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Category Archives: China

I have been spending a lot of time watching movies recently, one of which was James Ivory’s The White Countess starring Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener), Sanada Hiroyuki (The Last Samurai), and Natasha Richardson, whose previous work I am unacquainted with. The screenplay was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born author who grew up in the UK.

The film is set in 1930s Shanghai. There, Countess Sofia Belinskya, a White Russian driven from Europe and living with her dead-husband’s family, survives as a hostess and occasional prostitute in order to support her young daughter. She meets a retired American diplomatic, Todd Jackson, blinded by a terrible accident in the past, who establishes a bar, ‘The White Countess’, with Sofia as the centrepiece. Jackson forms an intellectual kinship with Matsuda, a Japanese intelligence agent with a keen interest in Jackson’s new club. Ultimately, however, we learn that Matsuda is the harbinger of a Japanese advance and siege of the city.

Jackson longs for a political tension in his bar to reflect the outside world: Kuomintang, Chinese Communists and Japanese. This longing is expressed in the film itself which excels in capturing the tensions of the 1930s in the foreign enclaves of Shanghai: Germans shout abuse at Jews, Russians attempt to regain the stature they lost in the Revolution, and Wilsonians lament the collapse of the League of Nations. It is reminiscent of, but in this aspect is better than, Empire of the Sun, also set in Shanghai at the time of the Japanese invasion.

It was nice to see Sanada Hiroyuki capitalising on his post-Last Samurai fame. Certainly, this was a better role for him than his Rush Hour 3 character. I hope that, along side Yakusho Koji, Sanada’s star keeps rising in Hollywood.


North Korea is taking on the world, and we have no choice but to respond.

Nuclear Showdown (2005) is journalist Gordon G. Chang’s conclusion to his contribution to the study of North Korea as a East Asian and global crisis.

It was Chang’s chapter on Japan and the abduction issue that first caught my eye. I found the book as I flicked around the shelves of my local store and immediately I knew I had to buy it. I picked up the 2007 Arrow edition, which includes a new foreword addressing the October 2006 nuclear test.

Chang eases you into the book and takes you along a wandering argument that climaxes with an acknowledgement of the dangerous times in which we live. He is even-handed and incisive throughout, even if his somewhat flowery prose may grate at times. He writes well, although whoever decided to forego conventional footnoting for the bizarre system employed might need rounding up and shooting: finding the relevant comments and references is a pain in the ass.

Chang’s conception of North Korea is of a regime fighting to stay alive as capitalism wells up at the grassroots-level. Chang criticises the US for being to soft on North Korea’s past transgressions, such as the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, and for not negotiating and controlling North Korea’s nuclear rise in a consistent and firm manner. He also criticises America’s over-generosity to China who should now look to become a responsible world citizen by reining in its client state, or preferably abandoning it altogether. He criticises South Korea, particularly former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, for sustaining a fragile regime that relying on foreign aid for its survival while snubbing market reform as a result of the brewing bottom-up revolution.

On the issue of Japan, Chang is sympathetic to the country’s more immediate concern of attack: the pressing threat posed by North Korea acts more strongly on Japan than the US. He also notes the overwhelmingly political nature of the abduction issue and its emotional underpinnings. Japan is most at risk from a North Korean nuke, and as a result it is struggling to stay confined to the bounds of the constitution imposed upon it by the American post-War authorities. Despite that, it must: a Japanese bomb would create a whole new arms race and set of global tensions.

It is to this tension that Chang so skilfully leads the reader. For him, the North Korean problem highlights the challenge posed to the global hegemon, the US. Chang finds WWII to be apogee of US power, and from then on it has been relatively weakened as the destroyed nations around it have rebuilt. He is not implying that the US is by any means facing the end of its history, but rather that it has a chance to solidify its position.

Chang believes that the US should reinvigorate the non-proliferation norms and regime by carrying out what it committed to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: the destruction of its nuclear stockpile. Chang suggests that even a wholesale, yet incomplete, dismantling of the US arsenal would show the state’s good intentions to the currently less-than-impressed non-nuclear powers. “The American president can give the order to eliminate all life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everybody only once, are his constituents any less safe?”

Chang is encouraging the US to take the bold step to make an example of North Korea. By unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpile it will show its commitment to a non-nuclear future. He also encourages the US to be tough on North Korea in the Six-Party Talks and place all the issues on the table: from human rights to counterfeiting. By doing so, the Chinese and South Koreans will be forced to take sides (all the while under pressure from the international community to take the most reasonable side, that of the US). Ultimately, however, Chang believes that the US should be prepared to make an example of North Korea by committing itself to a possible use of force. “But if there ever were a reason to go to war, it is to save the nonproliferation treat and the global arms control regime. No other justification for conflict comes close.”

Chang’s argument is bold in and of itself. He is pessimistic for our future, and quite rightly so. At the moment, his work is still relevant. In the three years since Nuclear Showdown was first published, little progress has been made. Whether one accepts his conclusions is down to the individual, but the claims presented are well-linked and researched and show a broad understanding of the North Korean crisis in the context of global security.

Maybe our struggle with [Kim] is not the clash of good and evil, as some would have it, but it is at the very least a fight to preserve the liberal international system that has been responsible for so much global progress.

I touched upon this in my previous post, but I want to expand on the issue of the abduction issue acting as justification for a more active Japanese security policy.

In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, incredible numbers of the Japanese populace will no doubt perish. But it is still only a potential tragedy and is yet to overly worry ordinary Japanese citizens. […] For them, nuclear weapon development by North Korea is more or less a technical, abstract topic. The Japanese public is, however, strongly sympathetic [on the abduction issue] because the abductees are no different from the average Japanese who has neither a strong affiliation with any political organizations nor close relations with North Korea.

Nakatsuji, K. (2004). Prime Minister in Command: Koizumi and the Abduction Question. Korea Review of International Studies , 7 (1), 35-46: p. 36.

This quote, to me, is the ultimate expression of the role of the abduction issue: giving an abstract risk a human face. It is, as Lynn Hyung-gu describes in ‘Vicarious Traumas: Television and Public Opinion in Japan’s North Korea Policy’ (Pacific Affairs, 79 (3), 2006, Fall), a national trauma, a narrative of drama highlighting the victimhood of the Japanese nation. It was unjustifiable and abhorrent for North Korea to snatch these young (and in some cases, not so young) men and women from their families, friends, lives and countries. No-one can argue that fact. It makes North Korea seem practically criminal, a reasonable assumption.

A gander at the Cabinet Office surveys on issues of foreign affairs demonstrates the popular appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the more ‘abstract’ missile and nuclear issues. In the surveys, Japanese citizens are asked to state the issues which concern them regarding a range of areas, however the one of interest right now is obviously responses regarding North Korea. I have compiled the responses from 2000 to 2007 (minus the missing data from 2001) to demonstrate the appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the nuclear and missile issues. Please click on the thumbnail to view the chart.

The abduction is shown to figure strongly in the Japanese mindset. The nuclear issue is shown to be rising after the second nuclear crisis in 2000 and the political fallout at the start of the Bush administration’s tenure in the United States and the tougher line held by then-newly elected Koizumi. In 2006, respondents polled in the same month as the North Korean nuclear test and a couple of months after the Taepodong-2 test still more frequently listed the abduction issue (86.7%) as a concern when compared to the nuclear issue (79.5%). The missile issue also figures strongly (the three issues dominate the list of issues, consistently in top three except for in 2000 where the nuclear issue had yet to fully emerge). However, the chart does not show the priorities of the respondents, i.e. which they are more concerned by.

The Japanese populace is saturated with knowledge of the abduction issue, a human drama that tugs at ones heartstrings. It got that way due to the tireless campaigns of the Kazokukai (Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea [AFVKN]) and Sukuukai (National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea [NARKN]) and the spectacle of Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002 which resulted in the return of Soga Hitomi, the Hasuikes and Chimuras. It was at the Pyongyang Summit that one man positioned himself at the heart of the issue: Abe Shinzo. He won the adoration of the families for suggesting that Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, insisting that the Prime Minister extract an apology from Kim Jong-il and subsequently not return the surviving abductees to a fate in North Korea (Edström, B. (2007). The Success of a Successor: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Foreign Policy. Silk Road Studies Program. Washington, DC/Uppsala, Sweden: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, p. 8 / Pilling, D. (2006, September 16-17). The son also rises. Financial Times Weekend , pp. W1-W2.).

Abe shaped the growth of the issue, helping to globalise the appeal of the civil society movement. His support for the issue was a crucial part of his rise to the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and then to the Prime Minister’s office. His short-lived tenure as Prime Minister started off with a flurry of activity regarding the abduction issue: he invited the Kazokukai to his office (something Koizumi had never done, preferring to keep them at arm’s length) and then created a cabinet-level body called the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, consisting of the entire cabinet and headed by himself (why this was institutionalised is uncertain, presumably it could have just remained as a recurring feature of cabinet meetings). Furthermore, the nuclear test allowed Abe to stretch some economic muscle and impose sanctions on North Korea, something that he and the families had been calling for for a long time.

Abe was also part of a loose group of LDP Diet members that were more willing to move towards what Abe termed ‘a beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni). Central to this was the instilling of patriotic pride and the return of Japan to being a ‘normal’ country (i.e. revision/removal of Article 9 of the so-called ‘Peace Constitution’). Like those of his ilk, and perhaps sensibly, Abe has been said to have an ‘inherent suspicion of China‘. Despite the moderation with which he treated China during his time as Prime Minister, it is this suspicion that causes problems.

As Christopher Hughes wrote in a paper presented at a conference in Swansea (The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula), there are a number of layers to the threat posed by North Korea. Certainly, there is the ‘existential military threat’ posed by North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear arms, but also there is the ‘domestic security threat’ that breeds mistrust of the zainichi chosenjin (North Korean residents in Japan), the ‘alliance political-military threat’ which threatens the stability of the US-Japanese relationship (this is an issue I will cover in a later post), and finally, and crucial, the ‘pretext military threat’.

Hughes wrote that ‘North Korea has come to fill the position of serving as the prime public legitimisation for nearly all major changes in its security policy’. When those in power have a suspicion of rising China, it is thus probable that North Korea is being used as a pretext to prepare Japan for the probable strategic trajectory of collision with the rising power. It is often left publicly unsaid, but privately, it seems, concern regarding China’s rise runs rife. This is the context in which the abduction issue is manipulated.

The abduction issue is thus one of the justifications for using North Korea as a pretext to prepare for China. It produces energetic support, and so the issue is kept alive. Hope for the supposed dead or missing (depending on whose side you subscribe to) is kept alive. Considering that there has been no real progress since the ‘return’ of the abductee’s children to Japan in 2004, there has been a surprising amount of coverage of the issue.

The issue operates within a climate of insecurity. Continually pushing the abduction issue forwards incites outrage, while fear is generated and manipulated by the multiple other issues, namely the existential and domestic threats. Thus the abduction issue is not directly part of a politics of fear, but instead promotes the insecurities and fears surrounding the nuclear and missile issues by virtue of being linked to the same target. It colours the threat perception of the Japanese people making them predisposed to believing that North Korea is criminal or irrational, a threat by virtue of it being evil and willing to attempt anything. All the while, China hawks in the LDP are benefiting from the outcomes: an increased awareness of the need for defence, and the subsequent all-threat nature of procurements and policy changes.

As a result of the multi-layered North Korean threat, Japan seems more willing to increase its military power, in terms of both hardware and legislation. The MSDF and Air Self-Defence Force have gained more offensive capabilities, considering the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision guided munitions, both of which could be used against a North Korean ballistic missile launch (Hughes, 2007). Meanwhile, Japan has boosted its intelligence capabilities, launching a series of optical and radar imagery satellites under the remit of the Cabinet Information and Research Office, increased intelligence activities in the Public Security Intelligence Agency, and greater integration of military intelligence under the Defence Intelligence Headquarters (Choi, S.-J. (2004). The North Korean factor in the improvement of Japanese intelligence capability. The Pacific Review, 17 (3), 369-397). Each move is dual-use, as open to use against North Korea as against China, and ultimately, that is the point.

The abduction issue has been (ab)used a security framing tool. It is linked to a range of bilateral issues by nature or design and these other issues benefit from the public’s outrage towards the abduction issue. The appeal of this to politicians is clear in the widespread concern expressed by the public in the Cabinet surveys. The abduction issue provides the means to act on North Korea’s nuclear threat through sanctions and military build-up. The abduction issue has become a tool of choice for pushing through regional security policies. It is a pretext and a frame that immediately lends a leader trust. One danger for the issue itself is its continuing use risks pushing the public towards apathy, but then again, memories seem to die hard in East Asia.

Notes: I admit, this is tenuous in places, but this is the point of my blogging here, I can refine and reshape my understanding of the issue according to my active research and thoughts. Furthermore, while writing this post I realised something that I had since forgotten from writing my dissertation: this is a politics of outrage too… So I have changed the subtitle of the blog accordingly.

Al Jazeera takes a look at Japan’s military future with Robert Dujarric and Hisahiko Okazaki. Worth the watch, particularly because I had no idea Okazaki could speak English.

Part 1

Part 2

via Japan Probe

I’ve had this post on the backburner for a while, and it’s amazing how much relevant news has passed through. However, a couple of days ago I opened up Google Reader (great RSS reader, people) and I found this gem:

Japan to keep secrets from officers with foreign spouses: report
Wed Jun 27, 2:02 AM ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s navy plans to move officers married to foreigners away from posts with access to military secrets after sensitive data was leaked through an officer with a Chinese wife, a report said Wednesday. […]

The move is aimed at protecting military secrets in the wake of an embarrassing leak of confidential information on the US-developed high-tech Aegis combat system, the conservative daily said.

About 150 officers out of a total of 40,000 are married to foreign nationals, according to the daily. Of them, 100 are Chinese, it said. […]

A 33-year-old petty officer allegedly obtained confidential data on the Aegis system without authorisation. […]

The leak came to light after the officer’s Chinese wife was arrested in January for a visa violation.

However, an unconfirmed newspaper report later said the leak may have occurred by accident when the officer was swapping pornography over the Internet. […]

I had a Japanese acquaintance who swore blind that Japan’s military ills were because of the scourge of the zainichi (ethnic Koreans/Chinese largely born and bred in Japan), particularly the Koreans. For him, the reason the US did not share much technology with the US was because Japan coddled these zainichi who had ties to their motherlands. Now, while there is some truth to his opinion once you get over the xenophobic overtones, I think the main reason that the SDF and Japanese defence industry is kept at bay by the Americans is simple: they do not know how to handle information security!

The main culprit in all this, also suggested in the article above, is Winny, a Japanese peer-to-peer filesharing programme. Rod over at RDV Live from Tokyo reported on a Yomiuri article that stated the programme was implicated in 27 breaches since 2002 within the GSDF alone! I found a copy of the article and present it for your pleasure:

Winny linked to more GSDF data breaches

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jan. 9, 2007

Members of the Ground Self-Defense Force have inadvertently allowed information to be exposed in 27 cases via the Winny file-sharing program installed on their personal computers between fiscal 2002 and the end of October, sources close the GSDF said Monday.

In addition to the 27 cases, four other cases have previously been brought to light.

The Defense Agency has not released information about any of the data breaches, including what had been disclosed, the sources said.

In four cases, information was exposed after the agency announced measures in April to prevent further incidents.

The information leaks have brought to light lax informational security controls on information the agency had put in place, despite the fact it was to be upgraded to a ministry Tuesday.

According to the sources, GSDF members were involved in security breaches related to Winny once in fiscal 2002, three times in fiscal 2003 and another three times in fiscal 2004, but the number of incidents jumped to 20 in fiscal 2005.

In fiscal 2006, four such security breaches have been confirmed, the sources said.

The information leaks did not include classified documents, but in eight cases, documents, including training data containing sensitive information capable of impeding the execution of plans were disclosed.

Furthermore, data on general operations and personal information, such as lists of GSDF members and related organizations that were compiled and used by individual members, as well as photos were exposed.

Following the February revelation of information leaks on Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers, the agency immediately procured about 56,000 computers for use by SDF members and prohibited members from using their own computers to handle SDF data.

An agency official said the agency’s revelation that information had been exposed could result in more people searching for–and perhaps finding–compromised materials on the Internet, heightening the danger such information could be found and maliciously used.

The leak of information about the Ballistic Missile Defence project and the Aegis systems aboard MSDF Kondo-class vessels has the US worried:

Japan defense leak “serious problem”: U.S. forces
Fri Jun 22, 3:45 AM ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – The leak of data on the missile defense system Japan shares with Washington is a “serious problem,” and both nations must work together to improve security, the U.S. forces commander in Japan urged on Friday. […]

“The stated position of the U.S. government and the U.S. military is that this is a very serious problem,” Bruce Wright, the commander of U.S. forces in Japan, told a news conference.

“The United States remains very committed to working with our Japanese counterparts to make sure … the impact of the leaked information is understood, and together how to improve our operational security and specifically improve the operational security of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, working on it together.” […]

While the US sees Japan as an ally that still doesn’t pull its weight (although this appears to be slowly changing), an ally unwilling to aid its security guarantor through collective defence, and an ally that cannot keep its secrets, Japan will never be treated as an equal in the relationship. That is why Congressman Honda managed to kick up a fuss over the comfort women, and that is why there are fewer and fewer people around to stick up for Japan. It is also the US that is pushing Japan to get the legislation in place to shore up the sieve-like qualities of Japan’s SDF. The US wants to help, it has vested interest in doing so, but one wonders how much it can take. That is not to say that the end of the alliance is nigh, but rather that Japan is doing little more than pushing the US away (as seen in the abduction issue, among others)

The SDF Law marks defence leaks as a crime, but only since 2001. All leaks are bad, but one wonders about this latest method to fix the holes. Rather than a blanket security policy regarding foreign wives, why are the SDF vetting them? While in the top article the SDF is quick to refute the claims that it is a blanket ban, one wonders if it is so far fetched… Either way, they’d be much better off controlling their IT security ahead of discriminating against those with relationships with foreigners, yet they will never listen. The outsider is always easier to blame.

Security on the Korean PeninsulaI just got back from a pretty arduous day. I got up at 5am to take a 3-hour bus ride to Swansea in South Wales for a conference, and I just got back at 10.30pm. The conference was entitled ‘The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula’ and had a wide range of people talking, and I just want a take a few moments to report the day’s proceedings to you guys.

Firstly, Swansea. It was my first time there, and I think I’ve seen enough of it to not want to go back. While the University of Wales, Swansea was not a bad place, but the city was a shit-hole, to be fair. The contrast between university and city really couldn’t have been more marked as I stood outside the old Singleton Abbey (in which the conference was held) with a park below and the sea in the distance, far better than the grime and tack we saw driving in.

The conference was split into two halves, the domestic and international dimensions. The morning kicked off with a discussion entitled ‘Human Security in the DPRK’. Two of Swansea’s own lecturers gave papers in this session. Professor Michael Sheehan gave one entitled ‘Freedom from Fear: Political Oppression in the DPRK’ regarding the human rights abuses of the Kim regime. It was an interesting paper essentially showing how the DPRK had paid particular attention to the fall of the Ceauşescu regime in Romania and the lessons it drew from that, namely that change is dangerous and the North Korean practice of regime security was effective. Dr Alan Collins then gave a paper on ‘Freedom from Want: Famine and Migration in the DPRK’. Collins essentially outlined the culpability of the regime in the famine, as well as the link between regime security and the Public Distribution System (PDS), the main means through which food was distributed. He then advocated reunification as the best solution for the North Korean people, hoping for a peaceful change and a soft-landing.

The second morning session was on the reunification of Korea. Dr Key-young Son (of Sheffield University) presented a paper entitled ‘Are we near Sunset Boulevard? The Sunshine Policy and an ‘imagined’ road to unification’. It was an interesting discussion of what might happen after the Sunshine Policy hits its shelf-life. Son showed how the dots of economic cooperation in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong would develop, via South Korea’s modernisation of North Korean transportation, into lines linking the key locations of interest for the South Koreans in a cross-DMZ train service (one of the lines went from Seoul to Mt Baekdu). I wasn’t sure whether he was presenting his own projections, or those based on South Korean government desires. The second paper was by Professor Hideya Kurata (Kyorin University in Tokyo) on ‘Building Peace through Security Assurances’. My girlfriend told me she recognised Kurata from TV, and in talking to him she learned that he often gives his opinion to the press as an expert in East Asian international relations, and he has, at some point, been called a ‘North Korea collaborator’ by the press for his down-to-Earth views on the abduction issue (namely that Japan should be far more concerned with denuclearisation). His paper demonstrated the confidence-building measures and extended dialogue in the inter-Korean relationship, as well as peace-building beyond the current day.

The afternoon session on the international dimensions of Korean security began with discussions on the Six-Party Talks. Dr Jianjun Yu (of the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai) discussed China’s perspective in a paper entitled ‘China and Six-Party Talks: Seeking Multilateral Security in East Asia’. He suggested that the Six-Party Talks showed an East Asian conception of conflict resolution, different to that of Europe. In viewing China’s role in the talks, he discussed China’s change in security preferences (bilateral to multilateral engagement), its diplomatic plights (its strategic, moral, economic and political concerns vis a vis the DPRK), and the desire to institutionalise the Six-Party Talks as a multilateral security forum. Dr Russell Ong (University of Manchester) followed this up with a talk on the ‘US and the challenge of North Korea’, essentially running through the US perspective. This was largely reporting on what was already apparent to anyone who watched the news, and thus was the least interesting talk of the day (despite Ong’s engaging presentation technique). The one item that caught my attention was the US as an ‘Asian power’, that is a extraterritorial Great Power in the region.

The final session of the day was the most important and relevant for me, it was entitled ‘Nuclear Proliferation’ but didn’t really settle into this. Dr Christopher Hughes (Warwick University), a key writer on Japan’s defence posture, gave a talk on ‘Japan’s defence posture, missile defence and the response to DPRK nuclear proliferation’. I had no idea he was coming so it was a nice surprise for me. He discussed much along the same lines of my research interests, namely ‘North Korea as existential threat, alliance divider, terror state, and all-purpose pretext’. It was a great, yet brief discussion and I later asked him for his thoughts on the abduction issue, the marginalisation of Japan in the Six-Party Talks, and the effect on the US relationship. He saw Japan as ‘stranded’ and ‘in a corner’ politically, Abe had backed the wrong people (the US neo-cons such as Bolton) and now they are gone or going he is left as the seemingly hard-liner. The two other talks by Dr Seung-young Kim (University of Aberdeen) on the ‘US-South Korean Military Alliance: Impact of DPRK Nuclear Status’, and Unto Vesa (Tampere Peace Research Institute, Finland) on ‘North Korea and the Non-Proliferation Treaty’ largely passed me by (as I attempted to formulate the aforementioned question), although from what I gathered, Dr Kim saw South Korea’s relationship with the US becoming more open to choice, that is that Korea can choose to participate in adventures such as Iraq, unlike its close ties during the Vietnam War, for instance. Vesa showed the progression of the nuclear issue from the first North Korean nuclear physics research lab in 1959, right through the present day. He also saw the denuclearisation talks as a ‘long and winding road’, and essentially futile.

So, that was my day. Anyway, I’m going to go have a long soak in the bath to remove those bus-journey aches. Until next time…

Territorial Disputes Japan has territorial issues with three of its neighbours. Each and every instance seems intractable, and each is a major issue in Japan’s relations with those neighbours. North of Hokkaido, Japan claims the four islands that it calls the ‘Northern Territories’. To Japan’s northwest is Takeshima, claimed by the South Koreans. West of Japan is the Senkakus, which China claims. Nearby lie lucrative gas fields that could ease the burden of energy security on both sides.This post is the second of three that examine the territorial disputes of Japan. Today we will examine the disputes between China and Japan. It is about a whole lot more than barren islands. Each side wishes to extend its exclusive economic zone around the gas and oil fields of the East China Sea. To make things even more interesting, the Republic of China in Taiwan also lays claim to the islands which will henceforth be referred to as the Pinnacle Islands (as named by British navigators) for the sake of neutrality.

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Every man and his dog are discussing the agreement coming out of the Six-Party Talks. It is great that we’ve come so far, but I think there is one actor who is being short-changed here: China. Sure, news reports are giving them a cursory mention, but to me, China is the most important of the five in getting an agreement from the North Koreans. Is this a sign of a diplomatically more mature China? I will investigate this idea through the course of this post.

Firstly I will suggest to you that China’s role in the Six-Party Talks is of prime importance to the agreement. The current phase of the Talks is taking place in Beijing, and the Chinese had laid the groundwork for progress prior to their commencement on the 8th February. Christopher Hill, the top US negotiator at the Talks, commended China for its part in forging the agreement.

One of the key moves to improve the momentum of the Talks was the creation of the simultaneous working groups. One of these working groups gave Japan a forum to discuss the abduction issue in a bilateral framework towards normalising relations without impeding the main talks, although North Korea protested that the issue was resolved. I cannot stress how important this release is for the Talks. The Japanese pursuit of the abduction issue in the main talks was always in danger of derailing the process.

Before I continue, I just want to add some more words about Japan (for a start, it is ground I am far more familiar with). The Japanese still want to resolve the abduction issue, Shinzo Abe and his cabinet are still pushing this issue. However, on the ground there is undoubtedly some change. Despite Japan’s warning that it will not give aid to North Korea until there is some progress on the issue (which indeed is a toning down from ‘resolution’), Japan is still getting involved in the action. At the moment it is likely to assess North Korea’s energy needs, even if it doesn’t help meet them. This is important as Japan MUST stay involved in the process, this is key to Japanese and US interests.

Japan cannot afford to let North Korea’s denuclearisation take place without its input. As a regional power, and the future of that power, it must be able to project its perspective into the Talks. To this end, all six parties should attempt to ensure that the Japan-DPRK working group does not fall through. Progress on the abduction issue is important, but between North Korea’s stance on its resolution and Japan’s hard-line, there is a lot of friction to deal with.

I posited at the start that China’s role in the Six-Party Talks might be evidence of a mature foreign policy. However, there are other issues I have to address first. I will begin with last month’s anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test, before discussing the alternative reason for China’s interest in the Six-Party Talks.

The ASAT test was conducted on 11th January. China launched a rocket missile that made contact with one of its own satellites and successfully destroyed it. This was a worrying development to many and there are a number of reasons which I will address below, before I close the issue with a suggestion that this was not in the realm of foreign policy.

We all use satellites, I know for sure that I need them for the hundreds of channels of rubbish that comes into my TV. In most cases however, they are an invisible presence. If anything, weather forecasting would be even worse without them! However, one particular group of society is deeply reliant on them: the military (or more precisely, the US military). The US military uses satellites in much of its day-to-day operations. They are key to maintaining communication between its globally deployed forces, and much intelligence is derived from them (from the communications intelligence (COMINT) satellites that hoover up signals, to the imagery intelligence (IMINT) satellites that collect photographic data).

One primary use of satellites by the US military (and a great deal of other forces) is the Global Positioning System (GPS). China’s ASAT test might be seen as a direct threat to this system. To make matters worse, China has decoupled itself from the US-controlled GPS and joined the European Union’s Galileo programme that seeks to create a rival network. Indeed, China was the first non-EU state to sign up. So some fear that China’s test means that it could paralyse US systems in the event of conflict.

We should not forget the context of these fears: rising China. This is a direct threat to US hegemony, so the thinking goes. I would wager that a significant number see a second Cold War (and I don’t mean post-detente) or even an all-out conflict between the ascending China and US superpower. I don’t know if you buy into that though, I simply hope that we are beyond the Cold War paradigm and that the US can accommodate the creeping power of China peacefully… assuming China’s power ever reaches that magnitude.

Speaking of the Cold War paradigm, another system threatened by the ASAT test is the ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. This is the spiritual successor to the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI, better known as Star Wars). This is system aims to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. It is heavily reliant on satellites which provide early-warning, tracking and (possibly) kill functions. This is an issue for Japan whose involvement with BMD is for a locally-oriented theatre missile defence (TMD) system. Put simply, the US is attempting to undermine mutually assured destruction (MAD), yet the Chinese have countered these moves with the ASAT test.

This test, despite China’s insistence that it was a weaponisation/militarisation of space, is likely to see the US reconsidering its lack of ASAT capabilities. We could see an ASAT arms race in near future. The norms surrounding the weaponisation of space are enshrined in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (of which China is a signatory since 1989). However, the Outer Space Treaty has not killed all space-based weapons projects, one can see that with SDI in the 1980s. Furthermore, ASAT tests are not covered by the treaty, and the US conducted a test as recently as 1985. China did not vitiate the treaty, it simply has never been relevant.

The ASAT test was not an issue of foreign affairs for China. The test was conducted by the People’s Liberation Army, which has a large amount of independence from yet ties to China’s political institutions. For China, it was a defence or security concern, and that’s how they wished to play it. They attacked their own satellite (a task made easier because of the amount of tracking data one has their own satellites) and thus it was an internal matter… even if it created more debris in the planet’s near-space. The test comes from a different policy-making body than China’s foreign affairs, thus you might (as I am trying to do) argue that this transgression is not evidence of an ‘immature’ foreign policy.

So, back to North Korea. I’m sure you all remember that small incident this summer, oh and the incident a few months later… that’s right, the testing of the Taepodong II missiles and of a nuclear device. Well, it is most plausible that China was deeply embarrassed by the actions of its client state. China secures North Korea’s existence. It has provided aid, arms and political support, stemming from the original support it gave to Kim Il-Sung’s fight for a socialist state. In return, China could keep that particular terrier reined-in; barking, but too restrained to nip your ankles. With the 5th Round (the current one) of the Six-Party Talks underway at that time, North Korea threw away all of China’s goodwill by acting irresponsibly.

China was chastised for North Korea’s actions and it lost face in the Talks. Indeed, it has long been said that until China put pressure on Kim Jong-Il’s regime, there could never be any progress. So perhaps China sought to exercise its control over North Korea by pressing it into the current phase of the Six-Party Talks and securing an agreement so that it could also regain some political capital.

I see no reason why the paternal handling of North Korea and a maturing foreign policy need be mutually exclusive. In order to show the degree of maturity, I have to give further evidence. China is a global actor. It is pursuing a comprehensive development plan that sees it giving money to projects all over the world, particularly in Africa (creating a sphere of influence). It is filling the gaps of the unipolar world in a way that suggests it is ascendant. In its own region, namely Northeast Asia, it is mending bridges with Japan. How long this lasts is another matter… and therein lies the problem.

Deep down, I hope that we are seeing a more responsible China: a China that gets involved in climate change initiatives, peacekeeping, and human rights, but it can only go so far. China may be liberalising, but it is still a socialist state in terms of government. It is still a violator of human rights. China’s regional policy might be maturing, but perhaps it is simply a means of garnering goodwill before next year’s Olympic Games? If it gets the results, does it matter? Who knows… I certainly don’t.