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Global Pulse: Iran needs to stop being destabilised, and the two Korean leaders could have a breakthrough

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Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in have the political acumen to succeed in clearing the Korean impasse—whether they succeed remains to be seen. Poland is firmly set on a path to illiberalism, while the fate of the Iranian people depends on how Rouhani’s regime handles the protests. Meanwhile, is it actually possible for the new “Indo-Pacific” to beat China?

The leaders the negotiation has been waiting for 

If any two people could achieve a breakthrough—however unlikely—in North and South Korea relations it would be Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, writes Nathan Park in Foreign Policy. 

“Moon and Kim are very different men — one an ardent democrat, the other 30 years his junior, third in a line of dictators. But the two men are also a peculiar reflection of each other: two leaders who faced daunting challenges in their early stages in power yet defied expectations and found political success.”

Park goes on to chronicle the significant work both leaders have done in their countries, and heralds them as having better political capital than their predecessors. (“Perhaps it is not entirely appropriate to refer to Kim’s rule as a “success” — he presides, after all, over a brutal and murderous dictatorship. But in terms of consolidating power domestically while projecting strength internationally, it is more than fair to say Kim Jong Un has achieved much,” he concedes.)

One of the biggest concerns is that Moon will be “too soft” on North Korea, like some of South Korea’s previous liberal presidents. Park disagrees: after all, Moon is the song of North Korean refugees, and has served military duties.

“Neither side is yet willing to leverage its political capital to offer major concessions that can end the nuclear crisis. So any major breakthrough, at least in this first round, appears unlikely. But regardless of how favorable of a situation Moon creates for South Korea, he cannot possibly risk a nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula — and if Kim is concerned for his own survival, avoidance of a war constrains his choices, too. In the long run, therein will lie the possibility for peace.”

The front line has fallen

“As the temptations of nationalist populist politics spread, Europe has responsibility for holding down the Western fort. The primary battle right now is over Poland, which is deepening its descent into illiberalism,” writes Charles Kupchan in the New York Times. 

He notes that Poland’s trajectory is not unique in Europe, with Hungary already on the path and other countries in Central Europe displaying similar tendencies. “But Poland’s descent is particularly consequential: With a population of almost 40 million, it is Central Europe’s standard-bearer.”

“The European Union must hold the line against Warsaw’s defection from the union’s core values — not just for the sake of liberal democracy in Poland but also for the democratic credentials of the union itself. The project of European integration is under siege from the same forces of nationalism and populism that afflict Poland,” he writes, citing Brexit and the far-right entering German parliament as examples.

“If Poland does not reverse course, Brussels should proceed with efforts to suspend its voting rights,” writes Kupchan, stating that the European Union should take a firm stand and divert economic assistance as well.

“With the United States missing in action, it is up to the European Union to defend the principles and practices of democratic society. The fate of Poland, Europe and the West is on the line.”

Stability is key

It is clear that the Iranian people are unhappy with the status quo, writes Geoffrey Hoon in Project Syndicate. No matter how the Iranian government chooses to deal with the protests, the only thing that should be guaranteed is stability in the region.

“Whether Rouhani steps down or not, it is now apparent that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely – indeed, perhaps not for very much longer,” he writes. The nuclear deal didn’t help the economic situation as was promised, and with extremely low parameters, the situation seems dire.
Any effort to reform Iran’s economy must recognize the costly absurdity of the country’s expansionist foreign policies. Funding a proxy war in Yemen, propping up a political party and terrorist group in Lebanon, and seeking to dominate Syria and Iraq cost billions of dollars annually. It should not have come as a surprise when protesters shouted, “Let go of Syria; think about us.””

“To be sure, if religious extremists take control of all levels of Iran’s government, appeals based on Iranians’ economic prospects will fall on deaf ears. But if Rouhani retains the presidency – or another moderate takes his place – there is a chance that such pressure would provide sufficient cover to scale back Iran’s foreign adventurism and reform the domestic economy. This would minimize the risk of severe violence in Iran, while galvanizing opposition to religious extremists.”

“Iran is at a turning point. The world must now send its regime a clear message: stop destabilising the region and help your own people to prosper,” he writes.

China vs. the Rest

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced a policy to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. However, neither his strategy nor the “Quad’s” (the partnership between India, Japan, Australia and the US) have outlined much: especially “as to whether they view China as a “competitor””, writes Testsuo Kotani in the Japan Times. 

“Asian experts in Washington generally welcome the Trump administration’s shift from engagement to competition with China. Perhaps Tokyo, New Delhi and Canberra also share Washington’s assessment of challenges posed by China in the Indo-Pacific. However, Japan, India and Australia have not given up on engagement with China,” he writes.

“The question is whether or not the other countries in the Indo-Pacific — Japan, India, Australia, ASEAN members and South Korea — are ready for competition with China. Maybe not (yet).”

“Tokyo’s Indo-Pacific strategy is most similar to that of the U.S. Therefore Tokyo should persuade Washington to implement the strategy in a way that other countries in the region can accept, while encouraging the countries in the region to prepare for strategic competition with China in their future Indo-Pacific vision,” he writes.

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