Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 1, 2019

China is being overwhelmed—Huawei to the west, British probes to the south, Kim to the north, but the prospect of trade to the east. The weakness is in the Chinese-cultural paradigm of negotiation. Chinese culture wants to sign a contract first, then negotiate the terms after. That’s a polite way of explaining “psychopathic negotiation”.

China labels Hong Kong as an “internal”, national security matter. It’s not; it’s a “joint” matter. According to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China can’t govern Hong Kong as its own until 2047—a mandate for Hong Kong being under Beijing’s leadership. By telling Britain to “face reality”, London will see the reality as Beijing reneging on the deal. It’s not that China wants to be malicious, but that China doesn’t understand what a promise really entails.

That could be why the Chinese offer such sweeping concessions to get better trade with America. They might not understand that promises about those concessions will actually have to be kept. But, there’s more that sails over Beijing’s brightest heads.

America shows no indication of backing down on Taiwan. By cozying up on trade, Beijing probably hopes America will receive an indirect message about Taiwan. But, if Taiwan isn’t discussed, then it’s not part of the trade agreement—or any agreement with the US. Beijing, probably laden with more wishful thinking than savvy, won’t understand. They just won’t understand.

That’s the Korean problem to the north. Trump knew exactly what he was doing by telling Kim exactly what “de-nuking” looked like. They had talked before. Kim had taken a three day journey to talk again. Now Kim knows reality: a free economy prospers, North with nukes has neither in the end. That won’t go over well with a culture more prideful than the Chinese. Trump knows this.

Now, Kim is a loose canon to China’s north and the only thing Trump did was unleash the obvious. We’ll see how long it takes for China to understand, if ever.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 18, 2019

Drama and theatrics! The US might be in a position to enforce the Magnitsky Act against China. Now, like Taiwan before, the US is taking the pot shots. It compares to Tony Stark’s Iron Man tossing rocks at a tank to provoke the tank before obliterating the tank.

Talk of talks about trade with China while focusing on more military money for what Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan calls “China, China, China”—that’s not an effort to make peace with a country that wants it, but an effort to irritate a not-so-closet adversary into justifying a retaliatory victory. China will see the US as two-faced, never figuring out that the US is intentionally getting under Beijing’s skin because the Chinese don’t know how easily irritable their view of themselves makes them.

Then, there’s Korea. In a retelling from The Godfather III, we might say that Kim wouldn’t do this without backing. By rumbling about nuking up again, Kim is flexing muscles that shouldn’t be flexed—but only would be flexed if someone, say like Xi Jinping, were whispering support in his ear. More is going on than even Trump may be revealing, even if Kim’s rumblings are all for show. If tensions rise between the US and Northern Korea, China would be the likely backstage culprit. That would mean that tension in the Koreas would justify US action against China—yet another tank rock to toss.

Then, we have “melo-theatrics” worse than “damn lies”: statistics.

If Trump’s poll numbers were to suddenly plummet, nothing would bring them back like a victory against evermore unpopular China—now at 41% in America. That makes Trump, 47% as of Tuesday, more popular than China. If House Democrats were to take action against Trump, that might encourage China that he would not be able to sustain action against China—when actually a victorious action against China would bring up his popularity to make him politically immune to House Democrats. The freedom and opinion -driven dynamics of American politics eludes Chinese strategists, another front on which Beijing is likely to miscalculate.

If Trump’s popularity were to slip just before a conflict with China, it could have been intentional—as a means to provoke China into thinking that China is stronger against the US than it is. But, China will never figure it out, like the cat chasing the laser pen’s dot—they never figure it out.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 4, 2019

Buffoons became naysayers this week, arguing that tit-for-tat military drill concessions would be the path to peace and that progress without finality in Hanoi surmounted to failure.

Trump knows exactly what he is doing. Progress without “too much too fast”, passing up the invitation to stop in China while visiting Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam, replacing large military drills with detailed tactical exercises in South Korea, standing with the Philippines against “an armed attack” from China in the South Sea, delaying a tariff hike with China while inviting Xi to Mar-a-Lago, scrutinizing Chinese-funded “learning centers” in America—it all plays right into a larger overall strategy of strength and resolve in Asia.

As the US and China inch toward a trade agreement, Taiwan makes larger and larger strides asserting its independent activity. Backed by a recent US court ruling, Taiwan’s presence will only irritate China. Trade talk is part of the precarious path ahead. No trade agreement is enough to mitigate other disagreements between the US and China. The only way would require the US to surrender, and that’s not about to happen.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, August 27, 2018

The Pacific is heating up bigtime. Just after Kim Jong Un meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump calls off a cabinet member’s visit to Pyongyang the day after the new North Korean envoy was announced. What was that all about? Consider China.

China has been moving in on Taiwan aggressively, both through marketing and through international relations. The TOEFL test given in Taiwan lists Taiwan as a province of China, using the controversial, “Taiwan, China” nomenclature. Taiwanese were furious because the US government requires tests such as the TOEFL, which is administered by ETS, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey. How does a US government recognized US-based English testing organization come to list a testing market contrary to how the US State Department does? The answer is: pressure from China.

Companies around the world have been strong-armed by China into listing Taiwan as a province of China. In the past weeks and months, airlines were required to comply in order to continue flying to China, many waiting until the last possible moment. This week, a PhD candidate at the University of Salamanca in Spain Tweeted a letter from China last October essentially demanding that the university shut down “Taiwan Cultural Days”.

Now, Taiwan ended ties with El Salvador for recognizing China instead of Taiwan. This came after Taiwan declined for a year to make a sizable investment in the Port of La Union. Taiwan was concerned about debt for both countries. Senator Marco Rubio wasn’t happy and a bill has already been amended to cut US funding to El Salvador.

While North Korea doesn’t seem to be making as big of strides as expected in denuclearization, China is cozying up to North Korea while soon-to-be-former US allies cozy up to China and while China and Taiwan exchange lobbing spit wads. The overall situation doesn’t look good for the pro-US side. But, there’s always more than meets the eye.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, June 18, 2018

Trump has stopped military exercises near North Korea, but he has not initiated any plans to withdraw troops. His reason for stopping the exercises is that they are provocative and expensive. He has a point: If the heads of state are talking then we are less in need of fighting practice in a scenario where heads of state are not talking.

The military exercises with South Korea are expensive and provocative, as Trump explains. Frankly, they should stop. With healthy conversations and progress toward peace already behind us, there won’t be a need for those drills any longer. Rehearsal for conflict that might never exist can often provoke the very conflicts we otherwise would not need to prepare for. As for the “expense” defense, few accountants will argue in favor of nickeling and diming away money as fiscally responsible and no one believes that taxpayers’ pockets are infinitely deep except pundits with portfolios in public funding.

The Western news is that Trump is wrong, specifically with regard to China that China wins. According to this week’s Western news narrative, China wins because of troop withdrawals that haven’t happened, because a friend of China will de-nuke, and because over 30k US troops will be free to go home—or go to Taiwan, Mischief Reef, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, or any number of other Pacific island-nations China doesn’t get along with.

Economically, China “wins” because manufacturing is leaving China—which must therefore mean that China’s innovation and science is the new source of manufacturing elsewhere. Perhaps that includes innovation and science like the Chinese government now trying to track every car with a chip as of 2019. The “Mad Scientist” theorem of the experimental police state research moving from North Korea to China continues to play out.

Just remember with everything: There’s more going on than anyone can see. Deals between governments are never fully explained to the public. They shouldn’t be. But, as peace develops in one part of the western Pacific, hostilities move around and every pundit seizes opportunity to say, “I was right.” No conflict is without news profiteering.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, June 4, 2018

North Korea inches further and further toward talks with the US. China fears this. If Kim Jong-Un get in the same room as the man who wrote The Art of the Deal, North Korea could become a stronger ally to the US than even South Korea overnight. That would likely lead to a quick reunification of the Korean Peninsula, as well as other shifts in power, even before any alliance might be formalized. But, Trump’s deal-making reputation should bring no shocks to what is about to transpire in the Singapore Summit.

Then, there’s China, about to be left behind. The hardline crackdown on free speech throughout China won’t be without consequence. Symphony has been saying so for years; Albert Ho effectively said the same, quoted in a Bloomberg article dated June 4. Party power is getting brittle. But, the consequences of brutal brittality are rarely explored. So, here goes.

Hong Kong won’t shut up anytime soon. The whining, whimpering bratty students of Hong Kong may be wrong to demand rights when freedom was largely handed to them by the British. But, those bratty students sure are drawing a press load of attention to China. That alone should be a heavy factor in logistics calculation. Hong Kong is a megaphone for any anti-China sentiment because the world reads about Hong Kong every day. After all, Hong Kong is “Asia’s World City”.

But, then there’s the problem of cracking down within “China proper”, the Mainland governed directly by Beijing, not a SAR like Hong Kong or Macau. If China considers friendly sarcasm to be a threat within China—that means tech companies and hardware manufacturers won’t have candid conversations about quality control and competitive design. Once free speech becomes a minefield, people will divert mental resources away from fee and open brainstorming toward making sure that they don’t say anything offensive. The key to good brainstorm sessions and innovation is that nothing is off the table and no one is allowed to take offense at anything whatsoever. That’s can’t happen in China anymore. Bye-bye Western manufacturing paradise. It’s only a matter of time before Western outsourcing brands figure it out. One little story, like an innovator being locked up for a tech suggestion because it was interpreted as “opposing to the Party”, might plunge Chinese factory stocks into the void below.

“Single-Party Rule” is the key topic now, at least according to Western papers. That’s the protest mantra in Hong Kong. It’s the talking point of headlines and marches. It is the so-called “problem” as is being presented to the world. The Western press is on a path for reporting a narrative that stirs sentiment for two-party rule in China. Whether it’s a typhoon, an earthquake, a solar flare, or some other “act of God”, if China suddenly adopts a two-party system, Western newspaper readers will have already been prepped to think it is a good thing.

Then, there’s Vietnam, exploring foreign investment “zones”. Deserved or unfair, distrust is stirring against China as a place of investment. This will have a double-edged effect in Vietnam. Firstly, Western manufacturing will flock to Vietnam as a way of fleeing the newspaper villain, China. But, with a Communist Party having total rule in Vietnam, Western investors will demand certain assurances before dumping too much money into yet another single-party market. Sooner or later, we could be looking at Vietnam adopting a friendly two-party system as a stronger strategy of competing with China. That will only add to the momentum of change in East Asia.

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