Results of 2017: The Asia-Pacific Region and Southern Asia
North and South Korea: rise of tension around the DPRK
Out of all the events and tendencies of 2017, the crisis around North Korea’s nuclear programme managed to draw the attention of the world community the most. As soon as Donald Trump became president of the US, the DPRK was declared one of the main threats to the United States. The president needed a victory in the international arena that was big and every American could understand, especially in a time of internal instability during which his opponents hurled accusations at him that bordered on treason. Trump’s team decided not to ruin the already difficult relations with Russia (for example, on the subject of Syria, as the neocons would have liked) or wage a full-on trade war with China (which the populists and Bannonites were gunning for). The team chose an intermediate variant. This variant itself and turning the DPRK into the priority test subject for the capabilities and limitations of American power demonstrates a balance of principle between the different elites in Washington that make direct decisions in foreign politics.
What is more, we cannot say that the DPRK wasn’t an important subject for both groups. On the contrary, Pyongyang, by virtue of being close to Beijing and being located in the latter’s sphere of influence, could be seen as a substitute for China by the anti-Chinese creators of the slogan “Make America Great Again”; upping the pressure on Pyongyang might (indirectly) have increased pressure on the PRC. For the neocons, the liquidation of a non-democratic and explicitly anti-American regime that challenged any imperial plans was an important factor.
Washington’s constant threats to Pyongyang, joint exercises with South Korea, during which strikes against the DPRK and the destruction of its leadership were trained, and sanctions which were undertaken through the UN as well as unilaterally by the US and its allies became the expression of this idea.
April 2017 became the first phase of the confrontation. Despite US threats to move carrier groups to the Korean peninsula and North Korean threats that it could execute a nuclear test, neither of these events actually took place.
Towards the end of the year the US all the same moved carrier groups towards the DPRK’s shoreline. In turn, Pyongyang executed tests of both its strongest thermonuclear bomb as well as missiles which are technically close to intercontinental range.
Pyongyang took the US pressure as a stimulus to develop missile and nuclear technology with the aim of reaching parity, which would stop the US’ aggressive plans because of the DPRK’s ability to respond with unacceptable damage. In addition, North Korea's leadership, having learned from the experiences of other countries, is not moving towards political liberalisation nor nuclear disarmament, considering it the best way to defend the country. Its chosen path of development is the strengthening of its military capabilities.
As a result of this path, pressure on the DPRK has increased in the following areas:
1. The heightening of tension around the Korean peninsula and drawing US attention away from other important problems in the region (for example, the situation in the South China Sea).
2. The strengthening of the DPRK’s nuclear missile capabilities.
3. The strengthening of international sanctions against North Korea, which has demonstrated the absolute lack of influence on the DPRK’s decision-making and has shown the absolute futility of such procedures. At the same time, shutting Pyongyang out from international mechanisms and the globalising world economy has reduced the potential of a peaceful, evolutionary influence on the North Korean regime (according to the model of the previous administration and fully corresponding to the globalist strategies of the CFR).
The 19th Congress of the CPC, which took place in October 2017, can be well called the main event of the year in the PRC. The specifics of the Chinese state structure, which to this day secure the leading role of the Communist Party in all spheres of social life, is not the only thing that drew the attention of the expert community to this event.
The first important moment is the fact that a successor to Xi Jinping has not been named, as was the case with the previous leaders of the PRC in the 90’s and 00’s when they, like Xi Jinping now, went on to a second term. This means that Xi will remain at China’s helm for not just 5, but for a minimum of 10 years as either general secretary of the Communist Party or in another position.
The second aspect is the domination of representatives of Xi Jinping’s team in the new compositions of the Central Committee of the CPC, the Politburo, and the Politburo Standing Committee. Xi himself is related to the group of ‘princes’: offspring of the red aristocracy, descendants from key members of Mao Tse Tung’s entourage, and founders of the modern China. Xi is overseeing an active use of communist phraseology, the strengthening of the CPC apparatus, an increase of attention for the foreign activities of the Communist Party, and an emphasis on continuities with the Maoist period, which can be seen as an attempt to claim a prolongation of the old ‘mandate of heaven’ that was received by Mao.
The third aspect is the inclusion of Xi Jinping’s ideas into the CPC charter. Terminologically, phrases are used that are similar to those used by Mao Tse Tung, which allows us to confirm the hypothesis that was presented above.
Finally, the fourth element is the increase in attention to China’s foreign activities and the active expansion of foreign policy. If earlier China based its politics mainly around the ideas of Deng Xiaoping about the necessity of gathering strength and acting carefully on the international stage, now we are seeing open declarations about active plans and not just in the sphere of global economics, but of global politics as well. China aims at the building of a multipolar world, but in the view of it being interested in being a global factory and wanting maximally open borders, which leads to a fusion of the multipolar concept with globalist promises. All the same, the main area of priority for the PRC is the construction of alternative political and economic systems to the Western-centric ones: the development of the ‘One belt, one road’ project, which was declared in April 2017, the strengthening of the SCO and the BRICS, the transition to trading goods and services in national currency.
This means that the current priority is building strategic ties with Russia and other opponents of the US in the world arena, from Syria to Venezuela. In the military sphere this has manifested in the building of a powerful navy. In the end of December 2017, China is due to finish construction on its first domestically built aircraft carrier. Until now, the only active Chinese aircraft carrier was built in Ukraine.
In 2017 China has actively cooperated with Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. An economic expansion in the direction of Eastern Europe was marked during a visit by prime minister Li Keqiang to Budapest and Belgrade at the end of the year.
The creation of the first official Chinese naval base in Djibouti must also be seen in relation to the epochal events of last year. Djibouti is important as a junction which makes it possible to control the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb gulf, which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
The past year has meant the triumph of the policy direction that was declared by Shinzo Abe: strengthening the country as a military power and the cancellation or (temporary) modification of the ninth, pacifist article of Japan’s constitution. Abe has become the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his election. Trump’s harsh anti-Chinese rhetoric and declarations about the need to ease relations with Russia where taken well in Tokyo. Abe himself is also aiming at maximal cooperation and the establishment of strong ties directly with Vladimir Putin. Japan considers China its main competitor in the Asia-Pacific region and the source of several threats.
Russia and Japan have continued the gradual movement towards cooperation on questions of joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands. This is the main and very personal question for Abe in Japanese-Russian relations, who would like to see progress on this issue as evidence for his line of policy and his own effectiveness as the leader of the land of the rising sun.
The preterm parliamentary elections on the 22nd of October 2017 have confirmed the mandate to rule of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and strengthened Abe’s position as prime minister; he will remain in power for the next 4 years. Despite expert opinion initially predicting that part of the protest electorate (including the right and pro-military groups) could have been drawn away by governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, her ‘Party of Hope’ has only divided the opposition (the ‘Democratic Party’) and has made it possible for Abe to receive more votes than before (because of an electoral reform the number of deputies in parliament has diminished).
In 2017, Cambodia actively resisted attempts by the US to pressure the country’s foreign policy. The thing is, that prime minister Hun Sen (who has been in power for over 30 years) is continuing a policy of rapprochement with China. At the same time, Sen’s Cambodia continues to have friendly relations with Vietnam (Sen was a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected to Vietnam’s side) and is determined to develop close relations with Russia. For example, on the 21st of December 2017, Cambodia was among the 26 UN states that supported the Russian position on Crimea, having voted against a Ukrainian resolution about the peninsula’s status.
On the 3rd of September 2017, Kem Sokha, Hun Sen’s main opponent and one of the leaders of the Cambodian National Salvation Party (CNSP), was arrested. The Party is clearly a pro-Western structure which is a part of the Liberal international and has been formed by local nationalists and immigrants from Western countries who returned in the 90’s. A significant number of former ‘Khmer Rouge’, which have been drawn in by anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, has been legalised in the party. Lately it has been used for mobilisation against the government alongside allegations of corruption.
In 2018 new parliamentary elections are due to take place, during which this structure had planned to become the main opposition to the ruling regime. In 2013, the party had already organised mass protests which led to the death of several people.
The CNSP was dissolved on the 16th of November 2017 after having been accused of collusion against the government. This act summoned criticism from the US and the EU. The US introduced new visa limitations for several high-ranking figures in the Cambodian leadership, and the EU threatened to engage trade sanctions.
In turn, Hun Sen criticised the US, making mention of the country bombing Cambodia during its intervention from 1969 to 1975. He noted that he wasn’t afraid of sanctions as he doesn’t own property abroad and he wasn’t planning on going to the US.
In December 2017, Hun Sen became one of the leaders that specially went to Beijing to the forum on ‘Dialogue between the CPC and other political parties in the whole world on a high level’. The CPR confirmed its commitment to building tight relations with Cambodia.
In 2017, Myanmar’s most pressing problem was a new wake of activity by fighters from the ‘Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’. This organisation assaulted strongpoints in the state of Arakan on the 25th of August 2017. Myanmar’s armed forces in turn began a military operation.
The conflict in Myanmar was hotly covered by the world’s mass media. What is more, this coverage was filled with fakes. For example, among the Rohingya Muslim dead were characters from movies, victims from terror attacks in other countries and continents (for example in Africa), shots from special forces training in Thailand etc. At the same time, information was frequently twisted by the mass media that supported the country’s official government.
The essence of the conflict is that the Rohingya (who are Bengali by origin) have always been considered non-native inhabitants and immigrants from the territory of Bangladesh by the official government. What is more, Bengal’s overpopulation in its predominantly Muslim area, Bangladesh, forces the local population to move to other regions, especially Myanmar; former immigrants who were forced to move due to purges in the 70’s (the problem of Rohingya rebel activity and extremists in their midst was already painful in that time period) join up with the new ones. As the Rohingya were not seen as citizens of Myanmar, it is impossible to confirm if some people or their forefathers lived on the country’s territory before 1947.
The leading world powers initially steered clear of the hysteria related to the alleged ‘genocide of the Rohingya’. The Turkish leadership actively used this card to raise its own prestige in the Muslim world.
Later, the US unsuccessfully attempted to condemn the Rohingya situation in the UN Security Council. The taking of any action against Myanmar was blocked by China with Russian support. The country is important for the PRC as a point of influence and access point to the Bay of Bengal. The state of Arakan, which is where the conflict is taking place, is rich in oil and a pipeline to China is located in that region.
India, China’s competitor in the region, also supported the Myanmar government. In September 2017 a visit by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi took place, during which he declared his desire to deepen relations with Myanmar. India is interested in the building of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Route, which is a transport route that would link Calcutta with the state of Arakan’s capital, Sittwe.
In November 2017, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar; however, he did not reach any results. As a result, he called the events in Myanmar a case of ethnic cleansing. And on the 21st of December 2017, the White House declared that it would implement personal sanctions against 13 members of Myanmar’s leadership. Earlier that month, Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar’s state counsellor and the current de facto political leader of the country, leader of the pro-Western opposition and laureate of the Nobel Prize in 1991) had made an official visit to China.
Vietnam, Laos, Thailand
2017 did not bring any serious changes to these countries. In Thailand, it was marked by mourning after the death of king Rama XI in October 2016. The general elections that had been planned for 2017 were moved to 2018. Power is in the hands of a military junta led by Prayut Chan-o-cha as it was before. In April 2017, the new monarch, Rama X, signed the country’s constitution, which had been accepted in a referendum in 2016. The prime minister can now not only be chosen from among the parliamentary deputies, but the soldiers themselves will keep control over parliament through the upper house, which is chosen by them.
This year, Vietnam continued on its course of independent development by keeping tight relations with Russia and China, but cooperating with the US to oppose Chinese claims in the South China Sea. The largest event of the year was the APEC summit in Danang.
The year 2017 did not bring significant changes to Laos. The country continued to be a battlefield between Chinese and Vietnamese influence.
Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia
There were no especially significant events in these countries, with the exception of the February murder of Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in the airport of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). An investigation by the Malaysian government, which later accused the DPRK of organising the murder, caused a strong cooling of relations between the two countries and was later used by the West as anti-North Korean propaganda.
In Malaysia and Indonesia radical Muslim organisations held actions, but without any special excesses.
Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.