South Korea gains nuclear deterrent – Asian Media Report

May 6, 2023
South Korea, North Korea Nuclear deal, negotiation, threat, relations concept

In Asian Media this week: South Korea nuclear guarantee ‘better than NATO’. Plus: Thaksin party just hangs on to poll lead; Asia tops world growth, with China the driver; Indian court’s progressive sex-gender rulings; Russia sees AUKUS as NATO-style alliance; Asian war ‘far worse than Ukraine’; woman arrested over Thailand serial killings

As the 70th anniversary of the US-South Korean mutual defence treaty draws near, the two countries have upgraded their alliance to what President Yoon Suk Yeol has called a new, nuclear-based paradigm.

Yoon said the enhanced relationship, spelled out in the Washington Declaration that he and Joe Biden signed last week, was more effective than the US-NATO nuclear arrangement.

The Korea Times said the declaration would more effectively deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. It would set up a Nuclear Consultative Group and would involve the US regularly deploying to South Korea strategic weapons, such as nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

The paper said: “As Seoul is not a nuclear state and the US does not plan to bring its nuclear weapons back to the Korean Peninsula, the NCG is one of the most powerful options that the allies can take to deter Pyongyang’s threats, according to the presidential office.”

The Korea Herald said in an editorial the promised nuclear submarine presence was in response to South Korean public opinion supporting the idea that the country needed to be nuclear-armed.

The US president could not agree to South Korea going nuclear. “Instead, the US presence must be overwhelming enough to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons,” the paper said.

Kim Won-soo, a former senior South Korean diplomat, said in a Korea Times commentary the Washington Declaration used unprecedented language on extended deterrence. “Washington makes clear any nuclear attack by North Korea will be met with a resolute allied response in kind,” he wrote.

Yoon and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will hold meet in Seoul on Sunday, during the first visit there by a Japanese leader in five years.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Tokyo and Seoul were trying to repair relations that had been strained by wartime history disputes as they deepened security co-operation with Washington.

Global Times, one of China’s official English-language outlets, said Yoon wanted to bring back a US nuclear umbrella. This was highly likely to ignite a new round of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

“Its hidden side – targeting China – is also a potential hazard for South Korea,” Global Times said. “Clear-minded South Koreans will be concerned and cannot possibly be delighted.”

Progressive party moves forward in Thailand poll

The contest in Thailand’s general election campaign is getting tighter. Pheu Thai, the party linked to former prime minster Thaksin Shinawatra, is leading but has lost considerable ground to the progressive Move Forward Party.

Both parties have pledged not to work with any generals-turned-politicians who were involved in either the 2006 or 2014 military coups.

Thailand has a two-stream electoral system based on geographical constituencies (400 seats) and a proportional representation party list (100 seats). The prime ministership is decided by a vote of both houses of parliament. The election will be held on May 14.

Bangkok Post reported this week that Pheu Thai was ahead in the battles for constituency and party-list MPs, as measured by a National Institute of Development Administration poll. But in each case its support had dropped by almost 10 per cent in the past month, with Move Forward narrowing the gap.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat had replaced Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra (Thaksin’s daughter) as the preferred prime minister.

But the two parties dominate the pre-election polling, with combined support of more than 70 per cent.

Pheu Thai has an electoral base of mainly poor people in the north and north east of Thailand. Move Forward is more urban, middle class and younger (including anti-military, anti-royalist protestors).

The election, says commentator Thitinan Pongsidhurak, is concerned with getting rid of the governing conservative-royalist regime. He says in his regular Bangkok Post column that Pheu Thai erred in offering Thaksin-style populist policies as even the pro-military parties are now shamelessly populist.

Thitinan, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, says the party should have focused on repairing the damage of nine years of rule by retired general Prayut Chan-o-cha.

“What [people] want to see, in addition to Prayut’s back, are more pro-growth policies,” he says. “The MFP is putting up a daring and defiant election campaign.”

Paetongtarn Shinawatra this week gave birth to a son but has remained involved in the campaign through social media.

Thaksin, in self-exile since 2008, tweeted that he wants to return soon because, at 73, he would like to take care of his grandchildren. He has seven grandchildren and all were born after he left the country.

Note: South China Morning Post recently published a guide to the election – an informative rundown of the main parties and their leaders.

Post-COVID China to lead international growth

The IMF says Asia and the Pacific will be the most economically dynamic region this year, driven by buoyant conditions in India and China.

In its biannual regional outlook report, issued this week, the IMF forecasts 2023 Asian growth to be 4.6 per cent.

“When the rest of the world is not doing so well and you are growing at 4.6 per cent, you should feel good,” Krishna Srinivasan, the IMF’s top Asia official told the South China Morning Post.

According to SCMP, the report said China’s rapid re-opening after its COVID 19 lockdowns would boost Asia’s consumption and service sectors.

China Daily, an official English-language paper, quoted the IMF report as saying Asia would contribute 67.4 per cent of global growth this year.

“Out of this 67.4 per cent, China is anticipated to contribute a share of 34.9 per cent, followed by India with 15.4 per cent,” the paper said.

It quoted Srinivasan as saying Asian growth would be led by consumption this year. “That will be important when ensuring strong and sustainable growth in China,” he said.

Men and women not defined by genitals, says Indian court

A five-judge bench of the Indian Supreme Court is hearing a number of petitions seeking the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The case has sparked verbal sparring between the Hindu-nationalist government and Chief Justice D.Y. Chanrachud.

The government has argued the legislative intent of marriage involves a “relationship between a biological man and a biological female”. But Chanrachud has countered that there is no absolute concept of a man or a woman. “A man or a woman is not a definition of what their genitals are,” he said.

The Hindu newspaper, as part of its coverage of the case, has published a long article explaining issues involved, including a rundown on previous sex- and gender-rulings that are quite progressive.

In 2007, the court struck down a law that barred women from working in areas serving alcohol. The law, the court held, suffered from “incurable fixations of stereotype morality and conceptions of sexual role”.

Seven years later, the court recognised the right to gender identity, saying transgender people had a constitutional right to self-identify as male, female or transgender.

A nine-judge bench ruled in 2017 that privacy was a fundamental right and that it extended to a person’s sexual orientation.

And in 2018, the court decriminalised intercourse “against the order of nature”. The law applied to sexual acts common in heterosexual intercourse but it was mainly used to prosecute people in the LGBTQ+ community.

Referring to an international definition, the court said sexual orientation included “each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectation and sexual attraction to, and intimate relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender”.

AUKUS an ‘Asian alliance’ revival

Russia’s opposition to AUKUS was automatic, given the hostile relations between Moscow and Washington. But beyond that basic understanding, what are Moscow’s concerns?

Foreign policy academic Oleg Yanovsky says Russia has three main reasons for opposing AUKUS: the threat of nuclear proliferation; the emergence of SEATO-like alliances in the Asia-Pacific region; and the potential for strategic changes to spill over into economics.

(SEATO was a failed attempt, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, to forge a pro-US Southeast Asian alliance modelled on NATO).

Writing in The Diplomat magazine, Yanovsky says pre-AUKUS Asia-Pacific defence groupings were “light touch” in scope, dealing with intelligence sharing or enabling military interoperability.

“AUKUS goes further than other alliances in Asia by bringing in hardware that changes the regional strategic balance,” he says. “Russia is concerned about the precedent of proliferation and its potential to change established international norms.

“Russia’s leadership does not consider AUKUS a standalone entity. It is seen as an extension of a network of global alliances led by the United States. Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s security chief, voiced concern over ‘an attempt to create an Asian equivalent of NATO’.

“AUKUS is yet another military organisation that is not from the region nor for the region and so is a threat to the delicate balance in the Asia-Pacific.”

Stopping war a top priority, Singapore insists

Preventing war in Asia must be the top priority for all nations. This is the view of Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

A war in Asia would be far more devastating than the Ukraine war, he told an international maritime defence conference, known as Imdex Asia.

He said diplomatic and conflict-prevention efforts needed to be redoubled, The Straits Times reported, since parties were contemplating war scenarios, parsing war-game outcomes and adjusting strategies.

The effect of war in Asia could be like World War I, when four empires were decimated and the world map altered.

Senior Singapore ministers said Australia could play a stabilising role in the region, as US-China rivalries continued to cloud Southeast Asian geopolitics. South China Morning Post said they were speaking after defence-foreign policy-trade talks in Canberra with their Australian counterparts.

The paper quoted Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan as saying both nations trusted each other in a time of uncertainty.

Defence Minister Ng said Australia could play a bigger role in the region. Singapore would welcome Australian ships and planes – even nuclear-powered submarines – through its bases. Australia was not just an Indo-Pacific country but an Asian country.

Australia Defence Minister Richard Marles said the two countries’ leaders, Lee Hsien Loong and Anthony Albanese, would meet in the coming month.

Cyanide used in multiple murders, police allege

Police in Thailand have arrested an alleged serial killer responsible for 14 deaths. The alleged murderer is not a crazed gunman or a Ted Bundy-style kidnapper, rapist and killer but rather a woman who was once married to a senior police officer. The victims were poisoned.

The accused killer, Bangkok Post said, is Sararat (“Aem”) Rangsiwuthaporn. Police said there were 15 victims – 14 died and one survived.

Deputy national police chief Surachate Hakparn said 36-year-old Sararat, whom the media dubbed “Aem Cyanide”, had poisoned all 15 victims with cyanide placed in drinking water, food or medicines.

Money was the motive. “She had huge debts from credit cards,” Surachate said.

A sacked police officer, the ex-husband of the suspect, had confessed to two charges linked to the case. Police had also questioned his mistress.

Sararat is being held at Bangkok’s Central Women’s Correctional Institution. According to Bangkok Post, she is four months pregnant.

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