Winston Peters going to North Korea?


On Tuesday, New Zealand Time amid conflicting news about a mysterious deal that President Donald Trump announced, purportedly involving New Zealand, another interesting piece of news emerged. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters might be off on a trip to North Korea talk peace and encourage the rogue state to see reason.

Anything that delays or stops a military confrontation between North Korea and the United States must be a good thing.

But will it honestly work? I do not know the answer, but I think in honesty – it would be great if I am wrong – Mr Peters’ influence on the United States and North Korea is severely restricted. Pyongyang has backed itself into a corner from which it has nowhere to go – any move to appear accommodating on nuclear weapons compliance would be a climb down that Mr Jong Un cannot afford, as it would make him appear weak before the military whose compliance he needs.

And if it does work and miraculously Pyongyang agrees to return to the negotiations table, there is a frustrating and dangerous truth: everything that has been negotiated in the past has been thrown out the window by North Korea months or years later. If somehow a deal were to be struck, how do we know this would not end up on the growing pile outside the proverbial window?

Pyongyang has another problem. Even if it DID want to comply with demands to dismantle its nuclear weapons and the facilities used for them and were to start doing so, the sophistication that has now been achieved means it would have considerable difficulty undoing its weapons programme. It would need to wind up its enrichment facility, remove, disable or downgrade any nuclear reactors it has. The stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and any plutonium it has managed to manufacture would have to be handed over. The only way any of this could happen is if the orders to do so came from Kim Jong Un. And Mr Jong Un has very explicitly said North Korea will never surrender its nuclear weapons programme – at least not peacefully.

The stakes are high. Japan, with its long and dreadful memories of American bombing in the late stages of World War 2, has had numerous emergency drills to prepare its citizens in the event a conflict does start. It’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to weaken the constitutional constraints on Japanese military activity that were imposed by the occupying Allied Powers in 1947, a move that could potentially alarm its neighbours.

South Korea, which has to contend with the cantankerous North on a day to day basis, might be the least concerned. After all as the significant southern half of Korea, many of its citizens will know people in North Korea and share the – probably – very far off dream of a united peaceful Korean peninsula. It does so against the cold and no doubt nerve wracking reality that North Korea’s artillery is within firing distance of Seoul and even a short bombardment would probably cause tens of thousands of casualties.

And then there is China. Don’t ever forget the one country that can crush North Korea’s regime pretty much whenever and however it wants, or prop it up. This is the same China – albeit a much stronger one economically, politically, militarily in 2017 – that invaded North Korea in 1950 to prop the regime up against the United Nations advance, forcing the Korean War into a bloody and ultimately undecided stalemate.

Mr Trump might have nasty visions of North Korea attaining a degree of nuclear weapons prowess that threatens United States security. But North Korea will have noted the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It will have noted the anti-Iranian rhetoric emanating from the White House and as the third member of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s “rogue state” clique, the North Korean regime knows neoconservative America would love to get rid of it.

Would a young, possibly impressionable dictator with reactionist tendencies take very kindly to invtervention by a Minister of Foreign Affairs from a nation not one of his impoverished countrymen know anything about? Would he just laugh it off and use it to create propaganda against the United States and South Korea? Maybe.

Jian Yang: Chinese spook trainer in the National Party


Over the years, I have seen various allegations levelled at the National Party. Some have been accurate, but not enough to tarnish the party. Others have been a productive of excessively active minds.

But the latest one might be different. And if so, it could not have arrived at a worse time. It alleges that Jian Yang, who moved to New Zealand from the Peoples Republic of China trained Chinese spies at an establishment in Luoyang. Past allegations about the extent to which China is embedded in New Zealand have been dismissed in part because they are paranoia, but also in part because the opposition parties who made the allegations were not in a position to back them up.

I would have had more respect for Mr Jian Yang if he had just said so from Day 1 that he has trained Chinese spies. I was always taught to be 100% honest on applications for anything with potential legal consequences. It did not matter whether we were talking about job applications, passports or an E.S.T.A. to the United States. If he had said on his citizenship application – which apparently he did not – that he trained spies when still living in China, I would have respected him because to to go after him for that, when there are others who have murky pasts would have been to justify them being chased up as well.

The message is simple. Be honest and I will have respect. Lie, and you can forget about it. A shame, since his C.V. is truly impressive.

North Korean vs U.S. brinkmanship steps up a notch


At 1236 hours local time, North Korea tested another nuclear weapon, its sixth and easily its largest. With a yield of about 100 kilotons, this test was about 5x more powerful than the device dropped on Nagasaki and about 10 times larger than most of their previous tests.

This represents a significant escalation in the game of nuclear brinkmanship that is going on. It means North Korea have a warhead now capable of destroying a city larger than Christchurch or Wellington.

United States President Donald Trump now has a serious problem on his hands. He warned North Korea that it would face fire and fury unlike anything it has seen before if it continued to play the current high risk game of brinkmanship. Today North Korea essentially said to Mr Trump “I dare you to. Go on. I DARE YOU!”.

Neither side will want to be seen to be backing down. The range of options for containing North Korea has failed one option after the other. Probably every single sanction that has been put in place has been ignored by the successive Kim regimes. It has been offered carrot (aid/easing of sanctions/South Korean economic co-operation and so forth), in return for giving up its nuclear weapons programme, enforced by the stick (normally a tightening of sanctions).

The options for President Trump are limited. If he tightens sanctions further, North Korea will most likely simply ignore them and probably test another weapon or continue other provocative acts, such as firing more missiles. The fact that this happened just days after North Korea fired a missile across the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, triggering civilian warning systems shows that the regime cares not one jot.

Normally there is a rule of thumb that can be applied to this. If the people of South Korea, and in particular Seoul are not worried, then nor should we be. But a missile fired across the island of a sovereign neighbour and now the biggest nuclear test the world has seen since the end of the Cold War might change that.

However one nation holds the key cards in this dangerous game: China. The Peoples Republic can crash the North Korean regime by exerting overwhelming economic and diplomatic pressure if it chooses to. To some extent China needs the regime to survive as much as the regime needs China. Without the North Korean regime there is no buffer between China and the democratic South Korea. China has spent a massive amount of time and resources maintaining its regime and has an appalling human rights record, perhaps only exceeded by North Korea. But China’s economy could not survive without its huge trade with the United States. Thus increasingly China is becoming the nation to watch, perhaps as much as North Korea and the United States.

Here in New Zealand we can do two things:

  1. Be extremely grateful for the distance between us and the Korean Peninsula
  2. Vote for a Government that actively encourages all parties to pull their heads in

Other than that, buckle in for a roller coaster ride I don’t think most people want to be on.

Stay out of North Korean crisis, Bill


On Friday, Prime Minister Bill English said that there is a possibility that if the United States and North Korea went to war New Zealand would offer help to the United States.

I found this quite disturbing. A Prime Minister prepared to offer military help in one of the most dangerous parts of the world North Korea and the United States both appear quite happy to unnecessarily ratchet up tensions. North Korea has systematically ignored United Nations resolutions and sanctions do not appear to slow it down – indeed the most recent ones only seem to have poured more oil on the fire.

There are only three circumstances under which I will ever support the use of armed force:

  1. New Zealand is physically attacked – self defence is a natural right of any nation or person
  2. The United Nations Security Council mandates the use of armed force – such as when it did in 1990 against the Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait
  3. One of our smaller neighbours or Australia is physically attacked by another nation

A lot of wars fought in the modern age have highly questionable reasons for starting, or are the resumption of hostilities from past conflicts. New Zealand should not have a role in either of these cases unless one of the above three scenarios is tripped.

Prime Minister Bill English cannot just direct New Zealand Defence Force personnel to attack another nation. Before any such directive is given, he must inform Parliament, which must then hold a vote. I believe that such a vote should not be a case of a simple majority, but require say at least 60% of Parliament to support the cause.

For the most part New Zealand has pursued the right course in diplomacy. Up to 11 September 2001, the conflicts New Zealand was involved in were generally ones where a U.N. mandate was sough and given – the American led liberation of Kuwait from Iraq; the East Timor peace keeping operation.

If North Korea tries to strike the first blow, I expect that the war would short and bloody. North Korea would attack Seoul in the hope that the huge civilian casualties (about which it cares not a jot). As the attack on Seoul begins, a massive South Korean and U.S. military response will begin as well. But this however is highly improbable. North Korea knows its regime would be finished inside a day if it made such a move as China has signalled it will stay neutral in the event of a North Korea military attack.

If the United States attacked North Korea pre-emptively as U.S. President Donald Trump suggests it might be prepared to do so, there is a very high risk of a direct superpower confrontation. China has said it will use armed force to protect North Korea if the U.S. attacks. In 1950 they did just that when the North Korean regime was only days or a couple of weeks away from being annihilated by the United Nations force.

What have we to gain from being involved militarily? Nothing much. Despites North Korea’s contempt for international law, its obsession with nuclear weapons and being able to use them how would we – an army with two not fully manned light battalions, a pair of frigates and no air combat wing – be able to realistically help anyway, even if New Zealanders DID want to help?

North Korea vs United States: Everyone should read their history


The history of the Korean peninsula dates back thousands of years. The history of South Korea an North Korea stems back to the aftermath of W.W.2. when only Soviet Union and the United States had troops to disarm the Japanese forces on the peninsula. In the rapidly deteroriating post-W.W.2. geopolitical climate war time friends had become cold war rivals. The geopolitical climate had changed much for the worse and everyone needed to be careful.

It is highly improbable that North Korea will risk any further than it already has, the security of its regime. I am talking about a regime that has gone to extreme lengths to suppress its opponents. People in North Korea understand the phrase “Yodok Prison Camp” or Kwan-li-so No. 15″ in the same way Germans and understood the phrase “Prinz Albrechtstrasse” during the era of Hitler – a person enters and is generally never seen or heard from again.

The North Korean regime is unique not only in its sheer ruthlessness – Kim Jong Un – had a relative, General Jang Song Thaek executed with anti aircraft fire, even though he was a relative – it is not in the least bit afraid to violate international law. This it might be said is also done with a degree of callousness that suggests only a regime change or some sort of assassination attempt would put Kim Jong Un out of business.

So how does that affect the international situation with North Korea?

Before we look at the options for knocking off the North Korean regime, we need to remember a couple of things:

  1. China has said to North Korea and the U.S. respectively that if North Korea attacks the U.S., China will stay out of the conflict. It has also said – which should concern the bellicose U.S President Donald Trump – that it will not ignore a U.S. attack on North Korea

    Effectively this is a warning to both sides China is not in it for either side, though it definitely prefers a non-democratic state on its land border.

  2. China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to stop the North Korean regime as it was then from being rolled by the United Nations operation. Whilst China is quite irritated by Pyongyang’s refusal to give up nuclear weapons, it will not ever compromise the security of its own one party state, and if that means invading a second time – Korean history for the last several hundred years is littered with Chinese invasions – no one should be surprised.

Will Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons. I think we know the answer to that very well. Kim Jong Un has seen United Nations sanctions at work and no one wants to challenge him directly. Having a suiperpower in its corner helps Kim immensely even if China is growing impatient with the regime in North Korea. Kim does not seem to be put off in the least by U.S. warnings. On the contrary, one might try to argue he is saying “Bring it on!”

I think the message going into the weekend and beyond as we watch the latest round of sabre rattling is that signs of impatience, frustration and the potential for an accidental missile discharge is not so unlikely as to give them no further consideration.Kim Jong Un is so far up the proverbial creek without a paddle that the only thing for him to do is go further. He will not admit defeat and always look for a way to blame other countries for something that is very much a break down of north Koreans ability to do the job their Dear Kimmy requires.

We need to be careful. North Korea is easily provoked. It would not take much to accidentally trigger an international incident where one side or the other open fire prematurely. The problem is once the shooting starts, where will it stop?