By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: This week just over has been a dramatic one dominated by the tense standoff between North Korea and the United States, against the backdrop of the failure of Pyongyang’s latest missile test following the display of nearly 60 missiles at an eye-popping military parade on Saturday to mark the 105th birthday of its founder Kim Il-Sung.
Inevitably, much of the world heaved a deep sigh of relief that the provocative test failed, particularly as it came amidst mounting speculation that North Korea was on the cusp of conducting its sixth nuclear test, just as the United States dispatched an aircraft carrier-led strike group towards the Korean peninsula in a display of power against the North Korean caudillo, Kim Jong-un, who continued to thumb his nose at warnings and strictures against his nuclear/missile programme.
SYRIA AND AFGHANISTAN
While military strategists and armchair pundits continued to offer their thoughts/insights into what might transpire if either (a)
North Korea continued recklessly on its high-risk nuclear/missile programme defying all odds or (b) if American President Donald Trump indeed decided on the military preemption option, less noticed was a Xinhua news report that disclosed that Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, and China’s top diplomat, Counselor Yang Jiechi, had been in telephonic contact throughout that period.
That behind-the-scenes development was overshadowed by the continuing debate on the rights/wrongs of America’s decision last week to unleash a barrage of cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase from where allegedly the regime had launched a chemical gas attack on its own civilians, including women and babies – not to mention that spurred by the unleashing, against IS forces in a remote mountain region in Afghanistan, by the US military of its largest non-nuclear weapon in combat, informally labeled ‘the Mother of All Bombs’ (MOAB).
Yet, since North Korea is an altogether different kettle of fish than Syria or the IS in Afghanistan, concerns thereof have been relegated to the sidelines while apprehension steadily grows that an Armageddon is about to break loose on the Korean peninsula, with South Korea and Japan being particularly vulnerable.
Although the situation in East Asia thus continues to be in an opaque flux, one geopolitical reality is fast emerging on the international radar screen: China is occupying the front and centre position. To be sure, much before the Tomahawk missile attack in Syria or the MOAB mega-blast in Afghanistan, China’s pivotal role vis-à-vis North Korea had been underscored when Trump, following his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, admitted publicly that he had acquired new insights into the complexities of the North Korean problem following a 10-minute exegesis by Xi on Sino-Korean history.
Though it is a fact that in the wake of the Trump-Xi palavers at Mar-a-Lago, Beijing visibly began to turn more screws against Pyongyang – it even suspended a daily commercial flight between the two capitals – while mellowing its earlier stance against Seoul, China’s steadily expanding position of global heft was indirectly underlined by the admission by American authorities that Trump’s relations with China have warmed, even as its ties with Moscow have soured.
Notable, too, is that during the UN Security Council debate on a Western-sponsored resolution focusing on initiating a UN investigation into the Syrian chemical gas attack, while Russia cast its veto, China merely abstained.
On the North Korean nuclear/missile issue, however, what no less merits attention is that China has publicly sought Russia’s assistance in helping to cool escalating tensions in and around the Korean peninsula, triggered by Pyongyang’s unfettered nuclear ambitions. The call for Russia’s help in the matter by China came the day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi not merely warned that war over North Korea could break out at any moment but, equally pointedly, declared that there would be no winners in such an eventuality.
At a news conference with French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Wang asserted: “Once a war really happens, the result will be but multiple loss. No one can be a winner…Therefore we call upon all the parties, no matter verbally or in action, to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to allow the situation to become irretrievable and out of control.
“As long as dialogue takes place, it can be official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multi-lateral. China is willing to give support to all of them.”
CHINA AGAINST CHAOS
To gauge the implications of China’s increasingly influential role in the global community, generally speaking, and, more specifically, in the context of the uncertainties and anxieties unleashed by DPRK supremo Kim III as he lurches ahead to in an effort to acquire full and acknowledged nuclear weapons-power status, what is germane to a Nepal situated uncomfortably between China and India is that Beijing is deeply and fundamentally committed to preventing turbulence and chaos, specially that on its borders.
While there was famously a time in the era of Mao Zedong when it was the vogue in Beijing to extol that “there is great turbulence under the heavens” – an excellent precondition for revolution – since Deng Xiaoping’s era of reform and opening up, the former doctrine has been jettisoned. That, among other preconditions, has resulted in China’s recovery and modernisation of the recent past decades that has dazzled the world.
Since then, China has vigorously and inevitably taken positions underlining its dread of ‘luan’ – disorder or turbulence – and ‘dong luan’, or chaos. That is why no doubt contemporary China has studiously avoided military adventures, preferring the path of dialogue to unleashing the dogs of war.
In any event, it well explains China’s repeated stress on security and stability in a Nepal joined at the hip with Tibet, which constitutes a ‘core’ interest – meaning one that it will defend, if need be, with military might. It applies even more to an India that is avidly playing the ‘Dalai Lama card’.