Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 20, 2017

Trump visited China in friendship and peace. His granddaughter sang in Mandarin. Her video was played at a high profile state banquet. Everyone seemed happy.

In South Korea, President Moon, likely to go down in history as a failed diplomat-wannabe, rehashed South Korean hard feelings against the Japanese. His country— threatened by his enemy to the north, backed by its ally, China—is cozying-up with China.

Trump was en route to visit the DMZ in Korea, but heavy fog forced Marine One to turn around. The US president returned home and China sought to strengthen relations with North Korea.

Regardless of whatever happens in and between the US, Japan, China, and North Korea, South Korean President Moon will go down in history as a capitulator who let a century-old vendetta guide him into the friend of his enemy. While the Western press narrative is to paint China as the bad guy, Moon is the real bad guy because he is the only leader in Asia who shows weakness.

China would do well to learn from Moon’s errors. Every bit of progress China makes with Korea comes from pressing forward and abandoning revenge campaigns of the past. Everything South Korea stands to lose comes from reviving revenge campaigns of the past.

Korea, both North and South, has become an arena. With North Korea’s dependency on China and Moon’s capitulation, Koreans are no longer players in the game. Either the US or China will be the one to bring peace on the peninsula and the region. The winner will be whoever looks to the future and forgives the past.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 13, 2017

At the APEC summit in Vietnam, Putin told Trump that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election. Putin was sincere. At the same time, Taiwan is beefing-up cybersecurity, ostensibly to counter “daily” and “Russian style” attacks originating in China. If everyone’s rhetoric holds true, that means that there aren’t any threats at all.

Trump offered to help settle disputes in the South Sea. The Philippines’ finance minister complemented Trump on knowing “the art of the deal”. The Filipino president does not want any problems in the South Sea. China would rather settle disputes one-to-one. Will everyone get what they want? We’ll have to see. This is a chance for China also to earn compliments about negotiation skill from Filipino leadership.

Trump was very friendly in China. He underscored the importance of cooperation between the US and China. It was one of the kindest things he ever said. He publicly conducted himself in some of the kindest ways he ever has since running for office. China received him with respect and his public appearances went smoothly. If there ever was a good chance for peace, now is the best chance there has been for a long while and is probably the best chance there will yet be for a long while.

Will things go peacefully? We’ll see.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 6, 2017

While America faces its own falling “houses of cards”, Asian empires face their own truth. With three aircraft carriers, and a fourth soon on the way, the US military presence in Asia is the highest it has been in a long while. Trump is currently making the longest presidential visit to Asia since 1992. It’s a bold move, something the hermit kingdom wouldn’t dare.

The bold visit to the region is part of a greater strategy, make no mistake. On the one hand, Trump gains respect if he only launches an attack in a region he has already visited. On the other hand, the enormous military presence makes it clear who can’t win, no matter the losses. Arguably, the military buildup wasn’t so much preparation for an invasion as it was to make the way for a visit from the president. A presidential visit to the region shows solidarity on Trump’s part: North Korea’s days are numbered. That level of confidence outshines both Kim John Un and Xi Jinping.

Make no mistake, Trump’s visit serves not only to understand leaders, not only to court favor with his voter base, but also to gain respect from the people living in Asia—both in the countries he visits and the countries he does not.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 30, 2017

In the daily governance of Hong Kong, China has proven itself as a competent overseer. Hong Kong’s “Basic Law”, a kind of mini-constitution imposed not by referendum, keeps the SAR autonomous. Hong Kongers have only two reasons for complaint, having not chosen the Basic Law for themselves and the gentrification of Chinese money re-defining native Hong Kongers as a new lower class living among some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Crud hit the fan, however, when Beijing decided to “vet” Hong Kong politicians in advance. The Basic Law makes no direct provision for advanced-vetting, a statutory or policy decision heavily subject to interpretation. Youth are often quick to complain. In the minds of Hong Kong youth, Beijing’s advanced-vetting policy is a violation of the Basic Law. Accordingly, Hong Kong youth have no interest in learning about the Basic Law from Beijing.

Now, Beijing has planned a Hong Kong -wide broadcast from a Mainlander—a Chinese speaking from Beijing’s view—to educate Hong Kong students about the Basic Law. Schools are under no obligation to participate in Beijing’s offer, so the public is led to understand. But, when your higher authority vets your politicians without a word-for-word clause to justify it, then invites your school to optionally learn how to follow the law, it is difficult not to feel some kind of pressure to “volunteer”.

The best thing for China to earn good will is to rescind the advanced-vetting policy in favor of Hong Kong’s local interpretation of the Basic Law and to allow only three schools to listen to the Basic Law address, applying with good reason. That’s “basic law” of supply-and-demand economics. But, those ideas may be difficult for the Communist regime to quickly grasp.

So, it looks like China’s path ahead will see plenty of conflict and strife. The student objections to the Basic Law seminar will by no means be the last, nor will it be Beijing’s last attempt to educate Hong Kong’s population.

The US has its own approach to PR. Notice how Korea made fewer Western headlines this week, though the situation is far from finished. Trump’s planned visit, purportedly to include the Korean DMZ, is certainly a bold move to demonstrate courage from a leader and to eclipse North soldiers’ respect for Kim Jong Un who wouldn’t dare to get close. Don’t be surprised if Trump walks right up to the border and speaks through a megaphone and says, “Where is Kim Jong Un? He can talk to me. Your leader is a coward. Don’t trust him.” Don’t be surprised. Such a move befits Trump and would begin a cascade of implosion from within the Kim Dynastic ranks.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 23, 2017

Now, North Korea may have biological weapons. Every week, the news is worse and worse. Eventually, a conflict with North Korea will feel more like a relief to the public than an outrage, just from fatigue of bad news overdose. That level of fatigue is—or at least should be—part of military logistics calculation. However, that doesn’t indicate whether the US plans a strike, only that increasing public support for action is yet another metaphoric “cannon” aimed at the Korean Peninsula. While the Kim Dynasty may not wise up to the mounting forces at its doorstep, Russia and China know that public support from the US shouldn’t be ignored.

China, however is strengthening its long-term ambitions. The incumbent president, Xi Jinping, has been named and received honorary titles that place him above past presidents. There is talk of him becoming a “Chairman”, thus equating him to Mao. Don’t underestimate the power of a “mere title” in Chinese culture. Even with no written authority behind a title, Chinese culture is and always will be stronger than any law it writes to keep the “legalists” satisfied. Such a long-time leader retaining power compares him to the seemingly lifetime leader in Russia, Putin.

North Korea is a strategic linchpin for the China-Russia powers. Militarily, they cannot allow a united Korea. But, logistically, they may not be able to stop it either. Just as war games often do, propping up a Communist Dynasty may have backfired. That’s a lesson to everyone, the US included. The US might not heed warnings when the balance temporarily tips in its favor. Meddling is always a bad idea, whether you win or lose, this time.

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