World in view, July-August 2020: Asian brinksmanship

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

On June 16, North Korea destroyed the border liaison office set up with South Korea in 2018. This led to fears of war on the Korean peninsula that were only mitigated on June 24 when North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un announced he was “suspending” military action.

The North’s action was meant to pressure the South to stop Northern exiles from sending balloons with anti-regime messages across the border. It was announced by Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, who also threatened further attacks—which Kim Jong-un then overruled. Previously, Kim Yo-Jong was the face of improved relations between North and South, and was seen as a possible successor to Kim Jong-un during his rumored health crisis.

Kim Jong-un emphasized Kim Yo-Jong’s subordinate role, and at the same time her actions re-established the image of an impenetrable regime her diplomatic role had seemed to soften.


A horrific clash in Ladakh, along the India-China border, took the lives of 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers on June 15. It was fought with stones, iron bars, and barbed-wire clubs, since a prior agreement prohibits firearms.

China’s President Xi Jinping faces numerous internal problems, including a renewed COVID-19 crisis, which (as in the U.S.) has wiped out millions of small businesses; worldwide anger at the cost of the pandemic; and severe flooding.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also faces a COVID-19 crisis, and the fallout from huge demonstrations against his bigoted Citizenship Act last year. Though the crisis has been de-escalated, both rulers have used the bodies of their dead to burnish their nationalist strongman images.

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