Friday, December 13, 2013

Little Kim does Pulp Fiction By Pepe Escobar

Little Kim does Pulp Fiction
By Pepe Escobar

"Despicable human scum." "Worse than a dog." A "traitor for all ages" who "perpetrated anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts in a bid to overthrow the leadership of our party and state and the socialist system." Fate: a swift military tribunal, and a swift execution "in the name of revolution and the people".

So that was the date with destiny for Jang Song-thaek, 67, uncle of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-eun (arguably 30), according to state news agency KCNA. In North Korea, the revolution is definitely not a bulgogi party.

KCNA maintains that Jang - married to Kim Kyong-hui, the very influential sister of the late Dear Leader Kim Jong-il - admitted he wanted to stage a military coup d'etat. The inevitable follow-up is - what else - a purge (at the Central Committee's administrative
department). Who said all that Cold War shtick was over?

Jang was, in theory, young Kim's Cardinal Richelieu. And then, out of the blue, he is shown on state TV dragged out of a meeting, publicly humiliated, demonized as a drug addict and womanizer, stripped of all posts and titles (chief of the Party's administrative department, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission), accused of corruption, tried and whacked, as if this was a North Korean Pulp Fiction remake. What gives?

Re-educate or else
Let's see the reaction from the usual suspects. South Korean President Park Geun-hye said this is a "reign of terror". Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said this is a remix of the Cultural Revolution in China. Beijing, demonstrating trademark restraint, called it just "an internal affair".

The most obvious interpretation is Kim telling North Korea, the Korean peninsula and the world at large "I'm in charge. And don't you mess with me."

Now for the details. Little Kim, since he acceded to the leader's throne, was already deep into a sequential reshuffle of especially the military nomenklatura (that's according to South Korea's Unification Ministry). The most probable scenario is that Jang's slow-motion purge started a few months ago. Or even before that, because Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il always suspected him of social (and especially political) climbing. Some of Jang's aides had already met the Pulp Fiction treatment, but his money manager is lucky enough to be in China, taken care of by the South Koreans.

Make no mistake: Jang was very powerful and well connected. So powerful that the inevitable "re-education" campaign to follow - either you worship Kim or he'll go medieval - will not be that easy.

Jang was right at the center of North Korea's crossroads, which could be roughly summarized as the rarefied elite deciding to fully support the primacy of the Workers' Party to balance the military to then embark in a unified manner on some sort of economic opening.

We should always remember that Kim Jong-il's top policy was originally "military first". But then he started veering the other way to prepare his succession. Little Kim predictably promoted a lot of party officials to important positions; now the mantra is party supremacy. In this context it's also important to keep in mind how the Workers' Party emphatically denounced Jang's "crimes".

Any significant economic reform directly depends on party supremacy over the military - because after all the top economic planners in North Korea are party people, busy emphasizing that economic development is as crucial as missiles and nuclear weapons.

Apart from his alleged coup attempt, Jang was a firm defender of North Korean special economic zones (SEZs), attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) and more commodity exports (it's as if Pyongyang was flirting with its own remix of Beijing in the early 1980s). Pyongyang is already moving this way - for instance investing in road, rail and port infrastructure on both the Chinese and Russian borders. And it's not only China and Russia that want to invest in North Korea; candidates also include Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Indonesia and Mongolia.

I want more money
Once again, it always, one way or another, has to do with China. Jang was close to Beijing - and he wanted a lot of Chinese investment. No one knows how this purge will affect business. Those subscribing to the view of North Korea as a Mob operation will see the purge as a tactic to raise the price for North Korean "cooperation" with the Chinese.

That's not so far-fetched. Pyongyang does depend on China, but it will never allow itself to become a mere puppet. Myanmar has played it beautifully - although without the Pulp Fiction element; one day it was hermetically closed and totally dependent on China, the next it "opened up" and was immediately "diversifying" with multiple partners, Westerners included.

What's certain is that the top Kim Jong-eun policy - the Worker's Party as strong or even stronger than the military - does not change. As for what happens next, Little Kim could even add a twist, like rattling the whole planet by launching a nuclear missile or setting up another nuclear test to foment "internal cohesion". North Koreans - not to mention South Koreans, Japanese and Americans - will certainly get the message; don't mess with him or he'll go medieval on your ass.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So many secrets in the East China Sea By Pepe Escobar

So many secrets in the East China Sea
By Pepe Escobar

It's been a source of endless fascination to follow the game of geopolitical Go being played since China declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.

The spin in the United States is relentless; this was no less than "saber-rattling", a "bellicose" posture and a unilateral "provocation". The meeting last week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Joe Biden in Beijing may have done nothing to dispel it.

This is what the White House says Xi and Biden talked about; Beijing did not release a transcript. In the hysteria front, this op-ed in the Financial Times - reflecting a warped consensus in the City of London - even managed to crank it up to pre-World War II levels.

Now compare it with the official Chinese media view, from a more conciliatory take in China Daily to a no-holds barred assertion of sovereignty in the in the Global Times.

Which brings us to the scenario that the original provocation may have been actually Japanese, and not Chinese.

Mr Xi, tear down this wall
The whole drama is far from being just about a few islets and rocks that China calls Diaoyu and Japan Senkaku, or the crucial access to the precious waters that surround them, harboring untold riches in oil and natural gas; it concerns no less than the future of China as a sea power rivaling the US.

Let's start with the facts on the sea. Meiji-era documents prove without a doubt that the Japanese government not only admitted that these islands were Chinese (since at least the 16th century) but was also plotting to grab them; that's exactly what happened in 1895, during the first Sino-Japanese war, a historical juncture when China was extremely vulnerable.

After the Japanese occupation of China and World War II, Washington was in control of the territory. A document signed by the Japanese promised the return of the islands to China after the war. It was never fulfilled. In 1972, the US handed over their "administration" to Japan - but without pronouncing itself about who owned them. A gentlemen's agreement between Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka was also in effect. It was also ignored.

Tokyo ended up buying the islands from a private landowner, the Kurihara family, nationalizing them in September 2012 only a day after a summit between then Chinese President Hu Jintao and PM Yoshihiko Noda, and this after Hu had told Noda not to change the status quo.

Recently, to make matters worse, the Obama administration issued yet one more of its absurd "red lines", affirming it would support Japan in the event of a war revolving around the islands.

Geostrategically, it's even more complex. Virtually all of China's sea trade flows through choke points whose borders are either controlled by close US allies or nations that are not exactly allied with China.

Imagine yourself as a Chinese naval strategist. You look at the seascapes around you and all you see is what strategists call the First Island Chain. That virtual arc goes from Japan and the Ryukyu islands and the Korean peninsula, in the north, moving southwards via Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia towards Australia. It's your ultimate nightmare. Assuming any serious confrontation along this arc, the US Navy will be able to move its aircraft carriers around and seriously compromise China's access to its oil transported via the straits of Malacca.

Territorial disputes are the norm in the East and South China Seas. In the East China Sea the focus is on the Diaoyu/Senkaku. In the South China Sea it's the Spratly Islands (China opposed to Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam) and the Paracel islands (China opposed to Vietnam). Not to mention other disputes now on the backburner with Malaysia and Brunei.

So from the point of view of our Chinese naval strategist, what is deployed is a sort of Reverse Great Wall, an expression, by the way, immensely popular in circles such as the US Naval War College. It's like an invisible sea wall from Japan to Australia that can in theory block China's access to the Pacific.

And if - and that's a major, long-term if - there ever would be a US blockade, with its sea trade lanes closed, the Chinese economy would be in tremendous trouble.

They know it in Beijing, and they are wiling to do anything to prevent it.

In search of good PR
What Biden, not to mention US corporate media, is not telling world public opinion is how, for Washington, this has a lot to do with Okinawa - the key hub from which the US is capable of projecting power west of Japan. It's as if Okinawa was the US's Hadrian's wall.

In reverse, Okinawa is also essential for Japan to remain indispensable to the US. It's as if Tokyo was employing the Pentagon as mercenaries - as much as the Pentagon uses mercenaries in its global shadow wars. Talk about a low cost/high return business model. Japan thus keeps its defense spending at 1% of GDP (yet it's now rising while for most countries this may be at 3% or more.

Were Beijing to actually enforce for good its aerial jurisdiction around the Diayou islands, that would be the beginning of the breach of this aquatic Hadrian's wall. For the moment, though, ADIZ is a message to Washington, part of the much-vauntedxinxing daguo guanxi - the "New Type of Great Power Relations" being implemented slowly but surely by President Xi Jinping.

Beijing may be right on principle and certainly does want to create facts on the sea. What happened was essentially a PR disaster - an inability convincingly to "sell" the ADIZ to world public opinion. Absolutely nothing will convince any Chinese administration that this is not about Japan encroaching upon a territory and sphere of sovereignty that have been Chinese for centuries.

Instead of the usual ritualistic pilgrimages to revere "heroes" in shrines accused of committing hair-raising massacres, Tokyo could easily defuse the problem by admitting to its appalling imperial adventures in Asia. Tokyo could also redefine its role in Asia by behaving like an Asian power - and not some obedient Western appendix, as it's perceived by millions across the continent, and not only by the Chinese.

Ultimately, the only way to defuse the Diaoyu/Senkaku/ADIZ problem would be for Beijing and Tokyo to sit at the table and work out a security treaty for these East China Sea lanes - ideally arbitrated by the United Nations. The problem is Tokyo simply does not admit there is a problem. Now Beijing's strategy is to force the Japanese to do it. Perhaps Beijing should consider hiring an American PR agency, like everyone does.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The hijacking of Mandela's legacy

The hijacking of Mandela's legacy

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.
Published time: December 08, 2013 12:27
Nelson Mandela (Reuters)
Nelson Mandela (Reuters)
Beware of strangers bearing gifts. The “gift” is the ongoing, frantic canonization of Nelson Mandela. The “strangers” are the 0.0001 percent, that fraction of the global elite that’s really in control (media naturally included).
It’s a Tower of Babel of tributes piled up in layer upon layer of hypocrisy – from the US to Israel and from France to Britain.
What must absolutely be buried under the tower is that the apartheid regime in South Africa was sponsored and avidly defended by the West until, literally, it was about to crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. The only thing that had really mattered was South Africa’s capitalist economy and immense resources, and the role of Pretoria in fighting “communism.” Apartheid was, at best, a nuisance.
Mandela is being allowed sainthood by the 0.0001% because he extended a hand to the white oppressor who kept him in jail for 27 years. And because he accepted – in the name of “national reconciliation” – that no apartheid killers would be tried, unlike the Nazis.
Among the cataracts of emotional tributes and the crass marketization of the icon, there’s barely a peep in Western corporate media about Mandela’s firm refusal to ditch armed struggle against apartheid (if he had done so, he would not have been jailed for 27 years); his gratitude towards Fidel Castro’s Cuba – which always supported the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa fighting apartheid; and his perennial support for the liberation struggle in Palestine.
Young generations, especially, must not be made aware that during the Cold War, any organization fighting for the freedom of the oppressed in the developing world was dubbed “terrorist”; that was the Cold War version of the “war on terror”. Only at the end of the 20th century was the fight against apartheid accepted as a supreme moral cause; and Mandela, of course, rightfully became the universal face of the cause.
It’s easy to forget that conservative messiah Ronald Reagan – who enthusiastically hailed the precursors of al-Qaeda as “freedom fighters” – fiercely opposed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act because, what else, the African National Congress (ANC) was considered a “terrorist organization” (on top of Washington branding the ANC as “communists”).
Former US Vice President Dick Cheney (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)
Former US Vice President Dick Cheney (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

The same applied to a then-Republican Congressman from Wyoming who later would turn into a Darth Vader replicant, Dick Cheney. As for Israel, it even offered one of its nuclear weapons to the Afrikaners in Pretoria – presumably to wipe assorted African commies off the map.
In his notorious 1990 visit to the US, now as a free man, Mandela duly praised Fidel, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Col. Gaddafi as his “comrades in arms”“There is no reason whatsoever why we should have any hesitation about hailing their commitment to human rights.” Washington/Wall Street was livid.
And this was Mandela’s take, in early 2003, on the by then inevitable invasion of Iraq and the wider war on terror; “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.” No wonder he was kept on the US government terrorist list until as late as 2008.

From terrorism to sainthood

In the early 1960s – when, by the way, the US itself was practicing apartheid in the South - it would be hard to predict to what extent “Madiba” (his clan name), the dandy lawyer and lover of boxing with an authoritarian character streak, would adopt Gandhi’s non-violence strategy to end up forging an exceptional destiny graphically embodying the political will to transform society. Yet the seeds of“Invictus” were already there.
The fascinating complexity of Mandela is that he was essentially a democratic socialist. Certainly not a capitalist. And not a pacifist either; on the contrary, he would accept violence as a means to an end. In his books and countless speeches, he always admitted his flaws. His soul must be smirking now at all the adulation.
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialovsky)
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialovsky)

Arguably, without Mandela, Barack Obama would never have reached the White House; he admitted on the record that his first political act was at an anti-apartheid demonstration. But let’s make it clear: Mr. Obama, you’re no Nelson Mandela.
To summarize an extremely complex process, in the“death throes” of apartheid, the regime was mired in massive corruption, hardcore military spending and with the townships about to explode. Mix Fidel’s Cuban fighters kicking the butt of South Africans (supported by the US) in Angola and Namibia with the inability to even repay Western loans, and you have a recipe for bankruptcy.
The best and the brightest in the revolutionary struggle – like Mandela – were either in jail, in exile, assassinated (like Steve Biko) or “disappeared”, Latin American death squad-style. The actual freedom struggle was mostly outside South Africa – in Angola, Namibia and the newly liberated Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Once again, make no mistake; without Cuba – as Mandela amply stressed writing from jail in March 1988 – there would be “no liberation of our continent, and my people, from the scourge of apartheid”. Now get one of those 0.0001% to admit it.
In spite of the debacle the regime – supported by the West – sensed an opening. Why not negotiate with a man who had been isolated from the outside world since 1962? No more waves and waves of Third World liberation struggles; Africa was now mired in war, and all sorts of socialist revolutions had been smashed, from Che Guevara killed in Bolivia in 1967 to Allende killed in the 1973 coup in Chile.
Mandela had to catch up with all this and also come to grips with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of what European intellectuals called “real socialism.” And then he would need to try to prevent a civil war and the total economic collapse of South Africa.
The apartheid regime was wily enough to secure control of the Central Bank – with crucial IMF help – and South Africa’s trade policy. Mandela secured only a (very significant) political victory. The ANC only found out it had been conned when it took power. Forget about its socialist idea of nationalizing the mining and banking industries – owned by Western capital, and distribute the benefits to the indigenous population. The West would never allow it. And to make matters worse, the ANC was literally hijacked by a sorry, greedy bunch.

Follow the roadmap

John Pilger is spot on pointing to economic apartheid in South Africa now with a new face.
Patrick Bond has written arguably the best expose anywhere of the Mandela years – and their legacy.
And Ronnie Kasrils does a courageous mea culpa dissecting how Mandela and the ANC accepted adevil’s pact with the usual suspects.
The bottom line: Mandela defeated apartheid but was defeated by neoliberalism. And that’s the dirty secret of him being allowed sainthood.
Now for the future. Cameroonian Achille Mbembe, historian and political science professor, is one of Africa’s foremost intellectuals. In his book Critique of Black Reason, recently published in France (not yet in English), Mbembe praises Mandela and stresses that Africans must imperatively invent new forms of leadership, the essential precondition to lift themselves in the world. All-too-human “Madiba” has provided the roadmap. May Africa unleash one, two, a thousand Mandelas.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.