Australia to bring up North Korean sanctions with China

This article says Australia will “will urge China to clamp down on the flow of technology and equipment crossing its borders into North Korea, which could be used by the rogue nation in its nuclear weapons program.”

It quotes a spokesman for Australia’s foreign minister as saying UN sanctions on North Korea “would be more effective if there was tighter implementation on ships and planes travelling to North Korea, including from China.”

“That’s something we’ll be talking about when we’re in China,” the spokesman said. But the article immediately says: it is “not suggested China is breaching the sanctions.”.

(shrug)

Anyway, with billions of dollars in trade per year crossing the border between China and North Korea, you have to wonder if the occasional missile launcher finds its way into the mix. Also, it’s not clear what sway Australia, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council has over China – a permanent member.

Although the broader view is the China is holding its rhetorical fire on the US’s increased military maneuvers in South Korea, this article shows that China won’t tolerate too much of a public reconsideration of its relationship with North Korea. I like the quotes on China about the military’s unwillingness to be transparent.

“The Chinese people know how to shadow box and know even better about Sun Zi’s Art of War, so it (the military) won’t make public that which need not be known,” the official China New Service said in a commentary about the Korean tensions.

I think you could apply that to most matters with the Chinese military establishment. What the longer term effect that has on Asian-Pacific tensions and global affairs remains to be seen. But this is turning out to be a full-time feature in global affairs – the veil of secrecy held up in China that the world must navigate around.

North Korea, China – what to think, when to panic

Soldiers march past the podium during a military parade in Pyongyang (Reuters)

A couple things on the latest tensions

Despite the endless escalation of rhetoric and military preparations between North Korea and South Korea with the US, as of March 29, the joint South-Noth venture called the Kaesong Industrial Complex was still operational, which has led some to believe Kim Jong-un is still only indulging in high-octane rhetoric. For now.

But clearly, no one will be happy if North Korea’s recent string of threats becomes the norm.

The big question many people are asking themselves is: where is China in all of this?

After all, isn’t China the biggest benefactor of North Korea?

Hasn’t trade escalated between North Korea and China even after UN sanctions?

Hasn’t China looked the other way with North Korea, as long as it was a foil for the US in North Asia?

Isn’t China suspected of selling mobile missile launchers to North Korea as recently as 2012?

Of all the nations in the Six Party talks, China stands out as the most directly influential.
Now, with the media on red alert and politicians watching fearfully, some are daring to speak the unspeakable regarding China and North Korea.

One such politician is Australia’s ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd, who, while giving his usual boilerplate about Pax Pacific to an audience of Chinese military elite Thursday added some straight-talk on China-North Korea.

As always, Rudd is among the most insightful voices on China.

Not only is he a long-time scholar of Chinese history, a speaker of the language, an ex-diplomat who has the ear of policymakers in Washington and elsewhere, Rudd has also contended with China as a prime minister of a nation in the region. So he’s worth listening to.

Rudd, in the speech to the National Defence University of China made a few points about the China-North Korea relationship and what it means to US-China relations.

Says Kevin:

Primo) The US and its allies (Japan, South Korea, and possibly even Australia among others) would have every reason to build up their missile defense to counter North Korea’s threat – and this will further hem China in and frustrate their military’s expansion.

Of itself it is a reflection of profound strategic mistrust towards North Korea. For many it also represents an entirely rational response to a real and growing threat. Such ballistic missile defence cooperation also of course has wider implications for China’s national and security interests beyond the Korean Peninsula.”

Secondo) And this is key: The world outside the region will hold China responsible because of North Korea’s military adventures.

“China’s own global foreign policy standing is suffering and will continue to suffer as a result of North Korean adventurism.”

Terzo) South Korea may finally tire of this festering threat and be forced to take action “given the enormous political pressures within South Korea’s democracy to respond robustly to any future North Korean provocation.”

Pointedly Rudd says:

“For these reasons the international community will be looking more and more to Beijing, in view of its significance as a major supplier of food and energy to the Korean people, for a new diplomacy towards Pyongyang, given that all other diplomacies from other countries have so far demonstrably failed.”

But will a new diplomacy come? Rudd acknowledges a more vocal debate in China about how to handle North Korea. But is it debate at a certain level happening beneath the inertia at a higher level where the ultimate decisions are made?

That presupposes civilian policymakers in Beijing have total control over the Chinese side of the issue.

The article raises serious questions about the civilian control of the Chinese military, which has real implication for what’s happening with North Korea. Even if civilian leader Xi Jinping, who is supposed to be in control of the PLA, wants a different line on North Korea than in the past, there is on guarantee that Xi can achieve that.

In effect, if the PLA wants to give missile launchers to North Korea’s army, the civilian leadership of China can’t stop it.

This gap between civilian and military control of the PLA also exacerbates China’s disputes with its neighbors, as it makes it harder to know who is issuing orders in China when tensions flare.

Yet another possibility is that China is willing to act on North Korea but is paralyzed by the challenge it presents because China itself an doesn’t have the diplomatic or strategic vision to try to guide the situation.

In that scenario, Seton Hall University professor Zheng Wang may be right in concluding Chinese foreign policy, while appearing domineering and threatening, “is actually ambivalent, even weak.”

In any case, the status quo of North Korea’s threats and aggression can’t last.

If there is no new diplomatic approach by China to North Korea, then outsiders – led by the Americans – will conclude that an erratic, threatening North Korea serves the long-term goal of trying to flush the US out of East Asia.

And if that becomes clear, a lot of this talk about how you can’t compare the historical Cold War to the situation today will evaporate further. People – particularly in the US – will wonder aloud why they continue to bankroll through trade a country that clearly resents them, disrespects their laws, and their role in the world. Yes, cross-border trade will not dry up because of this – as it shouldn’t. But politicians, consumers and citizens in the US and West, will stop seeing China as developing country experiencing growing pains and see it as the long-term strategic challenge/threat that it is increasingly becoming.

Chinese malware in South Korean cyber attack

But it’s not a smoking gun. Not yet, at least. 

The fact that there is Chinese malware doesn’t offer anything conclusive about the origin of the attack in South Korea, which hit 32,000 South Korean servers.

The story from Bloomberg quotes Chungnam National University computer engineer professor Ryou Jae Cheol as saying plenty of North Korean hackers operate from China.

It’s no secret that there are North Korea-China military-to-military links. Why wouldn’t there be Chinese code used? What are the economics of writing and testing malware? What are economics of coordinated hacking?

Key quotes: ‘‘Discovering that the code was from China makes it more likely that the attack was from North Korea, because a lot of North Korean hackers operate there,’’ said Ryou Jae Cheol. ‘‘Who else would be making this kind of attack at this scale and timing other than North Korea?’’

“It’s highly probable that North Korea used Chinese IPs for the attacks,’’ said Lim Jong In, dean of Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security. ‘‘These are sentimental attacks, aimed at spreading confusion to the whole society by paralyzing media and financial institutions. But it will take some time to exactly track who’s behind this as China is unlikely to actively cooperate.’’

So it’s not clear if China had an active role or was largely passive, just allowing its servers to be used in the attack. I would assume that, based on numbers, much malware authored in Asia is Chinese anyway, just like any manufactured good.

China pressures Japan because its looks better than pressuring Vietnam and Philippines?

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This Reuters article containing speculation that China’s navy is trying to “wear out” Japanese ships around the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands, contains a little bit of interesting commentary about why tensions have increased so much between China and Japan.

…military experts suggest Beijing has decided to intensify its operations against Japan, a nation whose wartime aggression is remembered across Asia, because confrontations with smaller neighbors in recent years had led to a region-wide diplomatic backlash.

“The Senkaku/Diaoyu hoopla of late is triggered by China’s desire to extricate itself from total regional isolation caused by China’s expansive territorial claims against virtually all of its maritime neighbors,” said Yu Maochun, an expert on the PLA at the Annapolis, Maryland United States Naval Academy.

This could be – but it strikes me as too coordinated for the Chinese. I can almost imagine forces within the PLA navy vying to outdo each other in taking tougher lines against the neighbouring nations. As Japan offers more resistance, it receives more pressure.  At the same time, if China was trying wear out the Japanese coast guard and navy, I suppose that would hinge on the notion that Japan’s economy also couldn’t sustain such prolonged competition. We’ll see.

My favourite part of article: the PLA reference to “islands” located off the Chinese coast. Telling language about Japan.

In late January, the PLA said a naval fleet would conduct a naval exercise in the Western Pacific after “sailing through islands” off the Chinese coast, a clear reference to the Japanese archipelago. The navy had conducted seven similar exercises last year, it said.

 Just some islands there. Japan.