Those Lovable Norks
Kim Jong Un’s annual New Year’s Day message was interesting in and of itself. Have any of you read it? I don't expect you to, but I expect the corrupt, elite media to read it before they report on it. Kim said will be more nuclear test and missile launches in 2017, but Kim did not threaten to launch an ICBM, as some corrupt, elite mainstream media outlets reported.
Do any of these media mandarins check the crap that they put out? The answer to that is apparently, "never". How the mighty have fallen.
The speech was interesting outside of that one key point in that Kim is breaking with his father and grandfather. Kim made several references to sustainable self-reliance using local resources. He did not use the historic language of chuche (self-reliance), which was coined by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, as the national ideology. Instead he used jagang (self-sustainability) five times, according to one expert linguist. This term had only been used a single time previously, in last year’s address. Kim appears to be developing his own lexicon of North Korean policies, challenges and achievements.
The address was unique for its report of partial success. Kim praised the scientists and engineers for working on the preparations for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). During 2016, one open source reported that Kim wanted to test an ICBM before the end of last year. He did not praise them for having completed the preparations, which is curious.
Kim’s departure from the formulas of the past means that Kim Jong Un perceives that he has surpassed his father and grandfather in achievements and thus is not bound to conform to all the guidelines of his forbears.
Reuters reported on 31 December that senior Chinese officials are considering stronger measures to deter Taiwan from moving towards a declaration of independence. The measures reportedly include military exercises on the mainland side of the Taiwan Strait and economic measures.
It's a return to the old playbook. Chinese military exercises in 1996 helped deter Taiwan’s pro-independence President Lee Teng-hui from declaring independence. Chinese forces are exponentially more capable of seizing Taiwan by force today compared to 1996.
|Didn't concern the Chinese|
Economically, China is Taiwan’s largest market, which gives China enormous economic leverage. One official reportedly said that China would just stop all cross-strait traffic and terminate all commerce with Taiwan.
The 2005 Anti-Secession law mandates Chinese government leaders to use all means to prevent the alienation of any Chinese territory. A Taiwanese declaration of independence would lead to an international crisis and would lead China to prepare to use military force against Taiwan. China would win a military confrontation.
Chinese leaders are wary of the incoming US administration and consider it unpredictable. US actions toward the government on Taiwan will influence the Chinese responses. Would the US risk a war with the PRC if the People's Liberation Army invaded Taiwan? That's a question that I do not have the answer to. Barack wouldn't have but President Trump -- who will likely be less of a war president than Barack was -- is an unwritten book.
South China Sea
Sub rosa: The US doesn't have any aircraft carriers deployed for the first time since World War 2
|People's Liberation Army's Navy Ship Liaoning|
Following its first live-firing exercise in the Bohai Gulf on 16 December, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its escorts on 23 December departed on a training mission into the Western Pacific, east of Taiwan and the south towards the Philippines and to Hainan in the South China Sea. This voyage was a show of force.
The mission was completed with no reports of engineering or other difficulties. Liaoning is an Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier that the Chinese thoroughly refitted. Its successful mission from northern to southern China contrasts with the voyage of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which had to be towed to the Russian base at Tartus in Syria.
Originally built as a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” for the Soviet Navy, the ship was laid down as the Riga and renamed the Varyag in 1990. A Chinese travel agency purchased the unfinished hull in 1998, and three years later the ship was towed from the Ukraine to China, where it underwent extensive modernization of its hull, radar, and electronics systems.
The Chinese describe Liaoning as a training ship. This mission illustrates that the Chinese definition of training includes showing the flag and diplomacy by aircraft carrier. It didn't launch and recover (trap) aircraft during this voyage. My sense is that they didn't want to lose aircraft, which would have also caused them embarrassment. They've lost two pilots to date attempting to make landings on the Liaoning. The fact that the Chinese have a functional (sort of) aircraft carrier is significant.
An Interesting Development in Kurdistan
On 28 December, Turkey and Russia announced a nation-wide ceasefire, except against terrorist groups. The ceasefire took effect at midnight on 29 December. Most news services reported a significant reduction in air operations and ground fighting in much of Syria since the 29th.
Operations continued against the American Allies - that Barack embraced: Saudi-funded al-Qaida franchise, the al Nusra Front (riddle me that?); against the Islamic State and against several other extreme Islamic militant groups that refused to register with the Russians or Turks. Turkish reporting on weekend air attacks against the Islamic State in northern Syria indicate some form of coordination with the Russian air force contingent in Syria.
Russian President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian leadership have engineered one of the most complete policy reversals against an adversary in modern history without firing a shot. Russia and Turkey have fundamental disagreements over the fate of the Asad government, which degrades prospects for a permanent peace. Nevertheless, the Russians accomplished more in Syria since September 2015 than five years of western and Arab operations. The Turks have standing mainly because Russian President Putin has given it to them on condition that they cooperate with Russia and that Russia preserves a unitary Syrian state.
On 29 December, the members of the coalition of Christian and Sunni Arabs and Kurds that support Kurdish self-governance signed a draft constitution for an autonomous region. The parties and organizations taking part in the Kurdish "self-governance" program have agreed to call their region, “the federal democratic system of northern Syria.”
After a meeting between Kurdish representatives and Russian officers in the Humaymim Airbase in Latakia, the Kurds changed the name to remove any reference to the area as a Kurdish area. The Russian officials said that they appreciate the Kurdish people's aspirations for independence but that Russia has international obligations and seeks to keep the territorial integrity of Syria, a reference to the Russian understandings with Turkey.
The Russian officials informed the Kurds that their federalism request must be reduced to a sort of self-rule in the cities and areas with a Kurdish majority and that no name other than that of Syria should be used. The same demand was made by the Syrian regime's delegation, which asked for raising the official Syrian flag in all areas and over the buildings of all institutions, and supporting Bashar al-Asad in future elections. The delegation also asked that all Kurdish sides in Syria take part in negotiations and not demand federalism.
The Kurds and their allies are moving ahead with their plans for an autonomous region in northern Syria. Curiously, the Russians are helping shape the Kurdish movement and the Kurds are at least listening. The weekend reports are the first to state that the Syrian government as well as the Russians are in negotiations with the Syrian Kurds.