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China knows less about NKorea than thought

Posted by Admin on November 30, 2010

Logo used by Wikileaks

BEIJINGChina knows less about and has less influence over its close ally North Korea than is usually presumed and is likely to eventually accept a reunified peninsula under South Korean rule, according to U.S. diplomatic files leaked to the WikiLeaks website.

The memos — called cables, though they were mostly encrypted e-mails — paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand an isolated, hard-line regime in the face of a dearth of information and indicate American and South Korean diplomats’ reliance on China’s analysis and interpretation.

The release of the documents, which included discussions of contingency plans for the regime’s collapse and speculation about when that might come, follows new tensions in the region. North Korea unleashed a fiery artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people a week ago and has since warned that joint U.S.-South Korean naval drills this week are pushing the peninsula to the “brink of war.”

The shelling comes on the heels of a slew of other provocative acts: An illegal nuclear test and several missile tests, the torpedoing of a SouthKorean warship and, most recently, an announcement that in addition to its plutonium program, it may also be pursuing the uranium path to a nuclear bomb.

The memos give a window into a period prior to the latest tensions, but they paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand isolated and unpredictable North Korea.

In the cables, China sometimes seems unaware of or uncertain about issues ranging from who will succeed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to the regime’s uranium enrichment plans and its nuclear test, suggesting that the North plays its cards close to its chest even with its most important ally.

Questioned about the enriched uranium program in June last year, Chinese officials said they believed that was program was “only in an initial phase” — a characterization that now appears to have been a gross underestimate.

China is Pyongyang’s closest ally — Beijing fought on the northern side of the Korean War and its aid props up the current regime — and its actions have often served to insulate North Korea from foreign pressure. It has repeatedly opposed harsh economic sanctions and responded to the latest crises by repeating calls for a return to long-stalled, six-nation denuclearization talks that the North has rejected.

But China would appear to have little ability to stop a collapse and less influence over the authorities in Pyongyang than is widely believed, South Korea’s then-vice foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, is quoted telling American Ambassador Kathleen Stephens in February.

China lacks the will to push Pyongyang to change its behavior, according to Chun, but Beijing will not necessarily oppose the U.S. and South Korea in the case of a North Korean collapse.

China “would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a ‘benign alliance’ as long as Korea was not hostile towards China,” Chun said.

Economic opportunities in a reunified Korea could further induce Chinese acquiescence, he said.

The diplomatic cables warn, however, that China would not accept the presence of U.S. troops north of the demilitarized zone that currently forms the North-South border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China would not comment specifically on the cables.

“China consistently supports dialogue between the North and South sides of the Korean peninsula to improve their relations,” Hong said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

In the leaked cable, Chun predicts the government in Pyongyang would last no more than three years following the death of ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who is seeking to transfer power to his youngest son Kim JongUn, a political ingenue in his 20s.

Chun also dismisses the possibility of Chinese military intervention if North Korea descended into chaos.

Despite that, China is preparing to handle any outbreaks of unrest along the border that could follow a collapse of the regime. Chinese officials say they could deal with up to 300,000 refugees, but might have to seal the border to maintain order, the memos say, citing an unidentified representative of an international aid group.

Chinese officials are also quoted using mocking language in reference to North Korea, pointing to tensions between the two neighbors in contrast to official statements underscoring strong historical ties.

Then-Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei is quoted as telling a U.S. official in April 2009 that Pyongyang was acting like a “spoiled child” by staging a missile test in an attempt to achieve its demand of bilateral talks with Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the leaked documents. Officials around the world have said the disclosure jeopardizes national security, diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships between foreign governments.

Five international media organizations, including The New York Times and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, were among those to receive the documents in advance. WikiLeaks is also slowly posting all the material on its own site.

 

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Reports accuse WHO of exaggerating H1N1 threat, possible ties to drug makers

Posted by Admin on June 8, 2010

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010; 3:52 PM

European criticism of the World Health Organization’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic intensified Friday with the release of two reports that accused the agency of exaggerating the threat posed by the virus and failing to disclose possible influence by the pharmaceutical industry on its recommendations for how countries should respond.

The WHO’s response caused widespread, unnecessary fear and prompted countries around the world to waste millions of dollars, according to one report. At the same time, the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations relied on advice from experts with ties to drug makers in developing the guidelines it used to encourage countries to stockpile millions of doses of antiviral medications, according to the second report.

The reports outlined the drumbeat of criticism that has arisen, primarily in Europe, of how the world’s leading health organization responded to the first influenza pandemic in more than four decades.

“For WHO, its credibility has been badly damaged,” wrote Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, a prominent British medical journal, that published one of the reports. “WHO must act now to restore its credibility.”

A spokesman for the WHO, along with several independent experts, however, strongly disputed the reports, saying they misrepresented the seriousness of the pandemic and the WHO’s response, which was carefully formulated and necessary given the potential threat.

“The idea that we declared a pandemic when there wasn’t a pandemic is both historically inaccurate and downright irresponsible,” said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in a telephone interview. “There is no doubt that this was a pandemic. To insinuate that this was not a pandemic is very disrespectful to the people who died from it.”

The first report, released in Paris, came from the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which launched an investigation in response to allegations that the WHO’s response to the pandemic was influenced by drug companies that make antiviral drugs and vaccines.

“The parliamentary assembly is alarmed about the way in which the H1N1 influenza pandemic has been handled, not only by the World Health Organization (WHO), but also by the competent health authorities at the level of the European Union and at national level,” the 18-page draft report states.

“It is particularly troubled by some of the consequences of decisions taken and advice given leading to distortion of priorities of public health services across Europe, waste of large sums of public money, and also unjustified scares and fears about health risks faced by the European public at large,” according to the report.

The second report, a joint investigation by the BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is based in London, criticized 2004 guidelines the WHO developed based in part on the advice of three experts who received consulting fees from the two leading manufacturers of antiviral drugs used against the virus, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

“We are left wondering whether major public health organizations are able to effectively manage the conflicts of interest that are inherent in medical science,” the report states.

Hartl dismissed those charges.

“WHO would say categorically that it believes that it has not been subject to undue conflict-of-interest. We know that some experts that come to our committees have contact with industry. It would be surprising if they didn’t because the best experts are sought by all organizations,” Hartl said. “We feel that the guidelines produced were certainly not subject to undue influence.”

Several other experts also defended the agency.

“Twenty-twenty hindsight can always second guess the decisions of public health officials,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, a private nonprofit group. “But this kind of condemnation of public health officials who made the most prudent decisions based on available knowledge could well backfire in future emergencies: I fear that public health officials will draw the lesson that they should wait for greater scientific certainty before responding in the future — and we could pay for that overcaution with many lives lost.”

In response to the criticism, the WHO has launched two investigations, including one by an independent panel of experts led by Harvey Fineberg, who heads the Institute of Medicine at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

“These reports raise questions about potential, inappropriate influences on WHO decision-making in the assessment and response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and, more generally, question practices employed by WHO to guard against conflict of interest among its expert advisers,” Fineberg said in an e-mail. “These topics are among those that will be fully considered by our review committee.”

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