Posts Tagged ‘India’

Modi’s big chance to put ‘Act East’ into action

January 21, 2018


On Jan. 25, 2018; 10 Southeast Asian leaders will descend on New Delhi for this year’s India-ASEAN summit. For Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there’s much at stake. He won’t just be serving as host for this high-level event — he will also be seizing an opportunity to showcase and strengthen a key foreign policy initiative: “Act East”. This is an effort to intensify India’s engagement with its eastern neighbors, and an intentionally more decisive-sounding alternative than the “Look East” policy embraced by previous Indian governments.


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Prime Minister Narendra Modi in conversation with Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar

India’s interactions with its eastern neighbors (other than China) are often overlooked thanks to more highly publicized aspects of India’s foreign diplomacy—such as tensions with Pakistan, growing ties with Israel, a consistently warm rapport with Russia, and rapidly deepening relations with America.

And yet Act East is a key means of pursuing core Indian foreign policy goals — from securing new markets and energy resources to pushing back against China’s rising influence. At the India-ASEAN summit, New Delhi will be looking to address these goals with the interlocutors best positioned to help achieve them.

Modi formally announced the Act East policy in a speech at the annual ASEAN summit in 2014. “We are both keen to enhance our cooperation in advancing balance, peace and stability in the region,” he said, referring to India and the ASEAN nations.

India’s eastward push makes good strategic sense. A nation with great power aspirations needs to develop influence not just in far-flung lands, but also closer to home — and particularly when this broader backyard, the Asia region on the whole, boasts two-thirds of the world’s population and a large portion of its wealth. Moreover, India’s neighborhood to the east is friendlier than the one to the west. To the west, India confronts not just Pakistan but also smaller, poorer countries that often regard their more powerful neighbor with suspicion. To the east, India finds friends like Australia and Japan as well as the ASEAN countries, many of which share New Delhi’s concerns about China’s deepening footprint.

Act East can bring major economic benefits to India. According to McKinsey, the ASEAN countries collectively comprise the world’s seventh-largest economy and host more than 200 of the world’s largest companies. One of the countries represented at the summit, Vietnam, recently set a national record for incoming foreign direct investment (FDI), while another, Singapore, is already a top source of FDI to India. Additionally, New Delhi is one of the negotiating partners hoping to form a mammoth new Asian trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). If RCEP, which would include all 10 ASEAN nations, enters into force, it would comprise almost 30 percent of global GDP — and facilitate Indian access to key supply chains in Southeast Asia.


India’s premier will hope to use high-level ASEAN summit in New Delhi to support his foreign policy initiative, which aims to secure new markets and energy resources to push back against China’s rising influence.

Michael Kugelman


ASEAN can also help address two of India’s top energy needs: Natural gas and coal. This is no small matter for a nation that must triple its energy supplies in the coming years to return to double-digit growth.


India, which hopes to eventually transition into a gas-powered economy, has already explored deals with Australia, a top global gas producer. And it is looking to deepen ties with Indonesia, from which New Delhi already acquires 60 percent of its coal imports.

Some critics have dismissed Act East as a policy with a catchy title but not much in the way of concrete achievements. Indeed, until recently, New Delhi may have had reason to hold back on pursuing the Act East policy so as not to alienate Beijing — a strategic rival that India has preferred to keep onside, thanks in great part to a robust bilateral trade relationship regarded as too valuable to be squandered.

Today, however, the calculus has changed. China-India tensions have sharpened as Beijing extends its tentacles across South Asia. This push into India’s backyard is headlined by $62 billion in infrastructure investments across Pakistan — including in areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir that India regards as its own. A tense India-China border standoff in the Himalayas last summer highlighted the increasing strain in the relationship. New Delhi no longer has an incentive to hold back from strengthening existing partnerships and cultivating new ones to its east, where China’s influence has long held sway.

So, in New Delhi on Jan. 25, look for the Indian government’s public statements that wax eloquent about regional cooperation and underscore collective shared interests in security, prosperity and innovation. But, behind the scenes, expect individual charm offensives. Indian officials — including Modi himself — are likely to impress upon each of their 10 guests the importance with which they view his or her country and their determination to forge greater cooperation.

How fitting, then, that on the day after the summit, all 10 ASEAN leaders will serve as chief guests at India’s Republic Day parade. New Delhi reserves this prestigious honor for only its closest friends; over the previous four years, the chief guests have hailed from the UAE, France, the United States, and Japan.

What better way to convey to ASEAN leaders the immense importance that India accords to their region, and to the Act East policy meant to hasten deeper ties to it?

Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Twitter: @michaelkugelman

See also:

Do watch it, PM Narendra Modi tweets to his followers ahead of his interview with Times Now at 9 PM on Jan 21


India accuses Pakistan of fresh attacks on Kashmir frontier

January 20, 2018


Indian villagers gather a near house damaged allegedly due to firing from the Pakistan side of the border, near Pindi in Arnia district of Jammu and Kashmir, India, Thursday, Jan.18,2018. Indian officials say a teenage girl and a soldier have been killed by Pakistani troops firing along the volatile frontier in Indian-controlled Kashmir. (AP)
SRINAGAR: Indian officials say a teenage boy and a soldier have been killed in firing by Pakistani troops along the volatile frontier in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Police say Pakistani soldiers on Saturday continued targeting Indian border posts and villages with mortar shells and automatic gunfire for the fourth straight day in Jammu region.
Pakistan did not immediately comment but has blamed India for the ongoing clashes.
Indian officials have called the violence a continuous violation of the cease-fire accord of 2003 between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Saturday’s fighting follows three days of deadly confrontation that left at least six civilians and three soldiers dead and several others wounded on both sides.
India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir.

Pakistan and China’s debt trap diplomacy

January 19, 2018

By Ronak D. Desai For The Straits Times

US President Donald Trump’s tough new approach towards Pakistan and suspension of over US$1 billion (S$1.32 billion) worth of security assistance may or may not get it to move meaningfully against religious extremists but there is little doubt over who the real winner will be of this bilateral bust-up: China.

The estrangement in ties will inevitably push Pakistan into China’s orbit, allowing Beijing even more leverage as it goes about practising what has been called “debt trap diplomacy” for strategic gains in the region.

China’s swift public declaration of support for Pakistan as its “all-weather partner” is an implicit rebuke of the United States. It comes as China is pushing ahead with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a grand Eurasian project of which Pakistan is considered a key entry point.

As outlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, this ambitious modern-day Silk Road calls for the creation of a network of railways, roads, pipelines and ports that would link China with its neighbours in Asia and beyond. Besides putting in place infrastructure critical for development, the aim is to create a platform for greater trade flows, economic cooperation and social exchanges.

But critics say there is a dark side to this mega-infrastructural endeavour : the BRI also functions as a major vehicle for China’s debt trap diplomacy, which, in South Asia, has already ensnared Sri Lanka.

They point to a disturbing formula: Beijing extends massive loans to cash-strapped states with terms disproportionately favourable to China, including access to lucrative national resources or market entry for cheap Chinese goods.

Once constructed by Chinese-run firms, the projects oftentimes bleed money. As a result, the borrowing country is saddled with onerous debts that it cannot repay on time, or at all, rendering it more vulnerable to China’s influence and control. Critics assert that the ultimate cost of the loan is nothing short of the borrower’s economic sovereignty.

By making foreign countries financially dependent on China, debt trap diplomacy has proven effective in allowing Beijing to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously through purely economic means. These include creating markets for its cheap exports, gaining access to invaluable natural resources, ensuring support for its geostrategic interests from borrower nations, and garnering a competitive advantage over its rivals, chief among them, India and the US.

Viewed against this backdrop, President Trump’s tweets blasting Pakistan could not come at a more fortuitous time for China.

Beijing had been confronting unexpected resistance from Islamabad over its US$62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in recent weeks. Part of the BRI, the corridor runs from the deep-water Pakistani port of Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang province over the Arabian Sea.

Just last month, Pakistan withdrew from a US$14 billion mega-dam project under CPEC citing the stringent financing conditions China attached to the proposal. Officials worried that the debt servicing terms lacked adequate transparency and risked making Pakistan too dependent upon Beijing’s largesse.

But now, Pakistan’s increasing diplomatic and financial isolation from the US makes the consummation of Chinese plans under CPEC more likely. In fact, shortly after the US announced the suspension of aid to Islamabad, Pakistan’s central bank announced it would finally begin using Chinese yuan for bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. More significantly, China’s ambassador to Pakistan proclaimed that the country would expedite the timetable of CPEC’s construction.

In this way, Pakistan risks becoming the latest victim of what has also been labelled China’s “creditor imperialism”. Just last month, Sri Lanka was forced to turn over control of its Hambantota port to a Chinese state-owned company under a 99-year lease deal after it was unable to repay the crushing debt the country incurred from Beijing to have it built in the first place.

Hambantota’s strategic value is difficult to overstate, sitting at the intersection of several Indian Ocean trading routes connecting Europe, Africa and the Middle East to South Asia. Even after the US$1.1 billion lease agreement with Beijing, Colombo still owes more than US$7 billion in debt to China.

But Sri Lanka’s experience with China should not be construed as a state-sponsored conspiracy by Beijing. Rather, it is a cautionary tale for other countries such as Pakistan about the danger of being ensnared by debt trap diplomacy and the importance of evaluating the true cost of doing business with China.

Across South Asia, the debate over the real cost of Chinese foreign investment rages on. Last November, Nepal abruptly cancelled a US$2.5 billion deal with China for the construction of a sorely needed hydroelectric dam.

Critics point to a disturbing formula: Beijing extends massive loans to cash-strapped states with terms disproportionately favourable to China, including access to lucrative national resources or market entry for cheap Chinese goods.

Nepalese officials were worried that the deal would align the country too closely with Beijing. And yet, recent reports have suggested that China finalised an agreement for one of its state-owned companies to build a different dam in the Himalayan kingdom, but not before first securing a 75 per cent ownership stake upfront.

The recent turbulence in US-Pakistani relations poses a complex set of questions for New Delhi. On the one hand, it has enthusiastically welcomed Washington’s tough line on Islamabad, hailing the suspension of aid as a long overdue step. On the other hand, Indian officials are certainly aware that Beijing will inevitably exploit the US-Pakistani rift. India will not support any policy that could potentially destabilise Pakistan, and there is little it can do to prevent Beijing and Islamabad from further consolidating ties.

At the same time, India finds itself woefully unprepared to meeting the formidable challenges China’s debt trap diplomacy has created for New Delhi. It has yet to formulate an effective strategy of its own that effectively confronts Beijing’s steadily expanding influence both in the region and in the Indian Ocean.

 •The writer is an Affiliate at the South Asia Institute at Harvard University and a Law & Security Fellow at the New America think-tank.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline ‘Pakistan and China’s debt trap diplomacy’.
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China a disruptive force, says US Pacific military chief

January 19, 2018

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US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of United States Pacific Command, welcoming US President Donald Trump at its headquarters in Aiea, Hawaii, on Nov 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) – The head of the US military’s Pacific command called China a disruptive power in the Indo-Pacific region on Thursday (Jan 18) and urged countries in the area to build capabilities and work together to ensure free and open seas.

Admiral Harry Harris, known for his combative views on Beijing’s South China Sea expansion, was speaking at a security conference sponsored by the Indian government, where he was joined by the chief of staff, joint staff of Japan and the head of the Indian navy.

The three countries – the United States, Japan and India – have grown increasingly concerned about China’s assertive military posture in the region and sought to draw closer, with Australia, in a “quad” of liberal democracies.

“I believe the reality is that China is a disruptive transitional force in the Indo-Pacific, they are owner of the ‘trust deficit’ that we all have spent the last hour talking about,” Adm Harris said, referring to the discussions of the panel.

The United States has criticised China’s construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the South China Sea, saying they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

China says there is no issue with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and opposes efforts to use it as an”excuse” to infringe on China’s sovereignty and security interests.

Adm Harris said China’s actions had caused disquiet in countries stretching from the Philippines to Malaysia and Vietnam. He said it was time countries took firmer measures to ensure maritime stability.

“We must be willing to take the tough decisions to ensure the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean remain free, open and prosperous,” he said.

“This requires like-minded nations to develop capacities, leverage each other’s capabilities.” Adm Harris had earlier proposed joint patrols with the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi, worried about a backlash from China, said no such actions were planned.

But India has begun holding trilateral naval exercises with the US and Japan that military experts say could eventually include Australia as well.

Should Beijing be worried about India’s latest missile launch?

January 19, 2018

New Delhi is making giant strides in its nuclear weapons development, but observers say there are many reasons for it showing off its growing military might

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 9:15pm
South China Morning Post

With the latest successful test-firing of a long-range nuclear-capable missile – with the scope to land a warhead on almost any part of the Chinese mainland – India moved another step closer to establishing an effective deterrent against Beijing’s rising military might, observers said.

The Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was launched on Thursday from Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal, according to a statement released by India’s defence ministry.

With a range of up to 5,000km (3,106 miles), it has the capability to carry a nuclear warhead to almost anywhere in Asia, or even parts of Europe and Africa, The Times of India reported.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the successful launch marked another milestone for New Delhi in the development of an effective nuclear deterrent.

“China is a potential threat in the long term, and India, like many other countries, is strengthening its defence capabilities,” he said.

But New Delhi was not only concerned with what Beijing was doing, Chaturvedy said. It also had its own agenda.

“India’s defence programme is very systematic. China’s aggressive behaviour may be an important factor, but it’s not the only factor. India is a rising power and needs a strong defence force.”

Song Zhongping, a former instructor with the Second Artillery Corps of the People’s Liberation Army – China’s military – said that the timing of India’s missile launch reflected the rising tensions around the world, not least with regards to the situation in North Korea.

The Times of India said the successful launch of the Agni-V missile would also add weight to New Delhi’s case for becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Its five incumbents – China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and France – are all nuclear powers.

Beyond the world situation, Song, who is now a military commentator with Phoenix Television in Hong Kong, said that Beijing should not underestimate India’s growing nuclear capabilities.

“Agni-V is not only a strategic weapon, but also a real battle weapon with high mobility and stealth capabilities,” he said. “If it goes into mass production it would pose a great challenge to China.”

Thursday’s test flight was the missile’s fifth, and its success suggested that it would soon be put into service, he said.

The Agni-V, which is capable of carrying a single nuclear warhead, was also a stepping stone to the Agni-VI, which would have the capacity to carry multiple devices, Song said.

“It’s likely that the new generation of ICBMs, the Agni-VI, will be equipped with multiple, independently targetable re-entry warheads,” he said. “Once New Delhi has that capability, it will be a great threat to Beijing.”

Despite any implied hostility, Swaran Singh, a professor in the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that India’s possession of a greater nuclear capability might actually be a fillip for closer Sino-Indian relations.

“Until the Agni-V is fully operational … India remains vulnerable as it would not be able to reach key targets across China,” he said.

“But its deployment may encourage China to initiate nuclear risk reduction and security- and confidence-building measures with India, which in turn could be seen as China’s endorsement of India’s status as a nuclear power.”

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said India developed the Agni family of missiles in the 1980s to give it a military advantage over China.

“That’s why Beijing developed its anti-missile system,” he said.

Tensions soar along India, Pakistan border in Kashmir

January 19, 2018

Al Jazeera


January 19, 2018
Relatives mourn over the dead body of Neelam Devi who was killed in the village of Pindi near Jammu [Jaipal Singh/EPA]
Relatives mourn over the dead body of Neelam Devi who was killed in the village of Pindi near Jammu [Jaipal Singh/EPA]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Two civilians were killed and three others wounded in the latest ceasefire violations in the border villages of Jammu region in Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said.

The state police chief, Shesh Paul Vaid, told Al Jazeera that the two civilians, one of whom was a 52-year-old woman, were killed in shelling from the Pakistani side in the RS Pura sector of Jammu.

On Thursday, an Indian soldier and a 17-year-old girl were killed in RS Pura and Arnia sectors of Jammu, officials said, taking the death toll to four in 24 hours on the Indian side.

Since Friday morning, the two countries’ troops traded heavy gunfire in the RS Pura and Ramgarh sectors along the border, officials said, amid soaring tensions between the two states.

“The heavy shelling started from the Pakistani side at night,” one official told Al Jazeera.

Another official said that Pakistani troopers violated the ceasefire by resorting to indiscriminate firing at Indian positions in several sectors along the border.

The fresh tension has caused further turbulence in the relations between India and Pakistan.

This is the third exchange of fire between the two countries in this sector in past three days, officials said.

The Jammu and Kashmir police in a statement said that Indian forces are retaliating to the firing from Pakistan.

Following the latest shelling, the officials said that the schools in the area were closed.

The latest exchange of fire started after Pakistan accused Indian forces of killing four of their soldiers near the de facto border.

Despite a 2003 ceasefire, India and Pakistan regularly trade fire across the so-called Line of Control (LoC), the military demarcation between the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of aiding fighters in crossing the LoC to attack Indian targets. Pakistan has denied the charges.

The hostilities increased between India and Pakistan since December last year after both accused each other of killing soldiers on either side.

In September 2016, India claimed to have launched “surgical strikes” on bases used by armed groups in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to fight Indian security forces. Pakistan denied any Indian soldiers were ever on Pakistan-administered soil.

Since independence in 1947, the two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which both countries claim in full.

The LoC has remained volatile in the last year. According to official figures, 860 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops were reported in 2017, compared with 221 the year before.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight dissent.

Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown. India maintains roughly 500,000 soldiers in the territory.


India tests-fires Agni-V, a nuclear-capable ICBM

January 18, 2018

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New Delhi (CNN) — India has successfully test-fired its Agni-V long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, the Indian Defense Ministry said in a tweet Thursday.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India’s most advanced ICBM missile. It was fired Thursday morning India time on Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha.
The ministry called the test a “major boost” to the country’s defense capabilities.
India is believed to have about 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
“This is not a new capability, so this was simply a developmental test before India inducts it into operational range,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT who studies nuclear proliferation, told CNN.
Narang said it’s possible India’s armed forces were testing the canister from which the missile is fired from as well as its ejection, flight performance and accuracy — a “regular technical test in that regard.”
“They’ve been gradually stepping up the complexity of the testing process,” said Ajai Shukla, a prominent New Delhi-based defense analyst and former Indian army colonel.
The missile has been tested five times since 2012, with the most recent test prior to Thursday coming in December 2016. That launch drew the ire of India’s two most important geostrategic adversaries: Pakistan and China.
The Agni-V’s range distance means all of China is now in striking distance, according to Shukla.
“It’s range has been long known, and India needs it to be able to retaliate against China’s eastern seaboard’s high value targets,” Narang said.
While Thursday’s test may have been incremental from a technological perspective, it could have serious geopolitical ramifications. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi deteriorated significantly in 2017 following a protracted border dispute in the Himalayan region of Doklam.
Narang called the timing of the launch very interesting, though he told CNN it’s possible the launch was scheduled far in advance of Thursday’s test date.
Referring to Doklam, Narang said it was “hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end.”
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The launch, which comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the subcontinent, also coincided with one of India’s flagship geopolitical conferences, the Raisina Dialogue 2018, with confirmation of the test occurring during a panel titled: “Nuclear Unpredictability: Managing the Global Nuclear Framework.”
India, along with Pakistan and North Korea, are among the 13 countries that have not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The United States, Russia, China and North Korea all reportedly test-fired ballistic missiles in 2017. Pyongyang is barred from doing so under UN sanctions.

Netanyahu: Missile deal with India Back “On”

January 17, 2018
 JANUARY 17, 2018 16:33

The lucrative $500 million deal was cancelled a few weeks previous to Netanyahu’s visit to India.

Herb Keinon wraps up day 4 of Netanyahu’s India trip, January 17, 2018

India will buy Israel’s anti-tank spike missiles, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced after spending the day with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

Image result for Israel's anti-tank spike missiles, photos

The lucrative $500 million deal was cancelled a few weeks previous to Netanyahu’s visit to India and renewal of the deal is considered to be a major strategic achievement.

There were voices inside India’s defense establishment who were opposed to purchasing Israeli missiles, preferring instead that India develop its own technology. Those voices were overruled by others in the Indian army keen on acquiring Israel’s state of the art missiles.

Netanyahu said the final details and scope of the deal are still in the process of being worked out.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Modi’s western home state of Gujarat rolled out the red carpet for his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, who took part in a grand roadshow in Ahmedabad city.

Israel’s Netanyahu says US embassy could move to Jerusalem within a year

January 17, 2018


© Money Sharma, AFP | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the India-Israel Business Summit in New Delhi on January 15, 2018


Latest update : 2018-01-17

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he believed the US embassy in Israel could be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem within a year, contradicting statements from US officials.

“The embassy is going to be moved to Jerusalem faster than you think, certainly within a year,” Netanyahu told journalists accompanying him on an official trip to India, according to Israeli media.

US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel‘s capital on December 6 and pledged to move the embassy to the disputed city, deeply angering the Palestinians and drawing global condemnation.

However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in December that the relocation of the embassy would probably not take place for at least two years.

Trump’s announcement led to unrest in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli clashes

Seventeen Palestinians have been killed since Trump’s announcement, most of them in clashes with Israeli forces. One Israeli has been killed in that time.

Palestinian leaders have threatened to suspend their recognition of Israel in response to Trump’s moves.

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

No countries currently have their embassies in Jerusalem, instead keeping them in the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Kim Jong Un’s game in joining Winter Olympics in South Korea

January 17, 2018

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Asia News Network writers say denuclearisation should remain the key goal in discussions between the two Koreas. Here are excerpts:



The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

It’s not as if there has been concrete progress towards resolving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The international community must not loosen the net encircling North Korea both militarily and economically.

South Korea and North Korea held a ministerial-level meeting and agreed that the two countries will cooperate to ensure the success of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. North Korea will send a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad, while South Korea will provide necessary services.

The accords also include the holding of talks on reducing tension, to be attended by officials. North Korea has reportedly notified South Korea of its restoration of a military communication line with South Korea. It is important to reduce the danger of accidental conflict.

Emphasising the shared ethnicity of the two countries, both also agreed on a policy of continuing senior official-level meetings.

It can be considered that Mr Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has put into full gear a strategy of winning over South Korea by playing its “Olympic participation” card. It was the first formal talks in almost two years between the two Koreas.

Without a doubt, North Korea is aiming at driving a wedge between the United States and South Korea, by appealing to the idea of reconciliation between the two Koreas. Sanctions on North Korea, such as trade restrictions on refined petroleum products, have had an effect. Pyongyang may also ask Seoul for economic cooperation and for a relaxation of sanctions in the inter-Korean meetings in the days ahead.

Something to be wary of is the fact that when the South Korean side proposed holding talks with regard to the denuclearisation of North Korea, a representative of the North Korean side rejected it flatly.

Members of the South Korean air force Black Eagle aerobatic team performing above the ski jump venue of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this week. North Korea is sending a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a c

Members of the South Korean air force Black Eagle aerobatic team performing above the ski jump venue of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this week. North Korea is sending a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad to the Games. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

There would be no change in the fact that Pyongyang is steadily advancing its nuclear and missile development programmes, even if the country refrains from conducting a nuclear test or launching a ballistic missile until after the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics end.

There is strong concern among countries, including Japan and the US, over the possibility of the Moon administration making excessive concessions to Pyongyang in its haste to improve relations.

It is vital for South Korea to maintain close cooperation with Japan and the US with regard to policy towards North Korea.




The Korea Herald, South Korea

It certainly is a good sign that the two Koreas agreed on North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. But the sudden eruption of a reconciliatory mood should not interfere with the ultimate, unalterable goal of denuclearising the North.

As things stand, the first inter-Korean government-level talks in over two years yielded more-than-expected results. Besides athletes and team officials, the North will send what is expected to be the largest delegation of its kind to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The two sides also said they would consider a joint march of their athletes during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in Pyeongchang, Gangwon province, on Feb 9.

All these are a great boon for the Olympic Games, which had faced security concerns.

What cannot be ruled out is the possibility that the North is merely using the thaw in inter-Korean relations to buy time to further improve its nuclear and missile capabilities and discourage the United States from taking new hard-line actions, including possible military action or harsher economic and diplomatic pressure, like the cutting off of oil supplies and naval interdiction or embargo.

Its decision to send such a large delegation to Pyeongchang and the agreement to hold military talks aimed at discussing the reduction of tensions along the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas and other high-level government talks could be part of efforts to maximise the effect of its peace overture.

There is no reason not to take advantage of the change in the North’s position. But the South Korean government and the international community should not lower their guard as long as denuclearisation is concerned.


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The Statesman, India

Visuals of the North and South Korean delegation leaders greeting each other at the demilitarised zone of Panmunjom do testify to a measure of de-escalation after the volley and thunder of recent ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) tests.

Having said that, it would be presumptuous to imagine that the worst is over. Not really; there is little doubt that the North will be under renewed pressure in the event of the next stand-off.

For now, through a deft diplomatic gambit, Mr Kim Jong Un seems agreeable to the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

After frequent bouts of defiant muscle-flexing, Pyongyang is seemingly anxious to be recognised by the comity of nations, thus shedding its pariah image for which it has only itself to blame. There is a degree of symbolic significance too in the North’s participation in the Games, and it is pretty obvious that President Kim has played to both the domestic and international gallery.

Yet, a degree of cynicism is bound to persist, in the context of previous crises.

There is no entente cordiale quite yet. And central to the war of nerves must be North Korea’s spectacular progress in its weapons programme. The nature of contemporary geostrategy would suggest that denuclearisation is unlikely. Ergo, the rational course of action is a nuclear freeze, an issue that was somehow skirted at the recent conference, riveted as it was to the Winter Olympics.




China Daily, China

It is good that the talks between the two Koreas on Tuesday at the border truce village of Panmunjom appeared amicable and constructive.

And the unusual, if not unprecedented, suggestion by Mr Ri Son Gwon, the chief delegate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, that the talks be “open and transparent” and their content be made public “in light of the great expectations and huge interest both here and abroad” and to demonstrate its “sincerity and endeavours” was, itself, something of a break with the past.

If things go well, looking forward at the best-case scenario, the latest rapport might extend further, towards a longer-lasting thaw in inter-Korea relations.

However, as history has repeatedly proved, inter-Korea ties are too fickle to support unbounded optimism.

While tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang may be assuaged, at least for the time being, the dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula has not suddenly dissipated.




The Nation, Thailand

Nerves have yet to calm since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned in his annual New Year address that he has a nuclear button “on my desk at all times” and United States President Donald Trump responded with typical bluster, tweeting that his button was “much bigger and more powerful”.

Fortunately for all of us, while Mr Trump was prattling on about a “free world united against evil North Korea”, Pyongyang extended an olive branch to Seoul. South Korean President Moon Jae In, who has always supported dialogue with the North, called the gesture “an epoch-making opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace”.

Mr Trump needs to understand that this issue is not about him, nor is it solely about Americans’ security. It is also about the fate of one of the world’s most reclusive regimes, whose leader, derided as “crazy fat kid” by cruel American lawmakers, has just schooled the leader of the free world.

Most observers agree that Mr Kim reaching out to the South is a strategy aimed at changing the narrative now that he possesses nuclear weapons and might be able to deliver them to the continental US. If this is not the case, Mr Kim could get back to his tests and threats once the Olympics are over, and South Korea and the US resume their regular military exercises.

But, for the time being at least, Mr Kim has given the world some breathing space and the hope of a chance to discuss the nuclear problem rationally.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times’ media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline ‘Kim Jong Un’s game in joining Winter Olympics in S. Korea’.