Thursday 20 October, 2016 Update: Duterte’s Pivot To China

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If the US-Philippines relationship were a marriage, this would be the day when the Philippines officially filed the divorce papers. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a step that few observers believed would come. In the middle of an official state visit to China,  Duterte announced that he is ‘separating’ from the United States and embracing China as the Philippines newest and most powerful friend in the world. “Your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States … both in military, but also economics,’’ Duterte stated during a forum held in the Great Hall of the People. “I will be dependent on you.”

During Duterte’s visit agreements were signed for $13 billion in trade deals between China and the Philippines. Whether or not this pivot is genuine and sincere or an episode of bombastic grandstanding by Duterte remains to be seen. Washington will most likely adopt a wait-and-see attitude and declare that ‘all is well’ as the aftermath of today’s announcement plays out.

If Duterte’s words were genuine and his country is about to reject the United States and embrace China then Beijing has won a major diplomatic victory in the South China Sea and placed the United States in an unenviable position. Washington has little leverage and few options available as it comes to terms with what took place in Beijing. At the very least it severely undermines the Obama administration’s Pivot to Asia which has faltered more than once already. On the other end of the spectrum, if Duterte’s announcement becomes reality the US-Philippine alliance might be over permanently.

 

We will discuss this topic more on Monday or Tuesday.

Weekend Update Sept.19-20, 2015 Part 1: An Expanding Role For Japan’s Military

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After a passionate, and at times contentious debate, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, has passed a law expanding the role of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces abroad. The law allows Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since the end of World War II. The change is dramatic for a nation with a constitution based on the premise of pacifism.

The Self-Defense Forces will be permitted to provide limited defense capabilities for allies in conflicts outside of Japanese territory. An example would be intercepting a missile launched from North Korea that is bound for US territory in the Pacific, or for the US mainland. North Korea does not have the ability to hit CONUS right now, however, some of the missiles in their inventory can reach US bases on Guam. Another situation could be providing logistical support for US forces in Korea in the event of a Second Korean War. Japan would be unable to commit troops to a conflict in Korea, its constitution still prohibits that.

The national debate on expanding Japan’s military is bringing large numbers of students out to opposition demonstrations. Student protests are not common in Japan. Unlike their counterparts in South Korea, most Japanese students have remained detached from politics. This issue is so big, though, it is drawing in people from every facet of Japanese society. One fear the opposition has is that the new law will draw Japanese forces into US led wars in other areas of the world. This was not the point of crafting the bill.

Supporters of the change argue that the era of a hands-off, isolationist Japan is over and the role of the Self-Defense Forces has to be modified. The rise of China’s military power and its assertive attitude in the Asia-Pacific region are two primary reasons for concern. The US is firmly behind Japan’s new role. It adds a new dimension of cooperation to the US-Japan military relationship and serves as an reminder that US concerns about China’s recent actions and behavior are not unilateral. The Obama administration has struggled to put together a cohesive response in Asia. Japan’s move will help bring one about.

Tomorrow, Part Two of the Week in Review will cover new happenings in the European humanitarian crisis as well as Syria. I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.

Is The End In Sight? Five Questions About A Potential North Korean Collapse

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The prospect of a North Korean collapse has been receiving a great deal of attention lately and for good reason. Kim Jong Un has been in power for just under twenty-six months. During that time, he has faced challenges from North Korea’s military leadership and most recently executed Jang Song-Thaek, his uncle. From the information coming out of the region, the move appears to be punishment for Song-Thaek plotting against his nephew. For whatever reason, Un viewed his uncle as a potential threat and dealt with him accordingly.

In the aftermath of the gruesome execution, it is fair to wonder if North Korea will soon collapse like the Denver Broncos did at the Super Bowl yesterday here in New Jersey. Sorry, I had to say it.

North Korea is a paradox far beyond description or explanation. In the spirit of that reality, it is safe to say that the interests of the United States and our Pacific allies might best be served by Kim Jong Un remaining in firm control of North Korea. As depraved and incompetent as Un has been, it’s better to deal with North Korea as a sovereign nation-state rather than a decapitated and ruderless North Korea. The level of uncertainty and the potential dangers which the later option could bring are worrisome to say the least.

Below, I’ve listed five questions that need to be pondered by politicians, diplomats and leaders in the US, ROK (South Korea) Japan, and PRC. Admittedly, these are only five questions of many that exist on the subject. Because of time constraints, I am not able to give my answers at the moment. In the meantime, please feel free to mull the questions over and see what kind of answers you come up with.

  • How will the North Korean military react to a government collapse, and how will it behave in the aftermath?
  • How much, if any, advance warning will the US, ROK and China have prior to a North Korean collapse?
  • In the event of a collapse what will become of North Korea’s WMD stockpiles? Who will have control of them?
  • Obedience to the state is a cornerstone of life in North Korea. Given this, how will the North Korean populace respond to a collapse of the government they have been conditioned to follow for their entire lives?
  •  If the ROK responds instantly and unilaterally to a North Korean collapse with the objective of reunifying the peninsula under Seoul’s leadership it could potentially lead to war with China. What steps can the US take to prevent its ally from moving down that dangerous path?