Cadence of Conflict: Asia, August 20, 2018

The silent war between the Koreas is shifting to family reunions. Families split by the war are having a get-together today in the North. Trump has a deal with Kim Jong Un. Peace is moving forward, and Korean reunification along with it. Reunification is one of China’s values and things look great as they are. So, why does Xi Jinping need to go to North Korea? Does he also have family there? Perhaps he’s trying to market himself.

China has been busy marketing itself around the world as of late, as has Taiwan. So goes the other silent war—the silent war between China and Taiwan, though it’s becoming not quite so silent. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ingwen traveled this week. While in California, she did one of the most controversial and disrespectful things a president could do: She visited a coffee shop. Oh, China is so angry! How dare she do that!

The Taiwanese coffee chain, 85°C, has a few locations in California and Tsai Ingwen went to one of them. They even gave her a bag. She did that just to spite China! That’s all she ever thinks about. It’s not that great of a coffee shop anyway. Don’t visit there and try any of their lattes or cappuccinos or any of their many desserts. There are better things to do than just trying to spite China.

China protested, of course, as they rightly should for such a disrespectful thing Tsai Ingwen has done. Taiwan’s Premier, William Lai, lashed back, as did Tsai Ingwen. They think China’s not marketing itself rightly by objecting to evil things like visiting coffee shops. They want China to have a good image, but right now they think China’s doing it the wrong way. What the heck do they know anyway?

Taiwan has its own marketing problems. Former AIT director, the envoy from America to Taiwan, William Stanton says that Taiwan needs to market itself better. While things cool off in the Koreas, the marketing battle between the China’s is just warming up.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, July 2, 2018

NBC reported news of recent months to counter news of recent weeks. It wouldn’t be the first time NBC had a precarious definition of “news”. Intelligence reports about very specific details of possible uranium production were broken as “news” by NBC. Bloomberg and others reported that NBC reported it. Taipei Times reported that Bloomberg reported that NBC reported it. NBC breaking this “older” news made more news than the outdated “news” itself. The whole claim smells smelly. It’s likely a ruse, but we’ll need about two weeks to know with confidence.

Hong Kongers like to protest so often that they are expected to protest annually. This year, protesters claimed a 50k head turnout; Hong Kong police estimated less than 10k, which would be a record low. Surely neither crowd estimate had any bias or motive to distort the numbers.

Remember, Hong Kong students like to protest more than is deserved. China could do better with counter-PR, but not much can be done when dealing with spoiled students. Don’t be roused into hating China by the dwindling spoiled Hong Kongers. Protests are profitable in Hong Kong because they help sell newspapers in a market saturated with so many newspapers that they throw them at pedestrians on the sidewalks. Hong Kong’s biggest problem is complacent Christians.

A more genuine problem of concern is the attention Chinese manufacturers are drawing from Western press coverage of Taiwan court rulings. Taiwan makes about 60% of the world’s computer components. China wants in on the game and people are being prosecuted in Taiwan for stealing company secrets that would go to China. The biggest element of a case is in place: motive.

Most of the so-called “news” about trade wars are the most obvious. Companies are having problems with trade during a trade war. Really? This is considered news these days. Either that, or it is an obvious attempt to skirt the deeper issues behind the China-US trade war for global economy hopefuls hoping to sway public sentiment by reporting what was all foreseeable.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 21, 2018

Talk only went so far this week. I looks as if North Korea might not be dismantling its nukes, but hiding them, then threatening to close talks when exposed for this, then threatening to cancel the summit for some other list of excuses.

The big question on Kim Jong-Un backing out on the talks relates to his recent visits to China. Not that China has made any wild promises, but he feels somewhat confident in getting lippy with the US.

The big lesson was about Moon’s emphasis on diplomacy vs Trump’s emphasis on teeth. Diplomacy made progress in terms of leading to more diplomacy. But, actual action is a measurement of its own. So far, Trump’s action has led to China losing interest in any kind of trade war and Moon’s favored diplomacy seems to be leading to an undiplomatic end to diplomacy.

Things aren’t over nor have we seen the last surprise. The big news of the week is that China’s on the bench. Moon and Trump will meet to discuss Kim having a discussion with them in Singapore. Where’s China?—announcing its surrender on trade, reflecting on past meetings with Kim, another player that doesn’t really matter.

If Kim doesn’t show up, Moon’s populist diplomacy will prove to have failed and Trump will have the “political currency” for action against North Korea. Maybe that’s what China hopes for in allowing Kim to gain false hopes in something or other—to rationalize a little retaliatory action of its own. But, if military action was China’s first preference, Beijing would have already taken it.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 14, 2018

Disassembling nuke sites prior to meeting Trump may seem like a “save of face” for Kim Jong-Un, but it’s actually a statement of Trump’s influence. If Trump wasn’t an influence, then Kim wouldn’t be doing what Trump has been demanding for a long time. No doubt, North Korea and its pro-Communist supporters in the Liberal media will twist this into “Trump not making a difference” from Trump getting what he wanted even before a meeting.

The comparison from history would be a feudal lord quickly accomplishing everything his king asked before his next royal visit. To say the king didn’t make a difference would be just plain ignorant. We should expect as much.

But, Trump wants it that way. The more Trump has his name on the Korean reunification, the more China’s desperate thirst for “respect” will sting. China wants everything to look like everything everywhere was China’s idea, or else throw a temper tantrum. Trump’s low-key silence will deny the “fight fix” and the semi-centennial tantrum will have to wait a little longer.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 7, 2018

This was week of talk. A delegation from Washington went to talk with China. Trump talked about talking nice while talking. Economic talking heads are talking about the talks and everybody’s talking about it. Once the delegation that went to Beijing to talk gets back, they will talk with Trump. Warren Buffet even had some things to talk about.

Trump’s delegation to Beijing was indeed an olive branch. It spelled out “the line” in the sand, toured it, explained, it, discussed it, explored it, and made that line very, very clear. To quote Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, “Mr. Wayne didn’t want you to think that he was deliberately wasting your time.” But, the line is not the least bit likely to be respected.

China will ignore everything the US delegation explained and forewarned, but they will never be surprised when Trump does exactly what the delegation said he would, though they may act like it. More importantly, the list of expectations shows how well Trump knows China and Chinese methods of doing “business”.

Words like “retaliate” and “oppose” often surface with disfavor, as well as the US clearly being wise to the tactic of unofficially using backdoor channels to unofficially impose other restrictions to get what one wants. And, the US maintains its position on the “301” trade notice that China is non-market economy, specifically that China is to drop the matter completely and withdraw its appeals on the matter with the WTO.

There is no wiggle room in the US demands and those demands strongly demonstrate that Trump knows exactly the kinds of things Chins is likely to do. In essence the list of demands forbids exactly what China is most likely to do in the near future.

By contrast, China’s demands are mainly that the US back off on its recent action; that’s all. Consider the argument going around from pro-China stories about the trade “imbalance”—especially that US’ service and consulting help to narrow the “trade deficit”. The list of Chinese demands don’t account for this or ask that they be calculated in the “trade deficit”.

The mere demands, in themselves, tell us that China does not know what is about to happen in Washington and that Trump knows all to well—probably better than any of his advisers in the White House—what will happen in Beijing. China is in great danger.

Surprises are coming, somewhere. That’s how history always plays out. No war ends without the unexpected and there’s always a joker or two hiding in the deck. The surprises will likely include special and disputed territories, such as Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as international public opinion and some sector of trade or international protocol not yet considered or discussed by anyone—they will surprise everyone. That “surprise sector” could include ocean boundaries or specific products often traded. It could also be an act of God, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. But, we have no idea except that any intermediate history student should anticipate at least two surprises before the current cloud passes in the greater storm.

China looks at the US the way the poor working class looked at the aristocracy in Russia. Beijing thinks they are demanding “what is their right”. Remember, this is akin to “Opium War III”, started by a trade imbalance. China demands that the money and “tax payable by way of free technology” continue to flow net into China; the US demands things like “equal” and “fair” in the flow. That is rhetoric from the Opium War prelude. If that war resurfaces, the “English” speaking country won’t be Britain, though Britain still has a dog in the fight: Hong Kong is not to be changed for fifty years, yet this week Hong Kong military youth groups—comparable to Boy Scouts—rejected Chinese requests that they march according to PLA marching steps—meaning that China tried to make a change and Hong Kong could become a target for punitive action from China. Hence, Hong Kong is “fair play” in everyone’s opinion, including public opinion about everyone in the game.

If China had any kind of conflict with the West—whether militarily or over trade—the conclusion could require complete surrender of Hong Kong back to British rule—and Hong Kongers wouldn’t mind.

In the territorial disputes, Taiwan declaring independence would certainly rock the boat. Research says Taiwanese overwhelmingly view China as unfriendly. So, Taiwanese certainly wouldn’t mind making their contribution to making a few waves.

China is already on the bench with the Korean issue. Pyongyang just updated the North clocks to no longer be thirty minutes off, but back in time with the South. Where’s China?—exchanging trade demands with the country whose trade blockade preceded the Korean talks.

In all this, Warren Buffet’s advice is that China is a good place for the West to invest. We’ll see.

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