Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 15, 2018

Jeffery Lewis at the Daily Beast has finally found a solution to the problem with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s port-a-potty. By bombing the dynastic successor’s port-a-potty, the US would demonstrate both precision and presence. This would be the proverbial “arrow” from Robin Hood, conveniently shooting its way into the Sheriff’s chamber.

Though the “papers” have not been “supplied” to top “brass” at press time, the premise has merit: showing that the US means business by “denying entry” for Kim to do his. While the “move” would surely cause an “emergency”, their could be new security concerns about “individual privacy”. The strategic proposal does not clarify whether or not to strike the “facility” while it is “occupied” by Kim “forces”.

As for other port-a-potties in the region, China and Taiwan are deep in their own “potty” match. China is unilaterally opening new flight routs, reportedly in violation of agreements under the International Civil Aviation Organization. New flight routs are “required” to be coordinated first, but these were not. China simply “activated” them. The routs are very close to Taiwan airspace and Taiwan has made quite the buzz about it.

The US further complicated matters with a unanimously-passed bill from the House: the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows for high-level diplomatic visits between the US and Taiwan “under respectful conditions”. The bill serves to support a shared “commitment to democracy”. The House also passed HR 3320, which directs the Secretary of State to strategize for Taiwan to regain “observer status” at the World Health Assembly, which Taiwan failed to obtain in years past.

China made its own moves, particularly with doubts on the continued purchase of US Treasury bonds. That sent tremors through the markets in multiple directions.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 8, 2018

The talks between South and North Korea are not at all what they are cracked up to be. While the world would love to believe that this is some grand exercise in “can’t we all just get along” diplomacy that always-only ever failed under Obama in any and every hemisphere, North-South talks are not what they seem. They are a distraction, a false pretense, an ostensible cover story, a smoke screen for something much, much deeper.

In all likelihood, the talks will include a very subtle Asian-style, excessively subtle (since it’s among Koreans) offer. Even bachelor’s degree students of business management study the science of talking to an employee in such a way that he doesn’t figure out he’s being fired until he gets home and takes his first bide of dinner. Leonardo explained the idea well in his movie Inception.

The meeting, capitalizing on participation in the Olympic games so strategically timed and placed, is more akin to the close of the series The Sopranos. A lieutenant of a rival family meets with the head of another family to plot the “offing” of his own boss in order to stop an ugly war that no one wanted, which started when that new boss came to power. The rival family “does in” their own boss at the gas station, the main character makes his hospitality rounds, and the story ends.

That’s what this seems like. The Trump administration is allowing it, taking partial credit in a preemptive expectation of due accolades, also reminding the Asian world that communication is a good thing. Symphony said the same two days before Trump sent his January 4 Tweet to the same effect: without pressure from the US there would be no talks.

If Kim Jong Un eventually disappears in the months ahead, remember that it all came from this meeting, purportedly about the Olympics. There wouldn’t be any moves in northern Korea without already having “certain assurances”.

But, don’t let that distract you. Taiwan is definitely playing its role in provocative and irksome “spitting matches” with China. As with the min-boss in The Godfather Part III, Taiwan wouldn’t do that without “backing”.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 2, 2018

China claims no part in the Hong Kong and Taiwan -related ships recently stopped by South Korean officials for illegally supplying oil to North Korea. China’s claim might be believable, but during the holiday week, China blocked a UN attempted to blacklist those very vessels caught in the act. By blocking the block of the “smoking gun” ships, as it were, China has defined itself as an accomplice. It’s a mere matter of fact and definition. There is no defense for China in regard to having some part to play with these two seized vessels.

Russia’s role, however, seems more dominant and should be more disconcerting. But, where does the attention from the press turn to blame but China. The press loves to make China the global scapegoat, but China’s responses don’t help its own disposition any.

Beijing made it clear that military exercises all around Taiwanese airspace are the “new normal” and Taiwan will just have to get used to it. Taiwan is re-focusing strategy for asymmetric warfare—politically correct military language for “fighting a bigger enemy”. Several Taiwanese companies are “rethinking” the presence of their factories in China after an entire zone was targeted for zone-wide shutdown. The catch to the zone shutdown story is that the entire zone is said to be targeted for a few blackout days because only some factories in the zone are polluting the environment too much. Factories that are within environmental regulations also have to shut down, argued to include Taiwanese-owned factories. Many factories in that zone are Taiwanese-owned. If China isn’t sending a message that Taiwanese aren’t welcome then Beijing could do a better job of not making it look that way.

Again, China’s actions indicate more and more that China is hostile toward democracies in the East Pacific, namely South Korea and Taiwan. From the perspective of Americans reading Western headlines, it is more difficult every day to come to China’s defense. That perspective among the masses is what the Pentagon is waiting for.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 26, 2017

This week was incredibly calm in Asia. China has some non-defined goals of grandeur, though some voices in the Western press cast their usual doubts. China’s big obstacle with becoming a tech leader is two-fold: 1. lack of measurable methods and 2. social media.

Westerners use Facebook and Google to communicate with friends, family, and associates. By blocking Facebook, China is blocking Westerners as well as leading technology. By definition, “global” methods can’t merely involve competitor social media unique to China. Whether China has good reason to block the social media giants is a separate question altogether. If China wants to become a leader, it must have a measurable, defined way forward in its tech and trade ambitions, which must include how to involve people and markets that it has blocked by proxy.

Korea was also unusually quiet. The saber rattling took a hiatus over the holiday pre-week. On Christmas, North Korea was sure to puff its chest out, but that’s about all. It is entirely possible that the problems in Korea will magically and abruptly vanish, Korea will be united, and both the Communists and the Westerners will just go home. But, that would never have happened without the mounting pressure from both sides.

Whatever reconciliation comes at the end of this Korean “situation”, we will have both North Korea and the US military presence to thank for it. Should whatever new Korea emerges snub the US for providing the pressure to resolve a conflict no one else could, Korea’s best days would thus be in the past. Keeping friendship during times of peace is vital to keeping that peace. Lasting peace in Korea means lasting peace among Koreans as well as its friends and neighbors. Should there be a bloodless peace in Korea and America troops just up and leave, the US will probably beef-up its presence with Taiwan. That would be the other shift.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 18, 2017

All signs indicate a gear-up for war. The US is full on-tilt, not only in military prep, but also in blaming China. The US and China face each other with North Korea in the middle. There is nothing China or Russia will do to stop Washington from gobbling North Korea whole, but a reaction is to be expected. A war just east of China’s border should rouse China’s military, if for no other reason than that North Korea might go rogue and invade China as a means of escape.

The US also has a precarious position. China trades with and supplies North Korea; of particular interest is oil. The US recently reached an oil deal with China to pay back China on old debts with oil from Alaska. Recent comments from Washington, including a statement at the UN, include that China must do its part to stop feeding North Korea, otherwise the US will take its own means of handling the part it was hoped China would handle. That’s no threat, but it is an expected warning, as it is expected that Beijing would respond defensively.

So, we are headed to war and China won’t sit this one out. While it is unlikely the Chinese would help North Korea defend a war with the US, the more likely option is an invasion of Taiwan. If China invades Taiwan, it would likely be seen as mere retaliation from the West, but would make strategic sense from China’s view—at least if China assumes that invading Taiwan could be a success. With the US busy and expanding pro-democracy South Korea’s borders northward, China would naturally want more territory. China might also thing that the US is too occupied with Korea to worry about Taiwan. And, the recent step-up in regular rhetoric over bipartisan support in Congress to defend Taiwan is China’s perfect excuse to justify a strike of its own.

We’ll have to wait and see how things play out. But, don’t think that there isn’t plenty of China-blaming in the press, including speculation that China would actually back North Korea militarily or even the smear by making China look inhumane for its implementation of the death sentence. Human Rights or not, there are press forces in the West always trying to smear China. But, just as much rhetoric comes from all sides, including Russia.

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