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    Arms and diplomacy along the ring of fire

    I haven’t seen this on Reuters or CNN yet, but maybe I just haven’t wandered into it. The Japanese Yomiuri says the following:

    General Leon LaPorte, the commander of US forces stationed in South Korea, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 8 March, reporting that the DPRK’s air force pilots get no more than 12 to 15 hours of flight training per year and that its army is in such straits that it uses only one-third to one-half of the combat vehicles and tanks it possesses. Additionally, he indicated that, in his opinion, that North Korea’s conventional military capability has weakened remarkably has motivated it to develop WMDs such as nuclear, biological, and chemical arms.

    None of this is shocking news. It was widely rumored during the worst of the North Korean famine in the late 90s that things had gotten so bad that soldiers’ food rations were being cut–unthinkable in a country that had so burdened its armed forces with maintaining national glory. I hadn’t heard those actual numbers for flight training, though. Also, you usually don’t, for some reason, see that last connection so baldly stated: making nuclear and bio-chem weapons takes technology, some gifted scientists, and manufacturing capability, but it has to be cheaper than the daily investment in keeping a million soldiers fed, equipped, and trained, decade upon decade, when you have lousy agricultural and distribution systems.

    In other news, did everyone see that press conference given by the PRC Foreign Minister over the weekend? Atsushi was here for my birthday, so we had a great time chortling over what China’s devotion to “peaceful solutions” for problems involving Taiwan, the DPRK, and its own military could mean in concrete terms. I considered the whole thing a present from the CCP.

    Okay, in all seriousness, sandblast away some of the diplomo-speak, and you got some actual interesting content. The growing feeling that Taiwan is becoming a closer partner with the US and Japan in Asia was addressed:

    In my view, the military alliance between the US and Japan is a bilateral arrangement that occurred under special circumstances during the Cold War. Therefore it ought to be strictly restricted to a bilateral nature. If it goes beyond the bilateral scope, definitely it will arouse uneasiness of the rest of Asian countries and also bring about complicating factors to the regional security situation. Taiwan is a part of China and the Taiwan question is an internal affair of China. Any practice of putting Taiwan directly or indirectly into the scope of Japan-US security cooperation constitutes an encroachment on China’s sovereignty and interference in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese government and people are firmly against such activities.

    Not a surprising sentiment. On the China-Japan-DPRK love triangle, specifically in response to a question from Tokyo Broadcasting System about the current cessation of diplomatic visitors between the Chinese and Japanese heads of state:

    It is imperative for the two countries and for the peoples of China and Japan to carry forward their friendship from generation to generation. In the past couple of years, the leaders of China and Japan have met for several times on multilateral occasions, where they had very good discussions. We hope China and Japan can proceed from the fundamental interests of the two peoples and work to create proper conditions and atmosphere for the high-level exchange of visits between the two countries in the spirit of taking history as a mirror and looking to the future.

    With regard to whether the DPRK has already possessed nuclear weapons or whether it has uranium enrichment program, I believe maybe you know more than I do. [If I recall correctly, this was a laugh line at the press conference. Or maybe just Li laughed.–SRK]

    Let me tell you that after receiving the relevant verbal message from President Hu Jintao, the DPRK supreme leader indicated that the DPRK side still pursues the objective of a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and remains ready and willing to continue to participate in the six-party talks and that the DPRK side hopes to see more sincerity to be displayed by the relevant parties.

    No mention of the Yasukuni Shrine issue, even obliquely, which is odd. Assurance that the DPRK is sincerely seeking peace and stability in the region, which is not odd.

    There’s a lot more–the al Jazeera reporter invokes the current atmosphere of “unilateralism and hegemony” to ask about China’s energy consumption, China Radio International asks about the Foreign Ministry’s overall course for the foreseeable future, and the reporter from Singapore asks a more flattering version of a question Simon posed after the tsunami disaster: does China really see itself as ready to be a leader as well as just a really big-ass country?

    One last thing that struck me. This is from Li’s reply to a question from The People’s Daily about those in Washington who still view China as a potential threat:

    Although they are living in the new century, their minds still linger in the Cold War era. It is those few people who are spreading the so-called “China threat theory,” which is totally unfounded.

    It’s fascinating to hear someone from a region in which centuries-old resentments are routinely thrown around as reasons for this or that diplomatic conflict–and, specifically, from a country that is more than happy to play on lingering ill-feeling from the Japanese occupation–accuse cautious figures in the US of not putting the Cold War behind them. This isn’t the first time China has shrewdly used the end of the Cold War to make bland arguments that, in this new and friendlier time, we should let Communist-era bygones be bygones. But Li is very good at working the angle, and he seemed relaxed and affable. As always, there’s plenty to pay attention to around here.

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