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72nd UNGA: Trump makes debut, North Korea major focus

BY M.R. JOSSE

MRJ 1NEW YORK, NY: Penning this on the eve of the opening of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) – on Tuesday, September 18 – it is pretty plain that North Korea will be at its very front and centre.

Which is, of course, to assert that Pyongyang’s inexorable drive towards acquisition of world-class nuclear weapons capability and her repeated missile tests – in brazen and repeated violation of a battery of relevant UN Security Council – will constitute the major focal point of this year’s General Assembly.

FRONT AND CENTRE

As far as one can tell as an interested outlier, among the other hot-button issues that will be robustly aired by world leaders at the conclave on the banks of the East River opening here in New York City is the Rohingya refugee question and the concomitant one of the abysmal state of human rights in Myanmar today.

That aside, it needs no particular perspicacity to forecast that most world leaders assembled at UNGA-72 will be investing considerable time in scrutinizing how American President Donald Trump’s much advertised ‘America First’ doctrine – as reflected in his maiden address to the world body and in private discussions – would fit into the United Nations’ world-first mission.

But first: North Korea. Trump perhaps let the cat out of his bag when, in a tweet two days before the start of this year’s UN talkfest, he appeared to refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as the ‘rocket man’ – not long after a working lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

UN-meeting

Abe in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, September 17, stressed the imperative of ‘solidarity’ against North Korea, underlining heavily his argument that “prioritizing diplomacy will not deter the regime of Pyongyang” while strongly supporting the US’s “all options on the table” stance.

Japan, of course, has understandably potent reasons to be angered by Kim’s not merely thumbing his nose at the supposedly hallowed concept of nuclear non-proliferation (for the nuclear haves, of course) but for  firing a succession of lethal ICBMs over populated Japanese territory, including twice in two weeks!

What also bears recalling is that Pyongyang launched one such missile over Japan September 15 just days after a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution was adopted September 12 to force North Korea to halt its nuclear/missile tests! It was its ninth since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.

Meanwhile, it is notable that in a NPR/Ipsos poll just published, a narrow majority of Americans don’t trust Trump to handle the conflict with North Korea – despite his success in pressing the UN to impose increasingly stringent economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

The president has unimpaired authority to launch a nuclear strike – a fact that surprises many Americans. Only about a quarter of the people surveyed know that Trump can order a strike on his own authority. Most incorrectly think he needs to get Congress approval.

While many argue that Beijing would rather have a stable nuclear neighbour than a nuclear-free but hostile regime on its doorstep, Zhao Chu, an independent Shanghai-based analyst, raises this pertinent query: “Why did the US and China tolerate India and Pakistan going nuclear? Because they had no better options.” Will, ultimately, the world learn to live with a nuclear North Korea?

ROHINGYA EXODUS

As far as the Rohingya refugee flow is concerned, it is significant that, facing a storm of global criticism over their slaughter in Myanmar, its most prominent leader, Nobel laureate Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi,  cancelled her planned visit to New York to lead the Myanmar delegation at the 72nd UNGA – a mere week before its opening. She had attended last year’s session, her first since becoming Myanmar’s most senior civilian leader.

In recent times, hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed by Myanmar security forces, some 400,000 of them flooding out into Bangladesh from Myanmar. Not surprisingly, a chorus of international leaders and human rights groups have denounced the attacks on the Rohingya – a Bengali-speaking, Muslim minority of northern Myanmar – calling it ‘ethnic cleansing.’

Suu Kyi, once the darling of the liberal West, has been increasingly castigated over what they describe as her indifference. Though she does not control the military, she has largely avoided public statements on the crackdown on Rohingyas and the flight of masses of them into Bangladesh. In an editorial, the New York Times referred to the fact that much criticism has been heaped on the Suu Kyi and concluded: “That is just.”

Lately, the European parliament has taken up the issue of the Rohyingas, while the UN Security Council called for immediate steps to end the violence against them. Against such a backdrop, it is inevitable that the issue will figure prominently in the ensuing policy debates and discussions on the issue at UNGA.

What has added further gravity is that, as a major news story in the New York Times has it, there are now fears that “the crisis could lead Rohingyas to terror on the world stage given the radicalization of a new generation of Rohingyas adding fuel to the already combustible situation in Rakhine.”

NEPAL’S STANCE

How will Nepal deal with the North Korean and Rohingyas issues? It will be edifying to learn how the North Korean nuclear/missile issue will be treated in the major policy address by Nepal’s chief representative – which I assume would be Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

Similarly, one is curious about how Nepal will deal with the issue of Rohingyas. I cannot help but recall that in the past Nepal had bestowed lavish praise on the Myanmar Nobel laureate – when she visited as a guest of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

Will Kathmandu remain mum, even when what is happening in Myanmar today is worse than the ‘ethnic cleansing’ practiced against the Lhotshampas in Bhutan, not too long ago?

 mrjosse@gmail.com

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