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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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 9, 2017

Taiwan publicized reports that China was pushing for its dream of reunification through many venues and in many nations. The fact that China works so diligently through aggressive diplomacy further indicates that the “military option” being less than preferable with North Korea carries some continuity with China’s policy concerning Taiwan. That’s not to say it is beyond Beijing to decide to strike Taiwan, only that it would demonstrate that China had exhausted other methods it preferred in its determination.

Military deescalation is not out of character with China. Chinese troops were friendly with the defense minister from India in her recent visit to the disputed area. Late August, China halted building the road that India objected to in a way that saved face for China, but also appeased India for the time. This doesn’t indicate any change of heart nor indicate that China is not relentless, but the Asian culture of “preferring smoothness” in disputes seems to be holding true with non-volatile land on which China hopes to fly its flag.

Trump’s resolve and openness, however, are a contrast to China’s. In his “only one thing will work” comment this week, the US president is not afraid to use a military option to bring peace to a region if that region is arming up and dangerous. If the US wins in a conflict with North Korea, the US flag would not fly as the authority on that soil.

China is preparing for a routine leadership review. Much of the top brass under Xi Jinping will rotate out, but he himself is not set to retire anytime soon. While there may be some changes in temperature, there will be no change in the speed or direction China has been taking.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 2, 2017

Things are stepping-up in Korea. The US is gearing up for a “military option”. The question is how China will respond. China’s approach with Taiwan is a contrast of priorities or a strong indication about China’s approach with North Korea. If China won’t take harsh action to stop a nuclear North Korea, then logically China should not be painted as a “hostile villain” over TAO (Taiwan Affairs Office) statements concerning Taiwan.

China has a reputation to defend, which includes normal political posturing. If China were to ignore a nuclear North Korea, but attack Taiwan during a time of no military conflict, that would seem to the world as “inconsistent”. The Taiwan situation hit many headlines this week.

Taiwan’s new Premier William Lai commented this week about “status quo”. He shared his personal opinion at an early stage in his tenure, more or less observing that China and Taiwan behave as if they are already sovereign and that the main two political parties in Taiwan hold a policy that Taiwan has a government with a constitution that considers itself sovereign. Lai’s comments focused on observing “status quo”, added that, personally, he is “pro-independence”, and that he will remain in-step with Taiwan’s President Tsai, regardless of his own career and personal views.

Lai admitted that he should have kept his personal views to himself, but indicated that such transparency of his personal view is part of an ingenuous disclosure when legislators are inquiring about him as recently approved for his public office. Needless to say, China was not pleased. Beijing responded with some simple public statements.

How serious is China about any intent to start a war to reclaim Taiwan? The first sober question would be about preparatory military exit strategy. Arguably, the US has more at stake in Taiwan than in North Korea.

Taiwan has more than a few F-16s, Apache helicopters, and other military and naval assets—all supplied by the US. If China’s government were to exert power over Taiwan, that would change status quo—something Premier William Lai says would require a vote in Taiwan. But, the question few people ask is what to do with all those F-16s, helicopters, and naval assets.

If China truly intended to “go to the mattresses” to change status quo with Taiwan, at the very top of its statement would be a plan to first send all of that military equipment back to the United States, to gut technology from all military installations in Taiwan, and to provide to move nearly all adult men in Taiwan to any country other than China. Adult men in Taiwan serve “compulsory” military time in a military that used US military tech. That means nearly half of Taiwan’s entire adult population would be a security threat if governed by a regime seated in Beijing. They, and their families would need to be relocated. China would be taking control of an empty island with massive infrastructure.

Beijing has presented no such “exit strategy” for US military assets in Taiwan. That does not mean Beijing is not deserving of “respect”—the foremost question on many minds in Beijing. It simply raises questions about how much the “Taiwan question” has been thought through.

Even with all that is happening in North Korea, more security eyes should be turned to how China will deal with Taiwan once North Korea stops making headlines—or more importantly, when North Korea makes far more headlines than it already does.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, September 25, 2017

China is taking a turn for the better over North Korea’s “Rocket Man”. Stronger sanctions, limits on trade, cutting off oil, halting banking—it was all a wise move on China’s part.

At the United Nations, North Korea made no new friends. They made no indications of any change of heart. North Korea shares the same view of President Trump as the American Left: that he is crazy and irrational and should be called the types of names expected on an elementary school playground.

Even China’s new best buddy, Russia, is concerned for stability in the region. It’s not a threat. It doesn’t sound like a threat. Russia is genuinely concerned. Conflict with North Korea is, indeed, a nosedive and it does affect all Koreans, both North and South, as well as Japan, Russia, and, of course, China. Ending trade is the best bet.

Keeping North Korea alive and kicking as a China-Russia buddy is no longer a reasonable “hopeful”. Now, it’s about damage control. China is being urged to consider cleaning up the dismembered parts of a soon-to-be-former North Korea to avoid other problems.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is expected to call an election. There’s no better time to get re-elected than when the backyard “Rocket Man” is firing missiles over your country and Russia and China won’t do anything about anything except cut off trade with “Rocket Man”. So, from this week’s ongoing drama with North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Abe is likely to remain in office and China got more involved.

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