Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Path Dependency

Iftikhar Gilani on how war games bookending the region make it official - the Indo-Pacific is the theater for global realignment

The return of cold war rivalry, one-upmanship on the global diplomatic chess board, leading to realignment of powers became quite evident on Monday, though unwittingly from two war games one being played in the Himalayas and the other in the far-off Pacific Ocean. While India and the United States are scheduled to begin war games in Uttarakhand from Wednesday near Sino-Indian border, the newfound allies Chinese and Russians began naval manoeuvres in South China Sea. Experts here believe that the exercises are loaded with tough diplomaitc messages, not only for the four countries involved in the games, but for the rest of world as well.

Last week we looked at bumps in the New Silk Road - the scrutiny continues. Atul Aneja:
The State-run Global Times on Tuesday ran an article that underscores the symbolic importance of the CPEC. But, simultaneously, it also highlighted the burgeoning costs of keeping the corridor secure. “It is unlikely that China will change its supportive attitude on the CPEC in the short term, but the increasing cost of security is becoming a big problem in efficiently pushing forward the project,” it observed. 
The write-up highlighted the complexity of securing the Gwadar to Kashgar economic corridor. “The economic corridor, linking Kashgar in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Gwadar Port in southwest Pakistan, passes through some turbulent regions, Kashmir included. It is unlikely to be plain sailing for China and Pakistan in their attempts to push forward the CPEC due to challenges such as a complex regional environment, and people in the two countries should be prepared for potential setbacks.” 
The Pakistani media also underscored the difficulties that are being encountered in ensuring the CPEC’s unhindered take-off. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper is reporting that the Chinese side has suggested that Islamabad should formally rope in the army to ensure smooth execution of the project. It added that the Chinese wanted the establishment of a separate ministry or authority that would focus exclusively on the CPEC, to escape entanglement in inter-ministerial red tape.

Meanwhile Taiwan is building a Silk Road of its own. Emanuele Scimia writes about the New Southbound Policy and how it could be an opportunity for ASEAN to to leverage China:
As China seeks to turn Xinjiang (新疆) into a springboard for trade projection to Central Asia and Europe in the belt and road framework, so Taipei sees its southern city of Kaohsiung as the natural platform to conquer markets from the Indian subcontinent to the Pacific rim.
This approach aims to cut the island’s economic and financial over-reliance on any single market. Though Taiwan maintains the opposite, the obvious reference is to mainland China, currently its biggest economic partner. For [Asean], Taipei could serve as a hedge against possible further cracks in the Chinese economy.
China (including Hong Kong) is Taipei’s largest export market, followed by the Asean six (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), the US, Europe and Japan. The mainland also remains the top destination for Taiwan’s foreign direct investment. 
Asean looks favourably on Taiwan’s move to promote relations along its southern flank; for them, Taipei could serve as a hedge against possible further cracks in the Chinese economy, as well as an element of a broader strategy to counterbalance China’s power in the South China Sea.
More at SCMP

Finally, we leave you with some not-so-comforting realizations about North Korea's nuclear ambitions - now that they've all grown up. Van Jackson:
For decades, Korea watchers debated the motivations behind North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Was it driven by the search for political recognition and an elevated status as the “legitimate” Korea? Was the nuclear program a bargaining chip to trade away for economic aid or the removal of sanctions? Or was it a purely defensive tactic intended to buttress what had become, by the 1990s, a minimalist strategy of survival? 
These questions have become irrelevant for policy purposes. It is entirely plausible—even likely—that North Korea’s nuclear intentions have evolved over time. Amid a dramatic country-wide famine and an unprecedented leadership transition in the 1990s, North Korea’s policy emphasis did shift from unification through revolution to the more modest goal of regime survival. Added to this domestic tumult were perceptions of isolation after its former Russian and Chinese patrons seemingly abandoned it in favor of thawing long-frozen relations with South Korea at the end of the Cold War. Against such a backdrop, a nuclear weapons program arguably bolstered the goal of regime survival: Either the international community would capitulate to North Korean preferences to keep it nuclear-free, or the latter would eventually obtain the ability to impose unacceptable costs on any attempt at regime change. Both outcomes were fine by North Korea, and it regrettably has gone down the latter path. 
Today, strong mechanisms of path dependency have taken hold. North Korea’s cumulative nuclear decision-making has incurred high costs, in a conventional military sense (diverting resources from the KPA), in a domestic political sense (diverting resources from the economy and linking nuclear status with domestic legitimacy), and internationally (accepting the price of sanctions and isolation). And yet North Korea has built up an industry around the goal of an operational nuclear arsenal, and its tests are publicly celebrated as a source of national pride. We cannot reasonably expect that North Korea would be willing to absorb such high ongoing costs unless it saw a long-term benefit that outweighed them—insurance for the regime outweighs all these costs.
Beyond Parallel (CSIS) 

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