Explosive play as Pompeo meets Yang

Editorial | Mary Ma 18 Jun 2020

Geopolitical tensions have again ratcheted up suddenly in Asia.

First, Indian and Chinese soldiers were killed in punch-and-kick clashes in the Himalayas as both sides were reported to have fought with bricks and clubs - but not firearms.

Judging by the casualties, the fight must have been particularly brutal.

Then, "princess" Kim Yo Jung, of North Korea's Kim dynasty, stole the limelight from her obese brother Kim Jong Un and blew up a vacant building compound in Kaesong Industrial Complex that had been the symbol of friendship with the south.

More worryingly, Pyongyang said it would amass troops near the border.

South Korean President Moon Jae In must be driven mad by this woman. Even his offer to send special envoys to Pyongyang was rejected as "nonsensical" - which was a big slap in Moon's face and, perhaps, typical of how far a vengeful woman can go when a relationship turns sour.

The two incidents have resulted in many speculative theories. The most popular tried to relate them to the hush-hush meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi at a US military base in Hawaii yesterday, saying their timing would otherwise be improbable.

There is much at stake at the Pompeo-Yang meeting, not least the national security law for the SAR that is being finalized in Beijing.

Other thorny issues include disputes over the South China Sea, Taiwan and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the Sino-US trade deal and the overall relationship between the two countries.

There is insufficient evidence to confirm whether or not the incidents in the Himalayas and on the Korean peninsula are related to the Honolulu meeting.

But they are dramatic enough in their own right. The clashes on the Galwan Valley frontier are unlikely to escalate into a more serious firefight in light of the restraints shown by both sides immediately afterwards.

In a televised address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the death of 20 Indian soldiers would not be in vain, but he was also quick to add that differences with China should not turn into disputes.

Unless evidence surfaces to prove otherwise, the brutal engagement was probably an isolated incident as both sides have been willing to exercise restraint on the mountainous frontier.

In contrast, Kim Yo Jung's sudden play of both political and military cards needs to be understood further.

It was not that long ago that her brother's absence from the public eye stirred up intense speculation about the dictator's health.

If Kim Jong Un had been almost forgotten by the world back then, his disappearance and reappearance in good shape helped to focus world attention on him, making him relevant once again.

And if that disappearance game also buoyed his sister's standing, her hardline tactics over the past week certainly reinforced that image.

Perhaps Kim Jong Un also wanted to grab some relevance this time too as Pompeo and Yang were due to meet.

Allowing his sister to act on the stage in front of him, he is also giving himself room to change course according to the situation.

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