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, 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, August 21, 2017

After President Trump warned that North Korea must never make any more threats, North Korea is making more threats than ever. Trump mentioned Hawaii and Guam in his warning, North Korea mentioned Hawaii and Guam in this week’s threats. Again, another US ship in the 7th Fleet crashed into a merchant ship, the USS John S. McCain, right in China’s back yard near Singapore. And, the Navy was sure to announce it to the world through Twitter—another blatant attempt to look incompetent if there ever was one. North Korea and possibly China may even believe it.

China is running into PR problems with the West. Of course, the Communist Party has their reasons, but the press wall between China and non-China makes it difficult to get the story straight.

Hong Kong Umbrella movement leader Joshua Wong was imprisoned this week, along with other leaders. China is not hiding the changes they are making in Hong Kong, even though the agreement between Britain and China was that no such changes would be made for 50 years as a condition of the handover. China has its reasons, but Britain would have no trouble convincing the public that the agreement that Hong Kong belongs to China has been invalidated.

India paid China money to collect annual rainfall data to prepare for seasonal floods. China has not fulfilled it’s contract to deliver the data India already paid for. The data relates to water flowing from China into India. Central territory of interest is Tibet. India provides such downstream data to two of its neighbors at no cost. This week, Chinese troops reportedly walked into India for a few hours, resulting in a few stones being thrown. China has its reasons, but India would have no trouble convincing the public that the agreement of data exchange between China and India to avoid dangerous flash-food incidents has been invalidated.

China has its reasons, but the West also has its reasons and China faces enemies on many sides. Vietnam is getting cozy with the US. India is getting irritated. And, North Korea’s status quo is past being defensible. If China were to find itself in a war, it would already be surrounded. But, rather than bolstering the home front, China is engaging in “venture wars”, seeking to have its flag flown over more territory. Such was the choice of King Richard in his Crusades, which arguably cost him France. Of course, it was his by rite, just as it is China’s by rite.

As things look, the Pacific conflict will likely draw China in on many sides. If China doesn’t win, those many sides will be fighting over many pieces; India may claim Tibet, Britain may reclaim Hong Kong, and Taiwan may sue for normalization with China.

It would be great if it didn’t come to that. But, then so would be a lot of things.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 13, 2017

Forget Japanese waters, headlines worry about North Korea and Hawaii. South Korea has their own two cents to add over the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half brother at Kuala Lumpur International. China says that North Korea and the US are like two trains headed on a collision course. China has a kind of “plan” to bring the US and North Korea together, but the US won’t make concessions for obeying a UN resolution and there is no mention of China cutting off its supply. It seems China wants to be the “great reconciler”, but the rift is too far between East and West. Japan’s answer is to strike first.

Taiwan may be able to make its own response. This week, the US handed off two Perry-class frigates to Taiwan. Taiwanese naval officers will learn how to operate the frigates from the US Navy and the ships should set sail in May. This is a very interesting development since President-elect Trump received a phone call from President Tsai, and since the US still has yet to deliver on several military sales, especially F-16s, that closed during the terms of former Presidents Obama and Ma.

China’s response to events this week is two-fold. An editorial with a persuasive tone appeared in China’s state-run Global Times, arguing that India would help itself more if it cooperated with Chinese strategies rather than Japanese and US strategies. Xi Jinping also underlined and emphasized China’s great need to catch up on technology. This comes in the wake of the coming American Lockheed Martin F-35 “Lightning II” fighter jet and the US Navy’s new electromagnetically trajected railgun. China’s response is both telling and predicting.

While China has made advances, both in approaching Tomahawk cruise missile technology and in nearing the completion of its first home made aircraft carrier (reverse engineered from a Soviet era carrier), China still feels claustrophobic. Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and India, not to mention the distant-yet-present US are all naval forces too close to China’s back yard. Xi feels the “squeeze”. China is in a tight spot.

President Xi also revisited his long-standing mission of countering squander and corruption within the Communist Party. By underlining the points he did, he seems to be vying for equity and credit. Doesn’t China’s leader have enough credibility or does Xi know something the West doesn’t? Regardlessly, the greater wild card is India. China believes that India is on the fence and is open to persuasion—and China is correct. Soon, India will feel its own squeeze. The question, then, will be whether India feels inclined to side with China rather than forces farther to its east or if India will decide to reverse engineer Western technology write persuasive editorials of its own.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 17, 2016

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 17, 2016

China expanded its network this week. The focal point was the BRICS summit. But, China also expanded its network into Space, sending Shenzhou 11 to the Tiangong 2 Space laboratory.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, China’s solar, trade, and finance network expanded into roads with India, fighting terrorism with Russia, and world peace with South Africa. Aerospace was also on the table; South Africa has drones, solar batteries, and wind turbines. The activity at BRICS is all so fascinating, it feels like a day at Silicon Valley.

The excitement wasn’t limited to BRICS. China also wiped-out a huge chunk of debt in a State visit to Cambodia. Cambodia borrowed more money. Who wouldn’t?

The week of tech and finance continued elsewhere in the Pacific. Taiwan is manufacturing military parts for the US, not only for the Wolf A1 Carbine, but also PAC-3 Patriot missiles.

But, tech week didn’t go so well for Northern Korea. Their Musudan missile test failed, at least according to the Pentagon. Bummer. Everything else was so exciting.

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