North Korea blows up the relationship. Why?

North Korea blows up the relationship. Why?

First, they stop taking your calls. Then they blow up the house. But this isn't a love affair gone wrong, it's what's happening right now along one of the tensest borders in the world, between North and South Korea. Last week Pyongyang quit answering a daily phone call from the South that was set up in 2018 to keep the peace and further reconciliation. Then, yesterday, North Korea quite literally blew up a building just north of the border which both sides had used for the past two years as a meeting place for officials from the North and the South.

Why now?


The immediate issue seems to be Seoul's failure to stop North Korean defectors ("human scum" as they're known in Pyongyang's state media) from sending anti-Kim leaflets over the border using balloons and drones.

But there's a larger context. North Korea's economy is suffering under crippling international sanctions tied to its nuclear program, and the coronavirus pandemic almost certainly isn't helping. With nuclear talks largely stalled, there's no relief in sight. Kim is almost certainly looking to refocus the attention of three key players.

First, South Korea. In the two years since a historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, the North hasn't seen clear benefits from easing tensions with Seoul. Although South Korea is keen on reconciliation for both economic and strategic reasons – North Korean labor is cheap and the North Korean military is scary — President Moon won't advance big economic overtures that violate the "maximum pressure" sanctions policy of his allies in Washington. With President Moon's party fresh off a historic election win, Kim may calculate that now's the time to force the issue again.

And there's China. Beijing is North Korea's indispensable economic and diplomatic partner. China accounts for 95 percent of North Korea's trade, and can ratchet up or down the amount of smuggling that it permits to occur across their shared border. But Beijing has been distracted lately – by coronavirus, by Hong Kong, and now by a surge in border skirmishes with India. Kim knows that to make any fresh progress in nuclear talks he needs to re-engage the attention of his main external patron.

And of course, the US. Détente with the US has provided little for Kim beyond photo ops and the diplomatic stardust of meetings with a US president. Kim still wants immediate sanctions relief in exchange for promises to relinquish his weapons later, but Washington insists that Pyongyang begin verifiably dismantling its nukes first. Talks are deadlocked. Rattling the cage now is almost certainly meant to get Washington's attention, and the clock is ticking: if Kim is worried about Trump's re-election chances, he likely wants to re-engage fast. Joe Biden wouldn't be likely to share any exotic summits or love letters with the North Korean leader.

What comes next?

So far this year, North Korea has conducted about half a dozen weapons tests, though none of them involving long-range missiles or nuclear warheads, redlines for the United States. If Kim feels he is running out of time to get China's attention and to help draw the Trump administration into a pre-election "big splash" deal, then he could revisit more serious weapons tests in the coming months.

If that happens, the soap-opera drama of ignored phone calls and exploding houses could soon give way to a much more serious international thriller.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

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Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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