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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Defense & Security
Flags of china and the united states on a map of the southern china sea.

War games risk stirring up troubled waters as Philippines − emboldened by US − squares up to Beijing at sea

by Fred H. Lawson

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском U.S. Marines joined Filipino counterparts on May 5, 2024, for a mock battle at a telling location: a small, remote territory just 100 miles off the southern tip of the contested island of Taiwan. The combat drill is part of the weekslong Exercise Balikatan that has brought together naval, air and ground forces of the Philippines and the United States, with Australia and France also joining some maneuvers. With a planned “maritime strike” on May 8 in which a decommissioned ship will be sunk and exercises at repelling an advancing foreign army, the aim is to display a united front against China, which Washington and Manila perceive as a threat to the region. Balikatan is Tagalog for “shoulder to shoulder.” Joint Philippines-U.S. naval drills have become an annual event. But as an expert in international relations, I believe this year’s drills mark an inflection point in the regional politics of the South China Sea. For the first time, warships taking part in the exercise ventured outside the 12-mile boundary that demarcates the territorial waters of the Philippines. This extends military operations into the gray area where the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone rubs up against the territory claimed by China and designated by its “nine-dash line.”    Also for the first time, the U.S. deployed an advanced mobile launcher for medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles of a type that had been banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In addition, the Philippine navy is showing off its newest acquisition, a South Korean-built missile frigate. The South China Sea has long been the source of maritime disputes between China, which claims the vast majority of its waters, and nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, heightened tensions over the status of Taiwan – a territory that the Biden administration has pledged to defend militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion – have made the South China Sea even more strategically important. Containment at sea The latest joint maneuvers come amid two developments that could go some way to influence the future trajectory of tensions in the South China Sea. First, the Philippines has grown increasingly assertive in countering China’s claims in the region; and second, the U.S. is increasingly intent on building up regional alliances as part of a strategy to contain China. The Philippines-U.S. alignment is more robust than ever. After a brief interval during the 2016-22 presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, U.S. warships and military aircraft once again operate out of bases in the Philippines. Joint naval patrols resumed in early 2023. At the same time, Manila granted U.S. troops unprecedented access to facilities on the northern Batanes islands, which have become the focus of current joint operations. Meanwhile, Washington has become more vocal in condemning challenges to the Philippines from China. U.S. officials had carefully avoided promising to protect the far-flung islands, atolls and reefs claimed by Manila for seven decades following the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines in 1951. Only in March 2019 did then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assert that the treaty covers all of the geographical area over which the Philippines asserts sovereignty. In February 2023, Presidents Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joe Biden doubled the number of bases in the Philippines open to the U.S. military. That May, the two leaders affirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks that take place “anywhere in the South China Sea.” Causing waves, rocking the boat Firmer ties to the U.S. have been accompanied by more combative behavior on the part of the Philippines. In May 2023, the Philippines coast guard introduced demarcation buoys around Whitsun Reef – the site of an intense confrontation with China’s maritime militia a year earlier. Reports circulated three months later that Philippine marines planned to construct permanent outposts in the vicinity of the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal. And a Philippine coast guard ship, with the commander of the country’s armed forces aboard, approached Scarborough Shoal in November, before being forced to retreat by Chinese maritime militia vessels. Then in January 2024, the Philippines broke with its adherence to a prohibition on erecting structures on disputed territory, which was part of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, by installing electronic surveillance equipment on Thitu Island, which sits beyond Scarborough Shoal in the heart of a cluster of disputed formations. This was followed by announced plans to put water desalination plants on Thitu, Nanshan Island and Second Thomas Shoal, making it possible to maintain permanent garrisons on these isolated outposts. Manila has continued to assert its maritime rights by announcing that armed forces would escort exploration and mining activities in the exclusive economic zone. Further acts that could be seen as provocative in Beijing followed, including the stationing of a Philippine navy corvette at nearby Palawan Island and a joint flyover by Philippine warplanes and a U.S. Air Force B-52 heavy bomber. A raft of Chinese responses It is clear that the deepening of Philippines-U.S. ties has given Manila the confidence to undertake a variety of combative acts toward China. The question is, to what ends? A more assertive Philippines may end up contributing to the U.S. strategy to deter Beijing from extending its presence in the South China Sea and launching what many in Washington fear: an invasion of Taiwan. But it is possible that heightened truculence on the part of the Philippines will goad Beijing into being more aggressive, diminishing the prospects for regional stability. As the Philippines-U.S. alignment has strengthened, Beijing has boosted the number of warships it deploys in the South China Sea and escalated maritime operations around Thitu Island, Second Thomas Shoal and Iroquois Reef – all of which the Philippines considers its sovereign territory. In early March 2024, two Chinese research ships moved into Benham Rise, a resource-rich shelf situated on the eastern coast of the Philippines, outside the South China Sea. Weeks later, a Philippines coast guard cutter surveying a sandbar near Thitu was harassed not only by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia ships but also by a missile frigate of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which for the first time launched a helicopter to shadow the cutter. Washington has taken no public steps to dampen tensions between Manila and Beijing. Rather, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed full-throated support for “our ironclad defense commitments” during a mid-March 2024 stopover in Manila. Reassured of U.S. backing, Marcos has amped up the rhetoric, proclaiming that Manila would respond to any troublemaking on Beijing’s part by implementing a “countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate and reasonable.” “Filipinos,” he added, “do not yield.” Such an approach, according to Marcos, was now feasible due to the U.S. and its regional allies offering “to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.” The danger is that as the Philippines grows more assured by U.S. support, it may grow reckless in dealing with China. Rather than deterring China from further expansion, the deepening Philippines-U.S. alignment and associated Filipino assertiveness may only ramp up Beijing’s apprehensiveness over its continued access to the South China Sea – through which virtually all of its energy imports and most of its exports flow. And there is little reason to expect that Washington will be able to prevent an emboldened Manila from continuing down the path of confronting China in the South China Sea. To Beijing, the prospect of an emboldened Philippines forging active strategic partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and – most troublesome of all – Taiwan makes the situation all the more perilous.

Defense & Security
Japanese Fighter Jet

Japan’s Role in Shaping the Security Landscape of Southeast and East Asia

by Swati Arun

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Japan has embarked upon a transformative journey that signifies a departure from its conventional pacifist stance. Despite encountering pockets of domestic opposition, Japan’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific has received increasing support from neighbouring nations. Within a regional backdrop of countering China’s military modernisation and expansionism, Japan is now laying the groundwork for collective defence while working to institutionalise these efforts and ease concerns about remilitarisation. Japan has gradually undertaken various steps to enhance the role of self-defence forces and allow military partnerships. The three new requirements for exercising self-defence, adopted in 2014, expanded Japan’s right to self-defence in the “occurrence of an armed attack against Japan or another country with close ties to Japan”, a threat to national existence, with “no other means to ensure the survival of the country”, adding the use of “minimum amount of force necessary”. Japan broadened the definition of security to encompass any changes in its vicinity that may compromise its territorial integrity. Following these changes, on 16 Dec 2022, the Kishida administration formally approved three revised strategic documents – the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the Defense Buildup Program. These revisions reduced the limitations imposed on the Self Defense Forces and collective defence. Viewing these changes in today’s security conflict in East Asia, the first requirement effectively extended the parameters of self-defence to include Taiwan. In the NSS, Japan identified Taiwan as an “extremely important partner and a precious friend” while characterising China as “a matter of serious concern” and “the greatest strategic challenge.” The documents also designated North Korea as “a graver, more imminent threat” and Russia as “a serious security concern.” The documents revealed Japan’s acquisition of counterstrike capabilities, filling gaps in its defences, and broadening the second and third requirements for collective self-defence. Furthermore, Tokyo intends to upgrade the indigenous Type 12 surface-to-ship missile, with a range of approximately 200 km, to approximately 1,200 km, substantially increasing the cost of Chinese attacks in the region. In January 2024, Japan signed agreements with the US to acquire 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a firing range of approximately 1,600 km. Reportedly, Japan aims to rectify its current ammunition reserves by constructing “70 ammunition depots within five years” and plans to construct up to 130 ammunition depots by 2035, drawing lessons from the conflict in Ukraine. Japan revised the Three Principles of Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology overcoming the past restrictions on transfer of defence equipment and technology to other countries. These revisions marked the beginning of Japan’s evolving role as a security provider in the region. Together this amounts to the doubling of the defence spending from 1% to 2% of GDP by 2027 to speed up the advancement of Japan’s peacetime and immature military and bring it to NATO standards. The revisions are consistent with Japan’s understanding of its new security environment where Chinese assertions are reinforced by the largest naval force in Asia. The shift also underscores the limitation of the US power in the region to remain the sole security provider by enabling Japan to take a central role. Japanese people also resonated with the sentiments, as a poll conducted in 2022 revealed that 89% see China as a threat in 2022, and 49% of respondents supported an expanded role of Japan in the alliance while 46% were against it. In 2023, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23) to “clearly demonstrate the intention that Japan will never tolerate unilateral changes to the status quo by force” as specified in NSS. The Japanese forces visited 17 countries and held 27 exercises with like-minded countries, highlighting Japan’s intention to expand security ties across the nations with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and with the ASEAN. In the same year, Japan established a Permanent Joint Headquarters to oversee all three forces – the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces – to ensure effective joint operations. Acknowledging Japan’s growing ambition, in December 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed the coast guard to strengthen its activities to assert sovereignty over the East China islets. Japan has actively pursued collective defence in Southeast Asia with its introduction of “Official Security Assistance” in February 2023, under which the Philippines was the first to receive aid, followed by Malaysia. Japan also plans to include Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Cambodia. These plans will allow Japan to establish a military-industrial complex, extending the nexus of partnership and interdependency between Japan and Southeast Asia. The changes when seen together with the U.S.-Japan Joint Leaders’ Statement mark a decisive shift in Japan’s strategy to counter China. In an upgrade to the US-Japan alliance, the two parties agreed to establish a unified Japanese-US command, enabling the US to make a headquarters in Japan for overseas military operations in the region. They also agreed upon the co-development and co-production of missiles and cutting-edge technologies in Japan, enhancing its defence industrial complex, and export to third parties. The statement noted Japan’s cooperation with AUKUS in its Pillar II advanced capability projects. The statement also relayed the “existential crisis” facing Japan making these efforts natural, conforming to Japan’s revisions to strategic policy documents. Previously, in 2022, Japan had announced a collaboration with the UK, and Italy to develop next-generation fighter jets and subsequently in March 2024, decided to authorise the export of jointly developed fighter jets to other nations. Cross-strait relations, once dealt with utmost precaution through the lens of the “One-China Policy” have now shifted to a more openly debated foreign and strategic policy surrounding Taiwan. Since 2021, Japanese leaders have made a series of statements and comments concerning Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. In May 2022 a statement from US-Japan Summit reiterated that “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element in security”. In a January 2024 speech, former PM Aso Taro also reiterated that the Taiwan crisis constitutes “a threat of national existence” for Japan. China reacted to former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022 with large-scale military exercises around the island. Four months later in December 2022, Japan released three new strategic documents. Taiwan’s importance to Japan’s security was cited seven times in NSS and NDS. Furthermore, Japan intends to enhance the defence of all of its 6,852 islands, focusing on the Ryukyu Island chains, the cornerstone of Japan’s defence against China, lying only 100 Km from Taiwan, which also tightens security around the island. The deployment of a surface-to-air guided missile unit is now under consideration on Yomaguni, home to a JSDF surveillance station adding to Japan’s understanding of Taiwan’s security tied closely to its own. China’s preferred military scenario of a “lightning war”, or a surprise attack to take over Taiwan within weeks or days, has increased the level of urgency and acted as a precursor for the military acceleration of the past several years. The history of Japanese aggression in East Asia and Chinese military support for North Korea diluted the possibility of a regional framework between Japan, South Korea and China. However, through years of efforts in August 2023, a rapprochement was reached between Japan and South Korea when they met at Camp David for a trilateral summit between US-Japan-South Korea. The trilateral took the first step in removing historical obstacles and proving trust in Japan’s new regional role. South Korea has remained averse to participating in major power competitions, but this trilateral institutionalised the effort, guarding the progress against changes in the political situation in either country. For South Korea, North Korea remains its primary security concern. For Japan, the North remains the second most crucial threat with its launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the Sea of Japan in 2022, provoking cooperation on the same despite fractures. Through the joint statement of the trilateral summit, the US got support from South Korea in recognising the perils of not maintaining peace and security in the Taiwan Strait. South Korea got a much-needed boost in intelligence sharing on North Korea’s missile launches and cyber activities which will strengthen ballistic missile defence cooperation. However, it is unlikely that South Korea will endanger its security by interfering in a cross-strait crisis. It will still play a critical role in keeping North Korea at bay in the event of an armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait or East China Sea. Nevertheless, Taiwan thanked the support shown through the trilateral, while China warned against destabilising the region. Japan stands as one of the Philippines’ most trusted partners, second only to the US. Ties have grown deeper as the two have signed a series of agreements from Military and Capacity Building to Maritime Security and Intelligence Sharing in the Indo-Pacific. In 2023, under Japan’s Official Security Assistance, the Philippines received USD 4 million worth of coastal surveillance radars. The two parties are discussing signing a Reciprocal Access Agreement before the end of 2024. An April 2024 joint statement between Japan, the Philippines and the US prioritised advancing “multilateral maritime domain awareness cooperation”, and developing “an information communications technology ecosystem”. It also committed to trilateral defence cooperation and support for the Philippines’ defence modernisation priorities. The statement noted concerns about China’s aggressive behaviour, its “coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea”, conjoining it with the situation in the East China Sea. It also reiterated the importance of the Taiwan Strait in global security. Under this framework, reliance and trust in Japan have increased, setting it up for a larger security role and the collectivisation of security has brought new assurances for the smaller powers of the region. The Taiwanese President thanked the trilateral joint statement supporting peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. China, however, slammed the anti-China gathering, accusing it of forming a NATO analogue in the region. China summoned Japanese and Philippine diplomats, expressing dissatisfaction and urging Japan to “take actions beneficial to regional peace”. Beyond South Korea and the Philippines, Japan has also maintained long military and diplomatic relations with Vietnam, having had 10 defence dialogues in the past. Furthermore, Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the Vietnam-Japan Comprehensive Strategic Partnership on 27 November 2023. According to their joint statement, Kishida and Thuong reinforced the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The US also upgraded its ties with Vietnam in September 2023. These developments led to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Vietnam in December 2023, culminating into an agreement to establish a hotline between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command and the Vietnamese navy. But mistrust towards China runs deep in the Vietnamese public, which is furthered when China continues to lay new claims in Vietnamese waters. While Vietnam remains reluctant to participate in US-China conflict, its closeness with Japan is a sign that the latter is seen as a reliable regional partner with similar territorial problems. In a wider regional sense, Japan views ASEAN as its key partner in fulfilling the Indo-Pacific vision. The ASEAN centrality resonates in both the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral. Japan maintained close ties with the region through robust economic and defence cooperation. But the latter has gained momentum in the past few years. Beginning with the Philippines in 2016, Japan forged bilateral agreements for defence equipment and technology collaboration with multiple ASEAN nations (with Malaysia in 2018, Indonesia and Vietnam in 2021, and Thailand in 2022). In February 2023, the “Expert Panel for the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation” issued a report emphasising that ASEAN has evolved from being primarily an aid recipient from Japan to a growing and influential partner. In December 2023, the ASEAN and Japan summit released a joint statement, committing to “strengthening security cooperation including maritime security” in the light of growing threats in the South China Sea. The statement highlighted the trust ASEAN has in Japan amid China’s growing claims in the South China Sea. This reflects a growing realisation among ASEAN members that collective defence is the answer to their security challenge – which China reacted negatively to. In the face of a major power conflict, the trust of Southeast Asian countries in Japan’s security guarantee has been increasing. A poll conducted in 2022 reflected these sentiments when 43.1% of Taiwanese confirmed their belief that Japan would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion from China, while 42.8% of citizens felt that the US would be a security guarantor to Taiwan. Surveys undertaken in 2023 and 2024 substantiate the increasing affinity between ASEAN and Japan. While China surpassed the US as the preferred partner for ASEAN, Japan remained the most trusted partner, with 58.9% of respondents expressing faith in the country, surpassing levels for the US, China, India, and the European Union. This suggests that ASEAN is gradually transitioning its geopolitical alignment towards Japan as (at least part of) a viable alternative, rather than seeing things as a binary choice between China and the US. The predominant theme in the understanding of the current security environment in Southeast and East Asia is that, while US assistance and reliance on its security guarantee in the region are essential to counter the so-called China threat, the defence of the maritime nations ultimately rests with those nations themselves. This sentiment has served as a catalyst to address gaps in individual countries’ defence preparedness and work towards a collective approach to protect against potential changes in US strategy – which has evolved into one of enabling regional stakeholders by providing technology, skills, and assistance, while maintaining dominance through other platforms. This has necessitated a collective defence posture where a more interconnected network, involving Japan, can be more resistant to isolation and coercion.

Defense & Security
Australian flag and South Korean flag

Press Conference, Melbourne. Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting

by Richard Marles , Cho Tae-Yul , Penny Wong

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Joint transcript with: The Hon Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Subjects: Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting; AUKUS Pillar Two; Hanwha bid for Austal; foreign interference; Korean peninsula security. 01 May 2024 Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles: Well, welcome everyone. Today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have had the pleasure of being able to welcome Minister Cho and Minister Shin, the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister of South Korea to a 2+2 with Australia. In December of 2022, the Republic of Korea released its Indo-Pacific Strategy. And it described an assessment of the region and a response to it, which represented Korea looking to take its place in the region and the world. That is remarkably similar to the assessment that we made a few months later in the Defence Strategic Review. And it speaks to the fact that both Korea and Australia have a close strategic alignment and a shared vision about our place in the region and the world. And what was immediately obvious from that moment was the opportunity to take the relationship between our two countries to the next level. And today's 2+2 is very much an expression of that. We are seeing increased engagement between our two countries across the board. We are certainly seeing that in the realm of defence. Last year, Korea had its largest participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre, which is our major bilateral defence exercise. This year, we will see more Korean engagement in Exercise Pitch Black, Exercise Kakadu, Exercise Southern Jackaroo and we are very appreciative of Korea’s participation in those exercises, as we are in the way in which Korea and Australia are working together to uphold the rules-based order within our region and in fact, within the world. Both countries, as we've discussed today, are playing our part in supporting Ukraine in its resistance of the appalling aggression that is being forced upon it by Russia. We are working very closely together within our region to uphold the global rules-based order here as well, and that's seen in a greater engagement that both of us are doing with the countries of the Pacific and the countries of southeast Asia. We are particularly aware of the efforts that have been put in place for Korea to build its relationship with Japan and we see this as a very, very positive step forward in the strategic landscape of the region, and represents a huge opportunity for Australia to engage with both Korea and Japan. Finally, in respect of defence industry, we are seeing a blossoming of the relationship between our two countries in respect of defence industry. Yesterday, Minister Shin and I visited Hanwha's facility in Geelong, which is building for the Australian Army both the Huntsman and the Redback, which will be very central to our capabilities for the Army. But we're also very hopeful that these platforms represent an opportunity for greater industrial activity there, where we can see export to the world. Across the board, this is a relationship which is going to a new place, a place which is much deeper and much closer and we are very, very grateful for the presence of Minister Cho and Minister Shin in Australia today and we've really enjoyed the meeting that we've had this morning. Republic of Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cho Tae-Yul: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I am Cho Tae-Yul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. I am grateful for the successful organisation of the sixth Republic of Korea-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Minister’s Meeting and I extend my deepest thanks to Mr Richard Marles and Ms Penny Wong for the warm welcome toward our delegations. It is with great pleasure that I make my first visit as Minister of Foreign Affairs to Australia to, our esteemed regional partner. Together with Mr Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense. During the first day of our visit on the 29th of April we paid tribute to the enduring legacy of 17,000 Australian veterans at the Australian National Museum Korean War Memorial in Canberra, commemorating their profound sacrifices for peace. The sacrifices of Australian veterans have laid a solid foundation for the prosperity of our relationship and on behalf of the Korean Government and people, I’d like to express heartfelt gratidude to the Australian veterans for their unwavering dedication. Today’s meeting holds significant importance as it is the first gathering of its kind following the installation of our current governments and Korea’s announcement of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. This occasion is further distinguished by its location in Melbourne, a symbol of our robust cooperation in defence industry. The Ministers of the two countries engaged in extensive discussions aimed at deepening strategic cooperation and communication, reinforcing our shared vision at both regional and global levels. Both parties recognise each other as pivotal partners in the realisation of our respective Indo-Pacific strategies, and as likeminded nations agreed to enhance our cooperation at bilateral, unilateral and multilateral levels. We acknowledge the remarkable progress in our bilateral cooperation with national defence and defence industries, highlighted by the signing of a contract for the delivery of Redback IFVs and the participation of Korean military personnel in Exercise Talisman Sabre and we said that we will be strengthening our cooperation into the future. In the realms of cyber and maritime security, we agreed to collaborate in blocking North Korea’s access to funding for illicit nuclear and missile developments, and to thwart illegal activities such as arms trading between Russia and North Korea. Our Australian counterparts have expressed their steadfast support for enhancing the human rights of North Koreans and for our policies aimed at reunification. Furthermore, we resolved to continue our close collaboration with ASEAN and the Pacific regions which hold great significance for both our countries. We will also expand our cooperative efforts for comprehensive security in cyber and maritime security, as well as economic security and climate change. I am confident today’s meeting will mark a significant milestone in strengthening our partnership built on the shared foundations of liberal democracy and mutual trust, and will further our commitment to a rules-based regional and global order. Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong: Thank you very much. Can I first express my deep appreciation to Minister Cho and Defense Minister Shin for their travel to Australia for this Foreign and Defence Ministers’ 2+2 meeting. We appreciate you coming to Australia and we have deeply enjoyed the dialogue this morning. This is the first 2+2 for us Ministers. We recognise that this dialogue is a cornerstone of our comprehensive strategic partnership with Korea. Can I start by appreciating the Minister's acknowledgement of the role that Australia and Australian veterans have played in this bilateral relationship. We thank you for honouring those Australians who have served. It is a testament to the historic strength of our relationship. But more importantly, today, what we focus on is the increasing strategic and economic convergence that exists between our two nations. And the focus of our meeting was how to translate that convergence that the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Cho have articulated, how we translate that convergence into tangible and practical actions in southeast Asia, in the Pacific and more broadly in terms of our cooperation in in the Indo-Pacific. We are very interested not only in increasing our cooperation and our engagement in defence industries, but also in increasing our collaboration diplomatically and economically. I make note, as Foreign Minister Cho did, of our collective condemnation of North Korea's continue provocative, destabilising activities and we will continue to work together to ensure that this risk and threat to our collective security continues to be met in solidarity between our countries and other countries of the world. As you will see from the joint statement when it is released, discussed a range of other matters, including the Middle East, where we shared our perspectives. I thank, again, my counterpart, the Foreign Minister for his engagement. We were an early call for him and we appreciate it. And we appreciate the efforts that the Ministers have made in coming to Australia for this very important 2+2. Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense, Shin Won-Sik: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, I am Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea. First of all, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Mr Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister and Ms Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the warm reception of our delegations. We are externally grateful for the noble sacrifices made by the 17,000 Australians during the Korean War who fought for freedom and peace in our country. On behalf of our people, thank you. During the ROK-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting we engaged in extensive discussions on a range of issues concerning the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and boarder global foreign affairs and defence matters and reaffirmed our commitment to further develop our bilateral future oriented relationships. Firstly, we agreed to continue enhancing our mutual and beneficial partnership in defence industry. It is with great pleasure that I know a Korean company was selected in Australia’s next generation Infantry Fighting Vehicle project, valued at $250 million USD. This follows the successful collaboration on the self-propelled artillery project in 2021. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Marles, and I visited the construction site of a Korean company in Geelong where we witnessed firsthand our flourishing bilateral cooperation in the defence industry. This collaboration is set to not only modernise Australia’s military capabilities, but also stimulate the local economy and strengthen the strategic solidarity between our nations. Secondly, we agreed to enhance our joint military training to improve interoperability and foster conditions for regional peace and stability. Last year, a significant contingent of Korean armed forces participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre, yielding fruitful outcomes. This year, the Australian military took part in Korea’s Freedom Shield exercises, as a member of United Nations command, enhancing its capabilities for joint operations. We are committed to continuing these joint exercises in various forms and further elevating the level of cooperation between our armed forces. Thirdly, recognising the importance of building trust in our national defence and defence industry partnership, we agreed to expand human exchanges among defence related organisations. Republic of Korea and Australia, as key strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region, share profound strategic views and interests. We will build on the achievements of today’s meeting and collaborate earnestly for the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and the international community as a whole. Speaker: Questions? Journalist: South Korean Minister for National Defence, Shin Won-sik, there's been speculation about countries like South Korea joining the AUKUS Defence technology. Did you discuss this today? And does South Korea believe that it could engage in useful cooperation under Pillar Two of AUKUS? And Minister Marles, Hanwha has made a bid for Austal. Was this big discussion discussed in your meetings over recent days? And would such a bid likely be permitted under the new foreign investment framework being unveiled by the government today? Defence Minister Shin: [spoken in Korean] The Korean government, to enhance the regional peace, we support the AUKUS Pillar Two activities, and we do welcome that AUKUS members are considering Korea as the AUKUS Pillar Two partner. Korea's defence science and technology capabilities will contribute to the peace and stability of the development of AUKUS Pillar Two and the regional peace. And during today's meeting, we also discussed the possibility of partnering with AUKUS Pillar Two. Thank you. Deputy Prime Minister Marles: So, perhaps I might address both issues in relation to AUKUS Pillar Two. And we did discuss this both yesterday and today. AUKUS, as you know, is a technology-sharing agreement. It's not a security alliance. And Korea is obviously a country with deeply impressive technology, where we do have shared values, where we have strategic alignment, where we engage closely together. We already engage closely together in relation to technology. So, as AUKUS Pillar Two develops, I think there will be opportunities in the future, and we're seeing that play out in relation to Japan as well and we talked about that. In respect of Austal. Look, ultimately, this is a matter for Austal. They are a private company. From the government's perspective, we don't have any concern about Hanwha moving in this direction. We have identified Austal as a strategic shipbuilder for Australia in WA. Wherever Austal goes, whatever it does, there will obviously need to be security arrangements put in place in respect of sensitive technologies and intellectual property that would have to be managed no matter what the future of Austal. And were there anything that were to transpire in relation to Hanwa that would need to be managed in that context as well. But fundamentally, this is a matter for Austal as a private company. Journalist: And to Foreign Minister Wong. Australian officials have confirmed that India’s government was behind the nest of spies the Director General of Security described in 2021. Should Australians in the diaspora community be concerned about Indian government surveillance? And what message does the Australian government have to the Indian government about the acceptability of these activities and to Foreign Affairs Minister Cho Tae-Yul, the ABC has today reported South Korea is one of the friendly countries with a good relationship with Australia, which nonetheless engages in espionage here. Has there ever been a point of tension between the two countries, or are there clear shared understandings about the operation of intelligence agents in both countries? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, you would be unsurprised to hear me respond that we don't comment on intelligence matters. But at a level of principle about the democracy, I think you would have heard me and other Ministers on many occasions assert the importance of our democratic principles, assert the importance of ensuring that we maintain the resilience of our democracy, including in the face of any suggestion of foreign interference, and we have laws to deal with that. And to continue to say that we deeply value the multicultural fabric of the Australian community. It is a strength and we welcome people's continued engagement in our democracy. Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] In regards to your question, I haven't heard anything and I am not sure against which context you are asking this question, so I have nothing to answer to that question. Journalist: Thank you. Minister Cho, you've both spoken today about the tensions across the Korean peninsula. These aren't always discussed when we're talking about issues like defence arrangements in the Pacific and the AUKUS deal as such. Why do you believe that close-knit ties with Australia in defence and these types of engagement is something that does have an impact on that relationship? Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] Korea's security focuses on the North Korea's threat, but it's not the only focus. But as you can see, there's huge geopolitical changes taking place and the security in the Indo-Pacific region is closely linked to the security of other regions of the globe. So, we live in such a geopolitical era and Russia and North Korea are cooperating in the Ukraine war. And it shows that the Indo-Pacific region’s security is closely linked to the security of Europe as well. So, Korea's security is closely linked with Australia's security, and that's the world we live in. So, against the context of Indo-Pacific region and from the regional point of view, Australia and Korea share a lot of values and it's very good, not only in terms of economy, but also in security for our two countries to cooperate. So, in that context, we discussed the security partnerships between our two countries. Foreign Minister Wong: I might just add to that, if I may, Richard, that I think history shows us that what happens in the Korean peninsula matters to the security and stability of our region. We have no doubt that North Korea's destabilising, provocative, escalatory actions are contrary, are a threat to international peace and security, as well as to the peace and security of the ROK. We see it as very important that the international community exert and assert as much pressure as possible on the DPRK, including in relation to the regime of sanctions. And as Foreign Minister Cho has said, the actions of Russia in undermining that - those sanctions, in undermining the isolation of the DPRK, in participating in the provision of materiel, in contravention of UN resolutions and sanctions, is destabilising and undermines peace and security for the whole of the globe. And so I think it is important for us to continue not only to express solidarity with the Republic of Korea in the face of this aggression but also to call out Russia's behaviour as irresponsible and destabilising. Journalist: And Minister Wong, you touched on the reports of espionage before - Foreign Minister Wong: No, I was asked about them and I said we don't comment on intelligence matters. Journalist: Sure, I understand that that's the general principle on these matters, but given Australia's close-knit ties with India in the situation of the Quad, as a general principle, could I ask you, do you believe Australia would feel empowered enough to be forthright in raising concerns of these nations with the Indian government if they did it right? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, again, say we don't comment on intelligence matters, but as a matter of general principles, Australia remains consistent to our interests and to our values in all of our engagements. Speaker: Great. Thank you very much.

Diplomacy
Flags of Japan and DPRK

Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): current diplomatic gamble

by Jesús Aise Sotolongo

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, recently stated at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives of the Diet that “…he strongly feels the need to boldly change the current situation of the ties between Japan and the DPRK,” and “…it is very important that he himself establishes (…) relations with the President of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, and continues to make efforts through different channels for this purpose”. Immediately, the KCNA agency released, in response to the statement made by the Japanese Prime Minister, a declaration from Kim Yo Jong, the Deputy Director of the Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The One in charge of the affairs related to the Republic of Korea and the United States – now it seems also with Japan – commented that she found it noteworthy that the Japanese media have assessed Prime Minister Kishida’s words as “a different position from before” regarding the issue of DPRK-Japan bilateral relations. She added that “there is no reason not to evaluate positively” the words of the Japanese Prime Minister if he shows the “true intention” to move forward the relations between the two countries “by courageously freeing themselves from the shackles of the past”. He added that if Japan abandons its “bad habits” such as unjustly violating the self-defense rights of the DPRK and stops turning the already resolved issue of abductions into an obstacle, there is no reason to prevent a rapprochement between the two countries and the day may come when Kishida visits Pyongyang. She noted that, if Japan opts for a new path to improve relations and approaches the North with “respectful and sincere” behavior, the two countries can create a “new future” together. According to Kim Yo Jong, she made her statements not from an official position, but in a “personal capacity”, something that can be questioned, as she appears as the closest collaborator of her brother Kim Jong Un, and the fact that she holds the high responsibility of being the deputy director of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee of the WPK, formally requires her to uphold party discipline. The most immediate antecedent to Kim Yo Jong’s remarks was when, earlier this year, as western Japan was recovering from an earthquake that killed more than 200 people and damaged tens of thousands of homes in Niigata Prefecture, the Chairman of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, sent a message of “sympathy and condolences” to the Japanese Prime Minister, which was seen as unusual and a conciliatory note, given Pyongyang’s demonstrated animosity towards successive Japanese governments and the systematic messages of grievances sent by the DPRK’s official media. Now, a month later, through Kim Yo Jong, the DPRK sends a new signal that it may be willing to improve relations with Japan. However, many observers view with skepticism the supposed show of commitment towards reconciliation with Japan because, over the decades, events raise suspicious about whether their pronouncements were sincere or not. For well-known historical reasons, the DPRK-Japan relations have never been healthy. Especially, in the last two decades when they have been distinguished by their progressive worsening. Successive administrations, especially those of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, have taken the nuclear threat as a pretext for their militaristic ambitions, something that has severely displeased the leadership in Pyongyang. Due to what the North Koreans call “infamous submission” to the US, expressions of disdain from high-ranking officials towards Tokyo are regular occurrences. The most controversial issue revolves around the matter of the abducted Japanese. Although in 2002, coinciding with the first visit to Pyongyang of then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the DPRK and Japan signed a historic agreement committing an early normalization of bilateral relations and leading to the return of five of the abducted Japanese, Tokyo holds Pyongyang responsible for the abduction of 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, with 12 of them still believed to be in the DPRK. However, Pyongyang admits to having abducted only 13 individuals, claiming to have returned five and stating that the remaining eight had died. What is most unnerving in the eventual Japan-North Korea ties is that Pyongyang assumes the abductee issue as a “settle issue” and Tokyo keeps it as a priority on its political-diplomatic agenda. To date, Japan continues to present the abductees as a premise for talks at any level, while the DPRK considers it as already solved and furthermore, the issue of nuclear weapons and missiles has nothing to do with the improvements of bilateral ties, as Pyongyang considers it as its legitimate self-defense. Japan finds it extremely difficult to accept such conditions. The DPRK’s increasingly sophisticated missiles are constantly being projected into the Sea of Japan and have even flown over Japanese territory. Japan also perceives the possibility that, like South Korea, the DPRK will carry out preventive nuclear strike when it sees signs of real and imminent risk. And, as far as the abduction issue is concerned, all indicates that Japan is not ready to accept that it has been resolved. It is a combination of social forces, forming a critical mass that puts pressure on the Japanese government to act in favor of finding a plausible solution to the abduction issue. In this regard, the Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Yoshimasa Hayashi, stated at a press conference that Japan remains unchanged and “…intends to comprehensively resolve outstanding issues, such as nuclear energy, missiles and abductions”. It is well known that the Japanese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly appealed to its counterparts in friendly countries to the DPRK to make efforts to lead to talks with Pyongyang authorities. It is documented that these efforts have been unsuccessful due to their reluctant stance towards Tokyo. Why is the DPRK rushing to positively assimilate Prime Minister Kishida’s words now? In a previous article, we discussed how at the January 15th, 2024 session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Chairman Kim Jong Un made a decision to sever all ties with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which he called as the “number one hostile country” and indicated to constitutionally endorse a better definition of the border and physically destroy all inter-Korean symbols. We saw that the main thing was to “erase” from the Constitution what he referred to as “inherited concepts” that classify South Koreans as compatriots and likewise, the term unification, removing phrases he assessed as “deceptive” such as “3,000 miles of golden water, rivers and mountains” and “80 million Koreans”, arguing that “…it is correct to specify in the corresponding article [of the Constitution] that the Republic of Korea is firmly considered as the number one hostile country and immutable main enemy”. The above-mentioned contrast with the position that presumably highlights the expectation of an eventual improvement in relations with Tokyo, which has the same status as a major ally of Washington in East Asia, as does Seoul, and which together form a harmonious triangular anti-DPRK alliance. It is notorious that a priority of the DPRK, reinforced in recent times, has always been to fracture the US-ROK-Japan axis. It is convenient to recapitulate that, under the Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump administrations, when Pyongyang – Seoul and Pyongyang – Washington relations exhibited relative understanding and détente, the DPRK furiously attacked the Abe administration, with the same purpose of breaking the alliance. Pyongyang may find it worthwhile to engage with Tokyo under the assumption of forcing open some cracks in the recently strengthened trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. This is because under conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea has sought, with the support of the Biden Administration, closer relations, and more stable ties with Japan, including defense and intelligence information exchange, and to a significant extent, has achieved it. However, the Seoul-Tokyo-US convergence suffers from fragility, which is reflected in the appreciable differences over the shared history between South Korea and Japan, and the ongoing disputes with the former colonial ruler over comfort women and forced laborers. In addition, there is US political volatility; in both Seoul and Tokyo there are uncertainties about whether Washington would directly involve itself in a conflagration involving either of them with the DPRK, as well as whether Washington would accommodate South Korea’s nuclear aspirations and unreservedly support Japan’s abandonment of the status of its Armed Forces as self-defense forces. Still, it can be argued that, as risk management and empathy sustainer, Kishida will keep Seoul and Washington abreast of his dealings with Pyongyang. In March, he will visit Seoul and in April, Washington; these would be important indicators of alignment between the trio. Kishida will seek the blessing of the Yoon and Biden administrations, anticipating that Kim Jong Un will move toward a summit that Kishida has so often called for. Washington has moved forward in supporting Japan’s attempts to engage with the DPRK. The ROK and Japan are in close communication on any future Tokyo-Pyongyang dialogue. Meanwhile, South Korea says that any contact between Japan and the DPRK should be conducted in a manner that helps promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Conclusions We are in the presence of a new diplomatic gamble by the DPRK that illustrates the level of specialization it has reached in managing its complicated relations with the main US allies in East Asia, who, in turn, are perceived as systematically confrontational countries. A straightforward resolution of the outstanding issues for discussion (nuclear weapons, missiles, and abductions) between Kim Jong Un and Fumio Kishida is not to be expected. These are issues on which the DPRK and Japan have diametrically different positions and directly concern the comprehensive strategic security of both countries, including the recurring abduction issue, which is associated with the political gain of any Japanese government. A meeting at the Japan-North Korea summit would be one of the few pleasant surprises to be received in the context of the vicious circle of conflict associated with the DPRK. It would be attractive to see a determined understanding between Pyongyang and Tokyo. It may be foreseeable that a Kim Jong Un - Fumio Kishida meeting will take place, but the past and present history negates any prospect of success. For this to happen, both sides will have to make principled concessions that, if made, will have combined counterproductive political effects. Bibliographic references KCNA. Kim Yo Jong publica declaración con el tema de relaciones Corea-Japón. Disponible en: http://www.kcna.kp/es/article/q/cba25051838d476c95acd451a45ae8a8.kcmsf KBS WORLD Prensa japonesa: Kim Yo Jong busca desestabilizar alianza Seúl. Washington-Tokio. Disponible en: https://world.kbs.co.kr/service/news_view.htm?lang=s&id=In&Seq_Code=88473 Leonardo Estandarte. Corea del Norte-Japón: Kim Yo-jong plantea la hipótesis de la visita de Kishida a Pyongyang. Disponible en: https://www.agenzianova.com/es/news/Corea-del-Norte-Jap%C3%B3n-Kim-Yo-Jong-plantea-la-hip%C3%B3tesis-de-la-visita-de-Kishida-a-Pyongyang/ Kim Yo Jong dice que Corea del Norte está abierta a mejorar sus lazos con Japón. Disponible en: https://reporteasia.com/relaciones-diplomaticas/2024/02/15/kim-yo-jong-corea-del-norte-mejorar-lazos-japon/ Japón califica de inaceptable que Corea del Norte afirme que la cuestión de los secuestros está resuelta- Disponible en: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/es/news/20240216_15/ Jesse Johnson. North Korea-Japan summit push gains steam after remarks by Kim´s sister. Disponible en: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/02/16/japan/politics/japan-north-korea-summit-push/ Mitch Shin. Will Kim Jong Un Meet with Japan´s Prime Minister Kishida? Disponible en: https://thediplomat.com/2024/02/will-kim-jong-un-meet-with-japans-prime-minister-kishida/

Diplomacy
China and Taiwan's flag

Is Taiwan a De Facto Sovereign Nation or a Province of the PRC?

by Jeremy E. Powell

It is a running gag among the pro-Taiwan camp that if you were to ask ordinary folks about Taiwan five years earlier, most could not locate Taiwan on a map. At the time, matters relating to China were mainly debates about Donald Trump’s protectionist stance, as relations between Taiwan and China didn’t receive the attention many would warrant in the face of a potential war. However, ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus—now probably having originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology—and the narrative of a grand alliance between Beijing and Moscow during the war in Ukraine, comparisons have been drawn between the fate of Taiwan and Ukraine. Even though CNN became confused between Taiwan and Thailand a year ago, any mention of Taiwan now will ring the alarm about how the United States can be deprived of semiconductors should it not respond to an imminent threat posed by China. As we move toward 2027, people have been arguing that the US should cease intervening elsewhere to concentrate its ability on defending Taiwan—in other words, Taiwan is the only case worthy of intervention. Unlike Ukraine, the case of Taiwan is more black-and-white as Taiwan stands as a victim of Chinese coercion. Whether on a purely strategic or moral argument, there is a lot of sympathy for Taiwan, regardless of political orientation. Nevertheless, war is still war, and in such a scenario, a confrontation between two superpowers is to be avoided at all costs. Even with nuclear weapons factored out, a clean victory for the US and Taiwan is unlikely due to logistical problems, encirclement, and the high cost of lives. In an interview on Tom Wood’s podcast, Joseph Solis-Mullen argued that the only possible way out is to abide according to the principles of the One China Policy—to lead Taiwan into reunification with China under the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Again, we should oppose a war with China, as it would only deliver catastrophe for the US, China, Taiwan, and likely the other countries surrounding Taiwan regardless of the outcome—though Solis-Mullen did acknowledge that should Taiwan fall under the control of the PRC, human rights in Taiwan will take a sharp turn for the worse. Even though the recent elections haven’t decisively favored the pro–Taiwan independence and anti-PRC Democratic Progressive Party, virtually no Taiwanese identifies himself as Chinese. Even the Kuomintang—the only large party that supports a One China Policy—argues that while Taiwan belongs to China, China is the Republic of China (ROC), not the PRC, and the Kuomintang has recently distanced itself from former president Ma Ying-jeou over comments that reunification is acceptable for Taiwan. After all, by the principle of self-determination and voluntary association (as close as it may get), Taiwan is effectively a country in all but on paper. As far as adherence to the principle of armed neutrality goes, Taiwan shouldn’t receive US arms shipments or a security guarantee (which it has under the Taiwan Relations Act). However, the constraint is that China forces countries that want to establish diplomatic ties with China to adhere to its version of the One China Principle, which stipulates that the legitimate government of China is the PRC. Taiwan, however, can’t move away from the One China Principle but can argue that the ROC is the legitimate government of China. However, the reality is different off-paper where Taiwan is a country. China can coerce countries into either choosing the PRC or the ROC, but it can’t afford to fully coerce everyone. While there’s a strategic side to US-Taiwan relations—given Taiwan’s position in the first island chain—the commercial side is undeniable, thanks to the dominance of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in the semiconductor industry. In other words, there’s a reason why the so-called Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (or Taipei Representative Offices) are there as de facto Taiwanese embassies. While there is a strong element of strategy at play, the US need not abolish all ties with Taipei, just arms sales and defense guarantees as neither China nor the US is willing to risk trade relations to a level too deep. While this may trigger alarm bells for people who support Taiwan, chances are that Japan, Australia, and even some Southeast Asian countries would prefer Taiwan to remain as it is. For many of these countries, a takeover of Taiwan means a step further for China to infringe upon their territories and disrupt trade routes. While it didn’t announce whether it would directly intervene, Japan has labeled Taiwan as a matter of national security and has been bolstering its own defense over the fears that the US might not help Japan. With a military persistently known for corruption and now a diplomatic emphasis on softening tensions, Beijing sees war as undesirable as well. As stated before, the world is not as remarkably united and can be separated into three blocs as it was during the Cold War. “Allies” of the US would prefer to delegate their responsibility to defend themselves to the US, even if they can do the job themselves and keep a check on one another. As for how we should see Taiwan, it’s a country that in some cases might be more libertarian than the US (except for conscription). Whether people want to debate the similarities or differences between “acknowledging” and “affirming” the One China Principle, it doesn’t erase the fact that Taiwan for all intents and purposes is a sovereign country.

Diplomacy
President of South Korea Yoon suk yeol with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

President Yoon is lauded in West for embracing Japan − in South Korea it fits a conservative agenda that is proving less popular

by Myunghee Lee

When South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol broke out into an impromptu performance of the song “American Pie” at a gala White House dinner in 2023, it was more than just a musical interlude. It was symbolic of how on the big Indo-Pacific issues of the day, Washington and Seoul are singing from the same songbook. But so, too, is Japan. And for South Korea’s karaoke-loving leader, that means humming a different tune to predecessors on the international stage – and risking hitting a sour note back at home. Yoon, who took office in May 2022, has embraced closer ties with Japan, South Korea’s former colonizer, as part of an alignment with U.S.-led security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. It entails a more demanding stance toward North Korea’s denuclearization and a watchful eye on China and its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The approach culminated in a historic Camp David summit in 2023 aimed at solidifying relations between South Korea and Japan. Such rapprochement with Japan has won Yoon plaudits in the U.S. But it has done nothing to improve his popularity back home. In South Korea there is growing disapproval of Yoon’s leadership. Critics point to an illiberal streak in his rhetoric and policies, which has included attacks on his critics and the media. It has, they contend, contributed to a worrying trend of democratic erosion in Korea. Yoon’s poll ratings are sinking at a time when his conservative party seeks control of parliament in elections slated for April 10, 2024. As scholars who study democratization and authoritarian politics and modern Korea, we are watching as these concerns grow in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. That vote will prove a test of the popular support for Yoon, his domestic agenda and his vision for South Korea’s more outward-looking international role. Japan is ‘now our partner’ Yoon struck a raw nerve in an Aug. 15, 2023, speech celebrating National Liberation Day in Korea, in which he affirmed the country’s partnership with neighboring Japan. He said the country’s former colonial occupier is “now our partner, sharing universal values and pursuing common interests,” and emphasized that “as security and economic partners, Korea and Japan will cooperate with a forward-looking approach, contributing to global peace and prosperity.” His remarks were met with public outrage, especially given their timing: National Liberation Day commemorates Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. The Japanese occupation was brutal, simultaneously exploiting Korean women – as evident in the use of so-called “comfort women,” or military sexual slaves – and treating Koreans generally as second-class citizens, all the while pushing obligatory assimilation into Japanese civilization on the occupied population. Attempts by the Japanese colonial regime at erasing a separate Korean identity and culture – this included banning the teaching of the Korean language and coercing Koreans to adopt Japanese names, along with the violent suppression of independence movements – left deep scars on the collective Korean psyche. For many Koreans, watching their country join Japan in a trilateral partnership with the U.S. is too much to accept. Emergence of pro-Japan voices Yoon and his conservative administration’s foreign policy goals are based not on nationalism but on what has been described as “a value-based alliance” with Washington. This stance is at odds with the nationalist focus often seen in the right-wing politics of other countries. Indeed, in South Korea it is the political left that increasingly identifies with a form of nationalism. Meanwhile, the “New Right” in South Korea has correspondingly embraced an anti-nationalist stance, specifically attacking anti-Japanese sentiment. Since the early 2000s, Korean conservatives have increasingly distanced themselves from nationalism, particularly of the anti-Japanese variety. If, as theorists such as Ernest Gellner have argued, modern nationalism is based on the presumed unity of state and nation, political developments in Korea since 1980 have destabilized this relationship. After the bloodshed of the Gwangju Massacre in 1980, during which the state killed hundreds of its own citizens, leftist nationalists argued that the South Korean state was neither the representative or defender of the Korean nation. Rather, they saw the South Korean state’s inheritance of institutions and personnel from the Japanese colonial government, alongside the hegemonic presence of the United States in Korea – characterized as “neocolonial” by some – as diluting the state’s nationalist credentials. In contrast, conservatives defended the South Korean authoritarian state’s legitimacy and its legacies. They argued that authoritarian rule was responsible for the rapid economic growth that allowed South Koreans to live in prosperity. As part of their defense of Korea’s legacy and attack on a political left increasingly identified with nationalism, conservatives embraced an anti-nationalist stance, specifically attacking anti-Japanese rhetoric. This has involved downplaying the negative effects of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea between 1910 and 1945 and even rejecting the validity of Korean comfort women testimonies. One additional motivation for conservatives has been to justify the achievements of right-wing heroes such as former dictator Park Chung Hee. Park, who has been credited with jump-starting Korea’s economic growth, has been castigated by nationalists as a pro-Japanese collaborator due to his having been trained in the Manchurian and Japanese military academies during the 1940s. Starting around the turn of the century, there has been a gradual increase in the frequency and intensity of pro-Japan voices. Far-right organizations, such as the Republic of Korea Mom’s Brigade, have since the 2010s organized rallies in defense of Japanese colonialism. More recently, far-right groups have systematically disrupted so-called Wednesday Demonstrations – a protest that has been continually held for over 30 years in front of the Japanese embassy in Korea to demand that Japan address the comfort women issue. In a 2019 bestselling book, conservatives even attacked anti-Japanese nationalism as a form of “tribalism” on the left. It is in this context of the growing prominence of pro-Japan voices that Yoon, in a 2023 interview with The Washington Post, expressed that he “could not accept the notion that Japan must kneel because of what happened 100 years ago. Attacks on critics and fake news Yoon embodies this reorientation of Korean conservative ideology and foreign policy that rejects nationalism in favor of closer relations with Japan, especially in the context of alignment with the U.S. against the threat of North Korea and China. The approach has seen Yoon embraced by American policymakers. Yet his popularity at home has fallen from an approval rating of above 50% in mid-2022 to 29% at the beginning of February 2024, although it has since picked up a little. At first glance, his foreign policy seems to support liberal and democratic values. However, in domestic matters there has been growing concern that his rhetoric and policies reflect an illiberal character. Examples include labeling his opponents as “communists” and attacks on the media and “fake news.” This is perhaps unsurprising; the nature of Korean conservatism is deeply rooted in authoritarianism. The Biden administration is keen to present Yoon differently – as an ally, along with Japan, in the protection of Asia’s democracies. But this says more about a U.S. foreign policy that centers China as a threat than it does Yoon’s actual commitment to democratic freedoms. To a South Korea audience, however, Yoon’s position on Japan only adds to general concern over his illiberal tendencies ahead of April’s vote – the first general parliamentary elections during Yoon’s tenure. Editor’s note: The article was updated on March 7, 2024 to clarify Park Chung Hee’s World War II record.

Defense & Security
Online crime scene with a finger print left on backlit keyboard with North Korea flag on it

Cyber actors: North Korea

by Lukas Joselewitsch

How cyber operations support the state system. ' North Korean units are primarily concentrating on political and economic espionage and the procurement of foreign currency. Disruptive attacks are currently rather unlikely. ' The funds generated are primarily used for the political and economic stabilization of the state and the expansion of nuclear and conventional military capabilities. ' To date, around three to six billion US dollars (excluding unreported cases) have been gained through the use of cyber resources. ' The activities can be countered by detecting and publicizing North Korean procedures as well as reconnaissance of potential target institutions. ' North Korean units act opportunistically and flexibly. It is to be expected that the attacks will continue despite countermeasures. At present, there is no significant threat to Germany. In recent years, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has increasingly instrumentalized cyber and information space to implement its state policy agenda, exploiting the entire spectrum of possible operational targets: Sabotage and disruption, signaling, political espionage, economic espionage, foreign currency procurement and propaganda. According to Kim Jong-un, cyberattacks function alongside nuclear weapons as an "all-purpose sword" to achieve the regime's goals. Goals and Impact DPRK units have repeatedly launched disruptive attacks to sabotage and disrupt enemy systems in order to force political concessions from South Korea and the US or as an instrument of political signaling: so far unsuccessful. Notable examples in this context were various operations against IT systems in South Korea, such as Operation Dark Seoul1 and Ten Days of Rain, which led to widespread disruption in the country. No comparable activities were observed after 2014; it can be assumed that offensive cyber activities had little impact as a means of coercive diplomacy. It can therefore be assumed that any operations outside of a military scenario will not be carried out by the DPRK for the time being. So far, political espionage has primarily been directed against South Korean civilian and public institutions as well as international organizations and foreign individuals. The aim of the operations is to obtain strategically and security policy-relevant information. In recent years, for example, there has been an attack against eleven UN Security Council members in order to obtain information on sanctions resolutions.2 International think tanks and journalists have also been compromised in order to obtain information on foreign assessments of the DPRK's situation.3 The aforementioned activities continue and are flexibly adapted to the regime's political interests. It cannot be assumed that North Korea will refrain from political espionage. With regard to economically motivated espionage activities, the DPRK carries out operations to generate information on economically relevant sectors. In the past, the main target was international defense companies with the aim of gaining technical information for the development of modern weapons systems, including nuclear weapons.4 However, during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022, the state also attacked vaccine manufacturers abroad to enable the DPRK's self-sufficient vaccine production. Economic espionage is similar to political espionage in its calculations and is geared towards the strategic goals of the state leadership. It is to be expected that the DPRK will carry out more attacks against satellite technology companies in the future in order to underpin recent efforts to produce space-based weapons and reconnaissance systems. Financially motivated attacks to obtain foreign currency have been observed since around 2011. Initially, the actors' approach was primarily aimed at low-threshold targets such as gaming platforms. From 2015, however, there was an increase in the quality and quantity of activities. The DPRK attracted international attention with complex attack campaigns against financial institutions: Compromising the international SWIFT payment system and attacking the ATM payout mechanism, as well as the WannaCry global ransomware campaign.5 The attacks against the financial sector generated approximately two billion US dollars, and the ransomware activities led to the encryption of 230,000 systems in 150 countries. In response to the operations, the DPRK's approach was exposed by internationally cooperating cyber security institutions and appropriate protection mechanisms were provided. As a result, the lucrativeness of the attacks was significantly reduced and the DPRK had to realign its strategy. Since then, attackers have increasingly focused on non-governmental cryptocurrency platforms, which are still proving to be a profitable and preferred target. These platforms often have low security standards and attract less public attention than a bank if they are compromised. As part of the operations, the DPRK hackers gain access to digital bank accounts and transfer the cryptocurrency to a North Korean wallet. The currency is then laundered through various mechanisms and converted into fiat currency. Since 2015, the DPRK has been able to generate an estimated three to six billion US dollars in this way. However, it can be assumed that the number of unreported cases is much higher. In 2020, 1.7 billion US dollars are said to have been gained through malicious attacks. Apart from the use of the WannaCry malware,6 no financially motivated attacks against German targets are known. Motives The DPRK does not have an official cyber doctrine that provides insight into the strategic calculations of the state leadership. However, the regime's motives can be deduced from the political situation of the state, the specifics of cyberspace and the official state goals. Pyongyang sees itself as immanently threatened by the US military presence and alliance with South Korea. This is a key driver for the execution of disruptive attacks. In the event of a military conflict, cyber means can be used as an instrument of asymmetric warfare. In peacetime, cyberspace is used by the regime to carry out attacks against other states without risking escalation with conventional weapons systems. This strategy of "a thousand pinpricks" serves to demonstrate power, generate urgently needed financial resources and legitimize the state leadership in both domestic and foreign policy terms. Due to economic insufficiency, international sanctions and a high demand for imported goods, the North Korean state is dependent on foreign currency to maintain its internal economy, finance luxury goods for the elite and further expand its nuclear and conventional armaments capabilities. The regime has been using clandestine and illegal methods to obtain foreign currency since 1970. In this context, cyberattacks now appear to be the most lucrative instrument for counteracting the economic deficit. On the one hand, this can be attributed to the decline in conventional methods. For example, counterfeit money production, smuggling and modern slavery of North Korean citizens abroad have been intensively combated by the international community.7 In addition, a correlation can be seen between the increased investment in the nuclear weapons program and the rising quantity and quality of cyber operations. Procurement tactics in cyberspace are difficult to prevent due to the opacity and immateriality of the domain. Actors can operate undetected and largely unpunished as well as plausibly deny accusations. Furthermore, the cost-benefit ratio is in the attackers' favor. Active countermeasures (such as hackbacks) against the DPRK are largely ineffective, as North Korea offers hardly any attack surface due to its low level of digitalization. It is suspected that the USA has occasionally disrupted North Korea's attack infrastructure, but without any discernible success. To gain a theoretical insight into the state's motivation, the Songun Doctrine (military first), which has determined the regime's political actions since 2009, is essential. The doctrine prioritizes the nation's readiness to defend itself in the face of perceived threats. State resources are primarily invested in the DPRK's defense apparatus, with the nuclear weapons program at its core. The basic idea behind the Songun Doctrine is the interaction between a strong military and economic prosperity. According to the doctrine, a strong arms industry should generate sufficient financial resources through exports of military equipment and at the same time guarantee the territorial integrity of the state. The country's elites, which also include the cyber units, are officially primarily active in the defense sector. It is therefore in line with the doctrine that the majority of investments and industrial espionage operations serve to promote the military. Organization The organization of the North Korean cyber groups cannot be clearly determined due to various contradictory statements. However, it is known that the cyber units are subordinate to the Korean People's Army, whose commander-in-chief is the "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un. The majority of the known actors are said to be based in Bureau 121 of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance (RGB) military intelligence service. The units assigned here include the Lazarus Group, Bluenorrof and Kimsuky.8 It is also possible that parts of the cyber apparatus are subordinate to the Ministry of State Security. Of central importance alongside the RGB is Bureau 39, which is said to be responsible for the conventional generation of financial resources. Due to the common objectives of the organizations, it can be assumed that there is operational cooperation. Recently, a change in the organization and responsibilities of the actors has been observed. While in the past the groupings operated independently of each other, a merging of the units has been evident since 2022. There has been an exchange of responsibilities and instruments between the players, which suggests a changed (division of labor), more efficient and resource-saving cooperation. The training and further education of the units takes place both at universities in the DPRK and in China.9 A key feature of the North Korean cyber organization is the strategic deployment of units disguised as IT specialists abroad. The actors operate from their respective locations, which makes attribution more difficult and reduces state costs. Outlook The North Korean regime will continue to pursue operations in cyberspace in order to achieve state objectives and will probably do so even more in the future. Financially motivated operations and espionage in particular are now an essential instrument of state policy. The fundamental motives are also anchored in the DPRK's doctrinal system. The country's missile and nuclear program requires high levels of investment and technical information. At the same time, the state is increasingly under pressure due to its economic problems. It is therefore difficult to predict how the regime's volatile and impulsive policies will develop in the future. If attacks on digital accounts, crypto marketplaces or digital financial flows continue to prove lucrative, it cannot be assumed that Pyongyang will abandon the procurement of foreign currency through targeted cyber operations. Cooperation between DPRK units and political allies such as Russia, China or Iran has not been observed at times. Inter-state cooperation in cyberspace requires a high degree of coordination and operational integration, which is rather unlikely given the regime's current political interests. The DPRK's activities in cyberspace have not yet posed any particular threat to the Federal Republic of Germany. However, even the slightest erosion of the current tense diplomatic relations between the DPRK, South Korea and the USA could have devastating consequences for the global security situation. In 2019, the United Nations already initiated corresponding steps such as intensified sanctions, public naming and shaming and increased transnational cooperation in order to curb the impact of the attacks and their political effects.10 It is likely that fluctuating cryptocurrency prices or increased platform security measures could counteract the attacks. The security authorities have so far concentrated on the detection and publication of North Korean TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures). This approach and the wide dissemination of attacker-related information has sometimes proven to be the most effective means of mitigating attacks. However, due to the great importance for state doctrine and finances, it can be assumed that the DPRK will adapt its methods and look for new ways. It is therefore currently important to monitor the approach, strengthen the resilience of the attack targets and prevent the procurement methods in the digital and kinetic space as best as possible with international partners. At present, DPRK actors are only of limited relevance to Germany. Few significant attacks against regional targets have been observed to date. There is currently no indication of a future operational prioritization for Germany. More about this: 1 https://cyber-peace.org/cyberpeace-cyberwar/relevante-cybervorfalle/operation-troy-darkseoul/. 2 Vgl. https://media.defense.gov/2023/Jun/01/2003234055/-1/-1/0/JOINT_CSA_DPRK_SOCIAL_ENGINEERING.PDF. 3 Vgl. https://www.zdnet.com/article/north-korea-has-tried-to-hack-11-officials-of-the-un-security-council/. 4 Ein Beispiel hierfür ist der Angriff gegen einen russischen Produzenten von ballistischen Raketen. 5 In 2017 erfolgte eine massive Ransomwarekampagne unter dem Namen WannaCry, bei der Systeme verschlüsselt und lediglich gegen eine Lösegeldsumme von 300 US-Dollar wieder entschlüsselt wurden. 6 Die sich selbst replizierende Ransomware infizierte 2017 Teile der deutschen IT und richtete merklichen Schaden an. Es ist davon auszugehen, dass die DVRK die Kontrolle über die rapide Distribution verloren hatte und die Angriffe gegen Deutschland Spill-Over-Effekte waren. 7 VN Dokumente: S/2019/691; S/2022/668; S/RES/2397. 8 Lazarus und Bluenoroff sollen für komplexe finanziell motivierte Operationen und Kimsuky für politische und wirtschaftliche Spionage zuständig sein. Zudem wurde Lazarus für unterschiedliche disruptive Angriffe verantwortlich gemacht. 9 Universitäten in China sind u. a. das „Harbin Institute of Technology“. 10 VN Dokumente: S/2019/691 S/2022/668; S/RES/2397. ISBN 978-3-98574-215-8 © 2024 The Author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.

Diplomacy
Map of South China Sea

South China Sea: interpretations of international law, a tool for political influence?

by Frédéric Lasserre , Olga V. Alexeeva

Renewed major tensions have surfaced once again in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. While the immediate concern revolves around the control of reefs and islets, the underlying issue extends to the control of maritime territories, driving the parties involved. These sovereignty disputes are not novel occurrences. Conflicts in the South China Sea (SCS) have intensified since the 1960s, leading to a competition for the occupation of islands and islets in the Paracels and Spratlys. The objective was to establish control over these islands, using them as military outposts and symbols of sovereignty. With the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the rivalry transitioned towards the assertion of states' rights over maritime zones. The narrative of the parties involved has evolved regarding the legitimacy and legal characterization of the claimed maritime territories. Malaysia (1983), Vietnam (1994), and the Philippines (2009) have contended that the Spratly Islands do not merit an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), indirectly challenging China's claims. In response, Beijing has adjusted its official discourse. Is this shift in legal rhetoric a strategic reinterpretation of maritime law aimed at refuting adversaries' arguments and utilizing legal discourse as a political tool in a broader struggle for influence? An evolution in the legal discourse of Southeast Asian states In the South China Sea (SCS), a noticeable shift in the redefinition of maritime boundaries has emerged since 2009. Previously, definitions often lacked clarity and legal grounding. In recent years, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines have sought to refine their claims, aligning them with the norms established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This strategic move sharply contrasts with the trajectory of the People's Republic of China (PRC), whose evolving stance has been criticized for increasingly diverging from international maritime law. Between 1994 and 2016, China's assertion over the Maritime Claims (MCS) primarily relied on the controversial nine-dash line [九段线], criticized for its ambiguity regarding the extent and legal basis of the claimed maritime territory. However, since 2016, following the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China's discourse has shifted towards the "Four Sha" theory [四沙], positing that large (sometimes fictional) archipelagos serve as the legal foundation for its maritime claims. This shift among the Southeast Asian players could be seen as a strategic move vis-à-vis China: by refining their claims to align more closely with the principles of the Law of the Sea, these nations might aim to underscore the inherently unlawful and objectionable nature of China's assertions. This tactic underscores an increasing disparity between Southeast Asian states, endeavoring to adjust their claims in accordance with international legal norms, and China, whose assertions are grounded in disputed interpretations of maritime law. The clash of legal discourses in the South China Sea The People's Republic of China (PRC) asserts its claim to the South China Sea (SCS) through what is commonly known as the nine-dash line (Fig. 1), a demarcation that has encompassed the majority of this maritime region since 1949. However, significant ambiguity persists regarding the precise meaning and scope of this demarcation, as China has yet to provide a clear explanation despite repeated requests from neighboring states. This lack of transparency has led to frustration among neighboring nations, prompting the Philippines to file a formal complaint with the Law of the Sea Tribunal in April 2013. The Chinese government's reluctance to clarify the exact nature and coordinates of the line has fueled suspicions regarding its true intentions. Even Indonesia, which does not have territorial claims in the South China Sea, expressed concerns about the legal uncertainty surrounding China's delineation of this maritime boundary in 2010. Before 2009, Southeast Asian countries involved in disputes over island formations or maritime zones in the South China Sea (SCS) had not clearly delineated their claims, either by providing legal justifications for their extensions or by publishing precise coordinates of the boundaries of the claimed maritime areas. However, on May 6, 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam submitted a joint proposal for the extension of their continental shelves in the southern part of the SCS, followed by Vietnam's independent submission for the central part of the SCS on May 7. By doing so, they publicly disclosed the positions of the outer limits of their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Neither state included the island formations they claim in the SCS in the definition of their EEZs or extended continental shelves. Instead, the boundaries of the 200-mile zones are determined based on each state's coastline. For instance, both Malaysia and Vietnam have excluded the Spratly Islands from the definition of their maritime zones, indicating that they consider these island formations as rocks under Article 121(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which cannot generate either EEZs or continental shelves.  Are the states of Southeast Asia pursuing a political objective by modifying their legal discourse? There has been a notable evolution in the discourse of Southeast Asian states involved in the South China Sea conflict – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and even Indonesia, which is not directly embroiled in the dispute over sovereignty in the Spratly Islands – regarding the status of these islands and their capacity to generate maritime zones. Changes in interpretation, qualifications, or legal doctrines, as well as efforts to define international norms, can potentially be seen as a mobilization of law to achieve political objectives. When questioned about the evolution of legal analyses among the protagonists in Southeast Asia, a majority of the interviewed specialists (20 out of 25) noted a clear shift in the discourse of these four countries. There is a consensus that they seek alignment with the principles of the Law of the Sea. These states are exploiting ambiguities in Article 121 for political purposes: it involves waging "legal guerrilla warfare" and "legal diplomacy" to underscore China's divergent stance and, implicitly, its disregard for the spirit of UNCLOS. Chinese Response: Reassessing Island Groups in the South China Sea? On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its ruling following the Philippines' claim filed in 2013. The Court's decision rebuffed Chinese assertions regarding historical rights and determined that none of the island formations in the Spratlys qualify as islands under Article 121, precluding them from generating an EEZ or continental shelf. China vehemently rejected this ruling, refusing to acknowledge the arbitration. However, Chinese rhetoric has shifted since 2016, indicating a willingness to adjust its arguments in light of the Court's findings. Before 2016, China asserted its sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea without specifying the status of the Paracels or Spratlys island groups. However, since 2016, China has been advancing a new line of argumentation, grouping the island formations in the South China Sea into cohesive units. Chinese sovereignty is claimed to be derived from control over four blocks of islands forming coherent entities. It appears that Chinese legal experts are attempting to introduce a novel concept, as China cannot assert itself as an archipelagic State under UNCLOS. Such status would allow continental States to draw baselines around their archipelagos, which are considered territorial units. This concept faces significant challenge from numerous Western legal experts. Hence, in the Chinese narrative, there's a departure from discussing individual island groups or the ambiguous nine-dash line, towards emphasizing four archipelagos as the fundamental units of Chinese legal discourse. This shift, while sidestepping the PCA's 2016 ruling and distancing itself from the weakened concept of "island" due to the arbitration's denial of China's EEZ rights in the Spratlys, introduces the notion of archipelagos, purportedly enabling the creation of maritime zones in official discourse. However, this stance is dubious under the Law of the Sea, as it doesn't permit continental States to exploit the establishment of archipelagos outlined by lengthy baselines. Moreover, it doesn't authorize the generation of maritime zones from archipelagic entities if the islands constituting these archipelagos cannot themselves establish an EEZ or continental shelf.    Conclusion In the South China Sea, there has been a notable shift in legal positions by both China and the Southeast Asian states. Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia are now advancing the argument that the islets fail to meet the criteria outlined in Article 121(3), thus negating the establishment of an EEZ or continental shelf. This reclassification not only impacts their own claims but, more significantly, challenges China's assertion of expansive maritime territories under international law. This strategic maneuvering appears to signify a politicized manipulation of maritime legal frameworks. Conversely, China has also undergone doctrinal evolution, transitioning from conventional maritime claims rooted in the Paracels and Spratlys islands, to the historically contentious nine-dash line, and most recently, the emergence of the "Four Shas" concept, positing four coherent archipelagos as the basis for EEZs. This progression aims to establish a novel legal foundation to defend its ambitious territorial claims. In essence, these legal transformations underscore the instrumentalization of law as a means to advance and safeguard national interests, with China advocating for a distinct interpretation of international legal norms.

Defense & Security
Group of Chinese army soldiers in uniform lining up in Tiananmen

China’s Military Buildup: the Biggest Since 1945?

by Greg Austin

The Australian government asserts that China’s military buildup is the largest of any country in post-war history. Their threat perception is overblown. The Australian government claims that China has made the biggest military buildup of any country since 1945. The statement is contained in the 2023 Strategic Review: “China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” The claim has been repeated in several media interviews by the Defence Minister Richard Marles in Australia and overseas. Such claims are hard to pin down since analysing them throws up different possible methods for assessing a buildup, let alone its ambition. Nevertheless, on the basis of a normal interpretation of “biggest military buildup” since 1945, the dubious honour falls to the USSR in the 23-year period from 1962 (the Cuban missile crisis) to 1985 when it was engaged in global confrontation with the United States and military confrontation with China on their mutual border. If we compare the surge we saw in the USSR in that 23-year period with the surge in China’s buildup in a similar time span, between 2000-2023, the conclusion is stark. China’s build up is not only smaller in terms of comparative growth rates in key categories of military capability (nuclear warheads, intercontinental missiles, submarines, and principal surface combatants), but the end point in numbers arrived by China at the end of its 23-year buildup are far smaller than those achieved by the USSR in 1985. For example, the USSR had 40,000 nuclear warheads in 1985 and China in 2023 has only 500. The USSR in 1985 had ten times the number of intercontinental and sea-launched nuclear ballistic missiles as China does today. China is currently engaged in a modernisation and likely expansion of its forces in coming years, but the comparison over 23 years between China (2002-2025) and the Soviet period (1962-1985) would not change significantly. For the time being, however, the claim by the Australian government would not appear to be borne out by the facts. There is another contender to join the ranks ahead of China in the record for the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that is the United States in the 23 years from 1949 to 1972. This period began just after the start of the Cold War in 1948, the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and the victory of Communist Forces in the Chinese Civil War in the same year. In that period, the US fought two major local wars: in Korea and in Vietnam. The end point of this period is marked by détente between the US and both the USSR and China, and the US-Soviet strategic arms limitation agreements. Table 1 below offers a comparison of numbers for selected categories of military platforms and for nuclear warheads at the end point of the three different buildups over the selected 23-year periods. The data shows that China cannot claim to have the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that it sits well behind the USSR and the US in that effort. Table 1: Platform numbers at the end-point of the buildup US 1972, USSR 1985, CHINA 2023. Source*     US 1972 USSR 1985 PRC 2023 ICBM 1,000 1,396 350 SLBM  656 983 72 N-Warheads  26,516 ~40,000 ~500 Strategic Submarines (SSB or SSBN)  41 70 6 Attack Submarines (SSK and SSN)  94 206 53 Aircraft Carriers  17 3 2 Principal Surface Combatants  242 280 97 Bomber ACFT  455 847 500 Tactical Combat ACFT  7,560 6,300 2,394 Tanks  9,434 52,600 4,200 Artillery  6,318 39,000 7,600   The government’s intent in using the phrase “biggest military buildup” in connection with China is to imply it is the biggest military or strategic threat that Australia and its allies have faced since 1945. This implication is reinforced by the equally questionable claim by the prime minister and many officials over several years that Australia faces its most challenging strategic environment since 1945. This proposition is as easily contradicted by the facts as the claim about biggest military buildup, as analysed in my critique in the journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, under the title, “Australia’s Drums of War” published in 2021. China poses clear threats to Australian strategic and military interests, but the pace and scale of its military buildup have only been modest compared with the two historical examples cited. The categories selected for Table 1 relate primarily to China’s capability to project power well beyond its coastal areas and beyond Taiwan. That set of categories used is one often seen in comparisons of national military capabilities in the broad. In contrast, there are categories of platforms where the buildup has been more rapid and consequential, such as in dual-use (conventional or nuclear) intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and smaller ships (corvettes) and patrol craft. Yet these capabilities relate almost entirely to coastal areas or near sea areas, especially for localised contingencies involving Taiwan and/or Japan. The rapid expansion of these lighter and smaller maritime forces and the large number of IRBMs for localised contingencies is what Australia and its allies need to address. In particular, the expansion of the number of smaller patrol craft would be a particularly powerful enabler for unconventional scenarios of strategic pressure by China on Taiwan. It is doubtful that the exaggeration of China’s general military buildup is helpful in achieving that focus. China has good options for irregular operations and subversion against Taiwan that it will almost certainly take before risking a major military confrontation with the US and its allies. *Data is not fully consistent in different sources. For China, the data in Table 1 is based on the US Dept of Defence, “Military and Security Developments in the People’s Republic of China,” October, 2023. Data for the USSR is based on Department of Defense, “Soviet Military Power 1986,” 1986. Data for the US is based on several official US documents. These include ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Military Policy 1969-72,” 2013; Naval History and Heritage Command, “US Ship Force Levels 1886-Present,” undated; US Dept of State, “Transparency in the US Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” undated; and Congressional Research Service, “US/Soviet Military Balance Statistical Trends’ 1970-1980,” October 1981. The author has also consulted IISS, “The Military Balance 1973,” 1973. Note that the census date for these various sources is not always clear but the author has assumed them to refer to platform holdings during the year indicated in Table 1 even if the publication date is the year following.