North Korea’s New Cruise Missile: Built to Threaten or Because of Threats?

September 14, 2021 (Brian Berletic - NEO) - North Korea’s recent demonstration of an indigenously developed cruise missile has provided another opportunity for the United States to perform its own demonstration, one of its inexhaustible hypocrisy upon the global stage. It is also another opportunity to examine the real reason the US continues to maintain nearly 30,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula.

The US State Department’s Voice of America in an article titled, “N. Korea Tests Long Range Cruise Missile Designed to Evade Defenses,” would report:

North Korea has conducted its first missile test in about six months. The long-range cruise missile being tested could give Pyongyang another way to evade its neighbors’ missile defenses, say analysts.

The “newly-developed long-range cruise missiles” flew 1,500 kilometers over North Korean territory before successfully hitting their targets, North Korean state media reported Monday.

The article would also note Washington’s reaction, claiming:

In a statement, the US military said it was aware of the reported launches and is monitoring and consulting closely with its allies and partners.

“This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community,” the statement read.

North Korea has not fought a war since hostilities ended during the Korean War. The United States, on the other hand, has since waged multiple wars of aggression including the highly destructive Vietnam War ravaging all of Indochina, and in the 21st Century, the illegal invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the US-led military campaign against Libya, and multiple proxy wars the US has waged through its allies including the destructive, still ongoing conflict in Yemen all but fought by America itself through its Saudi allies.

Considering America’s track record, North Korea having 30,000 US troops sitting on its border with South Korea is clearly justification enough to pursue a wide scale defense program aimed at preventing Pyongyang from joining the long and always growing list of victims of US military aggression.

East vs. West: Two Approaches to Dealing with Extremism

 September 11, 2021 (Brian Berletic - NEO) - The New York Times in its September 3, 2021 article, “New Zealand Police Kill ‘Extremist’ Who Stabbed 6 in ISIS-Inspired Attack,” would report that a Sri Lankan national injured 6 people before being shot to death by police.

 The article revealed that the suspect arrived in New Zealand in 2011 and has been “known to security forces since 2016.” The article added that New Zealand security agencies had the suspect under constant monitoring. Other articles revealed that his prompt death at the hands of police 60 seconds after his stabbing spree began was the result of a “surveillance team” being on hand at the time of the attack.

The New York Times itself would report:

Surveillance teams were as close as they could possibly be at the time of the stabbings, said Andrew Coster, New Zealand’s police commissioner.

“The reality is that when you are surveilling someone on a 24/7 basis, it is not possible to be immediately next to them at all times,” Commissioner Coster said. “The staff intervened as quickly as they could, and they prevented further injury in what was a terrifying situation.”

Ms. Ardern added, “We used every element and lever in the law that was available.”

No explanation was given as to why an individual deemed so dangerous that they were assigned an armed surveillance team to watch over them 24/7 was allowed to roam freely in public for years, exposing an unwitting population to the inevitability of extreme and potentially deadly violence.

The senseless violence was only further compounded by a senseless policy of allowing known extremists to roam freely in public – unbeknownst to the public itself – serving as a living, ticking time bomb.

The tragedy in New Zealand is made worse still when considering the US and its allies have created the conditions for the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) to rise, with the US government itself identifying its own allies as chief state-sponsors of ISIS (banned in Russia) – and with evidence emerging (including a leaked 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency memo) that the US itself sought to use the terrorist organization in Washington’s proxy war on the Syrian government to create a “Salfist principality” in eastern Syria.

US-Singapore Relations: Being of Use vs. Being Used

September 8, 2021 (Brian Berletic - NEO) - The tiny Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore serves as a sort of bellwether for a multitude of trends from economics to geopolitics. The Singaporean government is able to quickly and flexibly adapt to changing trends, more so than anywhere else, because of its small size – an advantage that Singapore enjoys and which compensates for its many disadvantages as a small city-state of only 5.7 million people.

The most recent example of Singapore’s role as an economic and geopolitical bellwether was during US Vice President Kamala Harris’ tour of several Southeast Asian nations including Singapore. The visit itself, as well as how Western and Chinese media covered it, speaks volumes to the changes we are seeing in the Indo-Pacific region and how well or poorly America’s strategy of encircling and containing China is going.

Let’s first look at how the Western media covered Vice President Harris’ visit to Singapore.

AP in its article, “Harris meets with Singapore officials to begin Asia visit,” would begin by claiming:

The White House on Monday announced a series of new agreements with Singapore aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues. The announcements coincide with Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the region, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter Chinese influence there.

The article spends several paragraphs describing otherwise ambiguous “partnerships” and “agreements” discussed, made, or deepened during the visit and then doubled down on emphasizing “countering China,” saying:

Harris’ Southeast Asian trip, which brings Harris to Singapore and then later to Vietnam this week, is aimed at broadening cooperation with both nations to offer a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region.

The article notes that Singapore hosts a US naval presence but that it also seeks to maintain strong ties with China. This is not surprising as over 70% of Singapore’s population is Chinese and Chinese citizens have been coming to Singapore for years to study and work and more importantly, learn from Singapore’s technocratic and meritocratic style of governance.

US vs. China: Where does Vietnam Stand?

September 4, 2021 (Brian Berletic - NEO) - As tensions continue to mount between Washington and Beijing, examples continue to abound comparing and contrasting the approaches used by both global powers regarding foreign policy.

Another recent example on stark display is the US and China’s respective approaches to Vietnam – a nation both countries have had rocky and even hostile relations with in the past. Both nations waged armed conflict on Vietnam last century. The nearly 20 year-long US war with Vietnam was decidedly much more catastrophic than the month-long failed invasion launched by China.

The US only normalized its relations with Vietnam in 1997, China having done so a few years earlier in 1991.

Since then Vietnam’s main benefits from both nations have been economic.

Follow the Money, Follow the Trade 

In 1997, according to Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, Japan stood as Vietnam’s largest export market accounting for 24.22% of all exports from Vietnam, with the US and China accounting for 4.15% and 4.48% respectively (Hong Kong accounting for an additional 3.23% in China’s favor).

Also in 1997, 9.5% of Vietnam’s imports came from China versus 2.45% from the United States. In 2019, the numbers told a very different story. China is now Vietnam’s largest export market standing at 21.45% versus the United States at 19.26%. China is also Vietnam’s largest source of imports at 36.36% versus the US at 4.07%.

Between 1997 and 2019 Europe has slipped from Vietnam’s second largest regional export market to third, behind Asia and North America (primarily the US).

Trade with China is vastly important to Vietnam’s economy. Access to additional markets is also a priority for Vietnam. Considering this very important fact, what is it that Beijing and Washington bring to the table to address this primary concern and how will this play out in the near and long-term regarding current US-China tensions?

What Did Kamala Harris Bring to the Table During Her Recent Visit to Vietnam?

AP News in its August 2021 article, “Harris urges Vietnam to join US in opposing China ‘bullying,’” lays out the bleak proposition offered to Hanoi by Washington – to join the US in a growing conflict against Vietnam’s largest trading partner.

The article notes:

“We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” she said in remarks at the opening of a meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Obviously, by joining the US in “pressuring” China regarding the South China Sea, Vietnam would endanger its diplomatic and economic ties with China. It could also potentially trigger a security crisis with China – a nation it shares a 1,297 km long border with.

It should be noted that despite Washington’s oversimplification and exaggeration of the South China Sea situation, the reality is much more complicated and much less a threat to regional or global stability. Disputes are between not only Southeast Asian nations and China, but also among Southeast Asian states themselves.

For example Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia all have overlapping claims within the South China Sea with each other in addition to with China, resulting in minor incidents that are often resolved quickly and bilaterally. The US has deliberately injected itself into these disputes in an attempt to transform them into a regional or even international crisis it can leverage against China.

In essence, the US is trying to recruit Vietnam into an imaginary and absolutely needless conflict that would ensnare Hanoi in a security alliance with the US at the expense of constructive ties with China. It would also risk destabilizing the region in which Vietnam resides – endangering political and economic stability required for its peace and prosperity.

Mekong-US Partnership: Promoting Poverty, Driving Sinophobic Hostility

September 2, 2021 (Joseph Thomas - NEO) - It’s no secret that the US is engaged in heated competition with China and openly aspires to “contain” China’s rise as a global power and its otherwise inevitable surpassing of US primacy.

It should by now also be no secret that in order to do this, Washington has attempted to recruit China’s neighbours into various united fronts regarding everything from disputes in the South China Sea to baseless allegations of “human rights abuses” by China in its western Xinjiang region.

Perhaps less understood, however, is Washington’s ongoing focus on the Mekong River and Chinese dams upstream.

It must seem strange to onlookers that Washington is so concerned about water management in Southeast Asia thousands of kilometers from its own shores while Americans back home go without safe drinking water.

But if we understand Washington is not concerned at all about the Mekong River and the people living along it, and is instead using it as yet another leverage point in what is ultimately its power struggle with China over the Indo-Pacific, this conundrum is easily unraveled.

Mekong-US Partnership: Maintaining Poverty, Building Hostility

According to the US State Department’s own official website in a “fact sheet” titled, “The Mekong-US Partnership and the Friends of the Mekong: Proven Partners for the Mekong Region,” the Mekong-US Partnership (MUSP) is described as:

The countries of the Mekong sub-region and the United States reaffirmed their long-standing relationship at the second Mekong-US  Partnership (MUSP) ministerial on August 2, 2021. Through the MUSP, the US government, working with Congress, continues to support the autonomy, economic independence, good governance, and sustainable growth of Mekong partner countries.

“Autonomy, economic independence, good governance and sustainable growth” is thinly veiled code for “blocking out Chinese influence, blocking economic cooperation with China, building up Western-friendly political opposition groups and blocking infrastructure development in favor of continued subsistence fishing and farming.”

The so-called MUSP describes its investments in the region over a period of now over 10 years, claiming:

The Mekong-US Partnership includes 14 US government agencies and departments with over 50 programs to strengthen cooperation to address shared interests and common challenges.  From fiscal year 2009 to 2021, the US government provided over $4.3 billion in bilateral and regional grant assistance to the five Mekong partner countries, including nearly $4.0 billion from the State Department and USAID.

There is, however, nothing tangible to show for this investment. In reality, this money, like the money the US “invested” into Afghanistan over a period of nearly twice as long, has been spent to build up US-backed opposition groups and organisations posing as “nongovernmental organisations” (NGOs) and to hook impoverished local communities along the Mekong River on US handouts and programmes.

The “flagship programs” of the MUSP are not infrastructure projects granting the people economic opportunities, ease of travel, electricity or other absolute necessities required for modern civilisation, but instead programs like “USAID Mekong Safeguards.”