Thinking the unthinkable with North Korea

Graham Allison writes: The United States intelligence community believes that American military strikes against North Korea would almost certainly trigger retaliation that would kill up to a million citizens in Seoul. The South Korean government would respond with a full-scale attack on the North. The United States is committed to support South Korea. But would Mr. Xi ever allow the Korean Peninsula to be reunified by a government allied with the United States?

And history is working against us. A Harvard study I led found 16 cases over the past 500 years when a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. In 12 of them, the outcome was war. Today, as an unstoppable rising China rivals an immovable reigning United States, this dynamic — which I call Thucydides’s Trap — amplifies risks.

What we see unfolding now is a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. In the most dangerous moment in recorded history, to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, John F. Kennedy was prepared to take what he confessed was a one-in-three chance of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. What risk will Mr. Trump run to prevent North Korea acquiring the ability to strike the United States?

As Kennedy approached the final hour in which he would have to attack, risking nuclear war, or acquiesce to a Soviet nuclear presence in America’s backyard, both he and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, began to examine previously unthinkable options. In the popular American narrative, Khrushchev capitulated. But we now know that both sides blinked. Kennedy agreed secretly to remove American missiles from Turkey, an option he and his advisers had earlier rejected because of its impact on NATO — and because he would look weak.

Kennedy’s central lesson from the crisis still offers wise counsel for Mr. Trump. “Above all,” Kennedy said, “while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.” [Continue reading…]

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What Xi Jinping wants: To make China the greatest nation in world history

Graham Allison writes: What does China’s President Xi Jinping want? Four years before Donald Trump became president, Xi became the leader of China and announced an epic vision to, in effect, “make China great again”—calling for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Xi is so convinced he will succeed in this quest that he has blatantly flouted a cardinal rule for political survival: Never state a target objective and a specific date in the same sentence. Within a month of becoming China’s leader in 2012, Xi specified deadlines for meeting each of his “Two Centennial Goals.” First, China will build a “moderately prosperous society” by doubling its 2010 per capita GDP to $10,000 by 2021, when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Second, it will become a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2049. If China reaches the first goal— which it is on course to do—the IMF estimates that its economy will be 40 percent larger than that of the U.S. (measured in terms of purchasing power parity). If China meets the second target by 2049, its economy will be triple America’s.

What does China’s dramatic transformation mean for the United States and the global balance of power? Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who before his death in 2015 was the world’s premier China-watcher, had a pointed answer about China’s stunning trajectory over the past 40 years: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.” [Continue reading…]

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Human rights workers investigating conditions at company producing Ivanka Trump brands arrested and missing

The Associated Press reports: A man investigating working conditions at a Chinese company that produces Ivanka Trump-brand shoes has been arrested and two others are missing, the arrested man’s wife and an advocacy group said Tuesday.

Hua Haifeng was accused of illegal surveillance, according to his wife, Deng Guilian, who said the police called her Tuesday afternoon. Deng said the caller told her she didn’t need to know the details, only that she would not be able to see, speak with or receive money from her husband, the family’s breadwinner.

China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang said he lost contact with Hua Haifeng and the other two men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, over the weekend. By Tuesday, after dozens of unanswered calls, he had concluded: “They must be held either by the factory or the police to be unreachable.”

China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit, was planning to publish a report next month alleging low pay, excessive overtime and the possible misuse of student interns. It is unclear whether the undercover investigative methods used by the advocacy group are legal in China. [Continue reading…]

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Killing CIA informants, China crippled U.S. spying operations

The New York Times reports: The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build. [Continue reading…]

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Three reasons to believe in China’s renewable energy boom

Beth Gardiner writes: The squares of silicon are hardly thicker than sheets of paper, each about six inches by six, with narrow stripes of silver. They come into the factory by the thousands, stacked in cardboard boxes, and within hours, they’ll be ready to leave again.

The squares are solar cells, and in this plant two hours’ drive from Shanghai, workers in bright blue uniforms and white lab coats run the machines that assemble them, row by row, into more familiar-looking panels, ready to be installed on rooftops or in large arrays and begin turning sunlight into electricity.

Chinese manufacturing has changed the economics of renewable power around the world, making solar generation cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels like natural gas and even coal. It has brought change closer to home too, as China rolls out the world’s biggest investment in clean energy—motivated in part by a desire to ease the atrocious air pollution that kills an estimated 1.1 million of its people every year.

“The installation rates are absolutely mind-blowing,” says Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy and air pollution expert at Greenpeace in Beijing. China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation in 2016 alone. “That’s almost equal to Germany’s total capacity, just in one year,” Myllyvirta says. [Continue reading…]

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How censorship works

Ai Weiwei writes: In the space of a month in 2014, at separate art exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai that included my work, my name was blotted out — in one case by government officials and by exhibitors themselves in the other case. Some people might take such treatment in stride, as nothing to get huffy about. But as an artist, I view the labels on my work as a measure of the value I have produced — like water-level markers at a riverbank. Other people might just shrug, but I can’t. I have no illusions, though, that my unwillingness to shrug affects anyone else’s willingness to do so.

Life in China is saturated with pretense. People feign ignorance and speak in ambiguities. Everyone in China knows that a censorship system exists, but there is very little discussion of why it exists.

At first glance, the censorship seems invisible, but its omnipresent washing of people’s feelings and perceptions creates limits on the information people receive, select and rely upon. The content offered by the Chinese state media, after its processing by political censors, is not free information. It is information that has been chosen, filtered and assigned its place, inevitably restricting the free and independent will of readers and viewers.

The harm of a censorship system is not just that it impoverishes intellectual life; it also fundamentally distorts the rational order in which the natural and spiritual worlds are understood. The censorship system relies on robbing a person of the self-perception that one needs in order to maintain an independent existence. It cuts off one’s access to independence and happiness.

Censoring speech removes the freedom to choose what to take in and to express to others, and this inevitably leads to depression in people. Wherever fear dominates, true happiness vanishes and individual willpower runs dry. Judgments become distorted and rationality itself begins to slip away. Group behavior can become wild, abnormal and violent. [Continue reading…]

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In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes $500,000 ‘investor visa’ to wealthy Chinese

The Washington Post reports: The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at the Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.

The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.

The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

And the highlight of the afternoon was Meyer, a principal for the company, who was introduced in promotional materials as Jared’s sister. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump’s budding bromance with Xi is doomed

The New York Times reports: President Xi Jinping of China and President Trump, despite vastly different personal styles, have several things in common.

They were both born to privilege. They both possess boundless self-confidence. Each seeks advice from a select inner circle, ignoring the big bureaucracies of his government.

Mr. Trump, not known for his effusive praise of world leaders, has talked up their relationship, saying in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last weekend that his relationship with China was “already acclaimed as being something very special, something very different than we’ve ever had.” He called Mr. Xi “a man that I’ve gotten to like and respect.”

But beneath the bonhomie, Chinese analysts say, fundamental differences of strategic interest are likely to undermine any personal ties Mr. Trump says he has forged with the Chinese leader. The romance, they say, may be more a short marriage of convenience.

Mr. Trump’s public effusiveness is barely reciprocated in China. The state-run media accords Mr. Trump polite coverage, much more so than it did President Barack Obama — a signal that the government, for the time being, would like the Chinese people to view the American president in a positive light.

Among foreign policy experts, however, there is skepticism that Mr. Trump’s flattery of Mr. Xi, and his reliance on the Chinese leader to bear down on North Korea over its nuclear program, will bring the results he wants. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea issues direct criticism of China amid nuke dispute

The Associated Press reports: North Korea has issued a rare direct criticism of China through a commentary saying its “reckless remarks” on the North’s nuclear program are testing its patience and could trigger unspecified “grave” consequences.

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner and main benefactor, suspended imports of North Korean coal in line with U.N. sanctions earlier this year and has recently been urging its traditional ally to stop nuclear and missile activities amid U.S. pressure to use its leverage to resolve the nuclear standoff. Chinese state media have also unleashed regular and harsh criticisms on North Korea.

The commentary released Wednesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said that “a string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from China every day only to render the present bad situation tenser.”

Asked about the KCNA commentary during a regular briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing’s position on “developing good neighborly and friendly cooperation with North Korea is also consistent and clear.” [Continue reading…]

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As U.S. and China find common ground on North Korea, is Russia the wild card?

Reuters reports: When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent Lunar New Year greetings this year, the first card went to Russian President Vladimir Putin, ahead of leaders from China and other allies of the isolated country, according to its official news agency.

Some academics who study North Korea argue Kim could be looking for Russia to ease any pain if China, which accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, steps up sanctions against the isolated country as part of moves to deter its nuclear and missile programmes.

U.S. President Donald Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping last week for Beijing’s assistance in trying to rein in Pyongyang. A day later, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed the United Nations Security Council to impose more sanctions to further isolate Pyongyang.

There is no sign of any sustainable increase in trade between Russia and North Korea, but business and transport links between the two are getting busier.

A new ferry service starting next week will move up to 200 passengers and 1,000 tonnes of cargo six times a month between North Korea and the Russian port of Vladivostok. [Continue reading…]

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China, India become climate leaders as West falters

Climate Central reports: Less than two years after world leaders signed off on a historic United Nations climate treaty in Paris in late 2015, and following three years of record-setting heat worldwide, climate policies are advancing in developing countries but stalling or regressing in richer ones.

In the Western hemisphere, where centuries of polluting fossil fuel use have created comfortable lifestyles, the fight against warming has faltered largely due to the rise of far-right political groups and nationalist movements. As numerous rich countries have foundered, India and China have emerged as global leaders in tackling global warming.

Nowhere is backtracking more apparent than in the U.S., where President Trump is moving swiftly to dismantle environmental protections and reverse President Obama’s push for domestic and global solutions to global warming.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its regression. European lawmakers are balking at far-reaching measures to tackle climate change. Australian climate policy is in tatters. International efforts to slow deforestation in tropical countries are failing. [Continue reading…]

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Kim Jong Un’s missile tests expose Trump’s North Korea-policy vacuum

Reuters reports: North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.

The test came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a guided missile submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday.

Tillerson, in a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea on Friday, repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options were on the table if Pyongyang persisted with its nuclear and missile development.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, who told Reuters in an interview on Thursday North Korea was his biggest global challenge, said the launch was an affront to China, the North’s sole main ally.

“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” Trump said in a post on Twitter after the launch.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.N. meeting it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang said.

In a commentary on Saturday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said both North Korea and the United States needed to tread cautiously. [Continue reading…]

Zack Beauchamp writes: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview published on Friday morning. “Absolutely.”

It was a frightening capstone to the past two days in Trumpland, which have been dominated by North Korea policy. But happily, there’s less to it than meets the eye: The Trump administration is currently giving every indication that it doesn’t want to use force against North Korea.

The issue, though, is that we have no clue what it actually does want to do.

On Wednesday, nearly the entire Senate took a bus trip to the White House to be briefed on North Korea policy. In the briefing, top Trump officials told senators that they were planning to use economic sanctions and diplomatic outreach to allies to bring North Korea to heel. But they were apparently incapable of being more specific than that, infuriating many of the senators who attended. One anonymous Democrat described the reaction to Trump’s comments at the briefing as “80 sets of invisible eyes rolling.”

On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NPR that the US was open to direct negotiations with North Korea — reversing the “no negotiations” stance that he himself had taken a month ago. Then on Friday came Trump’s ominous Reuters interview, which also included a new demand that South Korea pay for the THAAD missile defense system — “the most incredible equipment you’ve ever seen” — that the US was currently installing there.

And then, late on Friday, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test. It’s not yet clear how the Trump team will respond.

So when you put that all together, what do you have? What does the Trump administration’s past two days of frenetic activity on North Korea tell us about its actual policy?

“Beats the fuck out of me,” says Joshua Pollack, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. says ‘major conflict’ with North Korea possible, China warns of escalation

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while China said the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

Trump, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said he wanted to resolve the crisis peacefully, possibly through the use of new economic sanctions, although a military option was not off the table.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” Trump said in an interview at the Oval Office.

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said, describing North Korea as his biggest global challenge.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a danger that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control, his ministry said.

Wang made the comments in a meeting at the United Nations with a Russian diplomat on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-China climate relations: Beyond Trump

Jackson Ewing writes: The days of cooperative climate change action in Washington and Beijing were short-lived.

After decades of friction in the climate arena, the United States and China spent the last three years of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term in office building a partnership that caught even close observers by surprise. In a March 2016 joint presidential statement, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared climate change a “pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship” and committed to ratifying the lauded Paris Agreement. The countries were by then drawing on more than two years of bilateral agreements on clean energy and emissions reduction targets, along with subnational agreements between cities, states, and provinces to bolster technical cooperation in areas ranging from carbon pricing to clean energy to sustainable urban infrastructure.

This cooperation reversed a history of recriminations and posturing that long defined the Sino-American climate change relationship. China would often emphasize its continuing poverty challenges, development needs, and relative lack of historical culpability for the climate problem, while the United States trotted out the common refrain that holding negotiations is well and good, but ultimately pointless if China fails to reduce emissions in internationally verifiable ways. For years, this divide between Beijing and Washington stubbornly persisted.

The Obama-Xi rapprochement was significant because it moved past these arguments and looked for opportunities in a nascent global climate regime based on voluntary commitments by all countries regardless of development levels. This played to the preferences of both China and the United States to chart their own paths without feeling overly constrained by international accords. It also dovetailed with China’s growing determination to solve its domestic pollution crisis, and with a realization in both capitals that clean energy was an economic growth sector.

The Trump presidency has ended this relatively brief period of national climate cooperation between the world’s two largest emitters. U.S. President Donald Trump has removed any mention of climate change from the executive branch agenda, and has moved to dismantle the U.S. Clean Power Plan (CPP), open up federal lands to fossil fuel exploration, reduce vehicle emissions standards, and broadly defund and de-emphasize environmental regulation and enforcement. Whether or not he attempts to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which is not a straightforward process, Trump is already disregarding the American commitments detailed in the pact.

Rather than sending the United States and China back to their adversarial positions of the past, Trump’s moves have taken climate change off the bilateral agenda completely. This eliminates a valuable mutual confidence-building measure and sets back global climate change efforts significantly.

In this context, climate change hopefuls can take solace in three countervailing trends. [Continue reading…]

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As North Korea speeds its nuclear program, U.S. fears time will run out

The New York Times reports: Behind the Trump administration’s sudden urgency in dealing with the North Korean nuclear crisis lies a stark calculus: a growing body of expert studies and classified intelligence reports that conclude the country is capable of producing a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks.

That acceleration in pace — impossible to verify until experts get beyond the limited access to North Korean facilities that ended years ago — explains why President Trump and his aides fear they are running out of time. For years, American presidents decided that each incremental improvement in the North’s program — another nuclear test, a new variant of a missile — was worrisome, but not worth a confrontation that could spill into open conflict.

Now those step-by-step advances have resulted in North Korean warheads that in a few years could reach Seattle. “They’ve learned a lot,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who directed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, from 1986 to 1997, and whom the North Koreans have let into their facilities seven times.

North Korea is now threatening another nuclear test, which would be its sixth in 11 years. The last three tests — the most recent was in September — generated Hiroshima-size explosions. It is unclear how Mr. Trump would react to a test, but he told representatives of the United Nations Security Council at the White House on Monday that they should be prepared to pass far more restrictive sanctions, which American officials say should include cutting off energy supplies. [Continue reading…]

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China’s leader urges restraint on North Korea in call with Trump

The New York Times reports: China’s president, Xi Jinping, has urged President Trump to show restraint toward North Korea despite signs that the North may be preparing a nuclear test. Mr. Xi made the appeal in a phone call with Mr. Trump on Monday that reflected growing alarm over North Korea’s plans, which could tip the region into crisis.

The phone conversation, on Monday morning in Beijing, came after Mr. Trump had already used a meeting with Mr. Xi in Florida, a follow-up phone call, interviews and Twitter messages to press Mr. Xi to do more to deter North Korea from holding additional nuclear and missile tests. The United States and its allies have been on alert for another atomic test by the North.

In the latest call, the third between the two leaders, Mr. Xi indicated to Mr. Trump that China opposed any such test by North Korea, but he also nudged Mr. Trump to avoid a tit-for-tat response to the North’s fiery threats, according to a report on Chinese television.

“China adamantly opposes any actions in contravention of the United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Mr. Xi said, according to the report, evidently referring to a series of decisions by the council to punish North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs.

“At the same time, it is hoped that all sides exercise restraint and avoid doing things that exacerbate tensions on the peninsula,” Mr. Xi said, referring to the Korean Peninsula. “Only if all sides live up to their responsibilities and come together from different directions can the nuclear issue on the peninsula be resolved as quickly as possible.”

The comments reflected growing Chinese fears that the tensions between North Korea and the United States and its Asian allies could spiral into outright military conflict. That widening rift is presenting China with confounding choices between its longstanding ties to North Korea and its hopes for steady relations with the United States. [Continue reading…]

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