Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE Philippines is the home of a people known throughout the world for their charm and courtesy. While the country may be much poorer than neighbours such as South Korea or Taiwan, its people seek to make the visitor feel at home, not hesitating to expend time and effort in assisting visitors to locate their destinations. Since Rodrigo Duterte was elected the President of the country, the police as well as paramilitary groups have initiated a campaign against users and peddlers of narcotics. There is no denying the fact that several hundred thousand youths have become drug addicts, losing a bit of their health and future each time they consume substances that provide a temporary boost but have a deadly effect over time.
However, several citizens are alarmed at the way in which Duterte is rounding up youths suspected of drug use. Tens of thousands have been sent to prison, while as many as two thousand have been admitted as having been killed by the authorities during “narcotics control” operations. However, outside the government, the figure of those killed in such operations has reached 9000, with more being added on to that grim total every day. President Duterte says that harsh methods are needed to bring the drug problem under control and thereby save millions of youngsters from the slow death that is caused by addiction to “hard” drugs”.
However, whatever be its politics, the capital city (Manila) remains a pleasant place to visit, with taxis conveniently available and good hotels in plenty. Small wonder that for the second time in its history, the Global Peace Convention organised by the Global Peace Foundation (GPF) has been held in the city, from February 28 to March 3. While there have been a variety of subjects discussed, a thread of concern has run across the entire conference as a consequence of what has been taking place in North Korea. Several discussions took place on how best to resolve the matter in a way that would remove the threat of nuclear war, but even the speakers understood that the problem was so complex that it would be difficult to predict its conclusion. It should not be forgotten that a nuclear exchange could lead to the deaths of millions of individuals, while ISIS has so far succeeded in killing only a few thousands, mostly in the territories they were enabled to take over during 2013-15, the period when it received (not so hidden) support from several states.
This being the case, it is clear that removing the threat of nuclear war from the Korean peninsula needs to be among the top priorities of the international community. Given that 96% of the energy consumed by North Korea as well as most of the food consumed by the country comes from China, it is clear that the role of Beijing would be of the highest importance in ensuring an outcome acceptable to the international community. North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family for more than seven decades, and the present ruler of the state, Kim Jong Un, seems to have adopted a policy of developing a nuclear and missile stockpile at high speed. Should the present pace endure into the future, in less than a decade North Korea would be a full-fledged nuclear weapons power. Global geopolitics has dictated that the US and its allies in the EU have paid far more attention to Iran than to North Korea, although Pyongyang has for long been far ahead of Teheran in the development of nuclear weapons.
There have been efforts in the past to engage with North Korea in a friendly fashion, such as during 1998-2008, when the Sunshine Policy was in vogue. This was most vigorously pursued by President Roh Moo Hyun, who sought a cooperative relationship with his country’s northern neighbour. During Roh’s time, trade between the two sides expanded, as did contact between people on both sides. However, the policy was opposed buy powerful interests who wanted to continue with the earlier line of harsh measures towards North Korea and its quarantine by South Korea and its allies. Roh was brought under fierce attack, and efforts were made to remove him from the Presidency, with an impeachment motion getting passed in the legislature.
However, the courts stepped in and blocked the removal of the elected President of the Republic of Korea. However, the “Sunshine Policy” was discarded and from then onwards, both the “carrots” offered to Pyongyang as well as the “sticks” were puny in size. The fact is that success has a chance only if both the carrots as well as the stick are substantial in size. Unless such an eventuality occurs, the prospects are close to zero for any mutually acceptable resolution of the problem between Seoul and Pyongyang. Of course, it was not only the Korean peninsula that was extensively discussed at the 2017 Global Peace Convention but other matters as well.
The effort was to ensure that the Korean concept of “Hongkik Ingan” got operationalised in practice by both individuals as well as countries. A special effort was made to ensure a high degree of participation by young people, and each day, there were sessions devoted to the youth, concluding with a Global Youth Summit on March 3. A day earlier was the “One Korea Global Peace Concert”, which is based on the principle of “One Dream One World”. Of course, it must be said that the digital age has succeeded in ensuring that geographical barriers have been crossed easily via the medium of the internet.
Among the most important needs is the recognition of the fact that all faiths have the right to the same set of rules and that any show of either favouritism or discrimination ought to be avoided. Humanity comes from the same Almighty. Indeed, scientific evidence shows that the human race had its origins in Africa. This being case, it is folly to believe that differences between human beings are anything other than superficial. Commonalities are much more, such as the desire within every individual for a better life. Although this is obvious, the reality is such an outlook is still not common in several parts of globe, where exclusivist and supremacist views dominate public discourse. Hopefully, those who attended Peace Convention will oppose such anti-social, indeed inhuman, behaviour wherever they come from.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.