Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 10, 2018

The “Huawei arrest” sends yet another a irritatingly mixed message to China. China believes that a “strong response” concerning Taiwan will convince the US to back away from support for Taiwan. Conveniently for China, the recent provincial elections in Taiwan seem encouraging and Beijing has reached out to Taiwanese cities that just elected pro-Beijing party candidates.

Premier William Lai intends to resign at the “right time”. Could that time be what is necessary so he can run for president? Taiwanese politics are quite unpredictable. All we should expect is a series of surprises before, during, and after 2020. Considering where things stand in the world, we must remember that there is no way the UK could be on Taiwan’s side, especially since the UK has concerns about Taiwanese fisherman illegally killing dolphins as shark bait. With opportunity seeming to open, and the increased possibility of the loud-spoken, pro-independence William Lai to run for office, Beijing may be feeling put in an ever tightening situation that compels action.

As concerned as the Chinese are about security, they are far more concerned about insult. Without any sympathy from Western news audiences, an extradition of the Huawei executive from Canada to the US could push China over the edge. China believes that its horrific past justifies its conduct today. It is only a matter of time before Beijing decides that a strike against Taiwan, supported by cooperation with Taiwanese city governments, would send the US out of the region. Taiwan may not be seen by Beijing as the irritant of tensions, but the solution to them. The US might have a different opinion.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 3, 2018

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen apologizing after a mid-term defeat at the provincial level will not demonstrate strength on her part, but she shows respect and stability in maintaining her appointees and policy toward China. Having not stood her ground on information about proposal that would have set Taiwan’s team name at the Olympics in Japan as “Taiwan”, instead of “Taipei”, she lost important support from the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a group that seeks to have Taiwan internationally recognized as an independent nation.

Taiwan’s premier, William Lai, does stand for Taiwanese independence, held remarkable popularity in his reelection as mayor, and is the shoe-in candidate if he were to run in 2020 instead of Tsai. Tsai’s re-election is uncertain. What happens will depend on Taiwanese politics, which are too adolescent to not be surprised by. Main matters at stake include Taiwan developing faster responses to correct disinformation given to the public and a focus on better quality with internal governance and infrastructure. Interestingly, information and governance—not China itself—are at the heart of resistance to China.

If Taiwan declares independence from China, or takes too many steps to join international bodies like the UN, as Beijing has stated, we could be looking at all out war. Some in the political “news-o-sphere” call Taiwan a “flashpoint”. China hangs onto hopes of retaking Taiwan like King John’s suicidal siege of Rochester Castle. All the US does is provoke.

The latest provocation came late last week when Japan opened the path to retrofitting “helicopter carriers” into fixed-wing aircraft carriers. Japan looks to acquire 142 F35s—42 As and now 100 Bs; the UK eyes 138, about half of them to go to the Royal Navy. There are too many high-tech American aircraft in China’s backyard for China’s comfort. And, the US did two more sail-bys—one near China’s man-made islands, the other through the Taiwan Strait. China lobbed another “demarche” protest with Washington, presuming the action to be “provocative”.

Then came the US-China 90 day cease fire between Trump and Xi at the G20 this past weekend. A lot can happen in 90 days, whether politically, economically, or militarily.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 26, 2018

Taiwan held something akin to a “mid-term” election this past Saturday. The people revolted against the previous revolt. When electing the DPP two years ago, the people were fed up with the capitulation policies of Ma. Now, they are fed up with bad management of infrastructure, also an “establishment culture” surfacing in what should be the “opposition party”, among other grievances. Taiwan’s government cautioned China to wait and see how the election affects cross-strait policy before jumping to any conclusions—because they think China can’t figure that out.

China’s government and the Western press are going head to head. China held the American children of an estranged father and money laundering defendant. The New York Times made sure to plaster the picture of the young adult brother and sister at the top of the story. Exploiting children to sway outcomes just isn’t fair.

But, it didn’t stop at children. The New York Times also posted about cheap labor building Chinese AI. And, Forbes published an article with a graph that makes it look like China’s economy has bottomed out. The battle between China and its great and powerful foe—the Western press—rages on. China is at an unfair disadvantage, but presses forward fearlessly and valiantly.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 19, 2018

In Taiwanese politics, a mayor candidate’s comments about his own benefits from drinking honey-lemonade sparked retribution from the medical community. After a lump under his eye went away, apparently from a vegetarian and honey-lemonade diet, he actually said so. A professional from a hospital was quick to weigh in. It’s understandable. If people learned that honey could cure disease, hospital profits would plunge. More importantly, Taiwanese political debates would become outright boring without the ability to, as the saying goes, make lemonade from political debates.

But, lemonade really is important. Google search results even saw a spike after this essential talk of Taiwanese politics made news.

Meanwhile, at the ASEAN summit in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for nations to come together at a time when Southeast Asian stability was under threat. In anticipation of APEC after ASEAN, Mike Pence started talking tough, wanting results and genuine action from China concerning an even-flow of trade. He elaborated, that the US has a quarter of a billion dollars in tariffs and isn’t afraid to go twice as high as well as take more “diplomatic” action. It was a strong “they know that we know that they know what we think” remark, the kind that precedes otherwise objectionable action to make the action unobjectionable.

Later, at APEC, Pence warned of returning to a “cold war” while making plans for a US-Australian naval base in Papua New Guinea. Rather than dropping its tilted tariffs on goods, China has been openly gearing up for all out war three weeks. APEC ended without a written agreement between member nations for the first time ever because of the disagreements between the US and China.

This past weekend, Taiwan did something that China despises every bit as much as it cannot identify with: Taiwan hosted democratic election campaigns. With all the strong rhetoric concerning Taiwan, independence, and China’s loudly and often-spoken determination to invade Taiwan, there shouldn’t be any question where China’s war-in-preparation will start and why America will easily get involved.

America is already involved in Taiwan to quite an extent. AIT, the unofficial yet de facto US embassy in Taiwan, had an interview scheduled for release with a large TV network in Taiwan. But, after the interview, the TV network, TVBS, scrapped the interview. So, AIT shared the interview in its Facebook page, rather than relying on TVBS.

With the history lessons about Taiwan in almost every Taiwan-related story in the Western press, Americans will take an advancement against Taiwan as an advancement against themselves. China would be perceived as an aggressor and rightly so. Everything the US has done to provoke and irritate China would have only worked if China possessed the old school “Asian Pride” that Sun Tzu warned against, a pride that can’t be permitted in a world’s superpower because such pride is easily provoked just as much as it is easily shattered. Hardened pride makes for brittle peace. That’s something that the entire West won’t allow, the US notwithstanding.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 12, 2018

Xi Jinping announced yet another new policy for China: Blaming other countries is wrong, each country must deal with its own economic and environmental issues without the problem being someone else’s fault. While this 180° new direction should be welcoming to foreign companies whose intellectual property was taken by China, along with the neighboring lands that China has no presence in, yet threatened to invade, such as Taiwan, Xi gave no particular details as to how he planned to adjust China’s current action plan. In fact, Xi’s announcement came as if it was not any change at all, but a continuation of the current policy, that taking unoccupied territory and accumulating foreign technology without payment was necessary for China’s economic and environmental well being within its borders. Perhaps his intention was to further confuse the West about China’s international policy or perhaps he has made himself even more understandable than he ever has before. We’ll have to wait and see what actions follow to interpret Xi’s meaning.

China is growing its ties with Israel, for the time being. An infrastructure deal is said to be the kind that will irritate US President Trump. China, however, should be more concerned. Israel has some of the best counter-intel gathering in the world. If China does use the building contracts as an opportunity to spy, after Israel has a chance to respond, it might be the Chinese who break contract. Israel is one nation that China won’t be able to bully. As stubborn as ancient Asian worldviews can still be today, Israeli culture can be more stubborn. It’s not about race, it’s about two cultures about to collide. ‘Tis folly to double-cross a nation whose name means “wrestles with God”; and the name is not a reference to wrestling with China.

This week, Taiwan and Hong Kong did what they do best more than they have done before. When a Financial Times writer is banned from Hong Kong because he intends to interview an author—and that author’s speaking engagements are shut down after Chinese requests—the wisdom of Roger Branigin returns to the western readership: “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” China wasn’t satisfied to argue with an author who is more famous for it, but now wants to argue with more in the ink business. But, that wasn’t the most significant development of the week. Taiwan is labeled as the “island of hope” for Asia at an international forum for Human Rights hosted in Taipei.

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