China will be a major foreign policy challenge for the new Biden Administration. This week’s crackdown in Hong Kong demonstrates Beijing’s determination to rid the territory of as many opposition figures as possible. On Wednesday, Hong Kong police arrested over 50 activists, former lawmakers, and academics. All of those arrested had played a role in the July 2020 effort to nominate opposition candidates for a legislative election that was cancelled later on. Under the national security law passed by Beijing, those arrested now face sentences ranging up to life in prison if convicted.
The crackdown brings into question how the incoming Biden administration will contend with China’s actions in Hong Kong, as well as what the future US response will be to Beijing’s more aggressive moves in the region and globally. Wednesday’s arrests offer a glimpse at the shape these coming policies might take. Biden’s selection for secretary of state Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter “The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights. The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.”
Blinken’s tweet certainly sound nice and strike an appropriate balance of concern for human rights, and assurance that a Biden administration will oppose China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. But actions speak louder than words. Will a Biden administration levy sanctions against Beijing for Hong Kong? Or will the matter be quietly swept under the rug in order to proclaim a fresh start to the US-China relationship after four years of its predecessor consistently taking a hard line on China? Time will tell.
With regards to North Korea, 2019 ended in similar fashion to a season-ending cliffhanger episode of a television series. An ultimatum was given, and threats of a “Christmas gift” were made. And then, just before the 2019 screen went black, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked into the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and hinted that he might no longer honor the testing moratorium now in place, and told the world it will soon witness a new strategic weapon.
Now its officially 2020. The United States has not responded to the North Korean ultimatum. No Christmas gift has been delivered in the form of a missile, or nuclear test. The concern surrounding North Korea has started to wear thin, and has started to be replaced somewhat by growing curiosity about the timing of Kim’s veiled threats. Since April of 2018 or so, North Korea has received many concessions from the Trump administration. As relations warmed and both sides attempted…unsuccessfully, as it would seem now,….. to reach an agreement on denuclearization, and sanction relief, the US left North Korea alone for the most part. Economic sanctions remained in place, but in some instances the Trump administration looked the other way concerning certain North Korean violations. It appears this bonus concession, intended to nudge Kim ahead in negotiations, was for naught. Negotiations broke down over the sanctions and for the moment US-North Korean relations seem poised to return to the crisis level.
So why has Kim Jong Un gone back to making attention-grabbing, destabilizing statements?
Finding an answer to this question is anything but simple. However, one theory appearing likely right now is that internal pressure is growing and Kim is threatened by it. To the outside world he appears to be in full control of the North Korean state. What most people don’t grasp is the fact that just beneath the surface, there are a number of factions vying for influence and power in the North Korean government. Kim’s failure to obtain full sanctions relief from the US reflects badly on him now. Hence, the bellicose language of the past few weeks. A sop to the members of his government who may be starting to question whether or not “The Marshall” is equipped to lead North Korea into the future.
More than anything Kim Jong Un is a survivor. His recent behavior might seem alarming to the outside world but he is simply taking the necessary steps to ensure the survival of his regime.
Representatives of the Nicolas Maduro regime, and the opposition led by Juan Guaido met today in Norway to conduct negotiations aimed at ending the political crisis, and economic struggle that have crippled Venezuela and pushed it to the edge of ruin. The talks are being held in Oslo and were brokered by a group of Norwegian government officials, and private citizens. Although the talks are a positive development, the two sides remain far apart on most issues. Guaido, and the opposition continue to insist Maduro was illegally elected last year and should step down until new elections are held. Maduro, for his part, regards Guaido as a US lackey who’s motivation is to seize power and turn Venezuela into a puppet-state controlled by Washington.
The opposition’s agreement to send a delegation to the negotiations suggests its current position has been weakened considerably by the failed military uprising orchestrated by Guaido and other opposition leaders last month. If progress is made in Norway, it could help the opposition regain at least some of the leverage it lost from the failed uprising. After the failed uprising, the government has increased pressure on Guaido and his allies. A number of high-ranking opposition leaders have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity, and charged with rebellion. Many of these men are now holed up in foreign embassies around Caracas, fearful of arrest if they leave.
Despite the government’s attempt at a crackdown, it cannot change the situation from the stalemate it is at current. Maduro is receiving assistance from Cuba, China, and Russia, however, it is nowhere near the amount needed to bring Venezuela out of the economic and political cauldron it is in now. US sanctions are beginning to hurt more now, and another wave is coming soon. The negotiations in Norway offer the government an attempt to buy some time, but little more.
The sun is setting in Venezuela and the whereabouts of Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro are unknown for the moment. Maduro has not been seen in public all day. The Venezuelan strongman is likely in a secure location outside of the city, and even more likely under the protection of Russian and Cuban troops. Guaido’s current location is not known either. If the uprising is in fact bogging down, he needs to be seen out in public to rally the troops, so to speak. There are certainly security concerns for him right now as well, but the risks may have to be taken.
A tweet by opposition politician Antonio Ledezma claims Leopoldo Lopez has not requested asylum from Chile and is no longer at the Chilean embassy. Ledezma’s tweet contradicts earlier reports that Ledezma had requested political asylum from Chilean officials at the embassy.
Geopolitical activity has ramped up through the late afternoon and early evening. President Trump is warning Cuba to end its military support for the Maduro regime or face economic sanctions, and a full embargo. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in an earlier interview on CNN that the Washington has indications Maduro was actually prepared to depart Venezuela but the Russians convinced him to stay. If this turns out to be accurate it brings into question the level of commitment Russia has for keeping Maduro in power. More importantly, it leads Washington to wonder just how deep that commitment will go if the uprising continues. For its part, Moscow has claimed the US is trying to undermine a Russian ally, a statement entirely open to interpretation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suffered a major setback at the polls. The results of Sunday’s municipal balloting indicate the candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has won the mayoral election in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and most famous city, appears as if it will be won by the opposition candidate. It has yet to be officially decided, but as of this morning, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was ahead by a thin margin.
For Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) the results were a major blow. Although AKP candidates won 51% of the municipal elections across the nation, it wasn’t enough for him to declare the results a victory. If the Istanbul race is officially called for Imamoglu, it will be a catastrophe for Erdogan and AKP.
Going into Sunday, the elections were regarded as a barometer for Erdogan’s. He’d campaigned endlessly, calling the vote a matter of “national survival.” In a sense, his words ring true. The Turkish economy has been mired in a recession and the lira has required constant propping up. The nation is also engaged militarily in Syria and despite growing involvement there, and the returns have been less than Erdogan was hoping for.
The election results could be a turning point for the opposition which has been relegated to the shadows in recent years. With Erdogan and his party controlling much of the nation’s media outlets, CHP and other parties opposing Erdogan have not had the ability to spread their message far and wide. With Ankara, and perhaps Istanbul about to be led by CHP candidates, that could be about to change.
Of course, economic performance motivates people to vote more often than not. Right now, with Turkey’s economy looking shaky, it bodes well for the opposition, and less so for Erdogan and AKP.