Drafting Peace in the Pacific: Asia, April 13, 2017

We no longer live in a world without alliances. Yes, individual nations retain sovereignty within their borders. However, the days are over when a single nation will boss and police an entire region alone. One nation can no longer take out an “enemy” in another nation as the “lone ranger”. Any nation that tries will face scorn from others. If a government goes rogue, a plurality of other nations must intervene. This is international political gravity today.

We live in a world of growing alliances between sovereign nations.

China has been seeking respect and peace in its part of the world. The US has been seeking to cut off enemies before they have an opportunity to grow. In the Far East, the US’ solution has been to patrol freely in Asian waters. China’s solution has been to fly its national flag on more soil. Neither process will continue to work. And, if both processes continue, they will lead to unimaginable fallout, what some might think as WWIII, though still not that grand.  · · · →

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 3, 2017

China continues an uphill battle with the Western media. Sunflower students were cleared of all charges in their occupation of their nation’s legislature three years ago, almost to the day. Joined by leaders Lin and Chen, Joshua Wong from Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement urged the release of a Taiwanese college instructor, Lee Ming-che, from China’s custody. Lee is an advocate for human rights and is being held for matters of “national security”.

The best way to understand the Hong Kong Umbrella movement’s end game is regime change in China. Hong Kong has no military and pro-independence Hong Kongers don’t seem to be advocating mandatory military draft enrollment for all Hong Kong males. Taiwanese males not only have mandatory draft enrollment, but have a minimum compulsory service time after finishing school. Taiwan’s student movement interrupted secret government talks between the US adversary China and the US ally Taiwan. Taiwan purchases military equipment from the US, including Apache gunships and F-16 fighters, though trade was the primary concern of the Taiwanese protest. Both military and trade are China-related talking points from President Trump, especially this week. No such talking points related to the Hong Kong protests.

The Taiwanese movement was led by young men who would serve in their nation’s military, disrupted the government’s legislature for three weeks, and resulted in change. The Hong Kong protests were led by young men forbidden by their government from serving in their military, occupied public streets for three months, and only led to international attention. The only way to gauge the Hong Kong protests as a success is if the goal was to stir international attention in the media to raise sentiment against China—enough sentiment that China’s government changes enough to grant Hong Kong independence. That is quite a significant change, enough for China to consider the matter one of national security.

So, then, viewing activism as a matter of “national security” in China makes sense. Hong Kong’s status with China and human rights are topics Western media readers are interested in. By detaining people who live outside of China inside of China, activists such as Joshua Wong are receiving all the ammunition they need, courtesy of China.

China truly is in a war against the Western newspapers. That is probably why economics are Beijing’s primary tool against North Korea, while Donald Trump seems to have a different strategy in mind.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 27, 2017

North Korea is ready to nuke, Hong Kong has a new CEO, and China is talking. In fact, China is talking with almost everyone, even Taiwan, as headlines would have us believe.

Hong Kong’s new CEO, Carrie Lam, is ostensibly favored by China’s Communist Party. But, all politicians in the special administrative region are vetted by Beijing. The western press is beside themselves with how much control Beijing exerts, regardless of how loyal Lam actually is. Nothing has been proven yet because she hasn’t had a chance to do anything yet. She was just elected. Of course, in the minds of the western press, Beijing is guilty until proven guilty.

Hong Kong is self-proclaimed as “Asia’s World City”. It is the doorstep of semi-closed China to the open West. What happens in Hong Kong is exactly what Beijing wants the world to see. What Beijing sees as an advertisement the West sees as “public relations”—for better or worse. Lam is Beijing’s choice as the new “poster girl”. While she didn’t get there by being incompetent, the true test of CEO Lam’s leadership will be whether she creates or prevents excuses for western headlines to make China look like a bully.

While the West villainizes Beijing, it is becoming more and more clear that China is doing what it thinks best for itself, but doesn’t understand PR with self-governing nations. All this outreach—Pakistan, New Zealand, India, Cambodia, the US, Taiwan—it’s going to backfire with stories like China not allowing a married Australian resident academic to return to Australia. In the mind of the West, the decision is what matters. In the mind of Beijing, the reasons are what matter.

China’s President Xi admitted last week, more or less, that China needed to play “tech catch-up” with the States. Now, China is investing in US startups to get military technology insight. Smart. The open, free enterprise, private, self-governed sector usually has the best tech.  The question Beijing should be concerned with is whether its researchers will hunger for the same inspiring freedom as the companies they seek to glean from. While Beijing hopes to acquire information, they may inadvertently acquire free market ideology. That can be quite unsettling, as if the Pacific doesn’t have enough “waves” already.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 6, 2017

China took the bait once again. Whether independence for Hong Kong and Taiwan would be better or worse, that independence becomes more likely every time the topic even comes up, no matter how much dissent the idea receives. Within China’s borders, the “all press is good press” principle may seem to work differently, but when China makes statements to the world beyond China’s press control, gravity and tides operate in a way that may seem foreign to Beijing. This week, China’s premiere stated the intention of having Taiwan return to Chinese control.

For better or worse, if China hopes to acquire Taiwan and keep Hong Kong, the most likely path to success is to never even mention, respond to, or otherwise acknowledge the subject in public—not ever. But, Chinese officials just can’t stop talking about it. So, for better or worse, while Taiwanese independence has seemed a likelihood with the US involved—and now all the more with Trump—the near impossibility of Hong Kong breaking away from China is being made less of an impossibility… for better or worse.

It’s not as if East Asia has a lack of problems. North Korea made its own headlines this week. It fired a missile into Japanese waters. Tokyo wasn’t happy. And, after Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was murdered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, North Korea’s ambassador made some statements, Malaysia objected, and now the visa-exempt program with North Korea has been given the boot, along with North Korea’s ambassador.

The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is making a tour sail with some Philippines cabinet members. Though everyone and his cat claims this is not a show of force, a show of force would not be without arguable reason. The largest active military in the world, which has neither declared victory nor defeat in any war, will soon have two aircraft carries. As China’s second aircraft carrier nears completion, videos have been released diagramming its basic construction. From the video, this first Chinese-made carrier was seemingly “reverse engineered” from China’s Soviet-made diesel-powered Liaoning, initially purchased to become a “floating casino”. Irony often accompanies poetry.

Any victory or defeat of China would be a first. So, logically, China’s stated ambition for change in the South Sea is, by definition, a gamble. Without history to calculate, with stepped-up rhetoric foreseeably backfiring, the Liaoning and its soon-to-be christened copy did become metaphoric casinos after all, for better or worse.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 16, 2017

China had so much going for it. Billions of US dollars had gone across the Pacific. The Olympics went to Beijing, where the world watched a one-hour history introduction about China leading into one world with one dream. Hong Kong was regained and prospering. But, like Captain Ahab determined to take revenge on the whale, China is about to lose everything over a few islands that either have never flown the Chinese flag or never existed until a few years ago.

Trump has out-smarted everyone he has come across. He knows more about China than China knows about him. When Trump had his ties made in China, he learned a lot about them and could stop giving them money any time he wanted—he had the power the whole time. If China defeats Trump, they will be the first. But, this Chinese government has never lost a battle because the only war they fought in—the Communist Revolution—they still haven’t declared victory over. They are just too new to the game.

This week, China rattled sabers around Taiwan, drawing out Taiwan’s defenses. And, Trump drew out China’s press statements in his defense of Taiwan. Normally, China can sing loud bravado and get things done wherever their flag flies. But, the rest of the world doesn’t dance to Beijing’s tune. The Chinese just don’t know that yet, but they seem determined to find out. And, it looks like they’re going to.

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