Today, China Matters wins the Internet…or at least the North Korea/Syria contrarian sub-category…
A couple items that demonstrate the value of close and impartial reading of news reports…or dumb luck? We report, you decide.
First, North Korea. On February 28, I wrote:
Will the PRC Abandon North Korea?
In my current piece for Asia Times Online … I argue that the PRC leadership has, for better or worse, reconciled itself to a nuclear North Korea, since the alternative—the Korean peninsula unified under a pro-US democracy—is unattractive both economically and strategically.
So I was rather nonplussed—actually I felt kind of stupid, mingled with the queasy suspicion that I had committed a floater before a worldwide audience–when Sinocism posted a link to a Financial Times op-ed by a CCP theorist, Deng Yuwen, titled China should abandon North Korea.
However, not to worry. Deng apparently fills the reformer/contrarian seat as deputy editor at Study Times, a journal of the CCP’s Central Party School.
He is an active op-ed presence in the Chinese domestic media and achieved a certain notoriety when his lengthy critical appraisal of the Hu Jintao era—Legacy of the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao Regime –was posted at Caijing and then got yanked. Deng plows the familiar if admirable furrow of between-the-lines reformers, as can be gleaned from a translation by Eric Mu of Danwei of the “ten challenges” that Hu and Wen left for the incoming team.
In other words, his op-ed is probably an outlier and not reflective of CCP policy…
Now Sinocism points to an April 1 report in Chosun Ilbo (no, it doesn’t look like a spoof):
Deng told the Chosun Ilbo by telephone that the article cost him the job. “I was relieved of the position because of that article, and I’m suspended indefinitely. Although I’m still being paid by the company, I don’t know when I will be given another position.”
Deng said the Chinese Foreign Ministry was “very upset” by the article and made a call to the Central Party School to complain.
Of course, Deng presumably did not decide to write for the Financial Times on his own initiative, and the Central Party School is probably a stronghold of reformers trying to kickstart some more enlightened policies in the time-honored fashion—though I don’t see any signs that there is a high leader of an aggressively reformist bent egging them on or even protecting them against the ire of the Foreign Ministry.
As to North Korean policy in general, I think that the DPRK is not the clown college that American coverage would lead one to believe. With the heightening of tensions and the use of those tensions to justify the restart of the reactor at Yongbyon (and, presumably the double-time removal of fuel rods to achieve a weapons-ready grade of recovered plutonium), North Korea is well on its way to developing a plus-size nuclear arms program that will allow it—like Israel—to punch above its weight in regional affairs.
Back in November, a coming out party was thrown in Doha for the new and improved Syrian opposition and its new and improved figurehead, Ma’ad al Khatib.
As the reliable Guardian (reliable, I must say, for its optimistic, fact-exempt fluffing of the Syrian opposition) put it:
As I put it, in a piece for Asia Times on November 17:
There was, perhaps, a more significant element to this reorganization that was largely overlooked – the relative absence of Saudi Arabia at SNCORF’s coming-out party. The meeting in Doha was orchestrated by the United States, Turkey, and Qatar. Qatar’s prime minister keynoted the opening session and “presided” over the expanded meeting of the Syrian opposition.
Apparently, no Saudi Arabian heavyweight attended. That is significant because the reorganization of the Syrian overseas opposition was a reaction against the inadequacies of the Qatar-backed SNC, but also a response to the crisis caused by the mushrooming influence of Saudi-funded jihadis inside Syria.
Foreign efforts to support the insurrection had largely turned into directionless dithering, thanks in large part to Western unwillingness to validate and empower the expatriate and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SNC with significant amounts of arms. Saudi Arabian Salafists displayed no such qualms about dispatching arms and jihadis to Syria, with the result that extremists have filled the revolutionary vacuum.
Today, via the Angry Arab blog quotes from a report on the Free Syrian Army by Elizabeth O’Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War :
Understanding Syrian conflict
” “The case of the november 2012 Doha meeting provides a stark example of how diverse funding streams exacerbate the problem of fragmentation among rebels. On the one hand, rebel commanders were paid by Qatari sponsors to attend the meeting. On the other hand, Saudi sponsors paid rebel commanders not to attend the meeting.””
See page 15 of O’Bagy’s report for a detailed and valuable discussion on how the competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar played out at Doha.
So, let the record show that careful parsing of open-source materials in real time can yield some valuable conclusions.