By M. R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: If the transfer-of-power drama back home continues to be played out in excruciatingly slow motion, other politico-diplomatic stage shows have moved much more rapidly – on the divided Korean peninsula and in the Indian Ocean archipelagic nation of the Maldives.
Let me kick-off this yarn in the Korean peninsula where the Winter Olympics opened in Pyeongchang, South Korea with two amazing side-shows: North and South Korea not merely marching under one flag at the opening ceremony and fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team but North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proffering an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit, conveyed in person by the former’s sister Kim Yo Jong.
GOOD COP, BAD COP?
Media inform that the Kim invite has been received by Moon with both optimism as well as caution; optimism because it enkindled hopes in many that it might lead to unification of the two Koreas, and pessimism as others read it as an omen of the dark ambitions of the North, vis-à-vis the South.
Where the American angle comes into the picture is, of course, where the above intersects with the activities and statements of American Vice-President Mike Pence, who was placed in a very uncomfortable position.
Though many waited to see whether there would be any contact between Pence and Kim that was not to be. In fact, as the New York Times reported it, Pence and his wife did not stand, as most spectators did, when the athletes from both Koreas marched under a flag representing a unified Korea.
What was noted, too, was that there was not even a handshake, though Moon, seated with Pence, did so with Kim, seated a row behind in the presidential box. As NYT recalled, “In 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, refused to shake the hand of Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, at a conference in Geneva. For decades Mr. Zhou nursed bitterness at the slight – a breach that was only fully healed when President Richard M. Nixon clasped his hand in Beijing in 1972.”
Commentators were quick to interpret the Pyeongchang political theater as similar to the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine. Though some media pundits suggested that it is only because of the bad cop – actually, President Trump – that the North Koreans have mellowed and are showing interest in negotiations, others are not convinced that such a policy will work, with Pyongyang perceived as seeking to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
Although no one can be sure how the saga will pan out, it was noted in a press release before Pence’s departure: “The vice president is very grateful that President Moon reaffirmed his strong commitment to the global maximum pressure campaign and for his support for continued sanctions.”
Such diplomatic verbiage, however, cannot camouflage America’s acute dilemma over North Korea.
A dilemma of another sort confronts India today: should she militarily intervene in the Maldives a la 1988?
Let me provide a small sampling of views of Indian pundits beginning with C. Raja Mohan, writing in the Indian Express, whose central thesis is: “Fixing other people’s problems is never easy. But it is a burden of major powers, especially in their region.”
Sudha Ramachandran, in the Diplomat, states, “Doing nothing is not an option.” She discloses that the Indian government is “disturbed” by the declaration of emergency by President Abdulla Yameen, then lets slip – without evidence – that Indian intervention would have the support of countries like the United States and the United Kingdom” which would be keen to see the “pro-China Yameen government removed from power.”
Retired Indian admiral, Arun Prakash, in the Economic Times, lauds the heroics of India’s military intervention to save President Abdul Gayoom’s government in 1988 and seems to suggest that there should be a replay.
He, however, stays clear of listing the enormous geopolitical changes that have occurred since then – in the Indian Ocean region, in the comparative military-strengths of India and China, and the current uncertainties of American foreign policy.
Hindu’s Happymon Jacob sensibly recommends: “Let the chips fall where they may” since “restoring democracy and civil liberties in Male, or anywhere else, in the region should not be our business.” He believes that “the fact that New Delhi is in touch with the U.S. and China and also pushing for the U.N. to send a fact-finding mission to the Maldives” indicates “there is a sober recognition that force is not the way to resolve the Maldivian crisis.”
Since the U.S., China and India are perceived as the principal players in the Maldivian crisis – directly or indirectly – allow me to provides a strategic snapshot of Indian and Chinese interests/policies, as explained in Henry Kissinger’s book, “Does America Need a Foreign Policy?”
Kissinger notes that Beijing does not “threaten the domestic structure of other states on ideological grounds…Viewed from Beijing, the geopolitical challenge is likely to be perceived not as conquest of neighbouring countries but as preventing a combination of them against China.”
On the other hand, the historian-statesman reminds: “The ultimate rationale of India’s rejection of what it described as the power politics of the Cold War was that it had no national interest in the disputes at issue.
“Nor did India hesitate to insist on its power in Sikkim, Goa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. And India has for at least twenty-five years worked on a nuclear weapons program culminating in weapons test in 1998.”
Finally, “Indian foreign policy bases Indian security on naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean, on friendly, or at least non-threatening, regimes in the area from Singapore to Aden and a non-hostile regime at the Khyber Pass and the Himalayas.”
My overall prognosis: India will not militarily intervene, in the circumstances of today, especially as she has not done so already.
Dilemmas for U.S. in Korea; for India in the Maldives
By M. R. Josse