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Monday, 17 April 2017

Dictatorship versus Democracy

Within three months of taking his oath of office, Donald Trump is obviously becoming conditioned by the checks, balances and information flows that constrain any democratic head of government. The members of his cabinet and the senior appointees with direct access to the White House have shaken down and the relativities between them in terms of power and influence has become more evident. Perhaps the most striking departure from his campaign rhetoric is the concern that he now shows for China's interests and opinions. This is largely the consequence of presidents Xi and Trump confronting the terrible twins, opportunity and coincidence, as they address the question of how to rein back North Korea.

Over the past decade China has continued to import - and to pay for - a diminishing quantity of coal from the Pyongyang regime: which is just about the only North Korean commodity export that it can make any use of. The Chinese nuclear capability far exceeds that of North Korea, so they have no use for either military or civil applications of nuclear science [though Pakistan is widely reported to have drawn on those resources, together with other emergent stockists of nuclear weapons]. China has so far acted as a reluctant patron of the North Korean regime, using both votes in the UN and the threat of military confrontation to bar any outside power from striking any real blows at North Korea. Yet now that the threat of the North Koreans having intercontinental missiles with viable warheads in a very short time [maybe measured in months, rather than years] has changed the whole scene.

Almost all of the vast landmass of China has been within range of North Korean missiles for several years; and as that capacity is enhanced - as was displayed over the past weekend - and as the third Mr Kim shows that he accepts no constraints on his power, the risk that he could lash out at his dynasty's long-term patron must increase. Much of the territory of China's natural ally, Russia, also lies under the threat of North Korean missile attack; as do Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, whose capital is within artillery range of the North. The immediate neighbours and Russia have looked askance at the development of Pyongyang's armoury; but have not felt that the time for action had ever dawned.

Trump's perspective of  'America first' made it apparent that North Korea was the number one threat; an irresponsible government with total power over its people and half a century of weapons design have created a unique nuisance value.  The new president's briefings, plus an early meeting with President Xi, convinced him that he must get China on-side: then he must act as decisively as would be needed to put a complete block on North Korean nuclear and ballistic capability. The Chinese population needs to be reassured that their government has a grip of the situation, hence the top rank of the Communist Party recognise that they must do enough to prevent Trump from acting unilaterally to restrain Kim. The total concentration of power in North Korea means that an implosion of the regime would be immediate and abject, leading directly to complete anarchy and mass destitution; in which circumstances rogue scientific and military personnel could access the available horror weapons for release among their own people and over the borders in South Korea and China. China has been paralysed by fear of such an event for several decades, and must now act, alone or with the USA, to prevent it.

Meanwhile, President Erdogan of  Turkey is trying to make himself a dictator. He did not get the majority he sought in yesterday's referendum, and there are plenty of calls for the polling to be reviewed in the light of claims of fraud. The odds are that he will brush all objections aside, win the proposed second referendum on restoring the death penalty, and roll back all the advances in politics and society that Turkey has made since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early nineteen-twenties. Access to the European Union will be denied to him, and an impregnable 'refugee-proof' border will be established with Europe. He will declare various sanctions against the EU, withdraw from NATO and may even try to rebuild the lost empire in Mesopotamia and Arabia  He will move progressively through the phases of paranoia and megalomania that have been well mapped in previous dictatorial careers; and eventual nemesis will be accompanied by mass misery among all who voted either for or against him in the referendum. Ever since the death of Ataturk democracy in Turkey has needed 'guidance', often from the military. Erdogan dismasted the military long before the fake failed coup a couple of years ago gave him the pretext to dismiss and imprison thousands of officers, judges, teachers and public servants. He was well into implementing a classical dictatorship long before his referendum. Pity the poor Turks, and even more the Kurds, as the process develops.

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