morning Post recently reported that Chinese demographers expect their country’s population to peak in 2018. That year is a full decade earlier than the highpoint projected in the UN’s most recent estimates and is yet another indication that China’s demographic problems are accelerating.

And there is little relief in sight. The official National Bureau of Statistics reports that China’s total fertility rate or TFR, the number of births per woman living through childbearing age, was a stunningly low 1.05 last year, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

A New Way of Looking at China

“I continue to believe that a constructive US-China relationship benefits our two peoples and benefits the entire globe,” said President Obama before beginning his meeting with Xi Jinping in Lima on Saturday. “And the structure and framework of cooperation, the frequent meetings and consultations that we’ve established I think have been extremely productive.” 

The meeting in the Peruvian capital with his Chinese counterpart was undoubtedly the final one of his term.

Obama, although expressing concerns, could nonetheless not stop talking about cooperation between his country and Xi’s. Yet after so many opportunities to exchange views—this was the ninth meeting of the two since Xi became the Communist Party’s general secretary in November 2012—China’s behavior has deteriorated, almost across the board. 

Taiwan's Hung Hsiu-chu Freelances with China's Xi on 'One China'

On the first of this month, Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping met his counterpart from Taiwan’s Kuomintang, Hung Hsiu-chu, in Beijing. It was the first time the two spoke to one another as heads of their respective political parties.

The event highlights the continuing failure of Beijing, for all its evident power, to have its way with Taiwan. 

During their meeting, both Xi and Hung expressed full support for the so-called 1992 Consensus, an understanding that there is only one China, that Taiwan is a part of that country, and that Beijing and Taiwan have their own interpretations of the situation.

The Communist Party believes Beijing is the sole legitimate government of that “one China,” while the KMT, as the Kuomintang is commonly known, maintains Taipei is.

China’s Meddling Sparks Hong Kong Protests

Residents of Hong Kong spilled out into the streets Sunday in two separate demonstrations—one of them violent—to protest an impending ruling further restricting the city’s autonomy.

The incidents highlight Beijing’s increasingly hardline and inept handling of Hong Kong, one of China’s Special Administrative Regions.

Estimates vary, but on Sunday afternoon between 8,000 and 13,000 residents marched from the Wanchai to Central districts to protest the anticipated interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. An unruly group of perhaps 4,000 gathered in front of Beijing’s Liaison Office in the Sai Wan district that evening.

Duterte's Claims of Diplomatic Success Are Premature

On Sunday, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that, contrary to earlier reports, Chinese vessels had not left the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. He said, however, China was allowing Filipino fisherman near the contested feature.

The opening of the shoal was an important achievement for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after his visit to Beijing earlier this month.

Lorenzana said that at least four of China’s coast guard craft were still around Scarborough, which is just 124 nautical miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon. The feature, just rocks forming a coral lagoon, guards the mouths to strategic Manila and Subic bays. The shoal is about 550 nautical miles from the closest Chinese landmass, Hainan Island.

China’s Xi Jinping Creating Succession Turmoil

On Monday, China’s Communist Party began its Sixth Plenum, a closed-door four-day gathering during which the party is considering disciplinary rules and membership standards.

The meeting is also a run-up to next year’s crucial 19th Party Congress, where various succession issues will be decided. And, because some believe that General Secretary Xi Jinping is attempting to break decades-old norms designed to ensure stability and continuity, the meeting will be scrutinized for clues as to the degree to which he has consolidated power inside the ruling organization.

Deng Xiaoping, the successor to founder Mao Zedong, sought to regularize the succession process. He and his successor, Jiang Zemin, put in place various guidelines designed to reduce the scope of disagreement as power passes from one ruler to the next. One such guideline was limiting the party’s general secretary, the most powerful post in China, to two five-year terms.

China Claims Three Straight Quarters Growth at 6.7%

On Wednesday, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that China’s gross domestic product in the third calendar quarter of this year grew 6.7%. That is the same rate that was announced for the two most recent quarters.

As Mark Magnier reports in the Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, the three quarters of identical growth “was the first time since Beijing started releasing quarterly figures in 1992 that it had achieved such a feat of consistency.” “It’s quite implausible,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics to the paper.

The news, however, is not that the People’s Republic of China is fabricating statistics. That, after all, has occurred almost since the founding of the Chinese communist state in 1949. The news is that the constant repetition of Beijing claims seems to be defining the global narrative even though those claims might brazenly overstate China’s true economic performance.

China’s PLA Faces Budget Cuts, Soldiers Protest

On Tuesday, more than a thousand demobilized soldiers, wearing green fatigues, staged a protest in Beijing across from the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense.

China’s People’s Liberation Army faces increasingly severe budget constraints, and there has already been grumbling not only from former soldiers but also from currently serving senior officers.

The demonstrators arrived early Tuesday morning and stayed late into the evening. In the interim, they sang patriotic songs, waved national flags, and demanded relief. “They protested because they don’t have a job now after serving a long period of time in the army, some for a dozen years,” said Liu Feiyue, editor of the civil rights Minsheng Guancha website, to the Associated Press. “They are asking for employment.”

Philippine President to Obama: 'Go to Hell' as Asia Alliance Deteriorates

“No, no, no, he did not say that at all,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay to reporters in Hanoi.

Yes, yes, yes, he did. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in fact said this in Vietnam on September 28, addressing the US: “You are scheduled to hold war games again which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now, this will be the last military exercise.”

You can understand Yasay’s attempt to smooth over what could end up the biggest blunder in his country’s post-colonial history. While Beijing threatens to dismember the Philippines, one island, rock, and shoal at a time, Duterte is trying to break the only thing that protects his country from Beijing, his military alliance with the United States. It would, of course, be difficult for the US to defend the Philippines if the Philippine and American militaries did not regularly exercise together.

China's Warplanes Stalk Japan, Unite Neighbors

On Sunday, the Chinese air force flew more than 40 aircraft through Japan’s Miyako Strait into the Western Pacific Ocean.

The exercise, involving H-6K bombers, Su-30 fighters, and tankers, is the largest of its kind for China through this airspace. Previous exercises involved fewer than 20 planes according to Li Jie, a military analyst based in Beijing.

China flew through the strait, an international passageway that separates the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, for the first time in May of last year.

China’s Ministry of National Defense, in a statement quoting air force spokesman Shen Jinke, said the planes Sunday flew “systematically” to conduct early warning, sudden assault, and refueling tasks. Shen noted the exercise was to protect China’s “sovereignty and security” and “maintain peaceful development.”

Making Humanitarian Aid Work in North Korea

North Korea is still reeling from what state media is calling the “worst disaster” since 1945.

Floods caused by Typhoon Lionrock at the end of last month have killed 138 at last count. Some 400 are missing, and 68,900 have been left homeless. The UN estimates 600,000 are in need of clean water and other essentials.

The wind and the rain have also split South Korean politicians and raised critical questions about humanitarian relief for horrific regimes.

On Monday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said, through spokesman Jeong Joon-hee, that Seoul would consider granting aid to the North only if it received a request from Pyongyang and that no such request had been received. Then he said that, even if North Korea asked for aid, it was unlikely the South Korean government would provide it. “God helps those who help themselves,” Jeong added.

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