On October 21 last, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China began their joint exercises in the Sea of Okhotsk, the most suitable maritime area to hit the US bases in the Pacific.
It may seem strange – but it is not so for those who look to the issue carefully- that in the same days there was a Sino-Russian joint naval-air-land action in the North Sea.
It is by no mere coincidence.
The Sino-Soviet joint operation in Asia took place after checking President Trump’s statements at the United Nations on September 19 last, when he had claimed he could “completely destroy” North Korea and its nuclear stations.
The more Trump is in military contrast with North Korea, as well as with China and Russia, two of the major military fleets after the United States – although this assessment is no longer fully true – the more Putin and Xi Jinping take joint action to indirectly defend North Korea, the terrestrial axis of their security against the possible US penetration from the Korean peninsula and the nearby areas.
North Korea is the point where the Sino-Russian security is weaker, at least for the time being. Hence, regardless of the North Korean leader’s assessment, both Putin and Xi Jinping convey incontrovertible signs to the United States.
The message conveyed is the following: do not touch our border north of South Korea, which is too full of US soldiers and nuclear bombs.
It is by no mere coincidence that the Sino-Russian joint training operations began on both national territories exactly on September 18 last.
The joint exercises – formally started on September 18, the day when Trump had brought the world leaders together to discuss the UN reform – were organized with a sequence of operations less than 100 miles off the North Korean coast.
This happened while the Chinese ships came to the bay of Peter the Great, outside the port of Vladivostok and while the United States, Japan and South Korea carried out operations to simulate an aircraft attack on North Korea with B1B bombers, as well as four F-35 fighters from Japan and two other ones from Guam.
Four other South Korean F-15K fighters added to the operation already underway but – before the UN Security Council meeting and after the bilateral USA-Japan-South Korea and Russia-China exercises – the US Ambassador to China reported that China “would never accept North Korea as a nuclear State.”
It will never accept a nuclear State, but it will certainly accept a buffer State against South Korea, a US and a quasi-nuclear base.
This means that China does not want a strategic threat on its border, nor a structural weakening and full denuclearization of North Korea, which would pave the way for the hegemony of the United States and South Korea (which is de facto a nuclear State) over Southern China and the South-Western maritime border of the Russian Federation, which is short but of utmost strategic importance to it.
China has not officially accepted that the United States could put pressures on it to convince North Korea to lower the threshold of its military programme.
China attaches particular importance to form and it does not certainly want to be “second” to the United States in the Korean peninsula.
Conversely, the true Chinese project is to reduce the North Korean missile, nuclear and chemical-bacteriological umbrella to create a friendly shield towards its Southern stations. This would ensure full strategic autonomy also to North Korea.
Nor should we forget that China accounts for 90% of North Korean trade and economy.
The United States has also a stealth base in Japan, from which aircrafts only partially protected and covered by North Korean and Chinese radars can leave.
The United States has also a base in Kadena, on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Nevertheless, as demonstrated in their joint manoeuvres, China and Russia can immediately show five major ships, two nuclear submarines and some support ships.
China, which is traditionally cautious in the manoeuvres showing its strength off, sent three surface ships and two support submarines.
In short, the “long arm” of the US Navy cannot do much against the mix of Russian and Chinese naval forces in the region which, in the event of a final US action, would defend North Korea as if it were their metropolitan territory.
Russia and China are close, the United States and Japan not.
On top of it, South Korea does not want to definitively sacrifice itself to “democratize” North Korea.
Hence Russia and China will never accept a “serious” Western and Japanese military operation on the Korean territory. They have said so in all possible military languages. On the contrary, as Xi Jinping and Putin underlined in the meeting they held in Moscow on July 5, they want “to cool the North Korean programme down”, in connection with a substantial denuclearization of South Korea and, above all, of the Japanese areas in the Pacific Ocean.
The United States has 35,000 soldiers in South Korea and 40,000 in Japan, deployed in eleven bases, many of which very close to North Korea and, above all, to the Chinese coast.
As was easy to imagine, Trump’s tour in the region was interpreted as a scarcely friendly sign by North Korea.
The North Korean leadership always speaks about the “huge US power in the region” – and this is not just propaganda. It also recalls the long story of the unresolvable conflict of the 38th parallel, which was a show of strength of the Korean Army and the Chinese forces, as well the attack and capture of the “Pueblo” spy ship in 1968, whose sailors were released after a long negotiation between North Korea and the United States on December 23, 1968.
North Korea’s propaganda continues with other examples of US weakness in defying its seas and skies. Indeed, I do not care about the sequence of North Korea’s victories.
It should be noted, however, that the United States must finally accept a share of North Korea’s defence on all sides, in relation to the protection that Russia – which is not always co-ordinated with China – will wish to provide to their buffer State in the Korean peninsula, while North Korea shall eventually agree on a wide protection area for its defence apparatus, which will mean integration with the Russian and Chinese economies, in particular.
The United States will deal with the South Korean border, now drilled and crossed by many new tunnels, in addition to those who are now visited tourists, while the North Korean-Russian-Chinese axis will control – with possibilities of credible threats and retaliation – the entire Southern China Sea and the South Pacific, by defusing the US bases in the region and threatening the rational rearmament of the Japanese “Self-Defence Forces”.
For Shinzo Abe that wanted it, the reform of the Japanese “pacifist” Constitution is a delicate balance in making the United States understand that Japan is a good proxy army in the Pacific, while it shall soon leave for economic crisis or other reasons; and that Japan, in particular- if it reams itself – is the true bulwark against China.
Paradoxically Japan reasons in the same way as North Korea: it no longer trusts a seventy-year-old equilibrium and wants to military balance – on its own – the economic integration with China and South-East Asia, where the United States has completely different aims than Japan.
With a view to countering this project, we would need much more than President Trump’s polemic against the North Korean “weapons of mass destruction” – a script for failure already seen at work against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
This happened after his weakening with a ten-year war against Khomeini’s Iran, when even the United States had forced the Shah to “democratic elections,” which were to overthrow him, and while US State Department emissaries ordered to Artesh, the Iranian army, to stage a coup against the Shah himself.
The lesson that Kim Jong-Un has learnt from the United States is that of the Balkans and Iraq – and it is very hard for someone to make him change his mind.
We would need a clear declaration recognizing the State of North Korea to open a channel to put pressure on China and Russia in North Korea. We would also need nuclear talks like the Six Party Talks, exactly where they ended in 2007, when North Korea agreed to close its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel and “steps forward” towards mutual recognition between North Korea, the United States and Japan.
Still a good start, to which we could add some economic actions that could integrate North Korea in the European markets, as well as the Japanese and Sino-Russian ones.
We should fully assess the North Korean production formula to include it in the matrix of economic internationalization that currently characterizes the whole South-East Asia with different and symbiotic productive structures.
The letter sent by North Korea to the President of the UN Security Council – later filed as document A/72/545-S/2017/882, both for the UN Security Council and for the UN Assembly on October 28 – must be seen in this sense.
In said letter North Korea pointed out that the naval and air operations organized by the United States and its allies in the Pacific could be defined as “acts of war”.
From a certain viewpoint, this is legally legitimate.
Later the aforementioned North Korean document was handed out as official document of the Council on October 30.
Furthermore, another North Korean official document shows that the country will not accept the recent charge of “money laundering” directed to it, because – if the financial transactions are designed to purchase technologies or military components for self-defence – there is no infringement of the rules of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) established, exactly for North Korea, in the FATF meeting held in Buenos Aires On November 1-3 last.
With specific reference to the sanctions against North Korea, the United States can currently hit the textile, the banking and the fishing sectors.
It is also said that China advised its banks and financial companies to block trade with North Korea.
Furthermore, Europe added to the sanctions already decided by the United Nations also a ridiculous block of trade for luxury goods and purebred horses.
Ironically, since the current year the North Korean economy has been growing by 4%, the fastest rate over the last seven years.
Certainly, China’s “covert” market network has been widely used in these years of sanctions, while Chinese banks have done everything – through the Chinese companies – to link North Korea to the global market.
From this viewpoint, there is no hope for an effective regime of sanctions against North Korea.
Too important for Russia and inevitable for China, which would like to see it powerful enough to close its Southern border, but not too nuclearized to force it to negotiate with North Korea.
Hence either North Korea is accepted as regional nuclear power or it is destroyed with nuclear weapons.
Moreover, the US propaganda itself, which sometimes emphasizes the need for a “preventive nuclear attack” against North Korea is a demonstration – according to the same and opposite propaganda of North Korea – of the “necessary” military autonomy of Kim Jong-Un’s Korea.
North Korea also believes that the very presence of US military bases, both in South Korea and elsewhere in the Pacific, is in itself a threat to its strategic autonomy.
This is also true, but here Kim Jong Un speaks on behalf of China and, partly, of Russia, which is less interested in the South Pacific, but considers the non-hegemonic freedom of the region a necessary protection for the Russian operations between the Kurili Islands and Siberia.
According to its official documents, North Korea “is careful in observing the US movements and the renewal of the US forces and its allies in the Pacific”.
This is the right time to rethink new “Six Party Talks” to: a) set the limits of the US direct hegemony in the South Pacific; b) set the limits of the North Korean nuclear power, if this can still play a real protection role; c) establish official relations between the United States and North Korea, and also with Japan; d) provide the economic support to the differentiation of the North Korean production system, which could find itself better in the world market than as Russian and Chinese sub-supplier.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France