Posts tagged: China

Rule of Law at China’s 19th Party Congress – Oh No Xi Didn’t!*

By , October 16, 2017

Every five years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds a Party Congress, a week-long, rather formulaic meeting of Party members that is more about palace intrigue — who in the Party advances, who is left behind — than it is about anything substantive.  At most, broad policies for the direction of the Party, and hence direction of the country in this one-party state, are announced.  The world media usually looks on with feigned interest.

But, as the CCP opens its 19th Party Congress this Wednesday, this year will be different.  For the first time, the Party Congress comes as China’s global star is truly on the rise, with the United States pretty much on retreat in the region, at least as a reliable, predictable partner. As a result, the future of China’s leadership has become more important to the world, especially as the current leader, Xi Jinping, seeks to consolidate his power.

Since taking over leadership of both the Party and the State in 2012 and 2013 respectively, Xi has moved China’s governing model away from the collective Party approach of his immediate predecessors, an approach where he would merely be the first among equals; an approach that was largely put in place in response to the excesses of the one-man leadership of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, with Xi, all power increasingly resides with him and he has sought to fill the inner rankings of the Party with his supporters.

Party Man Wang Qishan (Photo Courtesy of the Epoch Times)

In that regards, this week’s 19th Party Congress will largely be watched to see who will replace five members of the seven-member Standing Committee of the CCP’s Politburo, each of whom will hit the retirement age of 68.  Who takes over the reins, and whether they are considered Xi’s people, will foretell the depths of Xi’s power over the Party, and thus the state. But it is the future of one person on the Politburo Standing Committee that will be most revealing: Wang Qishan, the current Secretary of the Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, the committee responsible for policing Party members.  Wang, who is already 69, should be replaced during this Party Congress under the Party’s unwritten rule of forced retirement at the age of 68.  But there is speculation that this rule will be broken so that Xi can keep his right-hand man on his anti-corruption campaign, a campaign that for sure has exposed corruption at the highest levels but has also allowed Xi to easily purge his rivals. If Xi is willing to break this unspoken rule for Wang, then there is good chance that in five years, he will break the rule for himself and continue on for an unprecedented third term as Party head and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the two posts that hold real power in China.[1]

But the other thing to watch for at the 19th Party Congress is Xi Jinping’s doubling down on his anti-corruption campaign.  And not just because Xi has used the campaign to purge high-level officials who he considers a threat to his one-man rule — think Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang,and now, Sun Zhengcai, a man slated to be Xi’s successor until he was expelled from the Party. Instead, the anti-corruption campaign has been an affront to the rule of law in China.  Expect the 19th Party Congress to signal the codification of the abuses of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

Currently, the anti-corruption campaign is largely conducted through the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), a commission ostensibly responsible for investigating Party members’ violation of Party rules and of which Xi’s right hand man, Wang Qishan is still the head.  Theoretically, the police and procuratorate are responsible for investigating and prosecuting any corruption or bribery that rises to the level of a crime.  But in practice, the police, prosecutor and courts are a mere after thought to the CCDI.  That is largely because, outside of the confines of the law, the CCDI is able to secretly detain Party members, deny them access to a lawyer and interrogate them in secret locations.  According to Human Rights Watch, torture and ill-treatment during these secret Party detentions, known colloquially in China as shuanggui, are prevalent.  Instead of there being two separate systems, the Party and the State, the two are intertwined according to HRW: the prosecutor is a part of the shuanggui process, using the confession obtained through that investigation in the prosecution of the case.  In the Bo Xilai case, Bo attempted to retract his confession at his trial, stating that it was made under duress.  In the end, the court ruled against him and he received a life sentence on charges of corruption and bribery.

Bo Xilai on trial in 2013

But having the shuanggui system in place, a system that exists in the shadows of the law, has not been enough for Xi.  Last November, the Party announced a new pilot program for Beijing, Shanxi and Zhejiang provinces where the Party would create a new government body, a Supervision Commission.  As the Party doesn’t really have the full authority to create new governmental bodies, a month later, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), adopted the Supervision Commission pilot project.  That Supervision Commission would be the sole entity responsible for corruption and bribery by Party members, state officials, the legislature, the courts and state employees, taking away that responsibility from the Procuratorate and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.  The Supervision Commission will also have the power to interrogate and detain individuals as well as freeze their assets; it is unclear what role the courts will play – if any – in oversight of the Supervision Commission’s broad powers.  According to Prof. Zhiqiong June Wang, while much is still unknown about these Supervision Commission, what is known is that they will share personnel with the Party’s CCDI.  Prof. Wang anticipates that the NPC will seek to adopt the pilot project nationwide in March 2018.

Corruption is a serious problem in China  and there might be an argument that bringing the anti-corruption campaign into a strong, unified government body will be good for transparency and legal protections for the suspects, something that is currently ignored by the CCDI.  But the question remains – will codifying this campaign bring it out of the shadows of the CCDI or will it just bring more shadows to the law?  It seems like the latter is the more likely outcome.  First, even if the Supervision Commission were to follow the law, China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) still allows the Commission to legally hold suspects incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for six months without access to a lawyer.  This is because the provisions of  the CPL that the police currently use to do this to political activists under the guise of national security – Articles 37, 73 and 77 – apply where there are suspicions of “especially serious bribery.”  In a way, the CCDI’s methods have already been codified – and are actively being used with little reprimand – in the current CPL.

And with Xi only consolidating his power further at the 19th Party Congress, don’t expect there to be any divergent voices – anyone who cares about the Party and the government being subject to the law – in the Supervision Commission. The Party-State being subject to the law is not really Xi’s thing.  As if to demonstrate this further, this past weekend, the current head of the Ministry of Justice, Wu Aiying, was expelled from the Party.  Who replaced her as Justice Minister?  Zhang Jun, a former deputy chief of the CCDI.

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[1] China’s Constitution limits the President, a state position, not a Party one, to two terms.  But it is the two Party positions where real power lies.  Deng continued on as China’s paramount leader as a force within the Party.

* Hattip to Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate for the title pun.

How Many Times Can the World Turn its Head…..The Case for Wang Quanzhang

By , August 30, 2017

To call China’s human rights lawyers “battered” is an understatement.  These lawyers are victims of the Chinese government’s deliberate and brutal pursuit to render them extinct.  And that is why the nomination of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip award is so significant and why readers should vote for him (public voting is open here until September 6, 2017).

Wang is perhaps the quintessential human rights lawyer.  Even before graduating from Shandong University Law School in 2000, he was already representing some of Chinese society’s most vulnerable: members of the banned spiritual sect of Falun Gong.  From there, he extended his practice to assist farmers whose land was being confiscated, criminal defendants and other civil rights activist.  Throughout, he received constant pressure from the Chinese government to discontinue his practice and in 2013 was taken into custody by Chinese police merely for defending his client in court.  But instead of ending his advocacy, the Chinese government’s pressure only emboldened him. Wang criticized the Chinese government in a series of blog posts under the pen name Gao Feng and in 2014, traveled to Heilongjiang to protest the illegal detention of other human rights lawyers.  But for Wang, practicing law was not enough.  He also sought to elevate the legal profession in China and joined forces with a small foreign NGO in Beijing – Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (“China Action”) – to teach and support other human rights lawyers throughout China on how to effectively advocate in a one-party dictatorship.

Photo courtesy of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, July 4, 2016

While the rest of the world might celebrate Wang’s commitment to justice, in China, Wang is considered a villain – at least according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  It is his work that the CCP fears as a threat to its one-party rule and is intent on destroying.  On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government launched a national offensive against its human rights lawyers, simultaneously detaining over 300 lawyers and activist across the country (known colloquially as the “709 Crackdown”).  Wang was caught up in the persecution and on August 4, 2015 was detained for suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion of state power.”  Since then – for over two years – he has been held incommunicado, with his lawyers and his wife denied any access to him.  Ironically, the rights that Wang has long sought for his own clients – the right to meet with an attorney, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial in accordance with Chinese law – is being denied to him as he remains isolated in prison.

For sure, China’s human rights lawyers have been under assault for close to a decade now.  But as Professor Eva Pils notes in a recent article, the 709 Crackdown is much more severe, with new and frightening measures taken by the Chinese government.  From the inception of the Crackdown, the Chinese government has vilified these lawyers by name in the press (including naming Wang as a ringleader) and refer to them as a “criminal syndicate.” It has also changed its rhetoric – no longer are human rights lawyers a threat to social stability; instead, because of the influence of “foreign forces,” specifically the use of foreign NGO funds, the Chinese government presents these lawyers as a national security risk. And more recently, Pils notes that there appears to be at least six detained human rights lawyers who have been forced to take medication while in detention.  But not for any current medical condition.  Instead, it appears to Pils that the Chinese government’s use of forced medication has had a physiological impact on the detainees and is being used more to alter the personalities of the human rights defenders with the hope that they do not continue to practice once they are released.

Wang Quanzhang’s wife and son. Neither has seen Wang for the last two years,. Photo courtesy of RFA

And this is another reason why Wang Quanzhuang should be awarded the Human Rights Tulip.  China – the world’s second largest economy – offers another way by which to order society.  A world where human rights take a back seat to economics and alleged national security issues.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world appears to be largely playing along.  As Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo laid unnecessarily dying in a Chinese prison hospital, imprisoned for his speech, not a single world leader made a public peep about it at the G20 Summit that was happening at the same time.  As Beijing dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy, Western democracies largely remain quiet.  In May 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignorantly stated that promoting human rights “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”   In June 2017, Greece – which has been able to economically recover largely through the support of China – vetoed the European Union’s condemnation of China’s human rights record.  And this has only been the last four months.  With the nomination of Wang Quanzhuang for the Human Rights Tulip, the question arises – how many times can the world turn its head and pretend that it just doesn’t see?   Is this who we really are?  If the answer is no, then please vote for Wang Quanzhuang here.  From the top three, the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Government will choose a winner.

Without A Tomb To Sweep: The Death of Liu Xiaobo

By , July 16, 2017

2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo

This past Saturday, China Law & Policy marked the 8th anniversary of its founding.  But a commemorative birthday piece seemed inappropriate with the news that a few days earlier China’s only Noble Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, died in police custody.

Since the founding of this blog, Liu Xiaobo has been in jail. His crime?  His speech.  And in examining the Chinese government’s cruel response to Liu’s death, it is this speech that this aspiring superpower continues to fear.  Liu Xiaobo was not a murderer, a terrorist, and or even a revolutionary.  He was merely a Chinese activist, academic and public intellectual that for close to 30 years, used his pen to call upon the Chinese government to live up to its commitment to human rights; a commitment that China has agreed to by signing on to certain international treaties; a commitment that was written into the amended Chinese Constitution in 2004.

Liu’s most recent prison sentence wasn’t his first.  In 1989, Liu, who came back to China from a prestigious fellowship at Columbia University to support the students in Tiananmen Square, was sentenced to almost two years in jail for partaking in the movement.  When he was released, Liu lost his university position and his writings were

Liu Xiaobo (with megaphone) at the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square. Later, Liu would be credited with brokering a peace with the troops to allow the couple of hundred of students left on the Square on June 4 to leave without bloodshed.

banned in China.  In 1996 Liu was  imprisoned for three years, this time in a Re-Education Through Labor camp, for a series of essays criticizing the Chinese government and calling for greater democracy for the Chinese people.  Then, in late 2008, Liu co-drafted a document known as “Charter 08.”  Modeled after Charter 77, the document that sparked the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Charter 08, called for greater human rights in China, the end of one-party rule and an independent legal system.  Nothing terribly revolutionary. But for that, Liu was arrested, tried for inciting subversion of state power and, on Christmas Day 2009, sentenced to a harsh term of 11 years.  When he died last Thursday, Liu had only had about two years left on his sentence.  He hadn’t been heard from since his 2009 conviction.

But the silencing of Liu Xiaobo for the past eight years was not enough for the current regime.  When he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2010, the Chinese government vehemently criticized the choice and placed his wife, Liu Xia, under unlawful house arrest, house arrest that continues to today.  The Chinese internet was censored for any mention of Liu and the state-controlled media was not allowed to report on his prize.

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in happier times.

And even though, according to his wife, Liu was diagnosed by prison doctors with hepatitis B as early as 2010, his hepatitis was allowed to fester into liver cancer.  It appears that that Liu was only given proper medical treatment when it was too late – when the antiviral drugs that slows down hepatitis B from becoming liver cancer would no longer work, when embolization of the tumor would no longer be effective and when surgery could no longer be used to save a life.  It was only when the cancer became truly incurable that the Chinese government permitted Liu Xiaobo to go to a hospital – under constant guard – and die with his wife by his side. But even in his dying days, he was still denied dignity; the state-controlled media released pictures of Liu in the hospital, maintaining that the state had only given him the best care.  They would not let him go abroad as he requested, likely fearing that he would use his final breaths to criticize the Chinese government.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the empty chair where Liu Xiaobo was to sit.

With his death on Thursday, the Chinese regime rushed to hold a funeral so that Liu’s friends and admirers could not make it.  By Saturday morning, Liu Xiaobo’s wife buried his ashes at sea, likely at the demand of the Chinese government so that it could ensure that a tombstone would not be erected and potentially serve as a pilgrimage site. Liu’s brother was paraded on state-run TV stating that the quick sea burial was the family’s wishes. Even in his death, Liu was used as a propaganda tool, with pictures of his shell-shocked wife standing by the coffin and mechanically lowering his ashes into the ocean.  Since Thursday, 1.4 billion Chinese people have experienced a news blackout on anything related to Liu Xiaobo. International news channels were pulled from the air, the state-run media has been ordered not to report on Liu’s passing and Chinese censors have been in overdrive, taking down posts with RIP and candle emojis as the Chinese people attempt to publicly show their respect to their countryman.

Thousands of mourners in Hong Kong hold a march in honor of Liu Xiaobo. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

China is the second largest economy in the world and most believe that it will soon supplant the United States as the Asia regional superpower.  But yet this is how it responds to the death of one critique in its midst.  A man whose only weapons were words and thoughts.  If China still wonders why it can’t successfully project soft power internationally, this is it.  While the Chinese government protests that it treated Liu with utmost care in prison, provided as much medical care as possible at the end, and permitted his family to hold a funeral, it still can’t ignore the fact that it imprisoned – and essentially killed – a man for his thoughts.  The last Noble Peace Prize winner to die in state custody was Carl von Ossietky, the 1935 winner who, in 1938, died in a Nazi concentration camp.  It’s never a good thing to be compared to the Nazi regime.

But even more troubling is that the Chinese regime’s suppression of Liu Xiaobo’s speech – both in life and in death – reflects a government that does not trust its own people.  Is Liu’s words going to cause revolution in the streets?  Probably not.  But yet they cannot be heard.  And in recent years, that distrust has only worsened.  Two years ago, the Chinese government conducted a nationwide crackdown on China’s civil rights lawyers, lawyers who use the legal system to protect people’s legal rights; nothing particularly revolutionary about that tactic.  And any civil society organization that becomes too successful, is shut down.  The Chinese people are left with no outlet to shape their own society and demand that their government live up to its ideals. Instead, the Chinese government distrusts anyone who it believes dissents.  But as Liu Xiaobo noted in the speech that was read at his Noble Prize ceremony, that enemy mentality will be a setback to progress:

Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. . . . Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

Impromptu memorial for Liu Xiaobo in Flushing, Queens, NYC (Courtesy of Facebook)

And Liu’s words and thoughts are not just ripe for the Chinese government right now but for all of us.  Especially as the current United States Administration focuses less on human rights.  On Thursday, President Trump issued a pathetic statement on Liu’s death through his press secretary. And only after he gushed about the greatness of China’s president Xi Jinping a mere hours after Liu’s passing.  It wasn’t just China who lost a hero on Thursday, but the world.  And the world needs the ideals of Liu Xiaobo now more than ever.  May you rest in peace Liu Xiaobo and may we find the courage to continue your struggle both in China and in the world at large.

China’s First Gay Conversion Therapy Case – Is it Really a Victory?

Courtesy of Asian Journal

Last week, a local court in Henan, China held that the involuntary commitment of a gay man in a state-run mental hospital was a violation of China’s Mental Health Law.[1]  The court required the hospital to make a public apology and to compensate the man 5,000 yuan (approximately $735)  for his mental anguish.  Across China, and in much of the West, civil rights groups have hailed this decision as historic; a victory against forced gay conversion therapy; a step forward for LGBT rights in China.

But is it?  The very fact that the court decided to hear the case – let alone find in the victim’s favor – is significant.  In China, to get to a trial date, you have to first make it past the Case Filing Division (立案庭), a department within the court system, staffed by judges, that examines, behind closed doors, the papers to see if the case should move forward. More politically-charged cases are often rejected by the Case Filing Division and thus, never make it to court.  But here, this case – a politically-charged case where the plaintiff claimed that he was involuntarily committed because of a diagnosis of “sexual orientation disorder” –  was accepted by the local Case Filing Division and thus, was considered important enough to be heard.  And the fact that a court held against a government-run hospital is a pretty big deal.

Courtesy of LGBTQ Nation

But the Court’s decision is not the sweeping condemnation of forced gay conversion therapy that the headlines make it out to be.  If anything, it shows the weakness of China’s Mental Health Law and the fact that involuntary commitment is still too easy a task with little to no immediate safe guards.

The Court’s Decision Does Not Mention Gay Conversion Therapy

Although the plaintiff raised the issue that he was being involuntarily committed for what he claimed the hospital diagnosis as a “sexual orientation disorder”, those are not the facts as the Court saw it.  Instead, the Court noted that the plaintiff was involuntarily committed for an anxiety disorder, never mentioning the plaintiff’s sexuality.  Further, its decision in favor of the plaintiff had nothing to do with the efficacy, morality or legality of gay conversion therapy.

Instead, the Court focused on Article 30 of China’s Mental Health Law, the provision that limits involuntary commitment to cases where the patient is in danger of harming himself or harming others.  Here, the Court noted the hospital’s written diagnosis which stated that while the plaintiff had suicidal thoughts, he was not going to act on those thoughts.  It was this act – the commitment of the plaintiff when he was not a threat to himself or others and in clear violation of Article 30 – that the Court admonished, not that the plaintiff was forced to undergo a mental health treatment to “cure” his homosexuality.

Under the Mental Health Law, Involuntary Commitment is Still Too Easy & Will Continue to Unlawfully Occur

If anything, this case lays bare the weaknesses of China’s Mental Health Law.  Enacted five years ago, the Law was seen as stopping the involuntary commitment of individuals who did not have a mental disorder, or if they did, not one that needed commitment.  In China, involuntary commitment was all too easy of a way for the police to deal with and silence political dissidents or anyone they considered to be “trouble.”  And initial drafts of the Law continued to permit involuntary commitment  if the individual’s behavior was deemed to be “disturbing public order” or “endangering public safety.”  But, in a victory for mental health advocates, the final version did not  include that basis.  Instead, involuntary commitment was limited to where there is a real possibility of harm to self or others.

But what the Mental Health Law did not change is the deference that the law gives to family members.  Article 28 of the Mental Health Law still permits family members to involuntarily commit an individual that the family member suspects has a mental illness.

Here, after the plaintiff attempted to divorce his wife, she and the plaintiff’s brother brought him to the mental hospital and recommended commitment, as they unfortunately have a right to do under Article 28. As family members, they were immediately declared the plaintiff’s guardians and thus were able to sign the involuntary commitment documents.

And that is the other problem with the current Mental Health Law, the ease by which a guardian is appointed. While the Mental Health Law gives a tremendous amount of power to an individual’s guardian, it provides no method for how that guardian should be appointed.  Instead, it is necessary to look to the General Principles of Civil Law which discusses guardianship for individuals with mental illness.

Unfortunately, the General Principles does little to flesh out the appointment process.  Instead, it makes clear the level of abuse that can occur.   Article 13 of the General Principles requires the appointment of an agent ad litem (a guardian) for mentally ill individuals who are “unable to account for his own conduct.”  But the law does not flesh out what “account for his own conduct means.”  Some individuals with mental illness may still be able to lead a relatively normal life and just need help in certain aspects.  But the General Principles is much more black and white; much more all-or-nothing and do not allow for that gray area that provides for some independence for an individual with slight assistance from a guardian.

Additionally, the General Principles provides no formal or independent process by which a guardian is appointed.  Basically, if a person wants to be a family member’s guardian, she can just declare herself as such (Article 17 of the General Principles pretty much limits guardians to family members although there is a provision for a work unit member).  Based on the General Principles and what happened in the case here, the process for guardianship in China is not an appointment process but rather a declaration one.  And there is no court oversight of this declaration of guardianship. Hence the ability of a soon-to-be ex-wife to declare herself guardian and commitment her gay husband to mental institution in a society that isn’t always the friendliest to LGBT lifestyles.

Finally, although the Mental Health Law does permit the patient to contest his diagnosis and demand a second opinion (see Article 32), that evidently did not happen here.  The Court did note that the commitment was over plaintiff’s objections, but there is not mention if there was a second opinion of his diagnosis as should have happened when the patient contests.  And again, without immediate judicial oversight of the commitment process, an increasingly massive failure of the Mental Health Law, abuse of involuntary commitment will continue.  Here, the plaintiff was only able to escape  after he was able to call a friend who called the police and then the police intervened and freed the plaintiff.  But if he wasn’t able to make that phone call, it is unclear when he would have been released.

What this case shows more than anything is that involuntarily committing – especially a family member – is still too easy and, five years after the passage of the Mental Health Law, is still being to readily abused.

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[1] China Law & Policy was fortunate to review a copy of the four-page decision.  This post is based upon our review of that decision.

As the Sun Rises on Tiananmen

Bird’s eye view of Tiananmen Square

On Sunday, the sun will rise once again on Tiananmen Square, much like it did on the same Sunday 28 years ago.  But unlike that Sunday – June 4, 1989 – Beijing will not awaken to its city occupied by the Chinese military nor the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square littered with the dead bodies of unarmed civilians.

Instead, life will go on in China with no official acknowledgement of the anniversary of that fateful day 28 years ago when the Chinese government ordered its military to open fire on its own people. The exact number of people killed the night of June 3, 1989 into the early morning hours of June 4 is only known to the perpetrators of the massacre: the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”). But whether it was a few hundred or a few thousand does not diminish the fact that peaceful protests were squashed with such a violent – and unnecessary – crackdown.

Hundreds of thousands gather on Tiananmen Square, June 2, 1989 (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Contrary to the CCP’s interpretation of events, the protests in Beijing were not counter-revolutionary attempts to undermine the CCP. And contrary to the Western media’s perceptions at the time, it was not an effort to bring Western democracy to China.  Instead, the protests were deeply rooted in China’s own history and tradition, a tradition of students conducting patriotic demonstrations in an effort to strengthen their country.

In 1989, those efforts were directed at the nepotism and corruption that was beginning to plague the CCP, the economic turmoil brought on by inflation, the lack of personal freedoms and government censorship.  While students started the protests, eventually, much of the populace joined in, with workers going on strike to support the movement.  By mid-May, the protests would draw over a million people on a daily basis. Neither the May 19 declaration of martial law nor the pleading by sympathetic leaders for protesters to clear the square stopped the protests.  And on June 3, 1989, Deng Xiaoping gave the order for the army to fire on the civilians.

Tanks roll onto Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

For a brief time after the crackdown, the CCP did acknowledge the event. Not to celebrate the brave men and women who gave their lives to better their country, but to condemn them. Slowly, however, the CCP’s policy changed and instead of trying to change the narrative of that night, the CCP chose to forget it.  Today, the Tiananmen massacre is largely scrubbed from the Chinese internet, it is not allowed to be discussed openly and many of the children born after 1989 do not know of the truth of that night.

But every year, there are still those in China willing to risk their freedom to commemorate the violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square.  A few years ago it was Chinese netizens reposting the image of the Tank Man – the Chinese citizen stopping a line of tanks, a banned picture on the Chinese internet – standing in front of a line of large, yellow rubber ducks.  The picture spread on the Chinese internet until the Chinese authorities got wind, and censored “yellow rubber duck.”  This year, it is four men who produced a Chinese rice wine with a label that references “6*4”, a shorthand for the June 4 crackdown, and calls on people to “never forget.”  While the bottle has been smuggled out of China by a sympathetic Chinese official, those four men are currently facing charges of inciting subversion of state power.

As much as the CCP may try, China will not forget the brave men and women who lost their lives on June 4, 1989.  For there are still enough Chinese people who are willing to put their safety on the line to ensure that that does not happen.

One Belt One Road – A Lot More Than Just A Weird Name

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers opening remarks at the One Belt, One Road Summit on May 14, 2017 in Beijing (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

For those in the United States who woke up this morning not realizing that China just opened one of the largest trade summits in Asia, you are not alone.  For the American press has barely mentioned China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy, let alone this inaugural, two-day summit of the initiative, with over 1,500 participants and 28 heads of state in attendance.

But One Belt, One Road is not something to be ignored. Although launched only four years ago, it reflects Beijing’s very real ambition to exert its economic influence – if not be the dominating economic force – in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.  It also reflects the historical legacy of China’s Silk Road – a trade route between Europe and China that emerged as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 B.C.) and flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.).  It was the Silk Road that resulted in China becoming the economic and cosmopolitan superpower that it was during those time periods.  China’s current One Belt, One Road initiative seeks to replicate that route, creating a modern day trade route over land from Beijing to Europe.  But it also calls for creating a maritime trade route around South Asia to the east coast of Africa and the Middle East.

However, unlike the ancient Silk Road – where trade flowed in and out of China – with One Belt, One Road, China’s intention is predominately for trade to go out. As Peter Cai of the Lowry Institute argues in his report Understanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in many ways, China’s geostrategic interests – that it seeks to be the new global superpower over the United States, with control of key trade routes – are secondary to its domestic economic motivations for One Belt, One Road.

Lanzhou’s Airport, Terminal 2 (Photo courtesy of China.org.cn)

First, Cai highlights that the economic inequality between rich, east coast cities (think Shanghai, Guangdong, Xiamen) and China’s hinterland are at almost crisis levels.  But One Belt, One Road – with its reorientation on trade moving West – would focus on these land-locked, poorer cities and provinces like Gansu, Xinjiang, and even some of the less rich provinces of China’s northeast.  According to Cai, these areas are all competing to borrow money at low rates under the One Belt, One Road to build its infrastructure in anticipation of these new trade routes.  There is a reason why Lanzhou, in what feels like the middle of nowhere China, has one of the fanciest airports in the country.

Economic slowdown in China? (Photo courtesy of the Economist)

China’s second domestic economic motivation for One Belt, One Road is the fact that with economic slowdown recently, key industries such as steel, coal and construction, have excess capacity.  These are the same industries that took a lot of loans from the central government to get through the global financial crisis of 2008, loans that may not be re-payed if China’s economy stays where it is.  One Belt, One Road however, is a way to escape this conundrum.  But not just by selling steel or coal or cement abroad.  Instead, as Cai points out, China intends to actually move the production facilities to these other countries.  This would allow China to rid itself of a supply glut while providing less developed countries with manufacturing facilities that can help with their own economic development (although they will likely still be Chinese-owned).  In some ways, a win-win for China and these other One Belt, One Road countries.

China has already moved some factories abroad, such as this garment factory which was moved from China to Ethiopia where labor is cheaper. (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail/Getty Images)

And at the same time, by moving factories abroad, China will be able to refocus its economy from a low-end manufacturing country to one that can promote innovation and technological development.  With China as the key innovative country in the region, it can then use One Belt, One Road, to promote its new technologies – like the high-speed railways it is building in various African countries and Southeast Asian countries.  With all these countries being on the same railway system only deepens the trade partnership and economic integration with China.

While the United States turns inward and gets bogged down with needless political crises, One Belt, One Road is in many ways a genius strategy for China.  It gets itself out of its own economic straights, it ensures global integration in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa with China at the center, and enables China to exert greater and greater global influence.

The Silk Road of the past – when camels roamed

But, while China has pledged $1 trillion to One Belt, One Road, much of that money has yet to be spent.  There is also the gamble of the Chinese government’s very deliberate and planned approach to developing this trade route: it does not enable Chinese companies themselves –companies who are best able to determine the risk in their industries and in the countries where China wants them to invest – to make their own decisions.  But as Elizabeth Economy, the Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) noted at a CFR event the other week, if fully realized, the One Belt, One Road initiative will fundamentally restructure the political landscape for over a third of the world.

But if all you do is read the U.S. press, that fact could just pass you by.

The Trump-Xi Summit – Making Plans to Make Plans

By , April 11, 2017

Presidents Trump and Xi Jingping at Mar-a-Lago, April 6, 2017 (Photo courtesy of JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

To say that the U.S. air strike on Syria overshadowed the Trump-Xi summit last week would be an understatement.  The event basically eclipsed the two day conference, pushing the meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies to second page news.

But even without the Syrian air strike, the summit would not have created much news.  In fact, in the way Trump and Xi each described the outcome of the meeting – deepening their friendship  and making progress in their relationship – it seemed more reminiscent of a marriage proposal in Elizabethan England than a discussion between two powerful countries that have been having a difficult relationship.

But did anything substantive come out of the summit?  The South China Morning Post has a great review of the issues discussed – and not discussed – at last week’s summit.  But here are some highlights:

Trade

At Mar-a-Lago last week (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump did raise the issue of trade and, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “underscored the need for China to take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.”  But it is unclear if the statement resonated with the Chinese delegation.  And, contrary to some pundits’ expectations, Xi did not come to Mar-a-Lago with a peace offering, namely proposing job-creating investments in the United States.

Instead, the two sides announced the 100-Day Plan, a policy to completely overhaul their trade relationship within 100 days.  While most countries take years to rebalance a trade relationship, Trump and Xi are going to do it in a mere 100 days.  Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross correctly noted that this approach would be a “very big sea change” but offered no explanation exactly how all of this can occur in a matter of three-and-a-half months or even why it should; why such a rush to recalibrate the most important trade relationship in the world is a good idea.

North Korea

While both countries acknowledged North Korea as a growing nuclear threat, no middle ground was met.  It appears that Trump continued to warn China that if it did not do more, the U.S. would follow its own course of action, and with the Syrian attack in the backdrop, one can only imagine what Xi was thinking in all this.  China’s foreign minister however noted that if North Korea ceases its nuclear program, then military action in the region should also cease.  Interestingly, this was the suggestion that Beijing made last month: to halt the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills to induce North Korea to coming back to the negotiating table.  The U.S. did not listen and instead continued with the drills.

Human Rights

Just say no to human rights

Neither side mentioned whether human rights was raised during the summit and, given the agendas of these two men, it likely was not.  But in a White House-approved statement after the summit, Tillerson again used the vocabulary of the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) to describe the U.S.-China relationship: one of “mutual interest.”  For the Chinese, this is not rhetoric but words that come with baggage.  Mutual interest is often used by China to scold other countries when those countries question China’s domestic policies.  Usually used in relation to China’s interest in Tibet and Taiwan, it can also be used in defense of foreign criticism of policies that seek to viciously stamp out civil society. So expect human rights to play a low role in Trump’s policy toward China.

State Visit & U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue

Trump – already big in China

Xi invited Trump to a state visit in China this year and Trump said yes.  But more importantly, the U.S. and China established a framework by which to hold high-level talks, the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue.  Make no mistake, this is not a new idea.  Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. and China would periodically host the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Human Rights Dialogue and on occasion, the Legal Experts Dialogue.  It appears that Trump and Xi are going to replace these dialogues with the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue (date yet to be announced) which will have four tracks: a diplomatic and security dialogue; a comprehensive economic dialogue; a law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue; and a social and cultures issues dialogue.  Again, human rights was not named as a specific issue and if it is unclear if this issue will merely be squished into the social and cultural issue dialogue.

So in the end, not many outcomes from the Trump-Xi summit.  Perhaps what is more telling though is what was not said at the summit.  No mention of Taiwan, no mention of human rights and no mention of increased Chinese investment in the U.S. to create jobs.  But check back in 100 days.

Trump Tough on North Korea Before Xi Meeting – Will it Work or Just Backfire?

By , April 3, 2017

Trump and Xi to meet on Thursday and Friday

On Thursday, President Donald Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort in Mar-a-Lago for their first summit meeting.  While it is not clear what will come out of this two-day meeting, what will certainly be on the agenda is North Korea.  But is Trump and his administration ready?

Trump has barely staffed up the upper echelons of the State Department or the Department of Defense and on Sunday, in an interview with the Financial Times, Trump yet again claimed that “China has great influence over North Korea.”

But, as North Korea expert Jenny Town made clear in an interview with China Law & Policy, China does not have the influence over North Korea that Trump thinks it has.  “China’s current relationship with North Korea is not very good either, especially compared to past years” Town told China Law & Policy.  “I think that there’s a lot of problems with the way that people think about China’s influence on North Korea, and I think they really over estimate that influence.”

Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute

And in a way, Trump underestimates the influence that the U.S.’ rhetoric has on North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. “I think some of [North Korea’s] antagonism with China is maybe also somewhat triggered by all this U.S. talk of ‘if we just push China enough, China will take care of this problem'” Town told China Law & Policy.

In his interview with the Financial Times, Trump also stated that if China won’t exert its influence – which, in reality, may not be that strong right now – the U.S. will go it alone.  But will it really?  Any actions the U.S. takes with North Korea will have a strong impact on South Korea and Japan, important strategic allies in the region with populations that  will unfairly bear the brunt of the U.S.’ bellicose engagement with North Korea. In terms of a preventive strike on North Korea (preemptive strike is in fact a misnomer in this situation according to Town), “North Korea is almost guaranteed to have some kind of response. The response might not even be directly on the U.S., but again our allies in the region” stated Town.

Now if the Trump Administration’s idea of going it alone is one-on-one dialogue with North Korea, that could actually be game-changing.  According to Town, the Obama Administration’s policy of

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un (Photo courtesy of CNN)

“strategic patience” – where it ignored diplomatic relations with North Korea and instead doubled-down on sanctions – was a failure, allowing North Korea to rapidly advance its missile technology.  The Trump Administration has stated that it rejects the policy of strategic patience. But in her interview, Town questions if that is true, especially if the Trump Administration is just looking to issue more sanctions: “[W]hen [Secretary of State] Tillerson said strategic patience is over, we all look at the things that he talks about after that. Those are really just tenets of strategic patience. So again without negotiation you’re still just doubling down on the same tactic and hoping for a different result. Even if you’re making them harder-edged, it’s still not a new tactic. Again, if it’s been ineffective now for eight years, what makes you think just pushing a little harder is going to help?”

To listen to the full podcast of China Law & Policy‘s exclusive interview with Jenny Town of the John Hopkins’ US-Korea Institute, click the media player below (total time – 37:08).  To read the full transcript, click here

CL&P Exclusive – Talking North Korea with Jenny Town (Part 2)

By , March 30, 2017

Part 2 – The Role of China

Yesterday, China Law & Policy published Part 1 of its exclusive interview with Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the U.S.-Korea Institute and noted expert on North Korea.  While Part 1 of the interview focused on North Korea’s military build-up and the U.S.’ prior policy toward North Korea, in Part 2, Ms. Town discusses Secretary Tillerson’s announcement that no options are off the table, the precarious future of U.S-North Korea relations, and what role can China play in all of this.  Is it really that “China has done little to help” as President Trump tweeted a few weeks ago?

Read the transcript below for Part 2 of this two-part interview where Ms. Town explains the role of China on the Korean peninsula.  Or click on the media player below to listen to the interview (total time – 20:38)

For Part 1 of the series, please click here.

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Secretary Tillerson at the DMZ, March 2017 (Photo courtesy of CNN)

CL&P:            I guess in that regard, I mean when Tillerson was over there this past month, he stated that he was going to leave all options on the table. What exactly do you think he meant by that, and is this harsher stance? I mean it sounds like it’s a harsher stance than strategic patience. Is it good or bad for peace on the Korean peninsula?

JT:      I think it’s a little bit out of context. I think that the reality is Tillerson is not a seasoned diplomat, and so when he says certain things, he says certain things in ways that a seasoned diplomat wouldn’t. The reality is right now the [U.S.] government is going through a policy review. And as part of the policy review of course, they’re reviewing all options, including military options, including negotiations, and so they haven’t necessarily come out with their policy yet. So part of what he was saying is that yes, all options are still on the table, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in the future.

President Xi Jinping (Photo courtesy of Time)

The [U.S.] government is expected to be done with their policy review in the next couple of weeks, especially before the visit by Xi Jinping to be able to have some level of strategic discussion with Xi Jinping. But, you know, it isn’t helpful for him to have said it either, again without those qualifiers, because it does come across more aggressive and more belligerent at a time when tensions are already very high. This kind of talk is very dangerous especially if that isn’t the direction which we end up going because it already put the thought out there, and it’s already sort of antagonizing the situation more than it needs to be.

CL&P:            I think that’s true, because I think of lot of the press already have interpreted that statement as also equating it with preemptive strike. How serious of a possibility do you think right now in diplomatic circles down in D.C. people are talking about preemptive strike against North Korea?

JT:      I would say people are talking about it, and they’re talking about it a lot. But most of the discussion about that’s happening right now is why it’s a really, really bad idea because all of the things that could go wrong in the process. Here’s the problem.  It’s not even preemptive strikes. It’s not like we’re watching them load up an ICBM that we know is coming to the U.S. which would give us the right to defend ourselves from an attack. That’s what preemptive means.

What people are talking about now is more preventive strikes or surgical strikes. So basically preventing them from having the technology by trying to disrupt their systems; preventive strikes on say missile bases or missile arsenals, things like that. But, I think there’s a huge miscalculation if people think that North Korea wouldn’t retaliate. If the U.S. were to do something, North Korea is almost guaranteed to have some kind of response. The response might not even be directly on the U.S., but again our allies in the region. It makes it very dangerous. It’s a very dangerous proposition, one that could easily escalate into war.

CL&P:            You had mentioned the new Trump administration figuring out a more precise North Korea policy before Xi Jinping comes to visit Trump, and I think that’s interesting. Because in President Trump’s Tweet a couple weeks ago about the North Korean situation, in addition to saying that they were behaving badly, he also brought up China, and stating that China has done little to help. I guess just to start us off if you can explain a little bit more what exactly is China’s current relationship with North Korea.

Better times. Prior N.Korea lead Kim Jong-il meeting with prior Chinese President Hu Jintao (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

JT:      China’s current relationship with North Korea is not very good either, especially compared to past years. Under Kim Jong-il China had a good understanding of North Korea and had a relationship with Kim Jong-il and could signal to him when he’s gone too far. They had a personal relationship with him and knew how he would react to certain things. Since Kin Jong-un has come to power, Kim Jong-un does not have a relationship with Xi Jinping. He hasn’t been to Beijing. They don’t know what to expect from him. They don’t know him. Everything that anyone is doing that’s trying to send signals to North Korea, we don’t exactly know how he will react.

We knew how Kim Jong-il would react because Kim Jong-il had been there for 20 years. He had been apprenticed under Kim Il-sung for 16 years before that. Kim Jong-un only came to the scene a year before his father died. We never got to know him as the successor before he took over, and now that he’s in power there’s a lot of times where people say he’s unpredictable. Well, of course he’s unpredictable to us because we don’t know him and we don’t have a relationship with him. And we don’t know how he’s going to react. Too many people assume that he will react like Kim Jung-il did, but he’s proven he’s not his father.

The question is now when are people finally going to take the time to accept that notion – he’s not his father – and try and build a relationship with him.  To try and get to know him and better understand how he’s thinking and how he’s going to react to things.

Kim Jong-un’s half brother, murdered in Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of the South China Morning Post)

CL&P:            I mean I guess also in that regards with Kin Jong-un taking over leadership and the relationship with China, it’s been mentioned a number of times that he hasn’t visited Beijing. Also, my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, is that the execution of his uncle. His uncle was close to Beijing, and then also the half brother was protected by Beijing. Are any of these things being done to sever even further the relationship with Beijing or to prove something to Beijing, or do we just not know?

JT:      It clearly has had a damaging effect on an already frustrated Beijing. I think that there’s a lot of problems with the way that people think about China’s influence on North Korea, and I think they really over estimate that influence. Again, under Kim Jong-il, I think it might have had a little bit more credence just because, again, they had a legacy of working together. With Kim Jong-un, it’s a much different relationship. It’s one of those things where Beijing does not want North Korea to have nuclear weapons either. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they [China] have this secret formula where if they just did certain things, North Korea would fall in line and that they just choose not to do it.

China’s Wu Dawei (center) visits North Korea

I think this is how a lot of Americans think about China policy towards North Korea. In the meantime, I think China has done a lot to try and address the issue, but has limitations on the influence that they have. They say this to us all the time. It’s not like China has a China-North Korea joint army like the U.S. and South Korea does. They don’t have a presence in North Korea. They can certainly send messages and send signals, but even the fact that back in 2015. Was that it? No, in 2016, even when Wu Dawei had gone to Pyongyang to talk to the North Koreans about settling things down.  The fact that they announced that they were going to do another SLV launch on the day that he landed, I think shows a lot about how Kim Jong-un thinks about Beijing right now.

And I think a lot of it is the relationship has been damaged as Kim Jong-un is trying to show he can’t be pushed around. I think some of this antagonism with China is maybe also somewhat triggered by all this U.S. talk of ‘if we just push China enough, China will take care of this problem.’ I think it puts the Chinese in a very awkward position, but the Chinese always come back to us and say ‘hey look we’re doing what we can, but the U.S. should be doing more, too.’ And the doing more part has to do with direct bi-lateral diplomacy as well. So without that factor, all we’re doing is kind of skirting around the issue and just putting more pressure on an already boiling pot.

The border between China and North Korea

CL&P:            I guess in that regards, with the situation today in the relationship between China and North Korea now, then how instrumental is China in easing the tensions on the Korean peninsula?

JT:      I think China definitely plays a big role, but it doesn’t play the only role. It’s not something where if we just use China enough that China can scold North Korea and North Korea’s going to come to the table. The other problem too is that even if China – and here’s always sort of these clash of tensions – is that China’s national interest is to prevent instability in the region because instability is good for no one. The U.S., part of strategic patience, they’re kind of hoping that North Korea will collapse and that if we put enough pressure on the situation, we can get the regime to change which is sort of the path of most resistance and the most danger.

I think there is a certain degree to where China also recognizes that the more pressure it puts by cutting off,. . .Implementing sanctions is one thing, but a lot of people think ‘well if China just cuts of North Korea and all trade and all oil and all goods, that North Korea again will just bend over, and will come running back and beg for forgiveness kind of thing,’ but I think the problem is that that scenario is very unlikely. Even if China does that, North Korea’s more likely to be more belligerent. Belligerent could be belligerent towards China as well, so you never know. We talk about this a lot these days: be careful what you wish for. Getting China to cut off North Korea could go one way in a positive way. It could go really bad as well.

Xi to meet Trump next week at his Florida resort, Mar-a-lago

CL&P:            When Xi Jinping meets with President Trump, what do you think he’ll be asking the U.S. to do with North Korea? What do you think his request will be?

JT:      I’m almost positive he’s going to tell the U.S. that negotiations have to be part of any new policy. For instance if you look at the U.N. Security Council resolutions, when the U.S. talks about  the U.N. SPR 2270 or 1718 or 2048, all the different resolutions now, they always talk about the sanctions resolution. In the last round, in the 2270 resolutions for instance, in those negotiations, I think people came away thinking ‘wow China really agreed to some tougher measures.’ We’re kind of impressed that China agreed to these tougher measures definitely sending signals to Pyongyang that they were unhappy with Pyongyang’s behavior.

When the Chinese talk about 2270, they talk about resolution 2270, not the 2270 sanctions. The big difference is that in that resolution, there’s also a mandate for negotiations.  So when the Chinese talk about these things, and in response to pressure or criticism that they’re not doing enough, they always come back with ‘but you’re not fulfilling your end of the portion either.’

U.N. Security Council

CL&P:            So basically the 2270 called for not just sanctions, but also going back to the table, and that hasn’t happened?

JT:      Right.

CL&P:            Okay. So what they’re looking for, Beijing, is reverting back to the six party talks?

JT:      Not necessarily.  But at least getting some level of negotiations going and some level of engagement going because we’re not going to break this cycle of provocation and response until there’s some kind of diplomatic offer.

CL&P:            In terms of getting negotiations going again, do you think that’s even possible given the current regime in North Korea and what’s been happening and also the language that’s been being used by the Trump administration, even if Tillerson misspoke. Do you see that given the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea right now, negotiations are a possibility?

Trying to get all parties to the negotiation table

JT:      I think if it was up to the North Koreans, yes negotiations are possible. If it’s up to the Trump administration, I have increasing skepticism that we’re going to get anywhere. This is going back to your question of when Tillerson said strategic patience is over, we all look at the things that he talks about after that. Those are really just tenets of strategic patience. So again without negotiation you’re still just doubling down on the same tactic and hoping for a different result. Even if you’re making them harder-edged, it’s still not a new tactic. Again, if it’s been ineffective now for eight years, what makes you think just pushing a little harder is going to help?

CL&P:            I know the new administration’s still getting together their policy team. Do they have anybody in the administration that specializes in North Korea to advise them on some of these issues?

JT:      Well, in the State Department, there is a U.S. representative for North Korea policy, Joe Yun, Ambassador Yun.  But it’s unclear to us who else is working on these issues at this moment because there still hasn’t been an effort to staff up the State Department or senior leadership in the DOD [Department of Defense]. There’s still a lot of questions even here in D.C. that we just don’t have answers for.

North Korean soldiers. Looking for the six party talks? (Photo courtesy of Int’l Crisis Group)

CL&P:            If you had the opportunity to advise the current administration, assuming that it’s goal is to avoid war on the Korean peninsula, what would your advice be?

JT:      My advice has been pretty consistent.  The fact that yes, you can double down on sanctions and bolster defenses, but without the diplomatic track, the situation is going to get worse. The longer it takes to try and actually try to have talks about talks and see what’s even possible any more, the higher the stakes are going to be in the process and the more leverage that North Korea builds over time as it continues to grow its strategic arsenal. So if we really want to make a difference, then create a different relationship and one that serves our national interest, they’re going to need to have some kind of diplomatic track and need to be able to shoulder the criticism that’s going to come along with that from all the skeptics.

CL&P:            The criticisms within the United States?

JT:      Yes.  There’s always the arguments of ‘well we’ve tried negotiations before, but they didn’t work,’ or ‘North Korea always cheats.’ Well just because we tried it before, does that mean … Diplomacy is not a one-off, and it’s not a linear path, and national security is not a linear path. If you don’t have at least talks about talks to figure out what’s even possible within the negotiating framework, you’re losing the battle. You’re limiting yourself as to what you can do. But these days there’s so much criticism because we’ve gotten so far off track.  Whichever president decides that the situation’s gotten dire enough where we need to suck it up whether we like it or not and try some level of diplomacy, it’s going to come with criticism, and they need to be able to deal with that.

CL&P:            I guess if you’re leaving all options on the table, why would you take diplomacy off the table?

JT:      Right.

CL&P:            We talked about China, and we talked about the United States. I guess Japan and South Korea, I mean I would assume their interest is for more negotiations, or …/

JT:      Not necessarily. You have a pretty hard-line government in Japan these days. They want to build up more missile defenses. They’ve even talked about missile interception and they sort of take the lead from the U.S. as far as that goes. With South Korea, it’s different. South Korea, it’s hard to tell what they will do next because it really will be dependent on who the next president is. Their policy could change drastically towards North Korea. It could be at odds with what the U.S. decides to do as well. Then that is going to really put pressure on the U.S.-Korea alliance.

Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute

CL&P:            Well, this is a very interesting interview. It doesn’t sound like there’s any solution any time soon. I want to thank you again for spending time talking to China Law & Policy. Hopefully, people will listen to this interview, and conflict can be avoided.

JT:      I hope so, too. Thanks for having me.

CL&P:            Thank you.

JT:      Sure

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For Part 1 of this two-part interview, click here.

 

CL&P Exclusive – Talking North Korea with Jenny Town (Part I)

By , March 30, 2017

Part I – Shifting U.S.- North Korea Relations

Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute

Since January, the situation on the Korean peninsula has become increasingly tense with North Korea test firing missiles, using toxic nerve agents to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s half brother, and announcing that it has the capability for its missiles to reach the West Coast of the United States. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has responded to North Korea equally bellicose and frightening with threats noting that no options are off the table in dealing with North Korea including possibly preemptive strike.

Are we on a collision course for nuclear war, and what role does China play in all of this? To answer those questions and more is noted North Korea expert Jenny Town. Ms. Town is the Assistant Director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is the managing editor and producer of 38 North, a web journal and vital resource on all things North Korea.

Read the transcript below for Part I of this two-part interview, where Ms. Town discusses shifting U.S.-North Korea relations.  Or click the media player below to listen (total time – 16:26).

CL&P: Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Town. Before we get into the current situation on the Korean peninsula, I wanted to give our listeners a little bit more background on North Korea. In the western press, North Korea is often portrayed as a hermit impoverished kingdom run by a dictatorial mad man, but is that perception true? Is that how we should view North Korea?

Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) (Photo courtesy of CNN)

JT:      Thank you. It’s great to be here. I’m happy to be a part of this podcast. I think you’re asking all the right questions. The problem is that the more we treat North Korea as a caricature and we don’t take it seriously, the harder the problem becomes in the long run. A few years ago my colleague and I, we did write an article that talked about these myths about North Korea. It’s not a hermit kingdom. I think at some point we’re more isolated from it than it is from the rest of the world. There certainly are restrictions on information access and travel and movement, but there is a lot of contact with the outside world. There’s a lot of trade that goes on. There’s a lot of businesses, a lot of tourism. There’s a lot of NGO workers and diplomats, and so they do have access to the outside world. Not the same level that other countries have, but it’s not completely isolated.

The idea that Kim Jong-un is a mad man is also a dangerous characterization because he’s actually very calculating. The North Korean regime, even when Kim Jong-il was there, people liked to make fun of his sort of eccentricities. But when it came to state security, the decisions that he made were very rational. Sometimes miscalculated, but he’s the ultimate realist. They’re a country that perceives to have many enemies, and in the process will make decision on how to protect itself and how to protect the regime.

North Korea’s missiles in a military parade. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

CL&P:            So in essence, we should see their movements as something that is rational if your goal is to protect the current regime?

JT:      Yes, and we should take them seriously for what they’re doing because discounting them is not serving anyone’s good.

CL&P:            Agreed. Recently there seems to be a lot of bellicose activity from North Korea. In the middle of February it test fired a medium long range ballistic missile, and then it used, I guess, what’s known as an illegal nerve agent to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s half brother at an airport in Malaysia. Then two weeks ago, it announced a successful test of a high thrust rocket engine. Then this week they had two failed missile attempts.

Why are we seeing such activity, so much activity that seems warlike in the past month or two? Why now? What’s going on?

US-South Korea joint military drills (Photo courtesy of The Sunrise)

JT:      Well, some of this is a little bit expected. This is a time when the U.S. and ROK [South Korea] are running their joint military exercises in South Korea. Over the past year, especially the last year and this year, the nature of those exercises has expanded. It’s become more belligerent and it’s also included such things as decapitation drills and strategic over flights. These kinds of things always spark some kind of response and a strong response from North Korea because again, they do see it as more than just business as usual; but as a more provocative, more aggressive signaling to North Korea. Over the past couple of months, though, we’ve really seen an acceleration of testing and demonstration of capabilities over the past year.

At the end of the Obama administration, when it was clear that the nature of U.S.-DPRK [North Korea] relations was not going to change under the Obama administration, we saw a lot of demonstrations. In the past, there might have been missile tests, but they [North Korea] didn’t send out pictures of it, for instance. They didn’t send out pictures of Kim Jong-un celebrating different successes. I think now they’re clearly trying to prove capacity to the outside world. I think it was actually though very quiet from elections until inauguration and for a short time after inauguration as they [North Korea] were trying to figure out what to expect from America and if there was room for changing the nature of our relationship.

CL&P:            Just to go back, when you were talking about the exercises that the U.S. and South Korea are doing, you’re saying because those have become stronger and more belligerent, North Korea is taking it more serious?

US and South Korean soldiers at the DMZ

JT:      Yes. The exercises have been going on for decades and part of the function of the exercise is also signaling as to how the nature of the relationship with North Korea. There are times when they’re much more kind of routine standard operations and drills, but over the past couple of years, they’ve been adding drills and expanding it. And on top of that, the messaging coming out to the media about the [U.S.-ROK] drills and to the public about the drills has really emphasized certain things like decapitation strikes and strikes on Pyongyang and things like that. So it’s really become a much more antagonistic venture.

CL&P:            Then [what about] the recent U.S. response to North Korea’s actions the past couple months, especially with the new administration. So Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, when he was visiting South Korea this past month, announced that the U.S. policy of what he called strategic patience has ended. I guess can you first explain a little bit more what this policy of strategic patience is or was?

U.S. Secretary of State Re Tillerson visit South Korea, March 2017 (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)

JT:      Sure. So strategic patience was the Obama policy.  Basically it was a supposedly principled approach that negotiations were only under certain conditions, and that in the meantime it was kind of doubling down on pressure on the regime to change it’s strategic calculus using such tactics as mostly sanctions. And then also trying to bolster defenses in the region, so in South Korea and Japan as well. But it was largely dependent on this whole intimidation, kind of pressure and intimidation factor to try and get North Korea to change its mind about how it wants to move forward.

CL&P:            Under strategic patience, I assume that the policy, whether or not it was a failure, was put in place to try to limit North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear weaponry. Was it successful with that at all?

JT:      Absolutely not. It was a complete failure. If the goal of strategic patience really was to deter

President Barack Obama implements Strategic Patience

North Korea from developing it’s weapons programs, it’s WMD programs, it’s a complete failure because they have completely accelerated their programs during the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, they restarted their five megawatt reactor to help produce more plutonium for nuclear weapons. In 2010, they had revealed that they had a uranium enrichment program, and in 2013, we saw that the main facility that they had shown to U.S. inspectors before had doubled in size. The centrifuge hall has doubled in size, potentially doubling it’s capacity to create weapons-grade uranium or highly enriched uranium.

We’ve seen several demonstrations of tests. Last year alone, we had two nuclear tests and over 20 missile tests. During the Obama administration, there’s been four nuclear tests. So, if the goal of strategic patience was to deter North Korea from moving forward and making the cost of nuclear weapons programs and WMD programs so untenable that it had to come back to the table, then of course it completely failed.

CL&P:            So then they’re not going to come back to the table?

JT:      Well, I wouldn’t draw that conclusion that they’re not going to come back to the table. What I’m saying is that the policy is not compelling the right response.

CL&P:            In terms of all this development, I mean I guess this goes back to the first question, and your answer to the first question about not perceiving North Korea as this shut in country, where do they get the ability to develop this technology? How do they have the knowledge to develop this technology for nuclear weapons?

JT:      They’ve been working on this program for a very long time, for decades. They have scientists in country. We know there has been cooperation with other states. They’ve gotten information from Pakistan and Syria and Russia in the past. There’s definitely plenty of people that they’ve worked with over the years to get to a point where some of it’s indigenous, some of it’s reverse engineering of designs that they’ve gotten from other countries. They’re a very resourceful people, and I would go back to again your first question and tying this all together, too. I think the underlying premise of strategic patience was this idea that Kim Jong-un would never be able to consolidate power under a third generation of the Kim family and that all we had to do was wait them out, and that eventually the state would collapse and then we could deal with someone else. That’s just simply not the case.

CL&P:            No, it doesn’t look that way. I guess since the Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience allowed North Korea to develop it’s weapon technology, and it had all these tests and it’s really advanced, just to put it in more perspective, where exactly is North Korea as a likely  nuclear threat? What can it do right now to its neighbors in Asia, and is it really true that they could potentially in very near future have something hit at the West Coast of the United States?

JT:      We did a series of reports last year that was a technical assessment of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. And based on what we know or what we estimate to be their capacity to make fissile materials or to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, we estimate the baseline for their nuclear weapons arsenal to be somewhere between 12 to 15 nuclear weapons. They would have enough material to be able to make at least 12 to 15 nuclear weapons now. Given the capacity that they have to produce more – their five megawatt plutonium reactor, their uranium enrichment facility – we did projections that with the worst conditions for North Korea, making it most difficult for them for instance, that even by 2020 they could double the size of their arsenal.

By 2020 under mid-range with a little better conditions and getting their experimental light water reactor partially militarized as well, so they’d have more fissile materials, they would be able to produce maybe 50 nuclear weapons by 2020. Under the best conditions for them, if they have ample procurement, international procurement, and they have everything running in tip-top shape, at the high end we estimated they would have the potential to make about 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
We see them really now in those ranges under those conditions that are laid out in the report. They’re somewhere on that mid to high range track. Then you add in the ballistic missile programs, and the fear is always for the how soon are they going to get an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile. With the new engines that they tested last year and this year, [engines] that would be suitable for missiles and not rockets, space rockets, we’re talking that once they have an operational capacity, that they would be able actually to hit the East Coast of the United States, not just the West Coast. What we see that is probably given the designs that we’ve seen in the prototypes that they’ve displayed to us, we would suggest somewhere around 2020, somewhere in that range. Some estimates have that a little bit earlier. It really just depends.

But the reality is that they don’t need ICBMs to be a strategic threat because our strategic partners and strategic alliance partners are in Asia, so it’s South Korea and Japan. They definitely have missiles that can reach South Korea and Japan already. The big question is whether or not they have miniaturization capabilities. A lot of experts do believe they have the capability even if they haven’t been able to demonstrate it. Given the number of partners that they’ve worked with and the programs that those partners have as well and how long that they’ve been working on it. We do believe they do have the capability. It’s a huge threat, and it’s a growing threat the longer it takes to be able to have a real strategic dialogue with them.

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To listen to Part 2 of this two-part interview with Ms. Town, please click here.

 

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