Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 21, 2018

Talk only went so far this week. I looks as if North Korea might not be dismantling its nukes, but hiding them, then threatening to close talks when exposed for this, then threatening to cancel the summit for some other list of excuses.

The big question on Kim Jong-Un backing out on the talks relates to his recent visits to China. Not that China has made any wild promises, but he feels somewhat confident in getting lippy with the US.

The big lesson was about Moon’s emphasis on diplomacy vs Trump’s emphasis on teeth. Diplomacy made progress in terms of leading to more diplomacy. But, actual action is a measurement of its own. So far, Trump’s action has led to China losing interest in any kind of trade war and Moon’s favored diplomacy seems to be leading to an undiplomatic end to diplomacy.

Things aren’t over nor have we seen the last surprise. The big news of the week is that China’s on the bench. Moon and Trump will meet to discuss Kim having a discussion with them in Singapore. Where’s China?—announcing its surrender on trade, reflecting on past meetings with Kim, another player that doesn’t really matter.

If Kim doesn’t show up, Moon’s populist diplomacy will prove to have failed and Trump will have the “political currency” for action against North Korea. Maybe that’s what China hopes for in allowing Kim to gain false hopes in something or other—to rationalize a little retaliatory action of its own. But, if military action was China’s first preference, Beijing would have already taken it.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 14, 2018

Disassembling nuke sites prior to meeting Trump may seem like a “save of face” for Kim Jong-Un, but it’s actually a statement of Trump’s influence. If Trump wasn’t an influence, then Kim wouldn’t be doing what Trump has been demanding for a long time. No doubt, North Korea and its pro-Communist supporters in the Liberal media will twist this into “Trump not making a difference” from Trump getting what he wanted even before a meeting.

The comparison from history would be a feudal lord quickly accomplishing everything his king asked before his next royal visit. To say the king didn’t make a difference would be just plain ignorant. We should expect as much.

But, Trump wants it that way. The more Trump has his name on the Korean reunification, the more China’s desperate thirst for “respect” will sting. China wants everything to look like everything everywhere was China’s idea, or else throw a temper tantrum. Trump’s low-key silence will deny the “fight fix” and the semi-centennial tantrum will have to wait a little longer.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 7, 2018

This was week of talk. A delegation from Washington went to talk with China. Trump talked about talking nice while talking. Economic talking heads are talking about the talks and everybody’s talking about it. Once the delegation that went to Beijing to talk gets back, they will talk with Trump. Warren Buffet even had some things to talk about.

Trump’s delegation to Beijing was indeed an olive branch. It spelled out “the line” in the sand, toured it, explained, it, discussed it, explored it, and made that line very, very clear. To quote Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, “Mr. Wayne didn’t want you to think that he was deliberately wasting your time.” But, the line is not the least bit likely to be respected.

China will ignore everything the US delegation explained and forewarned, but they will never be surprised when Trump does exactly what the delegation said he would, though they may act like it. More importantly, the list of expectations shows how well Trump knows China and Chinese methods of doing “business”.

Words like “retaliate” and “oppose” often surface with disfavor, as well as the US clearly being wise to the tactic of unofficially using backdoor channels to unofficially impose other restrictions to get what one wants. And, the US maintains its position on the “301” trade notice that China is non-market economy, specifically that China is to drop the matter completely and withdraw its appeals on the matter with the WTO.

There is no wiggle room in the US demands and those demands strongly demonstrate that Trump knows exactly the kinds of things Chins is likely to do. In essence the list of demands forbids exactly what China is most likely to do in the near future.

By contrast, China’s demands are mainly that the US back off on its recent action; that’s all. Consider the argument going around from pro-China stories about the trade “imbalance”—especially that US’ service and consulting help to narrow the “trade deficit”. The list of Chinese demands don’t account for this or ask that they be calculated in the “trade deficit”.

The mere demands, in themselves, tell us that China does not know what is about to happen in Washington and that Trump knows all to well—probably better than any of his advisers in the White House—what will happen in Beijing. China is in great danger.

Surprises are coming, somewhere. That’s how history always plays out. No war ends without the unexpected and there’s always a joker or two hiding in the deck. The surprises will likely include special and disputed territories, such as Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as international public opinion and some sector of trade or international protocol not yet considered or discussed by anyone—they will surprise everyone. That “surprise sector” could include ocean boundaries or specific products often traded. It could also be an act of God, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. But, we have no idea except that any intermediate history student should anticipate at least two surprises before the current cloud passes in the greater storm.

China looks at the US the way the poor working class looked at the aristocracy in Russia. Beijing thinks they are demanding “what is their right”. Remember, this is akin to “Opium War III”, started by a trade imbalance. China demands that the money and “tax payable by way of free technology” continue to flow net into China; the US demands things like “equal” and “fair” in the flow. That is rhetoric from the Opium War prelude. If that war resurfaces, the “English” speaking country won’t be Britain, though Britain still has a dog in the fight: Hong Kong is not to be changed for fifty years, yet this week Hong Kong military youth groups—comparable to Boy Scouts—rejected Chinese requests that they march according to PLA marching steps—meaning that China tried to make a change and Hong Kong could become a target for punitive action from China. Hence, Hong Kong is “fair play” in everyone’s opinion, including public opinion about everyone in the game.

If China had any kind of conflict with the West—whether militarily or over trade—the conclusion could require complete surrender of Hong Kong back to British rule—and Hong Kongers wouldn’t mind.

In the territorial disputes, Taiwan declaring independence would certainly rock the boat. Research says Taiwanese overwhelmingly view China as unfriendly. So, Taiwanese certainly wouldn’t mind making their contribution to making a few waves.

China is already on the bench with the Korean issue. Pyongyang just updated the North clocks to no longer be thirty minutes off, but back in time with the South. Where’s China?—exchanging trade demands with the country whose trade blockade preceded the Korean talks.

In all this, Warren Buffet’s advice is that China is a good place for the West to invest. We’ll see.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 30, 2018

One easy way to understand, at most “anticipate, but at least be unsurprised by developments in Korea and China is the “PDT Symphony Mad Asian Scientist Theorem”. This “Mad Scientist” theorem is not fact and likely untrue, but if applied, events somehow make sense. The theorem is as follows.

Let’s say there is a mad scientist somewhere in Asia who freely travels between China and North Korea. He studies a very specific niche: civilian control. Over the last sixty years or so, he would have easily observed in North Korea what happens to a society with absolute police state control over a comparatively small population completely isolated from the outside world. Propaganda and behavior are equally managed and controlled by the government there. This hypothetical “mad scientist” would have all the information he needs to understand an Orwellian society in full swing.

Then, let’s say, for whatever reason, North Korea is no longer a viable source for his societal studies and experiments—however he manages to implement them. He then goes to China, which seems to be following the same Orwellian methods, but on a population fifty times larger. That is the theorem.

As North Korea stops being the perfect place for the mythical “mad scientist”, China suddenly becomes the new laboratory. It’s not actually happening that way; it just seems to be. One small example of this is China’s new use of facial recognition; police wearing face-recognition glasses, face-recognition police robots looking for bad guys at train stations, and even cameras using face-recognition to crack down on the great threat of J-walking. No question, China is the world’s new North Korea, but with tech the Kim Dynasty never dreamed of.

Whatever is going on behind the scenes, this “peace deal” with North Korea is not all that it is purported or reported to be. South Koreans will be led to believe that the new peace will be the result of the new president Moon Jae-in’s emphasis on “diplomacy”. However much his diplomacy may have in fact helped, it’s not just any old kind of diplomacy. Obama also stressed diplomacy and we saw what happened there—or better said what didn’t happen. South Korea’s president had a special diplomacy, but he hasn’t said what made his so diplomatic methods get actual results.

Just as much, Trump’s embargo against North Korea also stepped up pressure, something obvious that receives some mention, but not much mention because it’s so obvious. The more likely Trump-effected factor in the North Korean deal is China. That you are likely to hear little about from Trump since people who make a difference rarely share all of their trade secrets. Trump is the great deal maker, after all. So, there is no way that we will know what all went on behind the scenes.

What most likely happened was a US implied threat made to China, a simple reveal of US military capability. “China, back off or you’re boiled toast, cooked, and well-done.” That’s what kind of message China must have gotten, one way or another. This is all the more obvious because of China’s response, grasping for friends.

Even with all this bravado about playing hardball with the US, China just opened up foreign investments at warp speed. Of course, China loves it when foreign money flows one-way into its markets. It’s working with an economic team from the US. And, China is also working on economics with its old, hard-earned enemy India—in the same “bromance” as Xi had with Trump.

The India deal won’t work because China always negotiates with a factor of “saving face”, an brittle value. If China really wanted India’s friendship, it would apologize for all past disputes—whether right or wrong—and permanently surrender all disputed land to India. But, it won’t because China isn’t demonstrating any change of heart, only a state of desperation.

For China’s sake, the decision makers in Beijing must be careful. India is no fool and “desperate” is exactly what India will see. India’s president will seek to exploit as much as he can from China, but India is by no means a friend of a nation that wants to be friendly and save face at the same time.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 23, 2018

The US is arming East Asia and disarming North Korea. China is a spectator in the Western game.

Reports and gossip about the latest North Korean promise to disarm ensnared many in the media. The South Korean Kumbaya singing President Moon Jae-in was quick to give his “peace in our time” report that North Korea has promised to disarm, with the connotatively-added meaning of “shortly after his election”. Trump Tweeted that disarming is great, “yuge” news, then the mainstream media ripped on Trump for an unverified report, particularly PBS. (Why does PBS still receive tax dollar money?) Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was more cautions about North Korean false promises, proving himself the most sober in the room.

Japan is looking into a stealthy F-22 F-35 hybrid from Lockheed Martin, in order to deter impedance from “Chinese” and “Russian” jets in its air defense zone. Taiwan is also looking at Patriot missile defense systems. The increased military talk in China’s backyard, particularly about China,  surmounts to the dogs fighting over who gets to eat the pheasant.

China is making so many flybys around Taiwan that scrambling jets over air defense zone approaches is a strain on the Taiwanese military budget. Taiwan might end up sending China a bill, likely by way of military money from the US and US tariffs on not yet mentioned Chinese goods. Also look for new Taiwan-favored trade deficits with the US in amounts similar to the cost of scrambling jets every few days.

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