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Pyongyang threat revisited and turmoil in the Himalayas

BY M.R. JOSSE

MRJ 1GAITHERSBURG, MD: President Donald Trump is never beyond the spotlight – or out of the periphery of a perfect political storm, as suggested by the bagful of problems set off by the flap created by revelations of his eldest son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in the middle of the tempestuous and prolonged 2016 presidential election campaign.

AND NOW DON JR

As expected, the persisting problem of Russian meddling in America’s domestic politics did not just disappear with Trump’s two-day visit to Paris for France’s Bastille Day celebration where he not only watched a magnificent military parade down the Champs-Elysees from a grandstand seat at the Place de la Concorde but in fact participated in ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War 1. Trump simply lapped up the spectacular rituals – and world attention that came with it.

Yet, there was no escaping the inexorable pull of that ball-and-chain even in distant France. Indeed, speaking in Paris at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at his side, the American head of state was constrained to tell his interlocutors that his eldest son is “a wonderful young man” while terming his meeting with the relevant Russian contact as one “most people in politics would have taken.”

While the ensuing investigations will continue to cast a pall over the White House for well into the foreseeable future, I thought some cutting comments by the Wall Street Journal on the subject worth this column’s attention.

An editorial, which opened with the observation that “President Trump’s critics claim to have uncovered proof, finally, of 2016 collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin”, went on to argue: “Another reading of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a well-connected Russian lawyer is, well, political farce.”

However, after humming and hawing for quite a while it concludes: “The problem is that President Trump has too often made the implausible plausible by undermining his own credibility on Russia. He stocked his cabinet with Russia hawks but dallied with characters like the legendary Beltway bandit Mr. Mannfort or the conspiratorial Roger Stone.

“His Syrian and energy policy are tough on Russia, but Mr. Trump thinks that if he says Russia interfered in 2016 he will play into the Democratic narrative that his victory is illegitimate.”

In WSJ’s overall assessment, “Russian meddling did less damage to US democracy than it has done to the Trump Presidency. The person who should be maddest about the Russian hacks is Mr. Trump.”

A RETHINK

Shifting gears, it was interesting to read in the WSJ that South Korea had begun to entertain doubts about whether Pyongyang, whose flight path of her recent successful ICBM test launch truly set the cat among the nuclear weapons community, is able to arm the device with a warhead that can survive the intense heat and vibration of re-entering the atmosphere.

According to the same newspaper, American officials in South Korea thought it significant that while Pyongyang’s latest missile appeared to have intercontinental range, it hasn’t commented publicly on whether it has a viable warhead.

Meanwhile, in a separate news story penned by Andrew Browne from Shanghai, some noteworthy facts bearing on the subject are recalled. Among them are these sparkling nuggets: “In the 1970s, South Korea was secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Taiwan was running a similar clandestine operation. Japan sat on a stockpile of plutonium from its civilian nuclear program and then, as now, had all the technology needed to build a bomb.

“Only strong US pressure, combined with strategic reassurance to its allies, managed to head off an arms race. Today, a nuclear arms race is one of the nightmare scenarios as China’s ally Pyongyang terrorizes its neighbours. This time, it’s on Beijing to restore a measure of calm. China faces its moment of truth in its own backyard on whether it is ready to assume greater global leadership.

“So far, writes John H. Maurer, a professor at the US Naval War College, ‘Beijing is flunking the test.’ ” As Browne tells it, “Beijing appears to believe that living with a nuclear North Korea is preferable to the alternatives: the collapse of its socialist ally spilling refugees into its industrial heartland and bringing US troops to its border…

“How would Beijing respond if Taiwan reactivated its nuclear program?…Public opposition in Japan makes it unlikely that Tokyo would ever build its own arsenal. But then, the unthinkable is now reality.” Another nagging uncertainty quantity is, of course, this: “Would Washington risk Seattle for Seoul?”

One surety in the esoteric world of unknown quantities is: Northeast Asia is now “the most dangerous corner of the planet. The question now is whether China will come to see that its rogue ally imperils everything – its past victories against poverty, its dreams of future wealth and power. And whether that will inspire it to lead.”

As far as policy wonks in Nepal are concerned I would recommend they mull over how the North Korean imbroglio might play out not only on Sino-American relations but also on the broader issue of nuclear weapons/missile proliferation, which is where India comes into the picture.

TURMOIL IN HIMALAYAS

Against the backdrop of the current turmoil in the Himalayas, here very briefly are some relevant, thought-provocative quotes from Neville Maxwell’s authoritative “India’s China War” opus:

“Our maps show that the McMahon Line is our boundary and that it is our boundary, map or no map. That fact remains and we stand by that boundary, and we will not let anyone come across that boundary.”(Pandit Nehru, Lok Sabha, 1950).

“The first and almost instinctive reaction of every new government was to hold fast to the territory bequeathed to it. What the colonial power had ruled, the new state must rule.”   (Gunnar Myrdal)

Let’s now watch how India’s colonial-era based claims play out against China’s rectify ‘problems left over by history’ stance!

mrjosse@gmail.com

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