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Will South Korea Rethink Its Nuke Policy?

On Monday, a “US official” speaking anonymously to Reuters, said the Pentagon was not thinking of reintroducing nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula.

Earlier in the day, Seoul had suggested Washington was considering the possibility. “The United States and South Korea are continuously and closely having discussions on additional deployment of strategic assets,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

By “strategic assets” the unnamed US official said the Defense Department was referring to nuclear-capable bombers. South Korean media had been reporting that Washington and Seoul were discussing the deployment of American B-2 bombers, F-22 fighters, and nuclear submarines to the Korean peninsula.

President George H. W. Bush in 1991 announced the unilateral withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and other foreign countries, and today there is virtually no apparent support in the Pentagon for redeploying them.

Have Chinese Agents Abducted Hong Kong Publisher, Book Sellers?

The case of five missing Hong Kong residents connected to a Hong Kong publisher and bookshop took a strange turn Monday when the wife of one of the missing individuals withdrew her request for police assistance. Choi Ka Ping said she had heard from her husband that day and no longer needed help.

The police, however, said they would continue the investigation into the disappearance of the husband, Lee Bo.

The first to disappear was Gui Minhai, owner of Mighty Current, a publishing house that since 2012 has released about 80 books highly critical of China’s Communist Party. The last known contact from him was an e-mail message sent on October 15 to a printer from the Thai resort of Pattaya.

Japan, South Korea Reach Historic Agreement on ‘Comfort Women’

On Monday, Japan and South Korea, in parallel statements of their foreign ministers, agreed to a “final and irreversible” settlement of the so-called “comfort women” issue. 

 During Japan’s colonization of Korea last century, Korean females had been forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers in military-run brothels. 

 Pursuant to the deal, Tokyo agreed to pay 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) into a South Korean fund for the 46 surviving comfort women. More important, Japan’s foreign minister, while in Seoul, delivered the apology of his country’s prime minister. Fumio Kishida said Shinzo Abe “expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.” 

China Threatens to Shoot Down Australian Planes

On November 25th the Royal Australian Air Force conducted a “routine maritime patrol” in the South China Sea as a part of Operation Gateway, a program of periodic flights. An AP-3C Orion surveillance plane flew near a reclaimed Chinese feature in the Spratly island chain, in the sea’s southern portion.

In response, the Global Times, a Beijing-based Communist Party newspaper, published an editorial that essentially threatened to start a war: “It would be a shame if one day a plane fell from the sky and it happened to be Australian.”

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne responded to Beijing’s bluster with remarks that left something to be desired. “We always navigate in a very constructive way in the region,” she said.

US Diplomat is Roughed-Up in Scuffle in Beijing

On Monday, unidentified men, many of them wearing smiley-face stickers on their jackets, shoved journalists so that they fell onto American diplomat Dan Biers as he was reading a statement in Beijing about the persecution of Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Biers, a deputy political counselor at the US Embassy, had to stop reading but was later able to finish.

The incident took place while Biers was standing outside Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, where Pu’s trial is being held.

The men, almost certainly from Beijing’s Public Security Bureau or a similar unit, also interrupted a European Union delegate. Diplomats from 10 countries other than the US were on hand for the proceeding—“the capital’s biggest political trial in two years,”  according to the Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time Report”—and many of them were also harassed.

‘Airpocalypse’ in Beijing

Monday afternoon, the Beijing municipality issued its first-ever red alert for air pollution. The warning, the highest in a four-level system, expires at noon on Thursday.

During this alert, primary and secondary schools are closed, as are kindergartens. Individual cars are only allowed on the road on alternate days. Government offices must reduce car use by 30 percent. Public transportation operates on extended schedules. Heavy trucks must stay off the roads. All outdoor construction is stopped. Factories are required to close for two days. Fireworks and barbecues are banned.

The air in Beijing is now a dark gray. And it is deadly. PM2.5 readings, which measure the most hazardous particulates, exceeded 900 in recent days. The World Health Organization’s safe level is 25. In China, some 4,000 people a day die from bad air, according to one study.

Kim Calls First Party Congress in 35 Years

At the end of October, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced that the ruling Workers’ Party will hold its next congress in May 2016. The congress last met 35 years ago, in October 1980, during the reign of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

KCNA, with typical grandeur, announced that the meeting reflected “the demand of the party and the developing revolution that witness epoch-making changes in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche, the cause of building a thriving socialist nation.” 

There is no indication of what will be on the agenda, and Korea analysts know they will learn about that only when the congress finally meets. After a  month of consideration, however, they have reached a basic consensus about what the holding of the congress means: that the party has consolidated power at the expense of the Korean People’s Army, and that Kim Jong Un, the country’s youngish ruler, has taken full political control of the regime.

Time to Retaliate Against China’s Cyber Espionage

“To my Chinese counterparts, I would remind them, increasingly you are as vulnerable as any other major industrialized nation state,” said Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the chief of US Cyber Command, on November 21st at the Halifax Security Forum. “The idea you can somehow exist outside the broader global cyber challenges I don’t think is workable.” 

That, in all probability, was not an observation. A year ago, it was inconceivable that an American four-star officer would talk like this—in other words, make a threat—in public. 

The temperature over cyber matters in the American capital has risen fast in recent weeks. If there has been any reason for the change in attitude, it may well be China’s not honoring its agreement, reached while President Xi Jinping was in Washington in September, to stop cyber attacks for commercial espionage purposes.

Suddenly, Dialogue with North Korea Is in Vogue

On Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry announced that North Korea had accepted the South’s invitation to hold a working-level meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone. The talks, scheduled for Thursday, are supposed to prepare the way for high-level discussions between the two Koreas, to be held in either Pyongyang or Seoul.

South Korea's Dual Agendas Undermine Allies' Unity

“It is our stance that freedom of navigation and freedom of flight should be ensured in this area, and that any conflicts be resolved according to relevant agreements and established international norms,”said South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo, referring to the South China Sea, in a recent news briefing with his American counterpart in Seoul. 

The remark, made on the heels of a trilateral meeting in the South Korean capital among Premier Li Keqiang of China, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, and President Shinzo Abe of Japan, was tentative. According to an account in the Wall Street Journal, “South Korean officials appeared eager to avoid the topic.”

China Militarizes the South China Sea

Photographs posted on Chinese websites late last month suggest the People’s Liberation Army is now basing its J-11 fighters on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels, a chain of islands near Vietnam and China in the middle portion of the South China Sea.

The PLA might not keep the advanced fighters there long—the salty air degrades sophisticated planes quickly—but the introduction of J-11s on that island will surely cause alarm in the contested region for many reasons. 

Challenging China in the South China Sea

On Tuesday, the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke–class guided-missile destroyer, conducted a freedom of navigation exercise around Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly chain in the South China Sea. Beijing had been huffing and puffing before the much-anticipated event but carried through on none of its implied threats to harass the vessel as it made its “transit,” which took it within 12 nautical miles of the reefs that China has made into island bases.

How Effective Is Obama’s Cyber Deal with China?

On Monday, Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike revealed that his firm had detected a number of cyber attacks from China since the White House’s announcement of an agreement with Beijing on the hacking of companies. “The primary benefit of the intrusions,” wrote Alperovitch, “seems clearly aligned to facilitate theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, rather than to conduct traditional national-security related intelligence collection which the Cyber agreement does not prohibit.”

CrowdStrike’s co-founder and chief technology officer stated there was an attack on September 26th, the day after the White House announcement of the deal, and that there had since been attempted intrusions on 10 more days. Seven of his firm’s tech and pharmaceutical clients had been the targets.

Is a US-China Showdown in South China Sea Imminent?

“We will never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at Friday’s regular news briefing. “We urge the related parties not to take any provocative actions, and genuinely take a responsible stance on regional peace and stability.”

Hua was evidently reacting to a Navy Times report that the US Navy was planning to send a surface combatant within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese island in the South China Sea in a bid to preserve freedom of navigation for itself and others.

China Stock Crash Imperils Proposed Nicaragua Canal

The net worth of Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing, the driving force behind a proposed canal across Nicaragua, has fallen $9.1 billion since mid-June, when China’s stock market collapsed. No other individual in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index during this period has lost a greater proportion of assets, 84 percent in his case.

Chinese ambition in recent years has been stunning, and no person outside officialdom has been more optimistic than Wang, 42, who owns 35 percent of publicly listed Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology Group Co.

In 2013, Wang announced he would build the waterway, three times longer than the Panama Canal. His plans also contemplated two deep-water ports, an airport, an artificial lake, a tourist area, a free-trade zone, roads, and factories to make cement and steel. Wang’s closely held vehicle, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Group Co., has an initial 50-year concession awarded by Daniel Ortega’s government.

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