Late July/August 2021 DIRT Project: North Korean Collapse Scenarios

Here we go again. Internal conditions in North Korea seem to be deteriorating at an accelerating pace. Every day the news reports become more disquieting; Food shortages, veiled warnings of a pandemic-related ‘Great Crisis’ by Kim Jong Un and an increasing number of foreign diplomats leaving Pyongyang every week. The picture being painted inspires neither confidence or hope about the North Korean government’s ability to stabilize conditions before it is too late. Now, predictions of an imminent North Korean collapse are making headway online….again.

We’ve been down this road before. The domestic situation in North Korea takes a turn for the worse, or Kim disappears from public view for an extended period. The media runs with it from there and starts loudly warning of a coming North Korean collapse. After a week or two, the hype disappears and North Korea muddles through yet another crisis that was supposed to sink it once and for all.

This time around, the situation in the North does appear to be more critical than it has in the past. However, looks can be deceiving. Either way, now is a good time to look at the potential scenarios that could emerge from a North Korean collapse. Unfortunately, doing so within the span of a 300-400 word entries is next to impossible. So, later on in the week I will post the first in a series of entries examining how a North Korean collapse might look in the near future. Right now, I’m thinking about 3-4 entries spread out over the next 5 weeks or so. Barring the appearance of a major crisis or pop-up conflict, of course. 😊

North Korea’s Food Shortage Is At The Crisis Stage

North Korea’s food shortages are fast approaching the crisis level. Food totals for this year look to be short by 850,000 tons, an amount that equates to two months of demand. So, in this regard the math is quite simple. The government has been surreptitiously warning about a possible shortage for months and encouraging the population to grow its own food. This effort has not been successful and there are now reports of starvation deaths emerging from non-government sources inside North Korea. The state’s food rationing system has collapsed under the strain imposed by the food shortages as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a humanitarian crisis all but assured, North Korea can count on little help from the international community for the time being. Sanctions, COVID and a border that has been closed for an extended period of time have produced an environment that is unconducive for international relief organizations to operate in. Security is also tightening across North Korea as conditions deteriorate. There has been a hard crackdown in border regions to prevent smuggling activities and defections. Food hoarding is another crime which the government is trying to stop. Citizens caught hoarding food will face execution now, according to media sources familiar with the internal situation in North Korea.

The security measures are indicative of a government desperately attempting to keep its country together. Kim Jong Un and his inner circle are keenly aware of how far out on a limb North Korea is right now. The food shortage is just the latest in a series of setbacks and crises in the previous eighteen months. From the pandemic to this food shortage, time could be running out for Kim and his regime. A potential North Korean collapse is one of those nightmare scenarios that could provide the spark for a regional conflict or worse. But unless the situation in the North improves markedly between now and the end of the year, we could very well be looking at an inevitable collapse.

The Post-COVID World

 

With the COVID-19 pandemic waning in most areas of the world, the time to begin seriously pondering what the post-COVID world will look like is almost upon us. To be fair, there has been a healthy amount of speculation about that topic since the beginning of the pandemic. However, between then and the present day, new economic, military, diplomatic and geopolitical realities have emerged and obscured the global picture in a myriad of ways.

There will be new realities to contend with. Some nations will refuse or fail to live up to this and inevitably their power and influence will retrograde. Others will recognize the new dynamic in play and attempt to turn it to their advantage. Both of these groups will be made up mainly of middle powers, with a handful of notable Great powers in decline tossed in. One tier above this coming fray will be the remaining Great Powers jockeying for position and searching for ways to extend their influence and power around the world. The obstacle facing some of these powers is their obstinance. Specifically, their tendencies to resort to reflexive, short-term policies and solutions to long term matters. The failure to reengineer their thinking and equip properly for the coming era, which has the potential to be an era defined by unpredictability and sudden shifts in the balance of power.

Finally, at the top stands the United States and China. The two Superpowers are primed to set the tone into the first years of the Post-COVID era. Both have the power and potential to shape the world through their policies and actions, as will the direction and tone of  Sino-US relations.

Throughout the summer, the potential look of the Post-COVID world will be examined and discussed at length.

Author’s Note: Holiday weekend is wrapped up, so I’m starting off slow with a short post today and will get up to speed again by the end of the week.

Wuhan Lab And COVID-19 Origins Are Under Scrutiny Once Again

New efforts by the United States government to determine the origins of the COVID-19 virus are causing unease in Beijing. China’s foreign ministry has rejected the possibility of a connection between the virus and a virus research laboratory in Wuhan and accused the US of “political manipulation and blame shifting.” Chinese authorities linked the earliest cases of the virus to a seafood market leading the initial scientific theories to center around the idea of COVID-19 first being transmitted from animals to humans.

Growing speculation appears to point in the direction of the virus having escaped from the Wuhan lab. Although the evidence available in the public domain has not changed, media reports from some US outlets in the past week suggest that US intelligence agencies received information that three staff members at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were sick enough to go hospital in November 2019 with symptoms very similar to those of the coronavirus.  Days later, the Biden administration ordered the US intelligence community to assess the origins of the virus and whether COVID-19 could’ve leaked from the Wuhan lab.

China is understandably angered by this. Beijing has spent much of the past fifteen months conducting damage control. The government’s actions, and as the case turned out, inactions, in the early days of the pandemic caused alarm and concern in a number of national capitals across the world. Many people believed, and still do, that China is hiding and distorting the facts.

Now that the Biden administration is openly challenging the truth according to China, the Chinese government is moving to counter the US argument and expected blowback. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Washington’s words show that the US “does not care about facts or truth, and has zero interest in a serious science-based study of origins. Their aim is to use the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation, political manipulation and blame shifting. They are being disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people’s lives and counter-productive to the concerted efforts to fight the virus.” Running parallel with China’s clunky public accusations such as this one, will be more clandestine efforts to dampen the effects of the widening US investigation. Media outlets, politicians and businesses with financial ties and relationships with the Chinese government and CCP will be approached, persuaded and in some cases blackmailed or threatened.

We’ve seen it before and the fact that China is responding so fast to the return of COVID-19 suspicions indicates that Beijing might have more to hide than it is letting on.

India, COVID-19 and Pandemic Geopolitics

As India struggles beneath the weight of a major COVID-19 outbreak, promises of assistance are coming from around the world, most notably from Beijing and Washington. Not surprisingly, it is the words and actions of the United States and China that are attracting the lion’s share of attention and commentary from inside of India at the present time. The Indian government has remained silent on China’s offers to provide medical assistance, and with good reason. There is a great deal of suspicion about China’s motivations, both in government circles and in the population at large. The sentiment is that China is not concerned about India and is only looking to use the moment as an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s failure to respond swiftly and decisively to India’s latest outbreak. Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a good relationship over the last five years, in large part due to the importance each nation has placed on countering China. Beijing would love nothing more than to drive a wedge in between the two nations and highlight how the US reluctance to help India has compounded the effects of this latest outbreak for India’s citizenry. In fact, for the past few days the CCP-backed Global Times has criticized the US for dragging its heels in providing aid to India.

This type of criticism is a major reason for New Delhi having not accepted China’s offer of assistance. Public opinion is a powerful weapon and taking Beijing’s offer would’ve painted the US as an unreliable partner. With anti-China sentiment still high and the border dispute unresolved, the Indian government is compelled to consider how its moves will appear both domestically and on the international stage. Needless to say, last thing the Indian government needs is to paint itself into a corner geopolitically.

Fortunately for India, there are a great number of other nations willing to help, the majority of whom are not handicapped by a geopolitical agenda driving its humanitarian aid. Oxygen supplies in many Indian hospitals have been depleted. Great Britain and Singapore are two nations who’ve delivered on their promises, providing oxygen tanks and ventilators. France has sent oxygen production units, while Germany and Canada have also stated their intentions to provide assistance.