North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

Kim Jung-un is giving us sleepless nights, as are the increasingly frequent and devastating hurricanes and torrential rains, signs of climate change that must not go unheeded.


READ MORE: Italy news this week - 18 September 2017


Korea: Kim is a madman managed by Beijing

A new nuclear test, apparently performed using a hydrogen bomb, has heightened the level of concern over the North Korean crisis. The young leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un, is often quoted in the international press as a lunatic who toys with missiles and atomic weapons, while the vast majority of commentators pin a share of the responsibility on US President Donald Trump, accused of stoking Jong-un's  fire with belligerent and irresponsible statements. The crisis is particularly worrying for public opinion in South Korea and Japan, but has also triggered alarmed statements even thousands of miles away, with French President Emmanuel Macron claiming Pyongyang's nuclear missiles could even hit Europe. 

To get a handle on recent developments, it's worth holding on to a couple of facts: 

  1. For the North Korean leader, nuclear weapons are an insurance policy intended to guarantee the survival of his regime. After all, a preventive strike on North Korea by the United states and its allies is highly unlikely. Besides the possible launch of nuclear missiles, which is by no means a given, Kim Jong-un has enough conventional fire power at his disposal to destroy the South Korean capital in a couple of days and cause millions of casualties in just a couple of weeks;
  2. Trump and his generals have no intention of triggering a conflict and, if they ever did have such an itch, the Chinese have made it quite clear that they would not defend an attack by Pyongyang on the USA, but they would react in the event of a US offensive on North Korea. The US diplomacy, intelligence services and "soft powers" are unable to  influence internal developments in North Korea, a country that has diplomatic relations with most countries on the globe, but is nevertheless essentially cut off from the world as a whole;
  3. Almost completely cut off, given the country's close links to China, on which it is entirely dependent. According to UN Comtrade agency data for 2015, China accounted for 85% of North Korean imports – mostly coal – and 82% of the country's imports, covering 60% of its oil requirements. Clearly, despite the much vaunted "irritation" displayed by the Chinese leadership towards Kim, Beijing's Communist hierarchy fully intends to keep the North Korean regime afloat. And China alone, thanks to its close diplomatic, political, economic and military relations, can exert any kind of influence over it.

BRICS summit – Expansion, free trade and future growth on the agenda

September 5 was the last day of the 11th three day summit of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa),  held at the International Conference Centre in Xiamen, China. In recent years these countries have represented the main engine of world economic growth. Besides the presence of the heads of state of the above countries, the summit was also attended by "observer" countries (Thailand, Mexico, Egypt, Guinea and Tajikistan) which could be involved in a future expansion of the club (the BRICS plus) currently being discussed by its current members. The summit title was "BRICS: Stronger Partnerships for a Brighter Future" and addressed a whole range of issues including the international markets and globalisation, political and security cooperation and the North Korean crisis. The limelight was all for the Chinese President Xi Jinping who underlined how the BRICS (which currently represent around 16% of world trade, 42% of the population and a quarter of the world's GDP) must have a say in the definition of the rules that govern international relations, the economy but most importantly world trade. Xi also took the opportunity to reassert China's future role as an international "guide" and "promoter" of free trade, in support of globalisation and in opposition to the much bandied protectionist "barriers" to be introduced by Washington. On this point, it's worth recalling that if on the one hand Trump has  taken America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), on the other Beijing is moving ahead in no uncertain terms with its so called "One Belt One Road" initiative that aims to strengthen trade, infrastructure and communication routes between China, Asia and Europe (including Africa). Another major player was the ever-present Vladimir Putin who confirmed how Russia, after a worrying period of recession, is now recovering its standard growth rates and how the joint efforts towards economic integration can play a crucial role in improving citizen's standards of living and setting up a common market. Setting his stall out as a "mediator" between the parties, the "Tsar" also stressed how any kind of military intervention or additional sanctions would not achieve the goals intended by the West and would in fact spur further North Korean provocations. What clearly came out of the summit was that the potential provided by cooperation between BRICS countries must be exploited to the full. At present, the estimates tell us that foreign investment by the five countries amounted to $197 bn in 2016, but only 5.7% was spent on BRICS countries. As a result, China has announced that it will set up exchange and cooperation plans in technological and economic fields between the BRICS countries for an initial value of 500 bn renminbi (approx.. €64.2 bn) and will also be placing $4 bn into a reserve fund of the BRICS Development Bank project, to support banking operations and long term development. Beijing has also put up $500 bn to set up a cooperation fund between countries in the southern hemisphere to help developing countries counter famine, the flow of refugees, climate change and health care. The summit ended, as usual, with the singing of a joint statement ("The Xiamen Declaration") by the participants, which highlighted the need to continue with their joint efforts in order to best inaugurate the second "golden decade" since the BRICS agreements were first instated. 

EUROPEAN UNION - Macron, the great European ambition

The French President Emmanuel Macron has chosen Athens, the most recent stop over on his European Grand Tour, to make his much awaited speech on the future of Europe. In the very evocative setting of the Pnyx Hill, with the Acropolis in the background, Macron spoke of a democratic rebuild for Europe, based on responsibility, solidarity and sovereignty being exercised on both a national and European front. For Macron, the Greek crisis was a European failure, and he has called for a reform of the euro-zone that must be pursued with the "greatest ambition". The French president suggests that in the future the International Monetary Fund may have no role in Europe, seeing as the presence of the IMF in the Greek crisis was a symptom of a lack of trust between EU countries and between countries and European institutions. According to the planned reform, the IMF would step down to leave room for a European Monetary Fund, designed to take on and expand the operations of the current European Stability Mechanism, first set up during the financial crisis. However, in marking the distance that still separates France and Germany, Macron claimed that the German vision of a European Monetary Fund allocated supervisory and sanctioning powers on national accounts must be accompanied by a real and separate euro-zone budget, with a permanent finance minister in charge of its management. The opening statements made by Angela Merkel during her electoral campaign lead one to believe that the Chancellor is prepared to consider this kind of compromise.

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