Biden can’t afford to laugh-off Kim Jong Un’s provocations

september missile north korea 2017 kim
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea on September 16, 2017.

  • President Joe Biden seemed to laugh off North Korea’s latest missile tests over the weekend.
  • With that attitude, Biden may miss a chance at diplomacy, leading to more back and forth tension-creating events by both sides in the months ahead.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

We can fill a book full of troubling adjectives to describe the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea, and all of the times they have needless raised international tensions to the point that many analysts worried about the possible resumption of the Korean War – a conflict that almost certainly would go nuclear.

Whatever the case, we rarely talk about the times when US policy toward the DPRK adds unneeded kindling to an already smoldering situation, when policymakers in Washington and even our own chief executive make a rhetorical or tactical mistake that makes a bad situation on the Korean Peninsula even worse.

So when President Joe Biden seemed to laugh off North Korea’s latest missile tests over the weekend, missing a chance at more needed diplomacy, the stage was set for what Pyongyang always seems to do best: match pressure or perceived loss of face by a show of strength, or its own style of maximum pressure.

And this is just the beginning. We should expect more back and forth tension-creating events coming from both sides in the months ahead.

joe biden korea
Joe Biden, then vice president, meets South Korean and US soldiers at Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone near the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea, December 7, 2013.

First up is the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review findings, which will set the direction for Korean Peninsula strategy for years to come. Having failed to learn from the Trump years that there is a possibility of talking with the Kim regime, Team Biden seems to have all but determined to apply more pressure and double down on sanctions that have so many holes in them one could drive a truck through them.

Washington also seems set to want to try and make China somehow responsible for sanctions enforcement, and is already trying a shaming strategy to get them to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile advances. Clearly this is something Beijing won’t do, as it will never allow North Korea to become destabilized in any way – and that is what it would take for the Kim family to come to the bargaining table on its knees.

Sadly it seems we are set to replay what every administration has tried to do for nearly three decades now, apply some sort of new pressure strategy to get North Korea to give up the only weapon it has to fend off its greatest fear, a future US military campaign that seeks to change the regime in Pyongyang.

Considering the billions of dollars invested and likely hundreds of thousands of North Koreans that have died due to a lack of investment in the most basic of societal needs because of its nuclear quest, there is no magic formula to get them to denuclearize.

NOrth Korea missile launch kim may 2017
Kim Jong a Hwasong-12, May 15, 2017.

And yet, we play what politicians here in Washington have determined is a necessary game of posturing, as if we have some way to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons or missiles, because no administration wants to take on what is perceived as the political fallout of such an admission that only arms control and threat mitigation are the only rational policies left.

What does all of this mean? Well, most likely, North Korea will lash out when it knows for sure the squeeze from Washington is coming once again, and will show off a weapon system that can do real damage, like a new medium or intermediate missile platform that can range US bases in the Pacific, such as Guam.

North Korea could also even show off in some way that its longer-range missiles can survive atmospheric reentry, settling the silly debate once and for all that, yes, even a third-world state like North Korea can develop missile technology from the 1950s to hit the US with a nuclear missile.

This could come in the form of a test that shows off an ICBM going deep into the Pacific Ocean and dropping a dummy warhead into the sea or something more static, but the point would be clear: US cities could be turned into nuclear fireballs within 30 minutes.

North Korea's new ICBM
North Korea’s new ICBM.

From here, what would the Biden team decide to do? Clearly with pressure off the table as a viable denuclearization strategy, the administration would find itself historically at the same crossroads as every other group of US policymakers finds itself when it comes to Pyongyang.

My hope is for as short of an escalatory period as possible followed by a push toward diplomacy coming from Washington with major prodding courtesy of the Moon government in Seoul.

If the Biden Administration can learn from its likely mistakes fast enough and pivot toward an agreement that caps the size of the North Korean nuclear and missile arsenal for sanctions relief, the faster it can move to what it seems to be its more important task, figuring out what it will do about China’s rise and moves to alter the status quo in Asia to its liking.

The only question now is how many weeks or months we will waste on a pointless pressure campaign, and can we avoid an accidental escalation that could cost lives or spark a horrific war no one wants?

Read the original article on Business Insider

Trump and Biden’s anti-China foreign policy is fueling violence against Asian-Americans

Atlanta shooting vigil
Demonstrators at a vigil for the Atlanta shooting victims, in New York City, March 19, 2021.

  • The recent killing of six Asian-American women highlights the link between domestic and foreign policies.
  • Many officials have condemned the attacks, but they need to acknowledge that over-the-top language about China fuels fear and anxiety that spurs violence against Asian-Americans.
  • Jessica J. Lee is a senior research fellow in the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit,” President Biden declared in Atlanta last Friday. “We have to speak out. We have to act.”

While President Biden’s condemnation of the murder of eight people in Georgia, including six Asian-American women, is welcome, it misses the mark in an important way.

Both the speech and the statement issued by the White House failed to acknowledge that Washington’s over-the-top language about China is fueling an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, which boomerangs in the form of violence against Asian-Americans. If there was any doubt that American foreign policy is domestic policy, these shootings should quell them.

To see how toxic the American discourse on China has become, one only needs to look at what transpired in Anchorage last week and the ongoing congressional debate on the annual Pentagon bill. The vitriol that was exchanged by American and Chinese officials in Alaska was unprecedented for its harsh and undiplomatic tenor, and will likely make cooperation on critical areas such as pandemics and climate change that much more difficult.

But when seen in the context of bipartisan efforts in government over the past five years to label China as a threat to America and the US-led world order, the debacle in Anchorage is not that surprising.

The Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy mentions China 33 times, more than twice as many as the Obama administration’s version did. Similarly, the Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance repeatedly singles out China as a direct threat to national security.

Neither document mentions how the US government would advance legitimate national security interests without creating an environment of hatred against Asian-Americans, similar to how the Muslim American community faced retributive violence after 9/11.

blinken anchorage
US and Chinese officials at their first meeting under the Biden administration, in Anchorage, Alaska.

In Congress, members regularly use China to show that they are tough on national security without any regard for how their out-of-control language could shape American perceptions of Asians.

For example, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) tweeted that “China’s goal is nothing less than the complete destruction of the United States” in response to the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus’ call to cut the Defense budget and channel resources to under-resourced areas such as global health. Such overt China bashing makes it nearly impossible to have a rational debate about areas of cooperation between the world’s two largest economies.

The truth is that what happened in Georgia is the latest manifestation of hatred borne out of racially charged language deployed by a growing number of public officials on both sides of the aisle to cast blame on China, and indirectly, all East Asians and Asian-Americans.

Rep. Wittman, the top House recipient of campaign contributions from arms manufacturers and military contractors, offers perhaps one of the egregious examples of stoking fear and anxiety in order to advance a military-centered US foreign policy toward China. But he is hardly alone.

Rather, Rep. Wittman is a part of an ecosystem that reinforces and normalizes such extreme views. And by not addressing this vicious cycle, government leaders are distracting the public from addressing the cause, rather than the symptoms, of violence against Americans of Asian descent.

The tragic incident in Georgia is only one of nearly 4,000 reported hate crimes against Asian-Americans since terms like “China virus” and “Kung Flu” have become commonplace in Washington.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes targeting Asians rose by nearly 150% in 16 of America’s largest cities in 2020, when China was routinely blamed by presidential and congressional candidates for America’s ailments.

Given the barrage of anti-China language in government and media, why would anyone be surprised that Asian-Americans have become collateral damage?

coronavirus racism asian americans
Members of the Asian-American Commission hold a press conference outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to condemn racism toward the Asian-American community over of coronavirus, March 12, 2020.

One person from Milpitas, California described experiencing verbal assault this way: “I was shopping when a man started making faces at me. When I asked him what was wrong, he said ‘We delisted your companies, we shipped back your international students, when do you ship out?”

The message is clear: Anyone who looks Chinese is suspect and should be expelled from this country.

Another person in College Park, Maryland reported the use of xenophobic language in the classroom: “One of my professors was talking about the public health response to COVID-19 during a virtual lecture and explicitly called it the “China Virus.” “We’ve got to be very careful about that country, and what they’d do to us,'” he told the class.

This, despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s warnings against stigmatizing people of Asian descent for COVID-19. The World Health Organization has also warned against naming diseases to certain populations or nationalities as far back as 2015.

Asian-American discrimination has a long history, dating back to 1871 when 17 Chinese immigrant men were lynched by a mob in Los Angeles. But the current situation is particularly explosive due to the hypersensitive domestic environment in which Americans are looking for someone to blame for the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic.

In response to the shooting in Georgia, President Biden has called on members of Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Grace Meng, as a way to expedite government response to hate crimes.

This is a welcome move but falls woefully short of what is needed given the magnitude of the problem at hand. A more holistic, self-reflective strategy that connects the dots between foreign policy and domestic policy is urgently needed.

There must be more discussions among national-security experts with domestic-policy experts about the scope of the challenge at hand.

Even if the Hirono-Meng bill passed the House and got enough Republican senators’ votes to pass in the Senate (a high bar), it would not address the underlying motivations for these hate crimes. Members of Congress who deploy zero-sum language on China to justify a bloated Pentagon budget must be called out and held responsible for the secondary order impact that their rhetoric is having on Asian-Americans.

Asian community protests Atlanta shooting
Demonstrators at at Rally Against Hate to end discrimination against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, New York City, March 21, 2021.

The current situation has grave national-security implications for the federal government as well.

The stigmatization of Asian-Americans in government and exacerbating concerns of dual loyalty will only make it harder for patriotic Asian-Americans to serve in government. Such discriminatory efforts could also lead to poor foreign-policy decisions, as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Biden administration’s interim National Security Strategic Guidance recognizes that the United States confronts a wide range of challenges, from a global pandemic to a deepening climate emergency. But it also assumes the worst about China’s intentions, which will make constructive engagement between two of the world’s largest economies difficult.

The Quincy Institute presents an alternative approach to thinking about China and East Asia, one that emphasizes stability and regional cooperation, and diplomacy over military dominance. In other words, there are other ways to manage US-China relations without marching into war.

Thirty-nine years ago, at the height of the auto trade war with Japan, a Chinese-American man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit. The people who killed him thought he was Japanese. Rather than paying lip service to Asian-Americans while perpetuating grossly oversimplified narratives about China, President Biden and the Congress should stop demonizing China. They must stop using China fear tactics to justify more military spending.

As Rep. Marilyn Strickland stated on the House floor, “Words matter. Leadership matters.” It is time for American policymakers on national security and domestic civil liberties to work hand-in-hand to create policies that actually help Americans rather than pit them against one another.

Jessica J. Lee is a senior research fellow in the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Court docs reveal Saudi wealth fund courted by Hollywood and Wall Street owned planes used in Jamal Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman protest
A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a protest outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, October 8, 2018.

  • The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, an enormous sovereign wealth fund, has major investments in many prominent US companies.
  • Court documents show that the fund also owns planes that were used to carry out the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

This article was copublished by Responsible Statecraft and Insider.

In spring 2018, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, and major universities rolled out a red carpet for nearly three weeks to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the United States.

During his trip, MBS met with Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch, Sergey Brin, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates, among many others. The New York Times described the US tour as “seeking to change the perception of Saudi Arabia from an opaque and conservative kingdom, where mosques promote extremist ideology and women are relegated to second-class status, to a modernist desert oasis.”

But while MBS was the face of that effort, an enormous sovereign wealth fund – the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, or PIF – with about $400 billion in assets and expected to grow to $2 trillion, was the real draw for many of the tech, finance, and entertainment elites seeking photos and meetings with the 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne.

Six months later, two planes owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund flew a team of assassins from Riyadh to Istanbul, where they murdered Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate. The planes then flew the kill team back to Saudi Arabia.

At least one of those planes was operating inside the US as recently as October.

Mohammed bin Salman Silicon Valley 00002
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin.

The role of PIF assets in the murder was made public in court documents filed in Canada as part of an embezzlement lawsuit brought by a number of Saudi-state owned companies against Saad Aljabri, a former top Saudi Intelligence official, who is currently in exile and previously claimed in a lawsuit filed in DC District Court that MBS attempted to send a kill team to murder him shortly after Khashoggi’s assassination.

Canadian court filings, first reported by CNN and later acquired and reviewed by Responsible Statecraft and Insider, reveal that Sky Prime Aviation was transferred to PIF on December 22, 2017. Two Gulfstream jets owned by Sky Prime Aviation shuttled Khashoggi’s assassins in and out of Istanbul less than one year after the transfer of Sky Prime Aviation to PIF.

“TOP SECRET NOT FOR CIRCULATION AND VERY URGENT” reads the top of the document that detailed the transfer of a group of companies, including Sky Prime Aviation, to the PIF.

The document directs:

“According to the instruction of His Highness the Crown Prince, Chairman of the Supreme Committee for Public Corruption Cases, to transfer the ownership of all companies referred to in my aforementioned letter to the ownership of the Public Investment Fund, immediately approve the completion of the necessary procedures for this.”

“Given the central role of the crown prince in terms of controlling Saudi Arabian assets and the government writ large, there needs to be an international independent investigation to identify what state assets were used in this gruesome murder,” said Kate Kizer, policy director for advocacy group Win Without War.

The release of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s report last week, which concluded that MBS approved of the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, led to the implementation of Magnitsky Act sanctions against a former Saudi intelligence chief and members of the group who participated in the murder.

But ultimately the Biden administration chose not to sanction or otherwise penalize MBS directly, despite the ODNI’s assessment that he approved of the operation leading to Khashoggi’s death.

jamal khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2011.

“It’s a violation of Biden’s campaign promise hold the murderers of Khashoggi accountable,” said Michael Eisner, general counsel for Democracy in the Arab World Now, a group founded by Khashoggi shortly before his murder.

“We now know who ordered the murder, and he will not face the same consequences as his foot soldiers,” said Eisner. “That goes against a basic principle of justice that the person who orders a murder should face no less a severe punishment than the foot soldiers who carried it out.”

The Magnitsky Act can have far-reaching implications.

The Treasury Department describes it as being implemented “in recognition that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, had reached such scope and gravity as to threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.”

“The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons,” the Treasury says.

“The Biden administration should apply US Global Magnitsky Act sanctions and travel bans on senior executives at the PIF based on the use of PIF planes to move Jamal Khashoggi’s Saudi assassins between Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” said Sunjeev Bery, executive director of advocacy group Freedom Forward. “It’s ridiculous that on one hand the PIF is providing travel support for Khashoggi’s assassins while at the same time doing business deals with Uber and other companies in Silicon Valley.”

Trump Mohammad bin Salman
President Donald Trump highlights arms sales to Saudi Arabia during an Oval Office meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, March 20, 2018.

While the role of PIF assets wasn’t mentioned in the ODNI report or the sanctions announcement, MBS’s role as chairman of PIF and the use of PIF assets – the two Gulfstream jets – raises questions about the fund’s involvement in the assassination and the knowledge of other PIF executives about the operation to kidnap or kill Khashoggi.

PIF did not respond to a request for comment about the role its planes played in the murder and about what, if any, knowledge or involvement PIF had in approving or operating the flights to Istanbul.

PIF’s status as a heavily courted investor no doubt generates considerable incentives for authorities to keep discussion about the fund’s role in the killing as quiet as possible. Funds like PIF can purchase stock in any publicly traded company, and two weeks ago, PIF increased its investment in US stock to nearly $12.8 billion. The fund holds a $1.38 billion stake in Activision Blizzard, $3.7 billion in Uber, $1.06 billion in Electronic Arts, $923 million in Live Nation, and $1.1 billion in Carnival Cruise Lines.

Sky Prime Aviation, for its part, has taken measures to limit publicly accessible data about the ongoing flight activities of the airplanes used in the operation that killed Khashoggi. But, much like MBS and the PIF, their operations inside the US appear to continue without any meaningful limitations or consequences stemming from the killing.

RadarBox, a system that tracks flight data, shows one of the Gulfstream jets that was used to fly the kill team to Turkey in 2018 flying inside the US as recently as late last year. On October 13, the Gulfstream IV with tail number HZ-SK1 departed Boston and flew to Fort Lauderdale, arriving in the late afternoon. It was the same plane that ferried the second group of assassins from Riyadh to Istanbul.

Read the original article on Business Insider