In this latest episode of Vets Get Real, WATM talks to a group of former servicemembers about how they react when strangers approach them and say: “Thank you for your service.” Our panel also talks about how they’d prefer civilians approach veterans about their time serving.
And be sure to keep an eye out for other episodes of Vets Get Real where WATM hosts discussions with vets on topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.
Editor’s note: If you have questions that you’d like to see Vets Get Real about, please leave a comment below.
On Wednesday, the US for the first time sanctioned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for “notorious abuses of human rights,” a decision that prompted the hermit kingdom to call the sanctions a “declaration of war.”
The sanctions affect 10 other individuals besides the North Korean leader, five government ministries and departments, and property within US jurisdiction, according to the US Treasury Department statement.
“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture,” Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a statement.
“Considering the sanctions name Kim Jong Un, the reaction from Pyongyang will be epic,” Michael Madden an expert on North Korean leadership told Reuters. “There will be numerous official and state media denunciations, which will target the U.S. and Seoul, and the wording will be vituperative and blistering.”
Here are some of the offenses outlined in the US Treasury Department statement:
The Ministry of State Security engages in torture and inhumane treatment of detainees during interrogation and in detention centers. This inhumane treatment includes beatings, forced starvation, sexual assault, forced abortions, and infanticide.
According to the State Department report, the ministry is the lead agency investigating political crimes and administering the country’s network of political prison camps, which hold an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people, including children and other family members of the accused. In addition, the Ministry of State Security’s Prisons Bureau is responsible for the management and control of political prisoners and their confinement facilities throughout North Korea.
The Ministry of People’s Security operates a network of police stations and interrogation detention centers, including labor camps, throughout North Korea. During interrogations, suspects are systematically degraded, intimidated, and tortured.
The Ministry of People’s Security’s Correctional Bureau supervises labor camps (kyohwaso) and other detention facilities, where human rights abuses occur such as those involving torture, execution, rape, starvation, forced labor, and lack of medical care. The State Department report cites defectors who have regularly reported that the ministry uses torture and other forms of abuse to extract confessions, including techniques involving sexual violence, hanging individuals from the ceiling for extended periods of time, prolonged periods of exposure, and severe beatings.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry called on China to urge North Korea to cooperate on human rights standards.
“China’s engagement is critical,” Kerry said during a news conference while visiting Kiev. Kerry also added that the US is “ready and prepared” to return to discussions of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
The US has stood on the brink of nuclear war with a totalitarian regime in Asia before, and in the end it was economics, not military might, that brought the Soviet Union down.
The US’s nuclear arsenal has failed to scare North Korea away from developing its own nukes, sanctions have failed to restrict its access to markets, and leveraging the US’s relationship with China has failed to starve the country into submission.
But the US’s greatest weapon, capitalism, might just do the trick.
Fitfield’s interviews with North Koreans paint a picture of a state economy which has come to a halt and a growing trend toward capitalism among common people. The market activity brings with it Western information, as North Koreans travel to China for work and come back enlightened to the realities of life outside the Kim regime.
Though North Korean authorities may punish possessing South Korean media with death, it has become a trend among North Korea’s elite to speak with a South Korean accent, indicating their power, independence from the state, and access to outside information, according to the New Yorker’s foreign correspondent Evan Osnos.
“North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market,” a university student who left the country in 2013 told Fitfield. “No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”
With state infrastructure no longer supporting people’s livelihoods, fissures between the actual lives of common people and the total loyalty demanded by the state could render the Kim regime out of touch and in danger of disposal.
“Among my closest friends, we were calling [Kim Jong Un] a piece of s—,” another student told Fitfield. “Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree.”
‘Impure’ attitudes among high-rank leaders
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reports that North Korea recently disciplined two of its highest ranking military officers for having “impure” attitudes, according to the Associated Press. The crackdown on the North Korean military’s second in command comes as international sanctions have weakened the state’s economy more than ever before.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based news website that purports to have a large network of informants within North Korea, reported that US-led sanctions have affected the economy in the country and now citizens may turn on the Kim government.
As a result, Daily NK reported that security has increased at monuments to the Kim dynasty for fear that citizens will vandalize the paintings and sculptures, which the state demands citizens give incredible reverence to.
Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat and the highest-level defector of the Kim regime, discussed North Korean youths sneaking in “nose cards,” or small SD cards loaded with South Korean media hidden inside their noses.
“The chasm between the Kim Jong Un regime and the general public is widening every year, and some day, the two sides will ultimately break like a rubber band,” Thae said in August. “I think that day will come within the next 10 years.”
Welcome to the free market, North Korea
Rodger Baker, the lead analyst of the Asia-Pacific region for Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm, previously told Business Insider that North Korea’s government might be stronger than defectors are willing to admit.
“A lot of the West’s vision of North Korea is from defector testimony, which is going to have a political bent,” Baker said. He added that the idea that air-dropping South Korean DVDs and music into North Korea would eventually sway the population against Kim “overestimates the draw of material goods over nationalism and national identity.”
But history shines with examples of people refusing to be repressed and finding prosperity one way or another. North Korea cannot stand comparison to the prosperous, democratic South.
Much like how President Donald Trump calls Kim Jong Un’s reign a “cruel dictatorship” and threatens military action against the rogue nation, former President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” at the height of nuclear tensions between Washington and Moscow in 1983.
Though the US and the Soviet Union both held tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and enough troops to start World War III, no fighting came about. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the US enjoyed stellar economic growth while the Soviet Union imploded. In 1997, Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan’s former communist rival, starred in a commercial for Pizza Hut in Moscow.
The military did not defeat communism in the Cold War, capitalism did. Decades later with North Korea, it may be time for another victory for the free market.
The commandant of the Marine Corps on Tuesday released a powerful video message aimed at those in the Corps who are defending or engaged in the sharing of nude photos of their colleagues that has cast a black mark on the military service.
The video is in response to a scandal involving a private Facebook group called Marines United, where many of its nearly 30,000 members were found to be passing around nude photos of female Marines without their consent, or photos stolen from their colleagues’ Instagram accounts. Comments on the photos often denigrated their service or encouraged sexual assault, an explosive investigation by Thomas Brennan revealed.
The Corps came under fire after the report, especially because it had known about the problem — an article about a similar Facebook group was published more than two years ago.
“We are all teammates. Brothers and sisters. Marines,” Neller said. “We are seen by our fellow citizens as men and women of honor and virtue, possessing an unbreakable commitment to each other and to the nation.”
Neller, who has to be careful to not exercise unlawful command influence over what is an ongoing investigation, said that “it appears” some Marines had forgotten some of these truths by acting “unprofessionally” online.
“So let me cut to the chase,” he said. “When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don’t think such behavior is that of true warriors or warfighters.”
The Corps’ top general told victims of abuse to report it to their units or chaplains, and he further instructed his enlisted and officer leaders to support victims in coming forward.
“There is no time off for Marines. We are all in, 24/7, and if that commitment to your excellence interferes with your ‘me time,’ or if you can’t or are unwilling to commit to contributing 100 percent to our Corps’ warfighting ability by being a good teammate and improving cohesion and trust, then I have to ask you: Do you really want to be a Marine?” Neller said.
The U.S. Army has awarded a $49.7 million contract to Robotic Research LLC for autonomous kits to be tested on large supply vehicles in an effort to one day send unmanned resupply convoys across the battlefield.
The three-year award is part of the Expedient Leader Follower program, which is designed to extend the scope of the Autonomous Ground Resupply program, according to a recent release from Robotic Research.
Army leaders have pledged to make robotics and vehicle autonomy one of the service’s top modernization priorities.
The Next Generation Combat Vehicle program will be designed around manned and unmanned combat vehicles, giving commanders the option to send robotic vehicles against the enemy before committing manned combat forces, Army officials said.
(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
The service plans to build its first Robotic Combat Vehicle technology demonstrator in three years. The early RCVs will help program officials develop future designs of autonomous combat vehicles, officials added.
Army Secretary Mark Esper has stressed that autonomous vehicles have a definite place in what became one of the most deadly mission during the Iraq War — resupply convoy duty.
The Army lost “too many” soldiers to improvised explosive device attacks driving and riding in resupply convoys, he said.
Under the Expedient Leader Follower program, the autonomous kits, made by Robotic Research, will be installed on Army vehicles, such as the Oshkosh PLS A1s. A series of the optionally manned vehicles will autonomously follow the path of the first, manned vehicle, the release states.
The program follows the “Autonomous Mobility Applique Systems (AMAS), Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), and [Autonomous Ground Resupply] programs to develop unmanned prototype systems that address the needs of the Leader Follower Directed Requirement and Program of Record,” the release states.
The AGR architecture is being developed to “become the de-facto autonomous architecture for all foreseeable ground robotic vehicles,” according to the release.
“We are deeply honored to have been selected to perform this critical work for the U.S. Army,” said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research. “The Robotic Research team shares the Army’s commitment to rapidly fielding effective autonomy solutions to our nation’s soldiers.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Despite persistent power shortages, North Korea is reportedly selling electricity to China for cash.
The deal, which reportedly began on Feb. 9, 2018, will see China pay between $60,000 and $100,000 a month for power generated by a hydroelectric dam close to the border between the two countries, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK.
“The Supong Hydroelectric Generator in Sakju County is providing the energy to a Chinese factory that produces fire proofing materials. The [North Korean] authorities are accepting payments in the form of cash,” a source in the local North Korean province told Daily NK.
The source also said the export project has been named “The January 8 Fund,” after the birthday of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. His father, Daily NK reported, also had a similar project that earned foreign currency named after his birthday on Feb. 16.
According to Daily NK, North Korea’s usual priority is to first power “idolization sites” for the country’s two previous leaders, government organizations, and munitions factories, before civilian homes or buildings.
Fewer than one-in-three North Koreans have access to electricity, the World Bank estimates, and nighttime satellite images show what that looks like for most of the country.
Unsurprisingly, the Sakju generator doesn’t provide electricity for ordinary citizens, rather it reportedly usually powers a munitions factory, meaning military production could be affected by the power sale to China.
The desire to reroute electricity away from a munitions factory indicates how desperate sanctions have made Pyongyang to earn foreign currency.
The two were taken into custody after an investigation by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service’s Carolinas Field Office out of Camp Lejeune. The two were later indicted on charges of conspiring to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting.
The Charlotte News and Observer reported that Martin and Tykoski used the social network MeetMe.com to lure the Marines in. Over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015, they hooked several Marines by convincing them they would be moving into to an off-base apartment.
On Jan. 30, Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, and on March 27 Tykoski pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Martin was sentenced to 57 months in prison and five years of supervised release while Tykoski was given five years of probation.
Both were also ordered to make restitution. Martin was ordered to pay $117,306.42m while Tykoski was ordered to pay $42,289.05.
“The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this district treat cases such as this one with high priority,” U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce said in the release. “There will continue to be vigorous prosecution of those who commit fraud and cybercrimes targeting members of the armed services and veterans.”
H. Andrew Goodridge, the NCIS Special Agent in Charge of the Carolinas Field Office, added, “This case reminds all of us to remain vigilant about what information we provide to strangers, it also demonstrates that NCIS is committed to pursuing those who exploit US service members.”
The chief of Naval Operations said today that the collisions in the Pacific that killed 10 sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald and seven sailors aboard the USS McCain were entirely preventable, and the service is committed to correcting the actions that led to the accidents.
Navy Adm. John Richardson told Pentagon reporters that many aspects combined to cause the accidents, including lack of training, hubris, sleep deprivation, failures in navigation, and failures in leadership.
The guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain sailed when they shouldn’t have, he said, and that decision falls on the commanders, who are responsible for conducting risk assessments.
The demand for ships, or any military capability, is defined by the security environment, Richardson said, adding that the Pacific has been a very demanding environment of late.
The demand of the security environment must match against the resources that can be applied. “When you have a gap between those two, that’s risk,” the admiral said. “It’s all part of that … day-to-day assessment. Every commander has to wake up each day at their command level and say, what has changed in my security environment? What is my new risk posture? And how am I going to accommodate or mitigate that risk?”
At some point, commanders cannot mitigate the risk, and they should say no to the mission, he said, but the present culture is such that commanders will assess the risk to be acceptable when it is not.
Changing that culture is one goal for the chief — he wants commanders to be honest about assessments and the shortfalls they have.
While the changes are in the 7th Fleet area, the Navy is on all the seas. “A review of your Navy today shows that this morning there are 100 ships and 64,000 sailors and Navy civilians who are deployed,” Richardson said.
“This includes three carrier strike groups and their embarked air wings, three amphibious readiness groups, and their embarked Marine expeditionary units, six ballistic missile defense ships on station, 11 attack submarines, five [ballistic missile submarines],” he said. “The vast majority of these ships are conducting their missions, some of them extremely difficult, effectively and professionally, protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the seafloor, to space, and in cyberspace.”
The Navy and its sailors are busy, and they have been integral to the wars America has fought since 9/11. “Recent experience has shown that if we’re not careful, we can become overstretched, overextended. And if we take our eye off the fundamentals, we become vulnerable to mistakes at all levels of command,” the admiral said.
To address this, the Navy has taken some immediate actions, including restoring a deliberative scheduling process in the 7th Fleet, conducting comprehensive ready-for-sea assessments for all Japan-based ships, establishing a naval service group in the Western Pacific — an independent body in Yokosuka, Japan that will keep their eye on readiness generation and standards for the Pacific Fleet commander — establishing and using a near-miss program to understand and disseminate lessons learned, and establishing policies for surface ships to routinely and actively transmit on their automatic identification system, Richardson said.
Midterm actions will emphasize training, establishing comprehensive policies on managing fatigue and accelerating some of the electronic navigation systems upgrades, he said.
“Long-term actions include improving individual and team training skills, with an emphasis on basic seamanship, navigation and integrated bridge equipment; evaluating core officer and enlisted curricula with an emphasis on fundamentals [and] navigation skills,” the admiral said.
“I have to say that fundamental to all of this is how we prepare leaders for command,” Richardson said. “We will deeply examine the way that we prepare officers for increasing leadership challenges, culminating in assumption of command with the capability and the confidence to form, train and assess warfighting teams on the bridge, in the combat information center, in engineering and throughout their command.”
As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sought to raise his international standing, a figure seen by his side almost constantly during his meetings with world leaders is none other than his younger sister Kim Yo Jong.
Kim Yo Jong appeared destined for a powerful career from a young age. Kim Jong Il once bragged to foreign interlocutors in 2002 that his youngest daughter was interested in politics and eager to work in North Korea’s government.
It’s completely unclear where she was or what she was up to between 2000 and 2007.
In the following years, she conducted a lot of behind-the-scenes work for her father, Kim Jong Il, and brother Kim Jong Un. She played a particularly significant role in helping Kim Jong Un take over instead of his older brothers.
Her first public appearance was in 2011 at Kim Jong Il’s funeral.
Kim Yo Jong’s first recorded public appearance: The North Korean princess appeared among the mourners at her father’s funeral at the end of 2011.pic.twitter.com/GWPw4dgbZU
Kim Yo Jong made headlines in 2017 after she was promoted to a top position in her brother’s government: the head of the propaganda department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
That’s not just a fancy title — Kim Yo Jong plays a crucial role in controlling her brother’s public image.
Kim Yo Jong’s role in the North Korean regime is not just ceremonial. She’s actually working, protecting the image of her brother Kim Jong Un and making sure that everything runs smoothly.pic.twitter.com/hWsQnPIZzr
In public, Kim Yo Jong appears to have greater freedom than other top government officials in North Korea, occasionally appearing in photographs unaccompanied, rather than constantly being in the presence of Kim Jong Un.
Some have speculated that she was promoted partly in an effort to continue Kim Jong Un’s dynasty. While she’s out of the line of succession, some believe she could take over the country’s leadership if something happens to Kim Jong Un before his kids are old enough to rule.
It wouldn’t be an unprecedented role for her, either. Kim Yo Jong once briefly took control of the country’s affairs while her brother was ill in 2014, according to a South Korean think tank run by North Korean defectors.
She stepped onto the world stage in February 2018. In a rare show of diplomacy between the two Koreas, Kim Yo Jong traveled to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Everyone’s eyes were on Kim Yo Jong at the start of the games. She shared a historic handshake with South Korean President Moon Jae In, and both broke out in smiles.
During the opening ceremony, she sat right behind US Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Kim Yo Jong and Pence did not speak with each other.
Her interaction with South Korean leaders was a rare show of diplomacy and warmth. Given her experience in propaganda, she likely knew exactly what she was doing to try and curry favorable attention.
In April 2018, she played a crucial role in the peace talks between the two Koreas. Leaders from the two nations met at the Demilitarized Zone, and Kim Yo Jong was notably the only woman at the table.
Though she stayed well away from the spotlight, leaving that to her brother, it was clear Kim Yo Jong played a significant role in orchestrating the talks and ensuring the day ran smoothly.
She was her brother’s right-hand woman when he and Trump signed the agreement acknowledging North Korea’s intentions to denuclearize.
Kim Yo Jong sparked curiosity at one point, when she switched out the pen that was provided for the summit with her own ballpoint pen. It’s unclear why she swapped the pens, but some have speculated that it was for security reasons.
Anyone else spot this? There were two “Donald Trump” signing pens, NK official came in and shined up the one for Kim, then at the last minute Kim Yo Jong pulled out her own per to use instead of the one provided. Kim used that and back it went in her blazer. (Pool video)pic.twitter.com/dZWEK22IdF
It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that Kim Yo Jong was one of her brother’s most trusted officials, and her power in the regime was only growing.
But in the Hermit Kingdom, no one’s position is ever truly secure under the mercurial leadership of Kim Jong Un. He’s known for turning on family members quickly when they fall out of favor — and it remains to be seen whether Kim Yo Jong is an exception.
Kim Yo Jong was not listed as an alternate member of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea politburo — the party’s top decision-making body — and did not appear at any high-profile events during an important party gathering in April 2019.
She also missed a meeting between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin later that month, fueling speculation that she had been demoted.
One theory is that Kim Jong Un ordered her to lie low after his failed summit with Trump in February 2019.
But in early June 2019, Kim Yo Jong was spotted for the first time in 52 days, suggesting she was back in her brother’s good graces.
In October 2019, North Korean media released strange photos of Kim Jong Un riding a white horse atop a mountain with historic and symbolic significance.
Experts told Business Insider that the photos are packed with political meaning — and could foreshadow a frightening military advancement.
Since then, her profile has only grown. In March 2020, Kim Yo Jong made her first-ever public statement, insulting South Korea as a “frightened dog barking” after the country condemned one of North Korea’s live-fire military drills.
“Such incoherent assertion and actions… only magnify our distrust, hatred and scorn for the South side as a whole,” Kim Yo Jong said in the statement.
The following month, Kim Yo Jong was reinstated as an alternate member of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo, suggesting that all has been forgiven since the collapse of last year’s summit.
Given these recent developments, it’s clear that Kim Yo Jong’s power has grown tremendously in recent years, fueling speculation that no other family members besides her could take over.
The stimulus checks have started to appear in everyone’s bank accounts and we’re sure they’re on the way if they’re going through mail. On one hand, it’s fantastic news for the folks that have been hit hard financially by the coronavirus. Hell, we all kind of need it after paying rent last week.
But there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that not everyone’s going to spend it on rent, utilities, essential groceries or whathaveyou, and wonder where it all went. Maybe it’s because I saw way too many young troops look at their clothing allowance as beer money…
Don’t worry if you’re like 99% of lower enlisted seeing a comma in their bank account. At least these memes won’t cost you a cent!
The world is less peaceful than at any point in the past 10 years as the number of refugees worldwide reached the highest level in modern history, according to a new report.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 12th annual Global Peace Index on June 6, 2018, which ranks 163 independent states and territories on their level of peacefulness.
The study looks at three factors to measure the state of peace in a state or territory: safety and security in society, extent of ongoing domestic or international conflict, and the degree of militarization.
The research found the world became 0.27% less peaceful over the course of 2017, which marked the fourth consecutive year global peace declined. Overall, 92 countries became less peaceful while 71 saw improvement over the past year.
Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, told Bloomberg, “Increased numbers of refugees, terrorism, and heightened political tensions were behind the deterioration.”
“Refugees on their own would make one of the world’s biggest nations,” Killelea added.
Refugees now account for about 1% of the global population. There are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including roughly 22.5 million refugees, according the UN’s refugee agency.
2018’s Global Peace Index also found the US became less peaceful in the last year and ranked 121st overall. Comparatively, it ranked at 114th in 2017 and 103rd in 2016.
According to the study, the five most peaceful countries in the world are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark. Meanwhile, the five least peaceful countries in the world are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia.
The economic cost of the decline in peace across the world was estimated to be roughly $14.8 trillion in 2017, the report found, which is equivalent to 12.4% of the world’s economic activity or roughly $2,000 for every person.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Most veterans who have served in the past 20 years are probably familiar with video games. From barracks LAN parties, to marathon sessions of Madden NFL at the MWR while downrange, it’s safe to say veterans like to play video games. Studies have shown that video games also help veterans recover from some mental health challenges, providing an escape while boosting confidence, personal growth, leadership, and social connections.
Operation Supply Drop’s Games to Grunts program supports community engagement to veterans, military, and their families through video games. Most of the games they offer are on Steam, such as TEKKEN 7, Cooking Simulator, and Vietnam 65′, but other platforms are also available, like free XBOX Game Passes. All of the games are available through digital download codes.
The defence supremos of the U.S. and China had a face-off in Singapore at the weekend.
Both sides came for a compare-and-contrast contest conducted as a rhetorical rumble. The two biggest players in the game exchanged stares, plus plenty of jabs and a few kicks. The handshakes were less convincing than the glares.
The event was the 18th annual Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, drawing defence ministers and military chiefs from ’38 countries across Asia, Australia, North America and Europe’.
In the opening keynote address, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the most important bilateral relationship in the world is beset by ‘tensions and frictions’ that’ll define the international environment for years to come.
Americans now talk openly of containing China, and to do so soon before it is too late — the way they used to talk about the USSR and the Soviet bloc. This negative view of China has permeated the U.S. establishment … In China, views are hardening too. There are those who see the U.S. as trying to thwart China’s legitimate ambitions, convinced that no matter what they do or concede on individual issues, the U.S. will never be satisfied … The fundamental problem between the U.S. and China is a mutual lack of strategic trust. This bodes ill for any compromise or peaceful accommodation.
So the stage was set for the showdown that framed the conference. As is traditional, the first session on June 1, 2019, was devoted to a speech by the U.S. defence secretary and questions from the audience.
Then came the novelty. The first session on June 2, 2019, was a mirror version, devoted to a speech by China’s defence minister, followed by questions. It’s only the second time China’s minister has come to Shangri-La. The previous visit was in 2011; that seems like an era long ago in calmer, happier times.
The U.S. acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, laid out the charge sheet against China and the terms of the U.S. challenge in the workmanlike manner to be expected from an engineer who spent 30 years at Boeing.
China’s defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, performed with the discipline of an artillery officer who joined the People’s Liberation Army at 16 and has risen to the Central Military Commission (a salute at the end of his speech, another at the end of questions). The PLA came ready to rumble, sending a delegation of 54 people, including 11 generals.
One of the best moments in Shanahan’s performance was his response to the final question of his session (posed by a Chinese major general) about how his Boeing experience would shape his Pentagon role.
‘China was our biggest customer and our biggest competitor; you have to understand how to live in that duality’, Shanahan replied. ‘We can develop a constructive relationship and we can understand how to compete in a constructive way.’
The duality dynamic was illustrated by a bit of simultaneous dual theatre from the Americans. As Shanahan rose to speak, the U.S. also released its Indo-Pacific strategy report.
The report reprised and amplified America’s critique of China as a revisionist power: ‘As China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately global preeminence in the long-term.’ (The Russia headline was as sharp, calling Russia ‘a revitalized malign actor’.)
In response, Wei described security issues as ‘daunting and complex’ but said military relations with the U.S. were ‘generally stable, despite twists and difficulties’.
Chinese defense minister criticizes U.S. on trade war, Taiwan
‘As for the recent trade friction started by the U.S., if the U.S. wants to talk, we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight till the end’, Wei said.
‘As the general public of China says these days, “A talk? Welcome. A fight? We’re ready. Bully us? No way”.’
The general’s speech was Beijing boilerplate. Then came questions and Wei tackled almost everything tossed at him — around 20 questions delivered in two tranches. About the only question he didn’t touch was one on whether China is still a communist state.
On the militarisation of the South China Sea, Wei used the same line several times. China was merely responding to all those foreign naval vessels: ‘In the face of heavily armed warships and military aircraft, how can we not deploy any defence facilities?’
To a question about ‘concentration camps’ in Xinjiang (see ASPI’s mapping of the ‘re-education camps’), Wei replied that there’d been no terrorist attacks there in two years and China’s policy was to deradicalise and reintegrate people.
On this year’s 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Wei answered: ‘How can we say China didn’t handle the Tiananmen incident properly? That incident was political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence which is a correct policy. Because of that handling of the Chinese government, China has enjoyed stability and development.’
The result of the face-off? It was, of course, inconclusive. Not a draw. Just one round in a contest with many more rounds to come.