Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 11, 2017

More smoke got blown this week. South Korea’s president is stepping-up efforts to talk to China about North Korea. Asian culture dictates that a country as big as China doesn’t give a rat’s synthetic tail about what a small country like South Korea thinks. All South Korea can expect is to be in China’s debt merely for listening since the diplomacy won’t affect outcomes whatsoever. China probably knows this. Whatever “deal” does or does not follow Moon’s efforts with the Chinese will be an indication of China’s greater intentions for the future. Don’t expect too many fireworks; it’s mostly politicians blowing smoke.

Things in Korea are stepping up, however. More sanctions are coming down. Secretary of State Tillerson commented about possible naval blockades, which sent a threat of “declared war” bouncing back from the North Koreans—more blown smoke from all sides. As for South Korea and Japan cooperating with the US—they will be “watching” missiles from North Korea. Usually, missiles have little to watch other than a trail of—well, a trail of smoke.

The big note to take about Moon is that his obsession with “talking” and “reconciliation” could prove very valuable after other players (the US, the UN, possibly China and others) do their parts to initiate reunification on the Korean Peninsula. When Korea becomes one country again, it might benefit from a leader like Moon who hungers for an opportunity to get opposite sides talking. But, we’ll see.

China’s state-run tabloid commented that a visit from the US Navy to a Taiwanese Naval port would activate a kind of “Anti-Secession” law in China and China’s PLA would invade Taiwan and immediately reclaim the territory. The statement came months after US Congress approved and planned such port visits between Taiwan and the US for 2018. Taiwan is responding by constricting and banning select visits from Chinese diplomats, usually surrounding topics of “Human Rights” and warlike rhetoric. Again, all sides blowing more smoke without a shot fired, yet.

Usually, boiler cars bellow more smoke, blow their whistles, and let off steam as buildup to a conflict mounts—or just before a train wreck. The smoke is not without meaning, but as of this week, smoke blown remains little more than blown smoke and neither the topics nor the players have changed.

In fact, every small development reported by news outlets seems to follow the format of new facts in the first few paragraphs followed by the same, long background story, whether the background is about a conflict between North and South Korea or between Taiwan and China. That’s what you call a clue: The press seems to feel that the public will need that background for the avalanche of news to come.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, July 17, 2017

South Korea proposed to talk to North Korea this week. Much of the timing relates to anniversaries and upcoming holidays. Pyongyang is still angry about twelve waitresses who moved South and wants them back first. Seoul says the waitresses moved to the South of their own will. The US’ answer is a siege, including efforts to persuade Myanmar to curb their support for the North through arms purchases, as well as planned sanctions against Chinese banks that deal with the North.

Sanctions are a known form of pressure, but an invitation to talk is also a form of pressure because a rejection is bad press and raises public support for action from opposing countries. Pressure is mounting and North Korea will either deescalate quickly or else one wrong move will be the only excuse the US needs to yank the lynch pin.

China faces it’s own pressure, military, optics, and time, which is running out. Taiwan’s Navy is increasing cooperation with the US in a move included in the US military budget for 2018. Southern Taiwan is also beefing-up its naval base to handle both more traffic and more capacity. The upgrade should finish around 2025.

As for optics, Human Rights activists are managing to rally loads of bad international press against China. One activist died of a liver disease he acquired while serving an eleven-year term in China. Another was released after finishing a four-year prison sentence in China. A bookstore from Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay that was shut down will reopen in Taipei. The bookstore closed after its owners were arrested relating to activism about Human Rights and China.

While most international press paints China as the culprit, the more important matter is the surprise this is for the Chinese. In the West, bad press is countered with photo ops. In China, bad press is countered with imprisonment. A bookstore in Hong Kong was a way to spread ideas to Chinese nationals visiting Hong Kong from the mainland. China views itself as trying to help the people; criticism can’t be “constructive” by definition and must therefore be silenced. But, that method only works in one’s own territory.

Protests in Hong Kong gain attention from international press China does not control. By shutting down a bookstore in Hong Kong, that bookstore moved to a location farther from Beijing’s reach and where it can gain more international press, sacrificing its ability to spread propaganda into China. This is backfiring against China internationally, but not at home. Most international news analysis won’t include that China doesn’t expect it to happen that way. The Chinese genuinely believe that Xi Jinping’s “protestless” visit to Hong Kong is good press and the only press that matters.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 22, 2017

The big question surrounding the time of North Korea’s end will be logistics. It won’t be about tactics or the “most diplomatic-surgical way” to end the volatile regime. While the scene is that of the super villain who has strapped himself into a chair, booby-trapped with trip wires and armed with explosives, even more important things are going on. Large-scale powers don’t think about micro-tactics, they think about logistics. And, logistics are shaping-up.

Social energy is one important logistic. The people of nations involved must see a viable path to support certain action. Navies in the region are burning up tax dollars, something that can’t continue forever. Taiwan is itching for recognition in the world and the world itches for Taiwan to be recognized—and Taiwan is making much more progress than in years past. Then, there is trust.

From a PR perspective, China is failing. But, from a spying perspective, China has turf to defend. China’s isolationist policies may seem anti-free speech to the West, but China sees spies to catch and leaks to plug. Trump doesn’t like leaks either. Spies are dangerous. China is willing to kill them while Americans publicly oppose executions while secretly wishing the deaths of their daily enemies. China’s execution and imprisonment of CIA spies caught during the Obama years is very understandable. But, the American public won’t see it that way.

This week, a huge ramp went up to alert the public to “news” that is anything but. China caught and executed CIA spies long ago. It didn’t matter until now, when social support is an important calculation with logistics of war. That explains the Pentagon statements and the newspaper trends in America as well as Europe and Australia. The Western public is being rallied against China. That is significant.

Then, there is China’s image with the Koreas. China won’t be too hard on North Korea. China is banning South Korean travel because it doesn’t like the US presence in South Korea. That’s understandable, but not to the pop star fans in South Korea or the United States. When South Korean pop stars tour the US, more young people in the US will become aware of the issues. China could have stopped it, but Beijing still struggles to understand the Western mind. The Korean pop star fans in China might start struggling to understand Beijing’s mind, at least more than in the past. When you turn people away, they don’t just go home, the go elsewhere. That’s not easy to comprehend when you’ve always gotten what you want and always been told what to want to hear. Whatever China’s problems are or are not, the travel bans make China look worse than it deserves.

The real crime was the Shakespearian “fatal flaw”: China didn’t understand the West well enough. In a world of growing alliances between sovereign nations, that is an unforgivable sin as far as gravity is concerned. And, with gravity, mercy is too lacking and pain always greater than it should be.

But, all is fair in love and in war.

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Encore of Revival: America, April 10, 2017

Senate Democrats are now making noises about 60-vote cloture being removed for legislation. The cloture rule was removed 55-45 for Supreme Court nominees. Why Democrats have brought up the discussion for removing the cloture rule altogether remains a mystery, unless they expect to use fear as a preventative tactic in 2018. However, once an idea is introduced, even if by fear, the idea is up for valid discussion. Had Democrats hoped to retain cloture for legislation, they should have allowed Republicans to bring it up first. Now, elimination of the cloture rule altogether is inevitable.

The White House is in somewhat of a shakeup. Chief “Strategerist” Steve Bannon is getting shuffled, but no reasons seem to be valid. We may not find out the real reasons for at least two years, once the presses cool off, the stakes aren’t as high, and people aren’t so tight-lipped about inside baseball.

Trump ordered a 59-Tomahawk cruise missile strike on Syria after 80 were killed with nerve gas. The missiles targeted what was thought to be the base for the gas attack. Russia is also on the scene. The nerve gas was banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Putin responded with his usual worldview of nationalist, socialist victimhood. Whatever he and his crew resort to is necessary because of what the West took from them in the zero sum game. Putin is a true Hitler—gentle and endearing as a teddy bear who never raises his voice before his audience, compassionate, polite, never rude, never tough to critique directly, only strong to march behind, and everything he does is excused by what “they did to us”.

Syria’s use of banned chemical weapons could have been a ploy all along, by the Russians and their allies, to draw Trump’s action to justify escalation. Though it may have been bait from the Russian’s view, it might have been brilliant for Trump to tell the world that the US isn’t pantie-whipped anymore and to draw Russia’s attention to the Middle East while the USS Carl Vinson carrier group goes to North Korea.

Nearly 100k jobs were created in March alone, over 200k in February. An accurate presidential poll—Investor’s Business Daily—ranked Trump at 34% approval. Since Trump took office, Americans have only seen two results: a boom in jobs and an onslaught from the news industry. The people haven’t heard much from Trump directly because he is too busy keeping promises, no matter how politically controversial those promises are.

With good and bad news, people’s political opinions haven’t changed; they have only strengthened. And, that strengthening is just now getting started.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 23, 2017

No one supports the Trump protests as strongly and loudly as China. They object, threaten, parade, demonstrate, opine, taunt, drill, march, and they do so despite response from America’s “riot police”, in the case of the Pacific, the US Navy. China is also getting closer to Hollywood, to the tune of $1B USD in a Paramount deal. China is reportedly dumping money into its stock market. China has a lot in common with just under half of America. Taiwan, siding with just over half, officially congratulated Trump. As of Friday, Trump had 56% popularity when he took oath, not counting China or Taiwan.

Taiwan is making upgrades. Just after Trump was inaugurated, and about the same time Taiwan officially congratulated him and Pence, Taiwan finalized the purchase of a high-tech military communication system that would, among many things, allow Taiwan’s Navy to communicate directly with the US Navy 7th Fleet’s command center.

Taiwan is also making a deal with Uber, to allow Uber-summoned taxis, just after Taiwan hiked it’s “unlicensed” driver fine to almost $800K USD. Taiwan has fined Uber over $2.3M USD and its drivers over $700K USD. With Taiwan’s new “unlicensed” taxi fine, Taiwan could earn all it has earned on Uber drivers in the past with just a single Uber driver offense. Yes, while Uber gave up on butting-heads with China and China doesn’t give up butting heads with Trump, Taiwan is one of those head-butting Uber. All four of them are still butting heads. It’s definitely been a week of the butt-head convention in “the Chinas”. Read More