sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Geopolitical Commentary

North Korea

Kim Chol – a pseudonym -- released a commentary on 3 May that urged Chinese newspapers and officials to refrain from making reckless remarks undermining DPRK-China relations. The article has a lengthy prologue, but the key points are:
  • “Noting that a string of absurd and reckless remarks is now heard from China everyday only to render the present bad situation tenser, Kim Chol wrote, ‘The People's Daily and the Global Times, widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government, have recently carried commentaries asserting that the DPRK's access to nukes poses a threat to the national interests of China….’”
  • “China is hyping up ‘damage caused by the DPRK's nuclear tests’ in its three northeastern provinces.”
  • “This only reveals the ulterior purpose sought by it, being displeased with the DPRK's rapid development of nukes.”
  • “One must clearly understand that the DPRK's line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is.”
  • “The DPRK, which has already become one of the most powerful nuclear weapons state, does not feel the need to think over how many options it has now.”
  • “China should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK's patience, but make proper strategic option, facing up to the situation (sic).”
  • “China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations.”
Kim Chol commentaries are comparable in authority to editorials published in China’s Global Times. They carry weight, but retain a fig leaf of deniability as official policy.

The commentary is unvarnished and crude in many parts. It has the style of Kim Jong Un himself, as reflected in his published speeches. It is blunt and arrogant, traits that the Chinese associate with inferior cultures.

It shows that the North Korean leadership pays attention to some of the same Chinese news publications on which this blog relies for authoritative statements of Chinese positions.

Kim Chol’s commentary rejects every item of advice the Chinese have published in the two publications, topic by topic, in the past two months. For example, it ignores the Chinese advice that the North has overestimated the strength of its deterrent because it is puny compared to the devastation the US can impose.

Most egregious is that a some-time Chinese tributery dared to threaten China, the Central Kingdom. At one time, such language could have resulted in a Chinese punitive expedition against the haughty tributery.

This commentary embodies a challenge to China’s role as a regional power. At some point, China must take action to show the North Korean leadership its proper place or abandon the pretense that China is the hegemon of East Asia.

The Chinese have more than two thousand years of experience in knowing how to handle upstart regimes. They will handle Kim Jong Un and do not need outside assistance, except patience.

Russia in Syria

Russian special presidential representative for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said on 3 May that a draft Russian memorandum on “zones of de-escalation” stipulates that the Syrian armed opposition groups join the ceasefire guarantor countries (Russia, Turkey and Iran) in fighting the terrorists in these zones.
Lavrentyev told reporters: "We decided to take up a path of creating such zones, in which moderate opposition units backed by the guarantor countries would be directly combating terrorist organization groups."  
"The memorandum currently is being elaborated; this is why I cannot tell you about every detail of this document. The wording of the memorandum, which is expected to be signed at tomorrow's plenary meeting, is being finalized. Work will be continued both with Turkish and Iranian delegations," 
The Russians identified four areas for creating the zones. They were selected based on the intensity of the fighting among Syrian government forces, the AOGs and the Islamic State and the al-Qaida franchise, the Jabhat al Nusra (the al Nusra Front). Idlib, North of Homs, Eastern Ghouta (east of Damascus), and South Syria were specifically identified.

As part of the de-escalation proposal, military units from unspecified "observer countries" could also be deployed. 

Turkey, Iran and Russia would create a "joint working group" within five days of the proposed agreement being signed by the warring parties.

The AOGs view the Russian proposals for the possible creation of zones of de-escalation as a “temporary measure and not a substitute for the political process.” 

The inability of the US to separate armed rebels from armed terrorists during the ceasefire has been a longstanding point of contention with the Russians, about which Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has complained repeatedly. 

The Russian proposal is clever because if focuses the main effort on defeating the Islamic extremists, which is a condition for any successful political negotiations. It solves the separation problem essentially by co-opting the AOGs into fighting a common enemy. The Islamic terrorists have found AOGs to be easy prey and have attacked them regularly during the six years of the civil war. 

Under the Russian proposal, if a rebel group fights the Islamic State, it is a member of the ceasefire coalition and could expect support from at least one of the guarantor countries.

Following recent Turkish military operations against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Russia has deployed more soldiers to Afrin district (see map above). News services reported that Russia now maintains a significant troop presence in four villages and areas of the district, in addition to manning the ceasefire monitoring center in Afrin.

The Russians are protecting Syrian Kurdish fighters in much the same way the US is. Prior to the latest augmentation, the Russians were thought to have deployed at least 100 soldiers to Afrin.