Spain, 1936-39; Venezuela, 2019-

The ghosts of the Spanish Civil War are stalking Venezuela.

In the late 30s, social torment tore, first the Spanish crown, then the Republic, apart.

But it wasn’t just a domestic duel: the military revolt was supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Although the Republicans had the political sympathies of the democracies, France, Great Britain, and the U.S., and the active military aid of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the former two failed to support the Republic, and America was still in its “isolationist” mood. Moscow’s intervention was limited by its partisan persecution of its leftist opponents, the Trotskyists and the Catalonian separatists.

The Republic went down to a fascist dictatorship led by Dictator Francisco Franco and the fascist modeled Spanish Falange Party. During the following grim, three decades of domestic repression Franco marginally aided, and teetered until near the end of the war on the edge of joining the Axis Powers [Germany, Italy, Japan, etc.] against the Allies.

Today’s civil conflict in Venezuela, which like its Spanish Motherland has a long history of erratic government, has produced a similar chaotic situation: an internal military struggle for power, hyper-inflation, more than a tenth of its population fleeing and disrupting its neighbors as refugees.

The picture is all too familiar. But so is the intervention of Iran, Russia and China, on the side of a nascent dictatorship, with the U.S., again, uncertain whether to intervene even though it has invoked the Monroe Doctrine against the intervention of the non-American states. [The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. Washington insisted too that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”]

With its 35 million people and vast natural resources – including the world’s largest proved petroleum reserves – Hugo Chávez, styled himself as the leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” a socialist political program for Latin America, named after Simón Bolívar, one of the leaders in the independence movement against Spain. Chavez led an unsuccessful coup d’état for which he was imprisoned. Pardoned prison after two years, he founded a political party known as the Fifth Republic Movement and was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Suffering a return of the cancer originally diagnosed in June 2011, Chávez died in Caracas on 5 March 2013 at the age of 58.

By the end of Chávez’s presidency in the early 2010s, economic actions during the preceding decade such as deficit spending price controls proved to be unsustainable, with Venezuela’s economy faltering while poverty, inflation and shortages increased. Chávez’s presidency also saw significant increases in the country’s murder rate and continued corruption within the police force and government. His use of enabling acts and his government’s use of Bolivarian propaganda were also controversial.

Internationally, Chávez aligned himself with the Marxist–Leninist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba, as well as the socialist governments of Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). His presidency was seen as a part of the socialist “pink tide” sweeping Latin America. Chávez described his policies as anti-imperialist, being a prominent adversary of the United States’s foreign policy as well as a vocal critic of U.S.-supported neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He described himself as a Marxist.

Freedom in Venezuela suffered following his decision, ratified in a national referendum, to abolish congress and the judiciary, and by his creation of a parallel government of military cronies. His 1998 electoral victory helped to further cement his geopolitical and ideological ties with Fidel Castro by signing an agreement under which Venezuela would supply Cuba with 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates, in return receiving 20,000 trained Cuban medics and educators. In the ensuing decade, this would be increased to 90,000 barrels (in exchange for 40,000 Cuban medics and teachers), dramatically.

In order to ensure that his Bolivarian Revolution would continue, Chávez discussed his wish to stand for re-election and spoke of ruling beyond 2030. Under the 1999 constitution, he could not legally stand for re-election again. He brought about a referendum on 15 February 2009 to abolish the two-term limit for all public offices, including the presidency. On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term.

The inauguration of Chávez’s new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but as he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba, he was not able to return to Venezuela for that date.

Due to the death of Chávez, Vice President Nicolás Maduro took over the presidential powers until presidential elections were held. On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC ).

Maduro alleged that Chávez was poisoned or infected with a cancer virus by the U.S. government. A spokesman for the U.S State Department dismissed the claim as “absurd”. His death triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be called within 30 days held in 2013, which Maduro won with 50.62% of the vote as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela candidate. He has ruled Venezuela by decree since 19 November 2013 through powers granted to him by the pre-2015 Venezuela legislature.

Shortages in Venezuela and decreased living standards led to protests beginning in 2014 that escalated into daily marches nationwide, repression of dissent and a decline in Maduro’s popularity. The Supreme Tribunal removed power from the elected National Assembly, resulting in a constitutional crisis and protests in 2017. Maduro called for a rewrite of the constitution, and the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela was elected in 2017, under what many — including Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and Smartmatic, the company that ran the voting machines — considered irregular voting. The majority of its members were pro-Maduro. On 20 May 2018, presidential elections were called prematurely; opposition leaders had been jailed, exiled or forbidden to run, there was no international observation, and tactics to suggest voters could lose their jobs or social welfare if they did not vote for Maduro were used. The majority of nations in the Western world did not recognize the Constituent Assembly election or the validity of Maduro’s 2018 reelection; the Canadian, Panamanian, and the United States governments sanctioned Maduro.

Maduro has been described as a “dictator”, and an Organization of American States (OAS) report determined that crimes against humanity have been committed during his presidency. Maduro allies including China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Turkey support him and denounce what they call interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs by the U.S. Maduro’s government states that the crisis is a “coup d’état” led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves. Guaidó denies the coup allegations, saying peaceful volunteers back his movement.

Venezuelan troops were supposed to sweep onto the streets of Caracas to topple their leader, Nicolás Maduro. But the dramatic predawn insurrection quickly unravelled, with Moreno and other top Chavistas reaffirming their backing for Maduro and troops remaining almost entirely loyal to their existing commander-in-chief A few hours later — at about 8 or 9am — the head of Venezuela’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, would make a statement announcing his defection and support for Maduro’s challenger, Juan Guaidó.


U.S. losing in Afghanistan

Since it began tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, pro-government forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, attributing 53 percent.

This statistic is just another indicating that the American mission to root out terrorism and establish stability in Afghanistan has failed.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of the terrorists and their sponsors which were the base for the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

It’s getting harder and harder to track the 17-year-long war, the longest in U.S. history.

But insurgent forces have remained responsible for the majority of overall civilian casualties, with civilian casualties from non-suicide improvised explosive device (IED) attacks spiking at 21 percent, with 53 deaths and 269 injuries.

U.S. Special Inspector-General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko warned ahead of the release of his latest quarterly report:

“What we are finding is now almost every indication, [the] metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent. Over time it’s been classified or it’s no longer being collected …The classification in some areas is needless.”

Sopko did not detail what information previously made public would be blacked out in the new quarterly report — which are mandated by Congress and intended as public documents — aimed at tracking waste, fraud and abuse in U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The reports have also become an important tracking tool for territorial and population control by the insurgent Taliban.

The blame rests in part with the Afghan government, Sopko said. Kabul, which provides some of the information to the U.S. Defense Department, insists that certain data not be made public. (Members of Congress can still view the information in a classified annex.)

“I don’t think it makes sense,” Sopko said. “The Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it. The only people who don’t know what’s going on is the people who are paying for all of this, the American taxpayer.”

President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism,” and later zeroed in on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bush eventually called on the Taliban regime to “deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land.”

The Taliban regime unraveled rapidly after its loss at Mazar-e-Sharif on November 9, 2001, to forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek military leader. In December 2001, after tracking al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the well-equipped Tora Bora cave complex southeast of Kabul, Afghan militias engaged in a fierce two-week battle (December 3 to 17) with al-Qaeda militants resulting in a few hundred deaths and the eventual escape of bin Laden, who is thought to have left for Pakistan on horseback on December 16—just a day before Afghan forces captured twenty of his remaining men.

After the fall of Kabul in November 2001, the United Nations invited major Afghan factions, most prominently the Northern Alliance and a group led by the former king (but not the Taliban), to a conference in Bonn, Germany. On December 5, 2001, the factions sign the Bonn Agreement, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1383. The Bonn Agreement is followed by UN Security Council Resolution 1386 on December 20, which establishes the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.

President George W. Bush called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute.

“By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall,” he says, evoking the post-World War II Marshall Plan that revived Western Europe. But the United States and the international community do not come close to Marshall Plan-like reconstruction spending for Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress appropriates over $38 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2000.

Hamid Karzai, chairman of Afghanistan’s interim administration since December 2001, is picked to head the country’s transitional government. His selection came during an emergency assembled in Kabul, attended by 1,550 delegates (including about 200 women) from Afghanistan’s 364 districts. Karzai, leader of the powerful Popalzai tribe of Durrani Pashtuns, returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks to organize Pashtun resistance to the Taliban.


Disappearing free university speech

A frightening attack on free speech is taking place on a large enough number of American universities to give real concern for the loss of the concept.

In an article that may have abandoned to some extent its old unrelenting war against restrictions on free speech, even that seemed to have evil intent, the American Civil Liberties Union admits:

“Free speech rights are indivisible.

“Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you. Conversely, laws that defend free speech for bigots can be used to defend civil rights workers, anti-war protestors, LGBT activists, and others fighting for justice.

“For example, in the 1949 case of Terminiello v. City of Chicago, the ACLU successfully defended an ex-Catholic priest who had delivered a racist and anti-Semitic speech. The precedent set in that case became the basis for the ACLU’s defense of civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, a conservative website, says [in] some high schools, universities and businesses where liberal ideas dominate, “[S]peech has become something they could not only object to but that needed to be stamped out — that was hate and had no place in the public square.”

When Dr. Charles Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College in Vermont two years ago, the moderator of the event was injured after a riot broke out when she and Murray left the lecture hall. Murray was a controversial figure for Middlebury’s leftwing activist students because he is a conservative, a scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.

Heather Mac Donald, a Manhattan Institute scholar has defended police tactics in the face of criticism by groups like Black Lives Matter, an anti-Black militant group. She has been mobbed at colleges like Claremont McKenna and the University of California, Los Angeles. At the U.C.L.A. event, one man yelled, “You have no right to speak”.

Ben Shapiro, a conservative writer and speaker has sometimes found himself the target of angry eruptions at universities. Last year at California State ’s Los Angeles campus, when Shapiro faced an anticipated similar situation, the university said it would no longer accommodate him because of security concerns; he spoke anyway, under police guard.

It is one thing for students to exercise a heckler’s veto — that is, to merely protest. But it is another issue altogether when they try to shut down a speaker at an institutionally-sanctioned event. They should be punished (after adequate due process, of course) by their college or university.

If at the event a speaker is physically assaulted, the assailants should be punished – perhaps even with expulsion from the university given the circumstances.

But according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 2016 set a record for the number of controversial speakers who were opposed to be heard on campuses.

To be sure, not all of the attempts succeeded — the number catalogued is 42. It is still but a small fraction of the many outsiders who give addresses at colleges and universities each year. But on the other hand, the real number of rejected speakers is certainly much higher, once we add in all the people not invited in the first place because some member of this or that committee objects to their views, or because campus authorities feared trouble.

But even one would be too many.

The university has come to mean “an institution of higher education offering tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically having the power to confer degrees. But an important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of that concept comes from early in the life of the University of Bologna which adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita, in 1155 or 1158.

That codicil guaranteed the right of a traveling scholar to unhindered passage in the interest of educational pursuits. Today that claim has become the origin of “academic freedom”, widely recognized internationally. It was again enshrined when on 18 September 1988, 430 university rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, marking the 900th anniversary of Bologna’s foundation.

In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Hall, writing under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre, was an English writer best known for her The Life of Voltaire, first published in 1903. (The quotation is often misattributed to Voltaire himself rather than Hall’s illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs. But Hall’s quotation is often cited to describe the principle of freedom of speech.]

Nowhere is the principle, should the dictum be adhered more strictly, than on a college or university campus, which after all, is constituted as a place for the free exchange of ideas.


Continue to arm Taiwan?

Beijing has just protested the news that the Trump administration has approved a marketing license for building submarines required for American manufacturers to sell technology to Taiwan.

This is in line with the policies of both governments:

Washington continues to sell the Nationalist Regime on Taiwan defensive weapons which reinforce its ability to resist a military takeover by Beijing. Beijing continues to protest these sales, arguing they defy its claim to sovereignty if not actual control of the Island regime, and to make noises about the possibility of a armed takeover.

How dangerous the situation is in reality is a question.

The relationship between Washington, Beijing and Taipei is a complicated network of sovereignty claims and a thriving and growing commercial relationship which, presumably, neither party would want to abandon.

There is always the possibility, however – for instance during a crisis of the regime in Beijing – that the Chinese [nominally still Communist] state will move with force to take over the Island and its 24 million people with its $1.2 trillion economy ranking as 18th in the world by gross domestic product (GDP).

A State Department official said it would continue to review Taiwan ’s defense needs and referred questions about specific procurement plans to Taiwanese authorities.

Meanwhile, Beijing warned Taiwan: we’ll do to you what Israel has done to Lebanon – massive bombing attacks. That warning came after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton complained Chinese J-11 fighters crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, which unofficially demarcates control of the waters between China and Taiwan. It marked the first time in almost twenty years with Taiwanese fighters scrambling to intercept them.

China’s pro-government Global Times predictably denounced U.S. actions, taking aim at several occasions over the last year–and most recently in March–when U.S. warships passed through the Taiwan Straits to dispute China’s assertion that it has sovereignty over the waterway (and Taiwan itself).

China ’s rhetoric against Taiwan has heated up since Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party was elected Taiwanese president in 2016. Unlike the old Kuomintang which ruled Taiwan for most of the period since 1949 the regime has existed on the Island , the Democratic Progressives – with its more native Taiwanese membership – originally called for formal independence. But since she took power, Tsai has endorsed the status quo and says she is above all committed peace.

The Trump Administration, whose spokesmen anonymously have recently conceded its earlier policy toward China underestimated Beijing regime’s aggressive intent, appears to be moving toward a less conciliatory policy toward the Mainland regime. That’s despite the fact Trump claims he has a friendly personal relationship with China ’s No. 1 Xi Jinping, and that the Trump regime is working toward a new trade pact with Beijing.

One aim of those negotiations is to whittle down China ’s enormous bilateral and multilateral trade surplus. In March the trade surplus with the U.S. – a politically sensitive measure given the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing – came in at $20.5 billion. That represented a wider margin than the $14.72 billion in February.

U.S. warships beginning in January this year navigated the Taiwan Strait separating the Mainland and the Island . Beijing claims this is its territorial water and Washington insists it is an international waterway.

A State Department official had said the agency continued to review Taiwan ’s defense needs and referred questions about specific procurement plans to Taiwanese authorities. A Chinese military leader reportedly told the U.S. Navy’s top officer last month that Beijing would back its claim to Taiwan “at any cost.”

The remarks came during a meeting between Gen. Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson during an official visit to China.

Taiwan has transformed itself from a recipient of U.S. aid in the early 1960s to an aid donor and major foreign investor, with investments primarily centered in Asia. Furthermore, despite their precarious political relationship, Taiwan has been a major investor in Mainland China, now estimated to total in excess of US$150 billion with a comparable amount in Southeast Asia.


Yemen dilemma

Nowhere is the inexorable pull of the Middle East muddle on the U.S. more in evidence than in Yemen, an otherwise obscure Arab country located on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

But its size and isolation demonstrate as much as any of the many conflicts in the region how the U.S. gets entangled. If the Shia rebels gain control of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait linking the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, Iran could attain a foothold, a major concern not only for its sworn rivals Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states, but also for Israel, the European countries along the Mediterranean, and ultimately, the U.S. Navy.

A ceasefire is collapsing. It aimed at ending Yemen’s four-year proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which backs the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, and Iran, which backs tribal-based Shiite rebels, known as Houthis. Resumption of hostilities would accelerate the threat to Yemen’s 15 million people — more than half the population — with starvation.

Iran denies it provides financial and military support to the Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of Allah). But according to the United Nations, Tehran has been supplying the rebels with weapons for more than a decade.

Roots for the conflict go back to September 1962, when a revolution replaced a 1,000-year-old absolute hereditary Shiite monarchy — the Zaidi imamate — with a secular regime, the Republic of Yemen.

Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, founder and chief ideologue of the Houthi movement, lived for a time in Qom, the main city in Iran for Shia religious studies, where he accepted the works of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution. It was Khomeini who in 1979 transformed Iran into an Islamic theocracy. Al-Houthi reportedly believes that Yemen should be modeled on the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of his books is called “Iran in the Philosophy of Hussein Houthi.” The Houthis shout the anti-American and anti-Semitic slogan — “Allahu Akbar! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse the Jews! Victory to Islam!”.

In March 2015, Tehran announced an “air bridge” between Iran and Sanaa with a twice-daily shuttle service operated by Mahan Air, an Iranian government-controlled airline used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” Quds Force to ferry trainers and equipment to war zones. Hundreds of Hezbollah operatives, as well as members of the Iranian military, were said to have been transported from Yemen to Iran and back. Almost simultaneously, Saudi Arabia and a Western-backed coalition of ten Sunni Arab states — alarmed by Iran’s attempt — began a military intervention against Houthi targets to restore the previous regime. The Saudi-led coalition, despite having superior air power, quickly got bogged down by the Houthis’ adeptness at asymmetric warfare that reached a military stalemate that continues to this day.

Since the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, Yemen has become a key site for U.S. intelligence gathering and drone attacks on Al-Qaeda. According to a February 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service, U.S. officials considered Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula the Al-Qaeda affiliate “most likely to attempt transnational attacks against the United States.”

In November 2018, the United States announced that it was halting the aerial refueling of aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen. A month later, in December 2018, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution calling for the removal of American troops from Yemen. In March 2019, the U.S. Senate followed that up with a vote to remove U.S. troops from Yemen within 30 days. In April 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to end American military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The White House has vowed to veto the resolution. It has stated that the resolution raises “serious constitutional concerns” — meaning that it would not be in the U.S. interest to abandon Yemen to Iran.

The warring parties had signed a series of UN-sponsored agreements — known collectively as the Stockholm Agreement — facilitating movement of 70% of its food imports through Yemen’s main Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The Houthis pledged to withdraw from Hodeidah and Saudi-led coalition forces promised to retreat from the outskirts of the city.

The troop withdrawals were intended to clear the way for wider negotiations to end the war. But the agreement is ambiguous; it does not, for instance, stipulate who should control the port in Hodeidah after the Houthis withdraw. In January 2019, Houthi rebels used an Iranian-supplied drone to attack a pro-government military parade at the Al-Anad military base. Yemen’s chief of military intelligence, Major General Mohammad Saleh Tamah, and the Yemeni army’s deputy chief of staff, Major General Saleh Al-Zindani, died of wounds sustained in the attack.

Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi has said that he will not allow Iran to establish a “Persian” state in Yemen. The UN panel of experts, however, has concluded that Yemen’s ability to remove the Houthis (much less the Iranians) from northern Yemen is limited.


Venezuela turns critical

The rogue regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas has raised the ante against the U.S. and most Latin American states which had recognized Juan Guaidó. Guaidó, an opponent. Guaidó constitutionally assumed power under a provision which stipulates the President of the National Assembly takes up presidential powers on an interim basis when there is a question of the legitimacy of the presidential office.

To prop up Maduro – and perhaps preventing him from fleeing — on March 23 Moscow landed two planes with some 100 soldiers in Caracas , ostensibly to service Venezuela ‘s Russian-made S-300 air defense systems. These were said to have been damaged in the recent frequent energy blackouts.

Russian military contractors and mercenaries were already believed to be providing security support for Maduro. Cuba ’s secret police, too, a child modeled after the old Soviet KGB, has been helping set up a state security system in Caracas on its own allied with the Nicaraguans.

It looks like Moscow plans to back a new, emerging all-but Communist alliance among these states in the Caribbean and looks to include Venezuela as the leading member with its 40 million people.

Meanwhile, conditions in Venezuela have deteriorated radically under the Maduro regime. There has been a flight of refugees, as many as three million alone to neighboring Colombia and Brazil , introducing new security concerns for these neighbors.

Hyper-inflation is rampant with a worthless currency. There are severe shortages of food. With the largest proved oil and gas reserves in the world, Venezuela refineries and their ties to other Caribbean facilities are so inefficient that it has been suffering extended power outages. It’s not likely that the Russians can solve these problems, even with their background as a major world energy exporter.

U.S. President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, have all declared – in one way or another – that Russia must get out of the country. Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions on the state-owned oil company PDVSA as well as two additional companies that supply Venezuelan crude to Cuba with swap arrangements with Russia .

Maduro’s puppet National Constituent Assembly retaliated by stripping interim President Juan Guaidó of his immunity.

Washington is worried that Moscow plans to make Venezuela a part of a growing network of Russian allies in the region.

Bolton reiterated the old outlines of the more than 200-year-old Monroe Doctrine which ruled out further European colonization of the Americas, and announced Washington suzerainty over the Western Hemisohere — if not in that many words.

North American Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech to a Joint Session of the Congress, the first time any leader of a multilateral organization has been invited, that the U.S. should expand its military leadership. Stoltenberg made his mission clear, the first time the proposition had ever been put by a non-American public, calling for Washington to amalgamate its regional treaty arrangements around the world.

“…the United States should lead a more concerted effort to thicken the political bonds and operational ties between NATO and its global partners,” the Atlantic Council’s Damon Wilson, endorsing a similar suggestion in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Specifically, the United States should consider formalizing the links among US treaty allies in Europe and those in Asia, namely Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, we should begin fostering alliance-like links among our existing allies with strategic partners such as India and, in Latin America , Colombia , Brazil and Mexico .”

Wilson foresaw all that as a possible precursor “to a more formal alliance among democracies who are committed to protecting their way of life and a democratic international order.”

But given Trump’s ambivalence even to NATO in the early months of his Administration, that hardly seems seed to fall on fertile ground.

Still, Frederick Kempe, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Council, has said given its relationship to the U.S., its role as a major energy producer with the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, Venezuela could be the right place to catalyze deeper links among the United States , Canada, key European allies and other leading democracies.


China’s fertility sinks

Although one always has to be wary of Chinese statistics, the news that births in China fell to 15.23 million last year, the lowest since China relaxed its one-child policy in 2014, is momentous. It marks the lowest official birth rate in China since 1961.

Concern over a shrinking work force has led the Communists to abandon measures enforced since the 1970s whereby the world’s most populous country restricted most couples to only a single offspring with a system of fines and even forced abortions for violators. Now concerns over an ageing population, gender imbalances and a shrinking workforce has pushed authorities to end the restriction, allowing all couples a second child from January 1 2016.

Last year’s birth rate was the lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The country’s population will peak in 2029, according to the World Population Prospects 2017, published by the United Nations Population Division. But that high-point could come much sooner because of Beijing’s now optimistic assumptions; Beijing did not foresee the near-collapse of the birthrate last year.

In 2024, for the first time in at least 300 years — and maybe for the first time in recorded history — China will not be the world’s most populous society. India, when New Delhi’s population peaks in 2061, will have some 400 million more people than China.

Official Beijing offered no explanation for the falling birth rate but it is no secret that economic growth last year fell to its lowest in nearly three decades. Many couples are wary of having children because they cannot afford to pay for health care and education amid surging property prices. And, in fact, in January, a government-affiliated think tank warned that the population in the world’s second-biggest economy could start to shrink as soon as 2027.

China’s demographic path is set for decades and it will impact mightily on Beijing’s race to become the world’s dominant power, replacing the U.S.

“Mao Zedong may have played on the Third World’s racial resentments when trying to unite former colonial peoples against white imperialists, but he thought that Communism was a global phenomenon that would eventually find a home everywhere and Mao’s utopia was in the future,” according to the Hudson Institute’s Charles Horner “Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party is not global or utopian in this way; instead, it seems in thrall to an essential ‘Chinese-ness.'”

Horner sees disconcerting similarities between Xi’s China and 1930s Imperial Japan.

“Like Imperial Japan then,” Horner said, “Xi and the Party look backward to a mythologized past when a benign Emperor brought the whole world together to bask in his glory and share his munificence.”

The outside world already recognizes similarities between today’s Xi Chinping regime and the European and Japanese totalitarian regimes of the 1930s. Concentration camps, racism, eugenics, ambitions of world domination – all are embedded in Beijing’s current propaganda which goes along with a strategic plan for resurrecting the old Silk Road which once carried China’s more sophisticated manufactures west to the edges of the Greek and Roman civilization in exchange for their raw materials and articles of warfare.

The Chinese growing military threat is also accompanied by a determined effort to exert “soft power”.

The American-based Human Rights Watch found various threats to academic freedom resulting from Chinese government pressure monitoring and surveillance of students and academics from China studying on campuses around the world. Chinese diplomats have also complained to university officials about hosting speakers – such as the Dalai Lama – whom the Chinese government considers “sensitive.”


Brexit: London’s constitutional crisis

Britain is going through a withering constitutional crisis with no end in sight, greater than anything that has overtaken the notoriously pragmatic UK since the late 30s when it faced how to cope with a possible takeover by one militant opponent of the whole Continent.

That is leading to increasing criticism of Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to make the bargain, and since there is every reason for Britain to get with it, it may lead to new elections and a new government.

At stake is a rather simple goal: the most efficient way the UK can withdraw from its membership in the 28-member European Union.

Britain has debated the pros and cons in the European community membership almost from the moment the idea was broached, holding its first referendum on membership in 1975, less than three years after it joined.

In 1969, the UK made a third [with the disappearance of France Gen. Charles DeGaulle who had bitterly opposed it] and successful application for membership. Since 1977, both pro- and anti-European views have had majority support at different times, with some dramatic swings between the two camps. The latest tally deciding Britain’s stance was not that decisive [52% or exit-48% for remaining], but withdrawal has now probably gained ground and become a solid majority position of the politically elite.

But there are weighty political economic and social implications.

In 2007 Prime Minister Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer set up tests that concluded that while the decision was close, the United Kingdom ruled out membership in the Euro joint currency for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for the UK and for Europe . Opinion polls have shown that a majority of Britons have been opposed to joining the single currency and this position has hardened further in the last few years and reinforced overall opposition to membership.

Withdrawal from the EU will be costly. The government expects the country’s economy to grow anywhere from 4 to 9 percent less than it would inside the bloc over the next 15 years, depending on the terms on which it leaves.

Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its biggest source of foreign investment. Being in the bloc has helped London’s City cement its position as a global financial center. Every day, it seems, a major business announces or threatens plans to leave Britain after it quits the European Union which employs an estimated 14,000 people and supports more than 100,000 other jobs.

It is generally agreed that in addition to whatever Britain will has to pay to renounce its membership – there is talk of a hundred billion dollars – many investors have placed bets on the UK as a base for operations in the EU. Continental Europe is Britain’s largest trading partner. Still £274 billion out of £616 billion total exports in 2017 had generally been declining, with exports to other countries outside the EU increasing at a faster rate.

Undoing the 46 years of economic integration with the Continent was never going to be easy, and the Brexit process has been bedeviled by divisions in both Britain’s main parties, so factionalized that there may be no coherent plan most lawmakers would back. May spent 18 months negotiating a divorce deal with the European Union, shedding one cabinet minister after another in the process. But her plan which would keep customs and trade arrangements with the bloc until at least the end of 2020, ultimately envisions cutting most of those ties. It does not detail what would replace them in Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.

When she presented the plan to Parliament last January, it was rejected by a historic margin of 230 votes. When she tried again in March, she fared less badly, but the pact was still soundly defeated, 391 to 242.

The vote has now become a part of May’s career as well with her offering a tradeoff of her resignation as the price of agreement on the withdrawal. There is also the conflict over whether Northern Ireland, whose Democratic Unionist Party’s small [around a dozen] members provide the Conservatives’ majority in London, and its relationship to Ireland. May’s problems with withdrawal from Europe have reawakened some strong voices demanding any UK customs union provide ties to Ireland.

Last week saw virtual chaos: May offered Parliament her resignation if it accepted her negotiation with the EU on her third try. But her offer to resign set off a frenzy of speculation about a successor and jockeying for position among contenders. And in a very uncharacteristic act, Parliament took over through a series votes of its own with direct negotiations with the EU. The effort fizzled with lawmakers rejecting all their own eight options they had considered.

On June 2016 the UK voted in a national referendum to leave the EU. After the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the UK was set to leave the EU on Friday 29 March 2019 . But May’s third defeat appears to leave the increasingly weakened prime minister with two unpalatable options in the short run: Britain can leave the bloc on April 12 without an agreement in place, or she can ask European leaders for what could be a longer postponement. The only thing a parliamentary majority has been able to agree on – for the moment at least — is that it does not want to crash out of the European Union without a deal. But a long delay would enrage pro-Brexit lawmakers who see a further postponement as a first step and might just produce that with all the chaos it would create in international markets as well as in London .


Xi scores in Europe

Despite an interrupted schedule – he was supposed to go on to see Pres. Trump in the U.S. – and Washington’s efforts to preserve a united front, China’s No. 1 Xi Jinping scored a propaganda victory with the U.S.’ European allies on his trip in late March.

Xi included stops in Italy and Monaco as well as France where Pres. Macron managed to herd retiring German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker into a charm offensive for the Chinese leader.

All the while Washington diplomats were not so quietly warning the Europeans that China’s way of doing business were not theirs, much less the U.S.’ But Italy even went so far as to sign a protocol with the Chinese leader that hadn’t been on the docket. It was one that U.S. Sec. of State US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was indiscreet enough to publicly say Rome’s deal with China would not be in Italy’s best interests.

Whatever else was in the diplomatic mix, the Europeans were simply recognizing China’s new importance as the world’s No. 2 economy after the U.S. China.

Beijing is now the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods. It is also the world’s fastest-growing consumer market and second-largest importer of goods.

According to the IMF, on a per capita income basis, China ranked 71st by GDP (nominal) and 78th by GDP (PPP) per capita in 2016.

But today China is the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods. It is also the world’s fastest-growing consumer market and second largest importer of goods. As a net importer of services products, it is the largest trading nation in the world and has increasingly engaged in trade organizations and treaties. GDP growth‎ was 6% in 2018.

But the Chinese were not just using their growing economic base and trading successes to emphasize its importance in a new world order it wants to achieve. It was learning the importance if not yet the techniques of “soft power”, developing a cosmic economic strategy of “the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) (Chinese: 一带一路) or the Silk Road Economic Belt and references to a 21st-century of the China Silk Road which once linked China through Central Asia with the Middle East. Never mind that Chinese debt had already been used to take over Ceylon’s principal port and threatened other borrowers.

U.S. Tariffs against Chinese trade practices notwithstanding, the U.S. found itself in an awkward position at a moment it needs the cooperation of its Western trading partners, Japan and South Korea, to counter the Chinese economic offensive.

sws— 03-31-19

Learning Chinese

It has become apparent to any but the most obtuse observer of international relations that the U.S. and China are logged into a longtime competition for world dominance that could turn rough at any time.

We have always had a love-hate relationship with China, a concept for the West as much as it has been a geographical term or an empire, or more recently a nation-state-failed.

The Chinese have perhaps always had one advantage. Unlike our other enemies [and friends] in the past, communication has been more difficult because of the absence of a spoken language expressed in Western or, in truth, Mideastern terms. The Chinese written language, of course, is a collection of logograms — a written character that represents a word or phrase – and a minimum have to be learned to be able to communicate either the written “word”. The minimum of such “characters” one has to master stretches from what some assume is 2500 to several thousands – and, indeed, any specialized writing requires it own “vocabulary”.

That has meant that educated Chinese, that is, those who have “modern” or Western-oriented educations that may also include their traditional Chinese culture, have an advantage with Americans: they can learn an alphabetical script that more-or-less [please don’t tell me about how English or French depart from that generalization!] opens the doors to Western/modern contemporary world culture including technology.

All of this to say that if we are in for a longtime competition [at best] with the Chinese for world domination – and there is every reason to believe the present or future masters in Beijing would settle for no less –- we have a lot of homework ahead.

We are going to need scholars with expertise on China for our political leadership that only can be acquired by knowledge of their culture as learned in part through a study of their language. [Note, of course, that in fact there are several “Chinese” languages on the Continent and they have leant their ideograms, another word for the “characters” they use to express anything from a simple noun to a very sophisticated thought. The Yuè dialects, also known as Cantonese [Guăngdōnghuà], one of the major dialect groups, is spoken by 62 million people as their mother tongue in the southern province of Guandong, the city of Canton, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and among the very large expatriate Cantonese communities in southeast Asia and the U.S. where they were almost exclusively the early Chinese emigrants.

American academia has been running as fast as it could since the late30s in pursuit of an understanding of China and the Chinese culture. And since the establishment of the Chinese Communist regime in 1949 in Beijing , the Chinese government has been using the fascination of the West with China to enhance its prestige and ultimately its influence and control abroad. This has been aided by over 30 million and living in over 136 different countries and areas, the so-called Overseas Chinese now the most widespread ethnic group in the world and in Southeast Asia, particularly, are noted for their commercial abilities and their domination of the local economies.

It was only logical, then, that American universities in more recent decades had initiated Chinese studies, often with the aid and financial support of the Chinese governments, dating from the prewar period when the anti-Communist Nationalists had close ties to some American academics and their schools.

In their energetic style, the Beijing government has established The Confucius Institutes, funded by a Chinese government entity known as Hanban, with matching resources provided by the host university. They frequently have been directed by a faculty or staff member from the American host university with the help of an assistant director from a Chinese university and staffed in part by Chinese language instructors hired by Hanban or a Chinese partner university.

But that is where Beijing’s good words taper off. A bipartisan report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations just released raises a number of issues in relation to U.S. colleges or university control over CI hiring and programming. The report says that “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools,” down to having veto authority over events and activities included in the annual budget submitted for approval to Hanban. The report also says that “Hanban provides no information to U.S. schools on how candidates for Chinese director and teacher positions at Confucius Institutes are screened or selected in China”.

The Report says that “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools,” down to having veto authority over events and activities included in an annual budget submitted for approval to Hanban. The report also says that “Hanban provides no information to U.S. schools on how candidates for Chinese director and teacher positions at Confucius Institutes are screened or selected in China”.

Concern about what these Confucius Institutes are – whether they are not propaganda and espionage organizations rather than institutes of higher learning – have led at least 10 American universities to close them down.

Faculty groups have been raising concerns about the CIs for years; the American Association of University Professors asked as far back as 2014 that universities either close their CIs or renegotiate their agreements to ensure “unilateral control” over all academic matters. The recent closures follow on criticism from political figures, mainly but not exclusively from the Republican Party.


Turkey destroying NATO?

Ankara’s continued pursuit of advanced air defense equipment from Moscow – Russia’s S400 Systems – threatens the very guts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a time “the most successful alliance in history” has profound political and budgetary problems.

The Trump Administration has taken a hard line toward raising contributions from other NATO allies to pay the bills Washington has long paid disproportionately.

It also comes at a time of other frictions between the two NATO allies.

After two months of imprisonment, the Turks released Andrew Brunson, who maintains that he had no ties to political groups and was just the pastor of a local church who had lived in Turkey for more than two decades.

“There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in Turkey right now, most of it not toward Christians but toward people who are accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen,” he said of the exiled Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan accused of plotting against him.

On March 6, the Turkish President had threatened that in the future, the Turks “…may work with S-500s,” the next-generation of the Moscow system. Ankara says it already has plans to start installing the Russian system with the Turkish air force laying out the deployment.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has repeated warnings to Turkey against purchasing of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems.

“We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” Pence said at the annual conference of Western security analysts.

Erdoğan publicly at least, ignored the March 13 call in Washington that the U.S.  not supply Ankara with F-35 fighter jets if it buys the Soviet-Russian S-400 missile defense system. U.S. European Command [EUCOM] Commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top U.S. commander in Europe, concurrently also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, made the comment testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee alongside similar comments by Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

In December the State Department approved a possible $3.5 billion sale of the American Patriot system to Turkey which includes advanced radar systems, control centers, launching systems and guided missiles. But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also has said Ankara also expects delivery of F35 fighter jets from the U.S. in November.

“Despite some statements, the F-35 process goes smoothly; our pilots, maintenance team continue training in the U.S.,” Akar told a luncheon with top Turkish generals on March 13. “We expect delivery of F-35s in November to [eastern] Malatya province, [where] relevant preparations for infrastructure were completed.”

Turkey has resumed imports of Iranian crude oil after a one-month halt in November when the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on Iran, under a special arrangement with Washington.

But the purchase of major Soviet/Russian military equipment by a NATO ally, closely tied into U.S. and West European armaments suppliers, is unprecedented.

It marks another step in Erdoğan’s increasingly erratic foreign policy, some elements directly contrary to its NATO membership. That policy includes a warming of relations with ultra-Muslim political organizations – turning its back on modern Turkey ’s founder Kemal Attaturk’s militant secularism.

Erdoğan’s makes a studied effort to spend most of his time in the capital Ankara and central and eastern Asia Minor to escape the international atmosphere in Istanbul [Constantinople], by far Turkey ’s largest urban center with its substantial foreign communities and influences at the gateway to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

On March 13, the European Parliament voted down Turkey’s EU accession and formally suspend the process of its long-awaited entry into the European Union, now slowed, if not halted. The 1963 Ankara Agreement made Turkey one of the EU’s main economic partners in the Middle East and both are members of the European Union–Turkey Customs Union but the Europeans have not approved its entry into the EU political apparatus.

The EU accession process is “meaningless”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 13.

European Parliament‘s stance against Turkey should be to promote ties, interaction and dialogue between Turkey and EU,” the ministry statement said.

Turkey expects the new European Parliament, to be formed after the elections in May, will adopt a constructive approach to the Turkey-EU relations in the upcoming period, take qualified and objective decisions and boost Turkey‘s EU integration process,” the ministry added.

Opposition to Turkey’s full membership in the European institutions has always reflected a concern in some European political circles about Turkey’s non-Christian Islamic cultural heritage. At a time when sentiment is growing against the relatively large-scale immigration of Arab and other Moslems to cover the West and Central European birth deficit, it would be only natural that old questions about Turkish-European common culture should surface against.

However, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın called the vote “null and void” as far as Ankara is concerned.

“The content of the European Parliament’s 2018 Turkey report is an attempt to axe the process of increased joint efforts to gain a new momentum in Turkey-EU relations,” Kalın said. He also said far-right political movements in Europe disclosed the prejudiced attitude against Turkey with a report which contains “baseless claims” that do not reflect reality.



Sweden: Not so cool

Swedish social democracy, so often viewed by American and West Europeans with envy as a model society, is in deep trouble.

The problem is runaway immigration: Because of Sweden’s humanitarian impulses — or the lack thereof — there is an estimated 8,000 Christians under deportation order. Immigration Attorney Gabriel Donner has assisted an estimated thousand Christian asylum seekers avoiding deportation. Minister of Migration Morgan Johanson claims — perhaps in an effort to excuse the government’s going against its own promise in the recent election campaign of reducing immigration — that the country now has “the lowest asylum reception in 13 years.” But according to numbers released by the government’s own Swedish Migration Board. The third highest number of residence permits issued ever was in 2018  [132,696].

With a population of just over 10 million, the government is perpetuating policies that the majority of Swedes oppose. In December 2018, polls reckoned that 53% of all Swedes wanted a reduction in immigrants.

Most of the migrants who arrived in the past couple of years were young males, who had left their wives and children behind. The measure also entitles so-called “unaccompanied children” to bring their parents. Many of these “unaccompanied children”, it turns out, were adults, not minors.

Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions. In a country long renowned for its safety, voters cited “law and order” as the most important issue ahead of the general election in September. Sweden has gone from being a low-crime country to having homicide rates significantly above the Western European average. Social unrest, with car torchings, attacks on first responders and even riots, is a recurring phenomenon.

The topic of crime is sensitive, however, and debate about the issue in the consensus-oriented Scandinavian society is restricted by taboos — especially about criticizing the growing Moslem immigration. The government’s excuse for denying the Islamic terrorist attacks is that no Islamic group has officially claimed responsibility.

In 2010, the Security Service estimated that 200 individuals were involved in the violent Islamist extremist milieu. According to the Swedish Defense University, most of these militants were affiliated with the Islamic State, with around 300 people traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the group. Some have financed their activities with funds from the Swedish state welfare systems. In 2017, Swedish Security Service Director Anders Thornberg, said the number of violent Islamic extremists residing in Sweden was estimated to be in the “thousands”.

In fact, Swedish immigrant law is a mess. It actually does not allow the security services to take measures against returning ISIS fighters.The penalty for belonging to a terrorist group — two to six years in prison – is generally considered ridiculously low. Until that law was passed, however, returning ISIS terrorists could only be tried for specific crimes committed while they were fighting for the “caliphate.”

But in February, the government did present legislation that would criminalize membership of a terrorist organization. This new law would enable the prosecution of returning ISIS fighters who while they cannot be connected to a specific crime, were proven to have been part of a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, according to the Swedish Defense University , since the 1970s, residents of Sweden have been implicated in providing logistical and financial support to or joining various foreign-based transnational Islamic militant groups. [The Swedish National Defense College trains and educates military and civilian personnel in leading positions, both nationally and internationally as part of the contribution to the management of crisis situations and security issues] Among these organizations are Hezbollah, Hamas, the GIA, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, Ansar al-Summa and Ansa al-Islam,

Sweden’s neighboring Danish Security and Intelligence Service warned the number of jihadis in Sweden to be a threat against Denmark since two terrorists arriving from Sweden had already been sentenced in the 2010 Copenhagen terror plot. In another neighbor, Norwegians commonly use the phrase “Swedish conditions” to describe crime and social unrest.

Ranstorp has argued that efforts to improve anti-terror legislation has been hampered by human rights activists. But a change in the activism occurred in the 2013/14 time frame when the number of Swedes traveling to join the Islamic State were exposed, and some of the loudest activists withdrew from public debate after being exposed for harassing women on commuter trains.

Ranstorp recently warned Sweden may not only be welcoming ISIS terrorists, but also their wives and children, who he said also pose a security risk:

“The women are not innocent victims, and there is also a large group of ISIS children… From the age of eight or nine, they have been sent to indoctrination camps where they have learned close combat techniques and how to handle weapons. Some of them have learned how to kill… their identities will forever be linked to their time with ISIS , and the fact that they have an ISIS father or an ISIS mother.”

Ranstorp pointed out that Sweden ‘s mental health system is “not fit to deal with that. If they stay with their extremist parents, there could be delayed [terrorist] effects further down the line, 15-20 years from now”.


Trouble at China’s backdoor: Sinkiang

Beijing’s remote and little-known westernmost province – as large as Iran but with less than 25 million people – is suddenly in the news.

Sinkiang’s predominantly Muslim population has become a victim of Communist Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s escalating controversial nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion”.

Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, claims that two million people are detained in “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, including 338 intellectuals. About 15 million Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group who live in East and Central Asia, mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, are one of China’s fifty-five officially-recognized ethnic minorities.

China massively increased security spending in 2017 in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are alleged to have been detained. Official figures show that “nearly all security-related facility construction” rose by 213% between 2016 and 2017 according to the US-based Jamestown Foundation.

Chinese diplomats deny the allegations, arguing that “[T]here is no internment camp, no concentration camp, there is only vocational training centers.” But critics of the regime argue over a million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been held in these camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the Party.

The push to “Sinicize religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture. Delivering his annual government work report, Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicization of religion in China.”

Events in Singkiang have finally attracted public criticism from foreign Muslim leaders, in Turkey for example, more often as not in the past to have been allies of Beijing in its arguments with the Western democracies.

China, stepping up its diplomatic defense, invited diplomats from carefully selected countries to visit in at least four separate rounds, a move that some observers saw as further displaying China’s worry concern over the growing international backlash.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has written the State Department castigating what they charge is the Trump Administration’s inadequate response to the situation. Arguing that it has “taken no meaningful action in response to the situation in (Xinjiang),” lawmakers wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, four months after they initially called on him to take action.

[…]In their letter Monday, the U.S. lawmakers, led by House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, said that “over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been interned in ‘political re-education camps’ without due process as part of a broader attempt to wipe out their separate identity, language, and history.” Based on local government tendering documents, at least several hundred thousand and perhaps over a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities could have been detained in Xinjiang.

Such estimates were also quoted at a UN human rights panel earlier this year.
But so far, Beijing has refused permission for UN special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, to go to Umruchi, the Singkiang capital to investigate. China has not yet replied to his February request, he said.

“I have requested for a visit to go there, because this a priority for me in terms of looking at what is happening there’, Shaheed said. “There is reason to be seriously concerned about reports coming out of the Xinjiang region” told a news briefing. Shaheed, a former Maldives minister, disclosed he was among several U.N. rights experts to write to China last November voicing anxiety at its anti-extremism program.


Our solid ally

Once again Canada is proving its credentials as a loyal and effective ally.

This time, against enormous pressure – including the taking in effect of Canadian hostages in China – it is adhering to its consular undertakings with the U.S.

The row is over the detention of Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of China’s huge electronic company founder, Huawei Technologies Co., when she was held after arriving at Vancouver airport in December. Washington asked for her deportation to the U.S.

The U.S. which sees Huawei as an organ of the Chinese Communist Party and government – as are most Chinese companies – violated U.S. and UN sanctions against Iran for Tehran’s subversive activities throughout the world.

U.S. officials have been increasingly wary of Huawei operating as an arm of Chinese intelligence through its vast electronics manufacturing and sales around the world. And the U.S. government has moved in to bloc its relations with U.S. companies with security concerns

The Canadians have, in fact, been much more lenient than the U.S. in viewing the nature of what are ostensibly Chinese commercial operations in their country.

Since 2003, China has been Canada’s second largest trading partner, passing Britain and Japan. China now accounts for about 6 percent of Canada’s total world trade (imports and exports combined). Between 1998 and 2007, imports from China grew by almost 400 percent.

Negotiations for a highly anticipated trade treaty have been halted between the two countries. And as the United States requests Meng’s extradition to the U.S. in the coming weeks, China is threatening retaliation.

Huawei already has sued the Canadian government, police and border officials claiming their leading executive’s legal rights were violated when she was detained at Vancouver International Airport in December following an extradition arrest request from the U.S.

Canada, as a medium-size economy, is in an extremely difficult position. With limited leverage in international trade to diversify, particularly trying to get away from its overwhelming dependence on the United States, rapid expansion of trade with China was looked on as a bonanza. Ottawa did recently finally initial a trade compact with the European Union. It was set to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership [which, of course the Trump Administration has now withdrawn from] that would open up new markets, especially with Japan.

But China had been viewed as one of the biggest prizes by Trudeau’s trade negotiators. That’s despite the obvious problems. The risks particularly on the security side, in addition to state-to-state espionage but also in terms of intellectual property theft are considerable.

The Five Eyes security intelligence-sharing network of the English-speaking democracies has twice cautioned Ottawa against Huawei’s growing presence in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail. As in the U.S. where similar concerns have now been publicized in recent U.S. Senate hearings.

Beijing, in recent years, has invested millions of dollars into North American universities, with critics warning that the numerous patents they have gained through research partnerships could have a negative impact on infrastructure security as the company seeks to dominate the nascent field of 5G telecommunications technology.

Beijing has accused two Canadian men of working together to steal state secrets as an obvious retaliation for Meng’s arrest. In a short statement posted online, the ruling Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission accused Canadian citizen Michael Kovrig of stealing state secrets passed on to him from another detained Canadian, Michael Spavor. While China has invoked national security to justify detaining the Canadian men, Monday’s statement marks the first time Chinese authorities have gone into more detail.

A Canadian government statement reacted with a statement which said in part: “The safety and security of Canadians is always of first order for this government. That’s why we’ve been engaging and standing up for the two Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained by China from the very beginning.”

Beijing’s propagandists immediately cited the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy which has threatened to topple the Trudeau government as leverage in Meng’s case saying it put into question judicial independence in Canada. Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a global integrated professional services and project management company and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. Charging the Trudeau government has used its influence in behalf of the company, Canada’s President of the Treasury Board resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet March 4, the second minister to leave in the wake of a political scandal that has roiled Trudeau’s tenure just months before an October election. Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould had testified last week that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin avoid a corruption trial.

A modest proposal for an invitation

The groans coming out of the British political system – members of both major parties resigning their membership and two former ministers threatening to do the same – all attest to a fierce intellectual as well as a political struggle. After all, the vote for Brexit [the U.K. leaving the European Union] in last June’s referendum was only 17,410,742 [51.89%] to leave and 16,141,241 [48.11%] to remain — with another 25,359 blank or invalid ballots! The lines were drawn so tight that few want to be reminded that Prime Minister Theresa May — although she wasn’t one of the most vocal in the debate then serving longer than any other Home Secretary — stuck to the then government line that Britain would be better off “remaining”.

Whether it was ever right for the Brits to enter the European Union – for centuries they have been psychologically in Europe but not of it — is a question left better to future historians. After all, it was always U.S. policy that they should – and not for the most unselfish reasons. We wanted a voice in the new united Europe, and it was thought London could somehow speak for us from the inside. [Did even our earlier leaders anticipate President Obama’s ill-fated “leading from behind”?]

The continuing postponements and the body language of those photos of Prime Minister meeting EU bureaucrats are not good signs for a formal Brexit. The UK could sever all ties with the EU with immediate effect, of course. And Brexit-supporting Members of Parliament claim it would not be all that bad, that the UK would save the £39bn [$51 billion] divorce bill, and free itself to strike its own beneficial trade deals around the world.

Somehow, we remain optimistic without evidence that last minute arrangements will succeed.

But the squeaks will continue – whether actual problems or bitchery from Edinburgh where there always was more pro-“remaining”, or that infernal Irish problem which has cropped up again. [Northern Ireland voted 55.8% Remain.] The UK and EU have agreed to put in place a “backstop” between Ulster and Eire — a safety net to avoid any hard border whatever the outcome of future trade talks between the UK and the EU. Without this free trade zone, there’s fear we could all return to “The Troubles” [social unrest] in Ireland.

Although it has become unfashionable in the Trump Administration to talk too much about American responsibilities around the globe, it hardly behooves 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to sit idly by while our No. 1 ally is in trouble. If Brexit does happen, one way or another, the U.K. – and the world – will have only from 29 March, 2019, to 31 December, 2020 (possibly later), to get everything in place and allow businesses [including “The City”, still London ’s financial and the world’s nerve center] to prepare for the moment when the new post-Brexit rules begin.

It’s about that time that we think Washington should take a hand. It would be hard to imagine the exhaustion and anxiety which will grip every corner of the U.K. polity when the fight is resolved. The U.S. at that point ought to extend an invitation to the British prime minister, whoever she or he would be. Come to the U.S. for a week – the British communications are as good as ours and necessary decision-making could continue – for what might be called A Festival of the Special Relationship.

It would be billed, of course, as a cultural affair – but obviously strategy in all its aspects would be discussed behind the scenes. The “cover” would include everything from a special program at Washington ’s Shakespeare Theater to a British festival at the Kennedy Center of music and film [who wouldn’t like to see “Brief Encounter” again!]. There might be a reception – or better still a ball – at the White House. And the PM’s major oration would be given in the Capitol Building in Colonial Williamsburg [before the Virginia General Assembly] reemphasizing the deep ties not only in language but in political philosophies.

Critics of course would carp at all the aspects of such a celebration. And in the turbulent world we live in, we might run into minor difficulties. But reinvigorating the Special Relationship can only be an essential part of any American foreign policy, especially with Pres. Trumps’ emphasis on the Europeans picking up their part of the load of the mutual defense.


Washington needs a more aggressive Iran policy

When the Tehran fanatics recently accused the U.S. of an attack on elite forces in Iran’s southeastern province of Baluchistan, they not only lied but revealed one of their many and growing problems. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected as “outrageous” Iranian claimthat the United States and its regional allies were to blame for a suicide bombing that killed 27 members of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

More important than Pompeo’s continued verbal taunting of the Iranian fanatics is the knowledge that the militant Sunni Muslim separatist group called Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility for the February 13 attack. It was one more indication of the growing instability throughout the country, in part brought on by American sanctions which are cutting into Tehran ’s oil exports and crippling what is left of its economy.

But Iran and its proxies continue to plot violence abroad and not just in the Middle East. German intelligence officials accused Iran of trying to acquire nuclear materials in 2016, after a ban was supposed to have gone into effect. Last summer an Iranian attempt to bomb the meeting of an opposition group near Paris was foiled. In October, Copenhagen recalled its ambassador to Tehran after another Iranian assassination attempt was prevented in Denmark. In January, Germany banned Iran’s Mahan Air because it was ferrying arms and fighters to commit atrocities in Syria. These are all countries that want better relations with Iran and have made efforts to steer a course independent from the Trump administration.

In the welter of foreign policy issues for the Trump Administration, it is clear that only regime change is an answer to a Tehran regime, which while tottering, has shown enormous resilience in the face of an increasingly restive population. Washington has failed to cope with the Iranian subversion around the world. In part, this was the result of the failure of the U.S. to seize the opportunity to support the 2009 “Green Movement” in which a presidential election with protesters demanding the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.

But there are now reports that the U.S. has begun covert actions against Iran’s missile and rocket program through countries and companies that supply Tehran’s aerospace operations. French and British officials have joined the United States in calling for ways to counter Iran’s missile program even their cooperation on the sanctions has been irregular.

But Last month Trump noted the Jan. 15 failed space launch. Had it succeeded, he said, it would have given Tehran “critical information” it could use “to pursue intercontinental ballistic missile capability, and a capability, actually, of reaching the United States.”

So far, Iran has failed to successfully test the newest generation of its satellite launcher. The vehicle, roughly nine stories tall, debuted in April 2016. Iran wrapped the test flight in secrecy but foreign monitors know for sure only that no satellite went into orbit. In July 2017, another missile roared off a launch pad which Tehran called a success. But once again, with no satellite seen, Washington concluded there was a “catastrophic failure.”

Seemingly without a strategy plan, the Trump administration has instead focused on tactical questions by imposing extra sanctions on Iran. But how do they fit into a larger strategy? On the one hand, a weak economy translates into more domestic dissatisfaction with the regime. But the administration has said that regime change is not its policy.

The Administration’s policy grew even more publicly confused when Rudy Giuliani, a personal lawyer of the U.S. President announced he favors the “overthrow” of Iran ‘s theocratic regime. Giuliani was speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on February 13 on the sidelines of a major Middle East conference in Warsaw which Iranian officials blasted as an “anti-Iran circus.”

“I believe there has to be an overthrow of this regime,” Giuliani said, adding that he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as an official representative of the U.S. administration. “I don’t think this theocratic dictatorship can possibly become some kind of democratic, liberal democratic force,” Giuliani added while accusing Iranian leaders of killing their opponents.

Until now, the Trump administration has consistently said it is not seeking “regime change” in Tehran, only a “change in behavior.”


The North Korean rats nest

The meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore in June is being presented by the U.S. Administration as something of a triumph in its effort to defuse the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsular.

But is it?

The long history of negotiations with Communist leaders is all too familiar; they consist of lengthy and laborious discussions with much delayed outcomes, if successful at all.

The fact is that North Korea’s Kim has scored heavily thus far.

By seducing Washington into direct negotiations – something the U.S. has avoided for years – Kim has lifted his role from a bankrupt Communist satellite state totally dependent on Chinese and Russian aid – and presumably policy guidance – to one of international parity with the world’s No. 1.

Only a few months ago, it was obvious North Korea faced a desperate situation.

The U.S. blockade, with some of our allies and even nominally the UN were observing, had further crippled the already fragile economy, a quarter of which is dedicated to its military of almost a million actives and 5,500,000 reserves in a population of only 26 million. [South Korea has double that population but maintains a standing army of only 600,000 with a reserve of 3,100,000. There are, of course, some 25,000 U.S. military “permanently” based in South Korea.]

Pyongyang was able to skirt the sanctions to some extent through worldwide black market operations dealing with pariahs such as Iran. But it was China, itself facing a declining growth rate with increasing economic woes, which must now face the increasing economic burden of the North Koreans.

Japanese gossip – there apparently is no confirmation in Washington or the West or American spokesmen do not want to reveal their methodology if they have acquired the same information – has it that a catastrophic accident occurred in North Korea’s nuclear/missile establishment. It not only destroyed essential parts of the weapons infrastructure but killed some of the small but essential North Korean nuclear/missiles technocrats. These speculations would, of course, ascribe this as the reason behind the recent inactivity of the North Koreans in missile testing rather than a decision to begin to meet the U.S. and its allies for a negotiated reduction of tension and, presumably, a peace treaty rather than the current 60-year-armistice that holds force.

Whether the Japanese tittle-tattle is correct, the logic of North Korea’s current negotiations with the Americans is less than clear. If the North Koreans are sincere in negotiating with the U.S. for a further cessation of their nuclear and missile aggressive programs, they would be aiming at a position of peaceful coexistence with South Korea and the U.S. They would also have almost inevitably to disassemble one of the most cruel and oppressive regimes the world has ever known.

Granted that they have had some success persuading South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other elements in South Korea – including the large population originally native to North Korea – of a change of attitudes in the North, the fact remains Pyongyang has so far made no major concession except to abandon proactive tests and missile launches over Japan.

In fact, according to a report by the UN atomic watchdog, North Korea is continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program, raising questions over the regime’s country’s commitment to denuclearization. It is the destruction of the North’s current nuclear warfare capabilities which is the aim of American policymakers.

But in one of the most specific reports on Pyongyang’s recent nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency the enrichment of uranium and construction at the country’s main nuclear site.

“The continuation and further development of the DPRK’s [North Korea’s] nuclear program and related statements by the DPRK are a cause for grave concern,” the report said.


Maduro turns uglier

President Nicolás Maduro is blocking $60 million in foodstuffs collected by the U.S. and other critics of the regime to alleviate suffering in a bankrupt Venezuela.

Maduro’s chief opponent, – already recognized as interim president by several Latin American countries and the U.S. – is pushing the aid from Colombia and Brazil toward the bankrupt Venezuelan economy.

Juan Andrés Mejía, a lawmaker from Guaidó’s party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will), says delivering aid across borders is a double challenge to Maduro’s regime – as well as an effort to alleviate a humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of Venezuelans emigrate.

“The government has a dilemma,” Mejia said”. “Either they let it [aid] in [and look weak] or they refuse it, which I don’t think they will because they are not so stupid, and they will also lose. So it is a win-win situation for us – and for the people.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing another ugly choice: whether to intervene militarily to bring down the regime before the internal economic situations deteriorates further or risk the anti-American protests which traditionally accompany such enterprises from other Latin countries even those now antagonistic to Maduro.

The main goal of the post position now is to break Maduro’s hold on the military – and the humanitarian aid is basically ‘the Trojan horse’ to try to do that. Pushing aid in from Colombia and Brazil represents the latest attempt to weaken Maduro’s regime by forcing members of the military to disobey his orders and allow the aid to pass.

Mejía denies the opposition hopes to provoke a military incident which could be used to justify international intervention to unseat Maduro.

“That’s not our goal. That is not what we are looking for. Basically, the strategy … is to show people that humanitarian aid is real, [that] it is not only a discourse … and it is close and it can be here soon.”

Mejía added: “We are a non-violent movement. We do not have weapons and we do not want to have them. We are absolutely certain that violence benefits the government and we cannot win a violent struggle against the government.”

Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, tweeted: “The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela ’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must let aid reach the starving people.”

“With this show of humanitarian aid they are trying to send a message: ‘ Venezuela has to go begging to the world!’ And Venezuela will not beg for anything from anyone in this world,” Maduro responded to the aid offer.

 Diosdado Cabello, another top Chavista supporter of Maduro, said the aid effort was part of a hostile foreign military intervention that would be rebuffed.

“Our territory must be respected. As our brother President Nicolás Maduro has said: any military unit that tries to penetrate our territory will be repelled and our Bolivarian national armed forces will defend our territory. There should be no doubt about it.”

But discontent with Maduro is growing, fueled by an economy in free fall with widespread shortages of food and medicine. Dozens of groups called colectivos, or collectives see themselves as the defenders of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and vow to defend his successor, President Nicolás Maduro, as he faces Venezuela in economic and political crisis.

Things could turn even more violent with the armed colectivos, working alongside security forces loyal to the president, playing a key role in the streets. At least 40 people were killed across the country in a week alone last month, according to the United Nations, with pro-government forces blamed for most of the deaths.

More than 20 countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, including the U.S. A top military representative to the U.S., Col José Luis Silva, has defected and called on other officers to do the same.

Maduro’s hold on power is slipping, although Venezuela ‘s powerful military has not yet stepped in to give him the final push.

Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, when he came to power, purged the military to ensure its senior figures shared his left-wing ideals. The former paratrooper cut a military figure and commanded loyalty. In return he rewarded officers with positions of power.


China slows

The Chinese economy’s growth has slowed to the lowest in three decades, imperiling world security as the second largest economy and a principle trader.

Weaker Chinese export growth has reduced demand for imports of intermediates and raw materials, inflicting losses of iron ore and copper and like products mostly on emerging exporters markets of key global commodities.

But policymakers’ bigger worry is that the latest data showed a loss of momentum in the three engines of the world’s second-largest economy – exports, investment and consumption.

Beijing’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” has chilled liberalization, heightened mercantilism, raised bureaucratic hurdles to trade and investment, weakened the rule of law, and strengthened resistance from vested interests that impede more dynamic economic development.

The economic slowdown may be more severe than official statistics indicate, and poses serious challenges for a government whose legitimacy depends more and more on its ability to raise living standards. Much will depend on how successful Prime Minister Xi maneuvers to consolidate power for a third term. His activities make it harder to analyze measures that might be taken in the tightly controlled economy. But his strategy to achieve Chinese dominance of high-tech sectors already has engendered pushback from global rivals.

All land in China is state-owned and protection of foreign intellectual property is inadequate. The judicial system is dominated by government agencies and the Chinese Communist Party. Corruption remains endemic, and the leadership has rejected fundamental reforms such as requiring public disclosure of assets by officials, creating genuinely independent oversight bodies, or lifting media political constraints.

Eliminating the minimum capital requirement has made it easier to launch new business, but the overall regulatory framework remains an obstacle to development with complex and uneven requirements. The labor market remains tightly controlled with. guidelines on labor issues often differing from agency to agency, and labor laws applied differently in different localities. The government subsidizes numerous state-owned enterprises and is still committed to price controls for essential goods and services.

Economic models suggest a fall of 2 percentage points in Chinese growth relative would cut world growth by around 0.5 percent, leaving it at 2.3 percent, the slowest since 2009, not far off global recession. The slowdown coincides with the trade dispute with the U.S., weakening domestic sentiment and global demand, and alarming local governments doing large-scale off-balance-sheet borrowing.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index was the world’s biggest loser in 2018, posting a fall of 24.6 percent. Beijing authorities were trying to chip away at one of the highest debt mountains in the world: 253 percent of GDP. But their strategy coincided with the slowing of the big European export market and U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff tantrum.

China’s economic growth has been steadily decelerating over the past decade, from a 14.2 percent in 2007 to 6.5 in the third last year. The 6.4 percent growth of the fourth quarter was the lowest since the 1992 when Beijing began publishing quarterly GDP data.

There is no real indication of when recovery will come. Beijing has had success at playing a dominant role in the economy, and it will be impossible to wean policymakers off the model.

But the China model inevitably leads to confrontation between China and the West. Current trade talks dramatize their differences: The U.S.’ small-government, free-market ethos is very different from the Chinese command-and-control model. China gives significant financial and non-financial support to major companies, which it owns or controls. In the U.S., companies in trouble trade, merge or die.

The Chinese economy has one positive element: the worldwide plunge in energy prices which will offset some of China’s difficulties.


Juggling on the Korean peninsula

What had been a frozen relationship on the Korean Peninsular and including Japan and China in northeast Asia for a half century has rather suddenly come unhinged.

And U.S. President Donald Trump preparing for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, accepting Kim’s professions of willingness to negotiate a new relationship, has already run into new obstacles.

Kim’s offer to reveal details of his heavy weapons armaments – including nukes – suddenly turned sour as the U.S. and its South Korea [and its Japanese ally] found an undeclared site serving as the headquarters of one of North Korea ’s ballistic missile programs.

Behind the breakup of the previous Cold War lineup on the Peninsula – a result of the armistice for there has been no peace treaty in the Korean War [25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953] – were the growing demands placed on China as a result of the U.S. and international sanctions against Pyongyang. Although the North Korean regime has managed to reach black market sources for trade, it has depended heavily on Chinese economic aid. This burden has come into sharper focus as a result of a rapidly slowing Chinese economy, one of the principle features of the present East Asia scene.

The discovery has put into question North Korea’s intentions as officials met under Swedish auspices to discuss the arrangements for Kim’s second meeting with Trump, expected to take place near the end of February, possibly in Vietnam. The two leaders made little progress during their first summit in Singapore last June. But they did  sign a vaguely-worded statement committing Pyongyang to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from Washington.

A demilitarized zone has served as a buffer between the two Koreas since their three-year war ended in an uneasy truce in July 1953. Before the conflict, the peninsula had been roughly divided along the 38th parallel by the US and the Soviet Union at the end of the second world war. Sixty years after war , the two countries remain divided, a 2.5-mile wide and 155-mile-long strip of land centered on the “truce village” of Panmunjom.

Missile bases would be part of any agreement committing North Korea to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” denuclearization promised in the earlier conference’s conclusive statement. Located 132 miles north of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas , the Sino-ri complex is a seven-square-mile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1 medium-range missiles.

It looks like the North is playing a familiar game in which they would still have all this operational capability even if they destroy their disclosed nuclear facilities.

The revelation suggests the U.S. has been naïve in its assumption that North Korea – and its Chinese and Russian sponsors – were ready to make a comprehensive deal to begin a truce leading to reunification of the Peninsula. The negotiations for a reunited Korean state have been under the auspices and pushed by Sweden. The Swedes are notorious, of course, for such attempted mediation roles – but too often without the military guarantees which made them acceptable to the U.S.

Washington’s leverage with Pyongyang, backed by severe sanctions, has been eroded by the aggressive appeasement policies of the leftist government of President Moon Jae-In in Seoul which has treated seriously the North’s overtures for reunification. China and North Korea, meanwhile, have worked continuously to split the critical Seoul-Tokyo-Washington strategic alliance.

South Korean conservatives, pointing to the U.S. military pullout from Syria, worry that the Trump administration will withdraw U.S. forces from the South as part of a deal with North Korea and China. North Korea is using the tug-of-war between the U.S. and South Korea over sharing costs for U.S. Forces in Korea as leverage to strengthen its argument that the South should unite with the North to fight against foreign powers.

Despite 10 rounds of negotiations led by veteran diplomats last year, the U.S. and South Korea failed to reach an agreement on the level of cost sharing. An editorial in the official North Korean newspaper argues that the U.S. demand for an increase in South Korea’s share of defense costs runs counter to the current tension-easing atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula. Under such conditions, the editorial said, “it is anachronistic to demand the increase of defense costs contribution by imposing the costs of the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula.”