China Defiant in Wake of Int'l Ruling on South China Sea

On the 12th of this month, an arbitral panel in The Hague rendered its award in the landmark case of Philippines vs. China. The decision, interpreting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, was a sweeping rebuke of Beijing’s position, invalidating its expansive “nine-dash line” claim to about 85 percent of the South China Sea.

Many are hoping that China will bring its claims into line with UNCLOS, as the UN pact is known, and some even think it has actually begun the process of doing so. Unfortunately, a series of hostile reactions in the last few days, including an implied threat to use nuclear weapons to defend its outposts in that body of water, suggest Beijing’s reaction will not be benign.  

China maintains it has sovereignty to all the features—islands, rocks, and low-tide elevations—inside its now-famous dotted boundary. Five other states—Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam—also claim those features, and China’s nine-dash line impinges on the exclusive economic zone of a sixth, Indonesia.

Asia Divisions Deepen after South Korean Missile Defense Deployment

On Friday, Seoul’s Defense Ministry and the US Defense Department announced their joint decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system in South Korea. The first battery will be placed to protect American forces on the peninsula against a North Korean missile attack.

China reacted within hours, lodging protests with both South Korea and the US. Then on Monday the Chinese foreign ministry continued its tantrum, threatening, in the words of spokesman Lu Kang, to impose “relevant measures” against South Korea.

South Korea’s deployment of THAAD, as the Lockheed Martin-built system is known, is a setback for Chinese attempts to move Seoul away from Washington and marks an end of President Park Geun-hye’s moves to entice China to abandon North Korea.

Expansionist China and Russia Deepen Ties

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met on the 25th of last month in Beijing and issued statements bound to upset their neighbors and the US. For instance, the two leaders, who are both using force to expand and secure their borders, drew upon Orwellian logic when they charged that the nations defending themselves are the ones destabilizing the international system, undermining “strategic stability,” as they put it.

Yet Putin and Xi typically issue provocative statements intended to intimidate neighbors and threaten the international order when they meet. The more important story of the one-day get-together is that the two countries remain on course to become “friends forever”—Xi’s words—and they are cementing that friendship with trade.

China Steps Up Provocations

Chinese incursions along its southern and eastern peripheries this month suggest an increase in the pace of territorial provocations.

On June 15, one of China’s intelligence-gathering ships entered Japan’s territorial waters in the wee hours of the morning. The Dongdiao-class vessel sailed near Kuchinoerabu Island and the larger Yakushima Island as it shadowed two Indian warships participating in the Malabar exercise with the US and Japan. The intrusion was the first since 2004, when a Chinese submarine entered Japan’s waters, and only the second by China since the end of the Second World War. Japan filed a protest, but China countered that it was transiting in compliance with international freedom of navigation rules. China's ship lingered for some 90 minutes, possibly in violation of international transit norms.

China Likely Cheating, Again, on North Korea Sanctions

“We are both determined to fully enforce the UN Security Council Resolution 2270,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, referring to China and the US. As hundreds of American and Chinese officials wrapped up this year’s installment of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in China’s capital, America’s top diplomat wanted the world to believe Beijing was complying with international sanctions on North Korea.

Resolution 2270 is the fifth set of coercive measures imposed by the Security Council on Pyongyang for its weapons programs.

So is Kerry telling us what is in fact the case or what he would like to be true? Unfortunately, it’s the latter. 

Beijing has been making the right noises about compliance. President Xi Jinping, for instance, pledged China would “completely and fully” enforce the UN’s coercive measures. 

US Pressures Kim Regime in North Korea

On Saturday, Pyongyang reacted to the Wednesday designation, by the US Treasury Department, of North Korea as a “primary money laundering concern” pursuant to Section 311 of the Patriot Act.

“North Korea is not frightened in the least by the US’s stereotypical method of labeling us as ‘money launders,’ not being content with already branding us as ‘nuclear proliferators,’ ‘human rights abusers,’ etc.,” said a spokesperson for the North Korean National Coordination Committee.

Pyongyang, despite the bravado of the statement, is undoubtedly concerned. The practical effect of the move is that banks and other financial institutions, both American and foreign, will not handle dollar transactions for Pyongyang’s entities and fronts. In all probability, these institutions will also shun dealings in other currencies for these customers.

Hiroshima, Japan, and the US

“We can tell our children a different story,” said President Obama on Friday, after detailing the horrors of the day, 71 years ago, in which a “flash of light and a wall of fire” led to the deaths of some 140,000 in Hiroshima.  

At the site of the first use of an atomic device in war, in Hiroshima, the American leader came to the Peace Memorial with messages for the future, one of them of disarmament. In the backdrop, was the Flame of Peace, first lit in 1964, which is supposed to remain burning until the world is free of nuclear weapons. While there, the president urged nations to give up their most destructive instruments of war.

American Hopes to Return to Prison Camp in North Korea

Since the Korean War, no American has spent longer in confinement in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea than Kenneth Bae. Yet Bae, released in 2014, wants to go back to see the guards who kept an eye on him in prison. As he told Seattle radio station KUOW on the 19th of this month, “I consider some of them as friends.” 

So is this a particularly bad case of Stockholm Syndrome? 

It’s not. Bae, a missionary, is out to educate the North Korean people, starting with those who kept him under lock and key in particularly harsh conditions.

During his confinement, Bae, a Southern Baptist minister, learned just how isolated North Korea has remained. Jesus Christ? One of his guards had never heard of him before. “Where does Jesus live?” his captor asked. “In China or North Korea?”

China’s Coming Demographic Crash

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reports that Beijing’s obstetrics wards are overflowing. The city, according to the Health and Family Planning Commission, expects  300,000 births this year, an increase of twenty percent or 50,000 over 2015. Xinhua estimates that 22 million babies will be born nationwide in 2016.  

Yet the talk about newborns seems to me a feeble attempt to mask a population crash that looms.  

Effective the beginning of this year, the Chinese central government relaxed the notorious one-child policy to permit two children per couple. The liberalization will increase the birth rate nationwide, but, apart from state media, few think the increase will halt a severe decline in population.

“It’s already too late,” says Yi Fuxian of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a critic of Chinese population policies. “China’s population is aging quickly and will start to shrink soon."

Kim Announces Vague Five-Year Economic Vitalization Plan

In his three-hour speech Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced his plan to vitalize the country’s beleaguered economy. “It is imperative to carry through the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020,” he said, according to Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s most authoritative newspaper.

Kim’s plan provides no tangible goals or overarching strategies, but the young leader, speaking at the Korean Workers’ Party 7th Congress, seemed to signal he was serious about economic development. His plan is the first since the Third Seven-Year Plan, which ended—two years late—in 1995.

Regardless of the absence of detail, Kim, by emphasizing the economy last week, essentially made himself accountable to a largely impoverished population that values prosperity far more than ideology. As is said these days, the North now has a “money culture.”

Great Power Confrontation in the South China Sea

On Friday in Beijing, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, presented a united stand against the US on a host of issues in their joint press conference.

Among the topics were Beijing’s territorial claims. “We are of the same view with Minister Lavrov that the disputes around the South China Sea should be settled peacefully through negotiations among the directly involved countries,” declared Wang. “We discussed the situation in the South China Sea,” Lavrov noted. “The Russian stance is invariable—these problems should not be internationalized—none of the external players should try to interfere in their settlement efforts.”

The irony, of course, is that Russia, a non-claimant, was involving itself by telling others not to involve themselves.

The US and Russia are not the only non-South China Sea states believing they have an interest in that contested body of water. India and, more recently, Japan have also made their presence felt, sending ships through what they consider to be a part of the global commons.

China’s ‘Triple Bubble’ Economy Poised to Burst

After a nearly disastrous start to the year in January and February, China’s economy steadied itself in March. Now, the early April indicators suggest a continuation of the uptick.

The China bulls, however, are premature in their projections of a sustained recovery. To the contrary, the economy appears poised to be a default or two away from a world-shaking crash.

When economic indicators look too good to be true, as China’s now do, they signal trouble ahead. There are two principal reasons why the present circumstances are cause for alarm. 

South Korea, US Can’t Wait for Beijing to Approve Missile Defense

On Monday, a South Korean official implored Beijing to understand his government’s desire to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, THAAD as the missile-defense system is known.

“I hope to ask China’s understanding of what Korea is feeling about the North Korean threat,” said Shin Beomchul, director general for policy planning of the Foreign Ministry, to an audience in Washington, D.C. “It is not the usual threat, it is a nuclear threat. That’s very serious. We are now in the live-or-die situation.”

To deal with this existential nuclear threat, the occupant of the Blue House has attempted various approaches during her tenure. President Park Geun-hye began her term with the “trustpolitik” policy of building trust with Pyongyang. When that failed, she started to speak of a unified and democratic Korean state.

China Takes Custody of Taiwan Nationals in Kenya

On Tuesday, Beijing took custody of 37 Taiwan nationals in Kenya and flew them to China. This followed China’s taking of eight other Taiwan citizens from that country on Saturday.

Nairobi said the 45 were "deported," but Minister Hsia Li-yan of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council used the term “rude and savage.” “Savage” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the apprehension of the individuals, who arrived in China in hoods and handcuffs, appears to have been an “extrajudicial abduction,” as Taipei first termed it. In any event, the incident undercuts the spirit of cooperation embodied in the 2009 Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement.

Did Trigger-Happy North Korea Take a Shot at China?

On March 29, North Korea launched a projectile from a location near the port city of Wonsan. The ballistic missile or artillery shell traveled about 125 miles on a northeast path, in other words, toward China, landing near the border.

South Korean Defense Ministry analysts speculate that the North originally planned to fire the projectile out to sea but changed plans and pointed it inland instead due to last-minute problems. That seems highly unlikely, however, because if there were indeed problems they would not risk firing into China.

The NightWatch site maintains that the trajectory was intentional as well as “unprecedented.” In all probability, the North Koreans meant to send a hostile message to Beijing.

Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seem to deteriorate by the week. They are each other’s only treaty ally, but in recent years ties have evidently eroded. Now, the bilateral relationship has become, in my view, the most fascinating one in the world to watch.


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