Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in Korea is Not Kim Jung Il

I have an article up on Asia Times titled The Most Dangerous Man in Korea.

The man I’m referring to is South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.

Provocative, n’cest pas?

The point of the article is that Lee wants the U.S. to support his hands-off policy toward the DPRK until the Kim regime staggers off and dies.  Then the ROK can swoop in and reunify the peninsula on its terms.

Of course, any US or Chinese engagement that prolongs the life of the DPRK (or creates conditions conducive to the emergence of an independent successor regime) is anathema to Lee.

Trouble is, North Korea is still in good enough shape militarily to give Lee more trouble than he can handle.

So the North Koreans goad Lee with provocations like the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents—to which Lee apparently dares not respond with anything stronger than moral suasion and a call for more sanctions and military exercises-- in order to demonstrate to the South Korean electorate and the United States government that Lee’s policy of ignoring Pyongyang is not the best way to go.

I concluded my discussion of the situation on the Korean peninsula with the rather prescient passage:

Pyongyang has presumably noted that Lee's approval ratings, which reached a high of over 60% after hosting the prestigious Group of 20 summit, fell to 45% after the Yeonpyeong shelling and the government's tepid response.

The North Koreans may succumb to the temptation to push his approvals down another few notches with another provocation and see if he really pushes back or finally turns to the Chinese to mediate.

Or, for that matter, if the United States decides to abandon its hands-off policy and restart the denuclearization negotiation and food and energy aid circus desperately desired by Pyongyang.

Enter Bill Richardson, ex-governor of New Mexico, who has used his involvement with Korean issues to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

Mr. Richardson was in North Korea last week to do various unspecified stuff and presumably pass a message from the Obama administration that it preferred that the cycle of Nork provocation and ROK chest-thumping to end before something awful happens.

Bill Richardson also figures in a book about the detention and release of two American journalists that came out recently, Somewhere inside: one sister’s captivity in North Korea and the other’s fight to bring her home, by Lisa and Laura Ling (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010).

Lisa, the captive, was employed by Al Gore’s media operation, Channel One, when she was detained, together with her colleague Euna Lee, by North Korean border guards in 2009.  Laura, her sister, a media-savvy ball of fire (worked on The View, Oprah) took charge of the PR campaign to create and sustain suitable conditions for Lisa and Euna’s release.

Laura climbed the political clout ladder, starting with Al Gore and Bill Richardson.  The North Koreans cagily dismissed them as political small potatoes.

Then, through the State Department, she was able to get the OK for Jimmy Carter to go to Pyongyang..

At this point, I have to believe that Kim Jong Il was running around his office in paroxysms of excitement and telling his doubting diplomats, We’ve got them on the hook!  Go for Clinton! Go for Clinton!

And, indeed, after the US side was told that Carter was too old, wrinkly, and irrelevant, Bill Clinton made the trip in Steven Bing’s private jet, to what we can imagine was the gracefully disguised chagrin of Carter, Gore, and Richardson.

Just so you know that the United States knows exactly what North Korea wants (direct engagement with the United States and to hell with the Chinese), here’s a brief excerpt from the book:

[Richardson] asked me if the State Department had a plan for how to deal with our situation, and I told him that Beijing was being solicited for assistance.  “The North Koreans hate dealing with China!” he tersely warned.  “Trust me, the North Koreans wil become very upset if the U.S. tries to involve China in any way.”

He went on to say something that would be repeated to me by a number of ardent North Korea watchers:  “What they [the North Koreans’ want is to deal directly with the United States.  North Korea is insulted by the six-party talks.”...[Later] he went on to say that he’d told the State Department to cut China out of the process.

By, the way, “ardent” is an obvious flub.  What she really meant to say was “discerning and incisive”.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cancun Wrapup: Is Your Portfolio Ready for the End of the World?

I have an article up at Asia Times, US, China Lead Merry Dance at Cancun.

It makes the case that the invective and verbiage spewed at the climate conference in Cancun reflects a shared but largely unspoken belief that the chances of coordinated global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are basically zero.  The key then, is reducing the financial pain and suffering for rich and large developing countries by finding ways to disregard the genuine pain and suffering for small and vulnerable countries.

There have been a few interesting and significant developments since then.

The delivery of the Cancun communique, a towering pile of steaming mush deposited on the world's doorstep, was not one of them.

Here is a more nutritious helping of news nuggets.

Killing Kyoto: The Sequel

Cancun was basically another episode in the excruciating snuff serial, Killing Kyoto, officially inaugurated at Copenhagen and designed to conclude at Durban next year (when Kyoto expires).

The United States is distinctly uncomfortable with the current Kyoto structure.  Beyond the obvious problem of the free ride for Annex II countries like China, there is the profoundly awkward moral issue of carbon reparations.

A lot of countries fundamentally threatened by climate change (represented in the G77 bloc), want the West to own up for chunking the majority of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.  Kyoto--a global consensus mechanism--has served as a way for them to get their voices heard, together with demands that the industrialized countries take the economically onerous step of drastically reducing their carbon emissions and funneling tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars to the vulnerable countries in climate aid.

The US, on the other hand, is embarrassed by these small, insignificant states that, in the US view, treat their own survival as an entitlement to be guaranteed by the richer nations.

Better to let bygones be bygones, get the important players in a room, and deal with problems as they arise, seems to be the US policy.

In other words, let the poor nations beg for aid, and give it to them only if they satisfy grantors' requirements for convenience, political and diplomatic utility, and overall value for money.

One more thing: better cap the amount of aid, so it’s clearly a Western initiative, rather than open-ended compensation for screwing up the planet with 150 years of industrialization.

How about...$30 billion in fast track aid with a rampup to $100 billion per annum by 2020.

Oh, and one last thing: don’t even agree to disburse the aid until the Chinese yield on MRV—even if the Chinese aren’t receiving the aid--so it’s even more clear the aid is discretionary and not obligatory.

It’s a good deal for the West.  Getting the poorer nations to accept it involves a certain amount of heavy lifting for a certain superpower.

In my article, I touch on the Wikileaks cable reported in the Guardian that describes US outreach to the Maldives.  "Outreach" looks a lot like a bribe of a few million dollars up front to the tiny island nation to support the US position on a post-Kyoto regime.

Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, went distinctly undiplomatic in his effort at Cancun to neutralize the unfavorable effect of the Wikileak.

In an article entitled US envoy rejects suggestion that America bribed countries to sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, the Guardian reported:

Stern added: "We can eliminate any cause or accusation of bribery by eliminating any money."

Stay classy, Todd.

To make it clear that we're talking discretionary grease administered by the US to compliant and deserving allies, and not payment of some carbon blood money out of moral obligation, Stern illustrated his middle-finger posturing with an anecdote of an innocent Western moneybags victimized by an odious Third World beggar (from the same Guardian article):

Speaking at the UN climate summit in Cancun, Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, suggested that countries that wanted climate aid were in no position to criticise.

Citing, with approval, a confrontation at the Copenhagen summit in which a Norwegian official berated a counterpart from a developing country, he said, "he just stood up and blasted the person, 'you can't on the one hand ask for and make a legitimately strong case for the need for the need for climate assistance and then on the other hand turn around and accuse us of bribery'."

The BASIC bloc made political hay from Stern's oafishness by pointing out that they are not candidates for climate aid from the US (they are enthusiastic diners at the trough of Clean Development Mechanism funding for green projects administered by the EU instead), and Stern was only bullying the smaller, vulnerable nations--the same nations the US is trying to wedge off China. 

Per Global Times:

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese  delegation in the talks and deputy director of China's National Development and Reform Commission, stressed that BASIC countries would always stand with the G77 group of developing countries.

Xie, who met with delegates from other BASIC nations, also broached the recent WikiLeaks revelations on how the US and European governments used monetary incentives, threats and even espionage to advance their "climate" agenda at last year's Copenhagen summit.

"Countries and people involved in the information that Wikileaks released should reflect upon their deeds, if the information is true," Xie said.

Gutting Kyoto has turned into a multi-stage process that involves
  • wedging off China and India from the G77 by highlighting their unwillingness to commit to Kyoto-style legally binding emissions 
  • a remarkably crude effort to hold China, instead of the West, responsible for holding back climate aid by linking release of the aid to China's acceptance of onerous "MRV" (monitoring, reporting, and verification) procedures 
  • bribing some of the smaller countries with bilateral aid to support the US position 
  • proposing capped (and suspiciously unfunded) climate aid to vulnerable countries to clear the West’s 150 year overdrawn carbon account as an alternative to open-ended Kyoto obligations 
  • using mighty diplomatic pressure to make sure that the refractory ALBA bloc of left-leaning South American governments is unable to seize the podium and make trouble.

The trend, at least for the United States and a majority of Kyoto Annex I signatories and a certain number of vulnerable states that, for whatever reason, choose to cleave to the US position seems to be: scrap Kyoto, get the small nations out of the room, and let the grownups (at least those with money) manage the climate change inconvenience through the mechanism of the G20 or its climate change affiliate, the MEF (Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate).

One might think that putting this matter in hands of the nations responsible for the problem, able to cope with the local effects of the problem with relative ease, willing to bribe vulnerable countries for peace, quiet, profit, and advantage, and fundamentally averse to sacrificing their economies in order to solve the problem they caused is not going to yield an outcome that the smaller nations will find satisfactory.

But that's where we are.

US on PR Defensive

From a public relations standpoint, things did not quite go the US way at Cancun.

The climate is headed for a trainwreck.  Based on the current scenario--lack of significant emissions action but plenty of self-congratulatory greenspeak--global warming is going to be well north of what is considered to be very bad but maybe manageable--2 degrees--and might be as high as 5 degrees.

The fact that the United States is trying to cripple Kyoto, the only binding treaty dealing with this situation, and replace it with a multilateral rich-nations circlejerk is beginning to attract some attention.

The US came in for a lot of adverse comment from climate change NGOers at Cancun, and it even filtered into the New York Times.

Nevertheless, the US is committed to demonstrating the dysfunctionality of the Kyoto process.  If the inability of the world's nations to forge a meaningful and binding concensus is due in part to American obdurancy, well so be it.

China--which gained a lot of kudos for its relatively aggressive greenhouse gas policies--can happily watch the United States under Obama once again take the majority heat, as it did under Bush, for roasting the planet.

The other big Wikileaks noise related to climate change was a breathless piece in Der Spiegel entitled The US and China Joined Forces Against Europe (in an interesting example of the synergies--a.k.a. big media tail wagging Julian Assange dog--between Wikileaks and its media partners, as far as I can tell, Wikileaks has not yet released the cable Der Spiegel is reporting).

The article, by Gerald Traufetter, seized upon an embassy account of a visit by John Kerry to Beijing in summer 2009 to assert:

The dispatches reveal that the US and China, the world's top two polluters, joined forces to stymie every attempt by European nations to reach agreement.


During his visit to China, Senator Kerry, a former presidential candidate for the Democrats, told the Beijing leadership that the Europeans were determined to push through their goal for agreement on concrete cuts in emissions for the US and other industrialized countries. However, nothing would change for China. Together with the other "developing countries" the Chinese would merely have to say they would "work hard to reduce emissions."

The quid pro quo for the joint US-China collusion against Europe was allegedly trade in green goods like US nuclear reactors.

This article is a bookend to a much more interesting article in Der Spiegel from May 2010 based on a leaked recording of a heated Copenhagen discussion between world leaders that also pushes the Everybody's Stabbing Deutschland in the Back theme: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit.  President Obama was identified as a co-conspirator in the body of that article, if not the title.

The Der Spiegel Wikileaks article is pretty weak beer.  The US position in summer 2009 was a matter of public record long before Wikileaks

On May 28, 2009, the Guardian reported on Kerry's trip:

In their formal positions, the two sides remain far apart. China wants developed nations to make a 40% cut in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels, far above the goal set by President Obama's administration.

The United States wants China to set voluntary but verifiable goals to reduce its energy use and, in the longer term, to join richer nations in cutting overall emissions.

But Kerry said senior Chinese politicians had shown a willingness to compromise, particularly over the 40% target that he described as politically impossible in the US at present.

By sharing know-how and conducting joint research into renewable and energy-saving technology, he said China would realise that it can go beyond its current target of a 20% cut in energy intensity of its economy - the amount of carbon released per dollar of GDP.

It is rather clear that China and the US, though both fundamentally uninterested in accepting legally binding cuts, were at each others throats in Copenhagen, not colluding.

What happened between Kerry's trip and Copenhagen was the bruising US fight over health care, and the realization that President Obama could carry no genuine commitments on US emissions cuts to Copenhagen that could somehow finesse a consensus approach to Kyoto.

China pretty much has put its eggs in the EU basket--the Clean Development Mechanism funnels a lot of money into China--and wants to keep some kind of Kyoto arrangement going.

The United States has apparently decided that it won't be able do anything on climate change until it drives a stake through the heart of Kyoto and starts over with the Annex II countries compelled to adhere to the same regime as the EU, Japan, Russia, Canada, and the US.

But nobody believes that, once Kyoto is thrown under the bus, the United States will possess sufficient political will to legislate genuine domestic emissions reductions, let alone bankroll a massive global transition to a low carbon economy.

The inability of the US to lead on climate change, coupled with its desire to control and drive global climate change policy notwithstanding, is the source of a lot of the US-China acrimony that obscures the general developed-world paralysis on the climate change problem.

Something You'll Be Hearing More About:  Adaptation

Adaptation is the climate change measure that dares not speak its name.  Adaptation means dealing with the consequences of global warming.

Nowadays, it is still much more politically correct to talk about Mitigation--the noble crusade to reduce greenhouse gases in order to prevent the intensification of global warming.

The window for mitigation, however, is rapidly closing.

So expect to hear a lot more about adaptation aid, investment...and business.

Take it away, Katie Fehrenbacher via Reuters!

The Hot New Sector in Greentech: Adaptation

The modest agreement that came out of the Cancun climate talks this weekend points tells me one thing: It’s time to start talking a lot more about adaptation to climate change. ..

Adaptation technology has long been a slightly taboo subject, with the idea that technology should be used to stop global warming, not help humans deal with it. But more and more scientists, companies and pundits are taking the subject seriously in recent weeks, including an excellent article in The Economist last month. As The Economist article points out, the world will warm by 3.5 degrees C by 2100, and that’s if countries hit the emissions reductions targets put forth in the Copenhagen Accord.  The much-discussed 2-degree safe temperature rise is now a joke we can’t realistically hit.

So, in the face of us all crying into our pillows every night, here are 10 technologies we’ll need to help the world adapt to climate change over the next century. In Cancun, governments agreed to supply $100 billion via a Green Climate Fund for climate change adaption by 2020. Many of these technologies will be used by the world’s poorest, by farmers, and by country’s that already are facing droughts or extreme weather conditions:

1. Innovations around infectious diseases. ..

2. Flood safeguards. ...

3. Weather forecasting technologies...

4. Insurance tools. ..

5. More resilient crops. ..

6. Supercomputing. ..

7. Water Purification. ..

8. Water Recycling. ..

9. Efficient Irrigation Systems. ..

10. Sensors. ..

Yeah, stop crying in your pillows, bitches!

The "Green" in "Greentech" means money!

The Maldives are perhaps not the best Global Warming Poster Child

Finally, the Maldives.

In the ecospirit of recycling, here’s something I posted in November but didn’t circulate at the time:

The textbook image of the threat from global warming and rising sea levels is the precarious city/island of Male, capital of the Maldives island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the dazzling images of its tourist resorts, the Maldives is not an unspoiled Eden with underwater cabinet meetings.

As a  fascinating photoessay by Francesco Zizola on the Maldives revealed to me, the Malidives is in many ways an artificial human construct.  The capital city, Male, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

In a quest for lebensraum, the island was expanded by filling in the surrounding sea floor to the encircling coral atoll and beyond.  A 3.5 meter high, six kilometer sea wall was constructed with Japanese aid to protect the island (mostly 1 meter above sea level).  Another atoll a few miles away, Hulhumale, was filled in to a height of 2 meters above sea level to serve as a new home if Male becomes unviable.

The least edifying piece of geoengineering in the Maldives is Thilafushi Island.  Zizola writes:

Thilafushi island, also known as a rubbish island, was originally a vast lagoon. It was reclaimed in 1992 using waste as the filling material to solve Male's unmanageable refuse problem. Few Bengali immigrants work at the waste disposal centre in Thilafushi. Their job basically consists of indicating to the numerous dump trucks where to unload the waste. They then incinerate part of the waste or bury the majority of it in landfill sites. No recycling is carried out and hazardous wastes are not sorted from common rubbish.

Maldives Live reports that 330 tons of rubbish make it to Thilafushi each day, some generated by the thousands of tourists visiting the Maldives, the rest coming from Male.

There are many good reasons for a concerted global effort to mitigate global warming.  However, enabling the Maldives to continue its high population density/atoll-filling/trash-dumping/tourism-based lifestyle one meter above sea level is perhaps not one of them.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wikileaks is Bullsh*t

 Note: This post as e-mailed contains no Wikileaks excerpts.  In order to spare readers who work at universities, companies, and other organizations the potential heartache of having undeclassified Wikileaks material in their e-mail archives, I will remove direct quotes from Wikileaks cables from e-mails I send out from now on.  Material on the China Matters website will be full text.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Wikileaks, more specifically the national security handwringing and pantswetting that has accompanied “Cablegate”, is bullsh*t.

As I followed the Wikileaks archive as it was chivvied across the Internet, I gained the distinct impression that its daily post of cables was not fresh produce in its original packaging.

All that stuff had already been pawed over, repackaged and spun by Wikileaks international media partners—the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and through the Guardian, the New York Times.

As the AP reported a few days ago:

The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week reveal not only secret government communications, but also an extraordinary collaboration between some of the world's most respected media outlets and the WikiLeaks organization.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

"The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. "The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working."

Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and "I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the one it likes," El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno said in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables..

‘Nuff said.

To take the story a step further, the United States government declined to cooperate with Wikileaks directly to vet and redact the material.

That’s understandable.  The US government doesn’t want to give theft of its confidential communications the USG stamp of approval.

So Uncle Sam outsourced the censorship job to “some of the world’s most respected media outlets”.

It makes you wonder if the Guardian really brought in the New York Times so that juicy bits could be brought to public notice without worrying about the UK’s stricter libel laws.

Or maybe the US government passed the word that the NYT would be a more convenient, eager, and reliable censor than the Guardian.

Anyway, it appears Assange is playing along.

Even as politicians call for his head, he’s still slowly dribbling out the cables to meet the journalistic needs of his media partners.

The other shoe that apparently has yet to drop in punditland is the burning question:

If Assange is a high-tech terrorist, what does that make the NYT, Guardian, et al.?  Why isn’t the US government going to court to shut down their reporting and publication activities?

The answer, I think, is this:

Any case against the papers is hopelessly tainted by the fact that the US government consulted on the redactions before publication.  In other words, the US took a pass on shutting down Wikileaks and decided to manage and contain it instead.

In court, you could argue that’s a de facto declassification.

Also, if the US government goes up against the papers—not just the NYT in US jurisdiction, but the other papers in Europe—the papers might decide to choose martyrdom and wrap themselves in the First Amendment or whatever they have over there.

In that case, the US would be facing the release in an antagonistic environment, with the papers much less cooperative about protecting Uncle Sam from embarrassment or worse.

Even as the US State Department and the world press collude to massage the Wikileaks problem, a scapegoat is needed to terrorize other prospective leakers.

That scapegoat is, of course, Mr. Assange.

I wonder how serious the campaign is.  He has proved remarkably elusive to arrest, rendition, or whatever other rough justice national security patriots demand, even though security services in England apparently know of his whereabouts.

Assange, in the spirit of Dr. Strangelove, has left a Doomsday device: an encrypted archive of all of the quarter million cables with the promise of distributing encryption keys to the world if anything happened to him.

Maybe the plan is just to cover him with self-righteous spittle while a vigorously argued and vetted subset of the cables make their way into public view in parallel with US and foreign damage control.

Then, after the papers have made enough hay, the story disappears.

More from the AP article:

Although WikiLeaks has said it will ultimately post its trove online, The Times said it intends to publish only about 100 or so of the records. And the other news organizations that have the material said they likely will release only a fraction.

"We are releasing only what is interesting," Le Monde's Kauffmann said. "I couldn't tell you the proportion, but the vast majority of these documents are of no journalistic interest."

She said there was "no written contract" among the organizations and WikiLeaks on the use of the material.

"The conditions were that we could ourselves — that's to say our journalists and those at the other newspapers — do our own selection, our own triage," and select which documents to withhold from public view, Kauffmann said.

The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited in the documents could be published.

"With this, I really think we have taken all the possible precautions," Kauffmann said. "At times, it comes up that we'll discuss it between us, with the other papers, on some points. One of us struck too much out and another said 'Come on, it's about a high official, we can leave his/her name in. There won't be any reprisals.'"

Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month ago. The Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said.

I wonder if and when the full Wikileaks trove will appear on-line.

I suppose it will have to do with the outcome of the bizarre rape case (I guess you could call it Condom-gate) that Assange is fighting in Sweden, the continued US efforts to villanize him, the invulnerability of his encrypted archive and whether the US, as Alexander Cockburn speculates, decides to end the Wikileaks kabuki by pitching Assange out of a window.

As an interesting sidebar, somebody in the Middle East is apparently capitalizing on the Wikileaks furor to insert some other illicitly acquired diplomatic cables into the public eye.

The leak doesn’t fit in with Assange’s media strategy.  I suppose some freeloader decided, Assange is getting enough heat already, a little more won’t matter.

The leaks were obtained by a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon, Al Akhbar.

Apparently, they show America’s favorite Cedar Revolutionaries in a less-than-flattering light.  So it doesn’t appear to likely that the leak is the work of the Middle East’s pre-eminent black ops outfit, Israel.

Here’s a link to Al Akhbar’s Wikileaks page, which forces the reader to demonstrate his or her knowledge of Middle Eastern national flags in order to pick out the relevant subset of cables.

Here’s also a link to the blog of a sympathizer of the Cedar Revolution who is aggrieved by the leak.  The comments provide the usual contentious back-and-forth chewing, and also shed some light on the cables and their impact.

In passing, it is interesting to note that US diplomatic cables are popping up all over the place.  One can speculate that a lot of foreign intelligence services are able to get their hands on material of this sort.

Now, thanks to Wikileaks, the environment and political cover exists to release them into the wild.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Wikileaks: Burn Before Reading

I have an article up at Asia Times on the perspective the Wikileaks diplomatic cables provide on the North Korea situation.

Don't read it if you work for the U.S. government and don't have the appropriate clearance.  You're improperly accessing classified material.

I also have an article in the Counterpunch print edition on the Koreas that quotes from a Wikileaks cable.

Please subscribe to the Counterpunch print edition.

But don't comment on my piece on Facebook or Twitter if you're in school and hope to work for the State Department. 

A Columbia University grad working at the State Department warned his alma mater that things could get sticky if a background check by the State Department revealed that a prospective employee had been dipping his or her beak into the Wikileaks cornucopia.

I was going to write about a funny cable sent by the US embassy in Bishkek, but I decided against it--at least in the stuff I e-mail around.

No point in making trouble for people.

In fact, that e-mail that I sent out a couple days ago--Whose Core Interest Is It Anyway?--better go and delete it.

It quotes from a Wikileak cable.

But you should read this piece by Alexander Cockburn: Julian Assange, Wanted by the Empire Dead or Alive.

It talks about how large swaths of the public and media organizations have eagerly bought into the US national security mindset.

Don't worry.

It doesn't have any Wikileaks stuff in it.

So it's OK to read.

I have friends who are uncomfortable with the idea of posting classified documents on the Internet.

I understand that.

But I'm also uncomfortable with how comfortable so many people are with surrendering their right to know.

It's the government's job to keep the secrets.

But it's not our job to make it easier for them.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Whose Core Interest Is It Anyway?


From an April 2009 US Embassy Beijing cable in the Wikileaks dump as reported by the Guardian:

The United States had its core interests, VFM He asserted, such as U.S. naval vessels that had operated near the Chinese coast.

Now, as anybody with a memory more than a nanosecond recollects, in 2010 the world’s press was filled with reports like this one from the April 23, 2010 New York Times:

China is also pressing the United States to heed its claims in the region. In March, Chinese officials told two visiting senior Obama administration officials, Jeffrey A. Bader and James B. Steinberg, that China would not tolerate any interference in the South China Sea, now part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, said an American official involved in China policy. It was the first time the Chinese labeled the South China Sea a core interest, on par with Taiwan and Tibet, the official said.

I should comment that I had previously thought the core interest claim had first surfaced in a July Kyodo News Service dispatch; but there it is.

China never publicly declared a “South China Sea = core interest” policy, raising questions about what it had actually said and meant, but the story acquired unstoppable legs through US government backgrounders to Washington journalists and served as the subtext for the whole “US defends freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” story.

The Wikileaks cable provides some interesting nuance to the core interest angle.

The US Navy continually sails through China’s Economic Exclusion Zone to map the ocean floor and track movements out of China’s submarine base at Hainan, thereby degrading China’s fighting capabilities in the event of a Taiwan scrape and also undercutting the undersea leg of China’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

Was the context of China’s remark, “The South China Sea is a core interest for the US Navy, goshdarnit it’s a core interest for us, too”?  Or were the Chinese saying, “The South China Sea is our core interest, so butt out”?

Maybe an ensuing tranche of Wikileak documents will provide further data.

Since the Wikileak site is apparently hacked to pieces, I suppose we’ll have to rely on the good offices of the Guardian, NY Times, et al to extract further nuggets from the trove of Beijing Embassy cables (apparently some 8000).

The relevant passage from the April 2009 cable is reproduced at the end of this post. [I deleted the cable text; it's on the temporary site China Matters WL Special Edition].

Careful readers will note that the US declines to confirm Tibet as a Chinese “core interest” in other words an area in which it agrees to eschew activities (like providing an international platform for the Dalai Lama) that adversely affect China’s control of the region.

The US Charge d'Affaires, Dan Piccuta, acknowledges that “Tibet is part of China” but reserves the right to meet with the Dalai Lama and otherwise give aid and comfort to the increasingly militant Tibetan √©migr√© community.

In March 2010 the U.S., after much nudging from the Chinese, Messrs. Steinberg and Bader visited Beijing and finally upgraded assurances on Tibet with a categorical statement (as reported by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that the US would not support Tibetan independence:

The US side reiterated that it considers Tibet to be a part of China and does not support independence for Tibet.

In return, China agreed to join the UN sanctions-writing process on Iran that the US was so keen about.

This, of course, was the same meeting that the Chinese purportedly made the South China Seas = core interest assertion.

I always was puzzled that the Chinese would screw up their hard-won reset in US-China relations—they even trotted out Henry Kissinger to emphasize they were simply looking for a reaffirmation of the traditional Tibet and Taiwan foundations of US-China relations—by introducing a new, ambiguous, and incendiary claim concerning the South China Sea.

It is also interesting that, in the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister’s formulation, a “core interest” is not a matter of right, but of necessity—a crucial bit of national interest that must be defended even if it isn’t particularly pleasant or logical.

Like US Navy vessels crisscrossing China’s EEZ.

But, if Wang’s report was accurate, by March 2010 the Chinese were contradicting their stance of 2009 by demanding that the US Navy sacrifice a US core interest by departing from the South China Sea.

I wonder.

Maybe Wikileaks will provide the answer.