A Slow Start to Summer – No Way! 3rd Sino-India War? North Korea Rattles? The Week in Review
A Slow Start to Summer – No Way! 3rd Sino-India War? North Korea Rattles? The Week in Review
The latest episode of the Perch Pod is out! My good friend John Minnich joined me to talk about the future of U.S.-China relations – you can listen by clicking here or finding us on whatever streaming platform you prefer. Please feel free to share the podcast with anyone you think would be interested, or better yet to leave a review or subscribe if you enjoyed it! Also, a reminder that we read any and all emails that folks send us, so if you have a suggestion on a topic for the newsletter or the podcast or want to connect us with a potential client, you can reply to this e-mail or drop a note to email@example.com.
As for the week in review: some weeks it feels like the world is sleeping, especially in summertime. Not so this midsummer week. The last time we can remember so many developments happening at once was the beginning of 2011, when the European sovereign debt crisis, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the Libya intervention were all happening at or around the same time. This week, in addition to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic, China and India had their bloodiest border skirmish in 53 years, North Korea threatened military action against South Korea, and France called out Turkey for conduct unbecoming a fellow NATO ally.
Any one of these developments would be a huge deal no matter when they occurred – but all three of them potentially in the same week? In the context of two other, world reshaping crises? Simply put, this is just not the way the world usually works. We are all a little numb these days from what seems like the dizzying pace of both domestic and international events, but it is important to remember how abnormal all this truly is and to adjust our perspectives accordingly. In what we hope will become the immortal words of a French defense ministry official, “We can’t be an ostrich and can’t pretend there isn’t a problem. We have to see it, say it, and handle it.”
The Third Sino-Indian War? Last week, India and China agreed to de-escalate a border spat near Galwan Valley. Instead, this week, Indian and Chinese soldiers fought their bloodiest skirmish since 1967. India reported 20 soldiers killed, and while China has not released official statistics on its casualties, Indian media has reported that the number of Chinese casualties could be anywhere between 35–43 (keeping in mind that Indian media also has every reason to inflate that figure). The strangest part is that neither side ever fired a shot. Reportedly, an Indian patrol came across a group of Chinese soldiers it was not expecting to be there. A fistfight ensued that eventually involved 600 soldiers fighting hand-to-hand with stones and iron rods. The troops were fighting on steep ridges as high as 14,000 feet and the soldiers that died fell off the ridges into the Galwan river in sub-zero temperatures. Both China and India have blamed each other for instigating the conflict while insisting that top-level officials on both sides had agreed to deescalate the situation (again).
What it means: The winner in this spat is the United States of America. The US has been courting India to take a closer and more active role in asserting power in the Indo-Pacific region in general and in aligning its foreign policy objectives more closely with the US. India has resisted because it is not interested in propping up another would be Anglo-Empire with its riches. That may change now. Even if the Indian and Chinese governments did not want this conflict, now that it has happened, it will be difficult for either to back down. India is reportedly already considering blacklisting Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE from its telecom sector.
Earlier this week we wrote about how U.S. policy was pushing China and Russia closer together. Ironically, China’s actions are now pushing India and the US closer together. India’s Exterior Minister said that the incident would have “a serious impact” on the China-India relationship. We would take it one step further – the China-India relationship may never be the same again. Not to mention amidst all the talk of top-level agreements to defuse the situation that militaries on both sides remain at high alert.
North Korea’s threats. North Korea blew up its joint liaison office with South Korea this week. The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army also said that the North Korean military was “fully ready” to go into action. Last week, Kim Yo-jong – Kim Jong-un’s little sister – issued a statement saying that military action against South Korea might well be imminent and also specifically threatened to destroy the liaison office.
What it means: North and South Korea agreed to set up the liaison office back in April 2018 when Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in met in Panmunjom and held hands while hopping back and forth across their respective borders. South Korea subsequently spent almost $9 million renovating the building only for North Korea to raze it to the ground two years later. North Korea’s strange and erratic behavior (stranger and more erratic than usual, that is) began around the same time that Kim Jong-un began disappearing from the public eye for weeks at a time this past May, prompting suspicions that his health was declining. That also coincided with a much more significant role for Kim Yo-jong, suggesting that North Korea wants to make sure a successor has been properly groomed in case something happens to the Supreme Leader.
Even so, it is hard to account for the sudden about-face in North Korea’s position towards South Korea. Everything had been going the way North Korea wanted recently – a relatively friendly government in Seoul, direct engagement with the US, South Korea drifting away from the US and closer to China – all meaningful steps forward if the long game is reunification of some sort on North Korean terms. Now North Korea has detonated it all along with the liaison office and the most disturbing part of the whole thing is it is not clear why. We also note that in the U.S.-China talks in Hawaii earlier this week, the U.S. special representative to North Korea sat in, perhaps underscoring that Washington and Beijing are as perplexed and worried as we are.
NATO, we have a problem. France alleges that Turkish frigates locked onto a French ship that was trying to enforce an arms embargo on Libya with radar three times. Turkey rejects the accusation and also says France’s behavior in Libya against the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord is exacerbating the crisis there. Both sides accuse the other of behaving in a manner unbecoming a NATO member. NATO says it is opening up a probe into the France-Turkey naval incident.
What it means: NATO is a military alliance designed to unite countries in common cause against the Soviet Union. Therein lies the problem: NATO already won the war. The Soviet Union is no more. NATO is now a zombie alliance, or in the words of France’s President Emmanuel Macron, NATO is “brain-dead.” The interests of its member-states are no longer in lockstep and now two of its most important member-states find themselves on opposite sides of the Libyan civil war and locking on to each other’s ships at sea. Turkey has been especially busy this week, bombing Kurds in northern Iraq, introducing the Turkish lira as the currency of Northern Syria, and dispatching its foreign minister to Tripoli (while telling Russia’s foreign minister to postpone his previously scheduled visit).
But it is the potential fight with France that is most concerning. Macron is on record as believing that the EU does not just need a tighter monetary and political union, but that it also needs a European Army of its own, and what is happening with Turkey right now is a perfect example of why. For most of the 2000s so far, populist and nationalist forces were pulling European countries apart from each other. Now, external forces are pushing European countries closer together, as Turkey’s moves are doing now. At the moment though this is all posturing. France now has a difficult choice to make: will it cede Libya to Turkey? Or will it intervene to stop Turkey from consolidating a bridgehead in the Mediterranean and risk NATO’s demise or even outright conflict with Turkey?
Poland accidentally invaded the Czech Republic. (Yes, you read that correctly. Like we said – busy week.)
The Hungarian parliament repealed the COVID-19 emergency law that previously gave the Orbán government dictatorial powers. (Some rare good news.)
The US is tweaking a previous rule so that US companies can participate in standard-setting organizations on 5G even if Huawei is there too.
The US is inviting officials from Serbia and Kosovo to the White House so it can mediate negotiations between them (because that went so well in Israel-Palestine and on the Korean peninsula…did they go to Jared?).
The Netherlands may be reconsidering its parsimonious position on the EU-recovery plan.
Kazakhstan’s former president and always ruler, 79-year old Nursultan Nazarbayev, has COVID-19.
Egypt says talks with Ethiopia and Sudan on Ethiopia’s imminent filling of the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are deadlocked due to “intransigent [Ethiopian] positions.”
Jean Kennedy Smith – the last surviving sibling of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy – passed away at the age of 92. RIP.