The talks between South and North Korea are not at all what they are cracked up to be. While the world would love to believe that this is some grand exercise in “can’t we all just get along” diplomacy that always-only ever failed under Obama in any and every hemisphere, North-South talks are not what they seem. They are a distraction, a false pretense, an ostensible cover story, a smoke screen for something much, much deeper.
In all likelihood, the talks will include a very subtle Asian-style, excessively subtle (since it’s among Koreans) offer. Even bachelor’s degree students of business management study the science of talking to an employee in such a way that he doesn’t figure out he’s being fired until he gets home and takes his first bide of dinner. Leonardo explained the idea well in his movie Inception.
The meeting, capitalizing on participation in the Olympic games so strategically timed and placed, is more akin to the close of the series The Sopranos. A lieutenant of a rival family meets with the head of another family to plot the “offing” of his own boss in order to stop an ugly war that no one wanted, which started when that new boss came to power. The rival family “does in” their own boss at the gas station, the main character makes his hospitality rounds, and the story ends.
That’s what this seems like. The Trump administration is allowing it, taking partial credit in a preemptive expectation of due accolades, also reminding the Asian world that communication is a good thing. Symphony said the same two days before Trump sent his January 4 Tweet to the same effect: without pressure from the US there would be no talks.
If Kim Jong Un eventually disappears in the months ahead, remember that it all came from this meeting, purportedly about the Olympics. There wouldn’t be any moves in northern Korea without already having “certain assurances”.
But, don’t let that distract you. Taiwan is definitely playing its role in provocative and irksome “spitting matches” with China. As with the min-boss in The Godfather Part III, Taiwan wouldn’t do that without “backing”.
This week was incredibly calm in Asia. China has some non-defined goals of grandeur, though some voices in the Western press cast their usual doubts. China’s big obstacle with becoming a tech leader is two-fold: 1. lack of measurable methods and 2. social media.
Westerners use Facebook and Google to communicate with friends, family, and associates. By blocking Facebook, China is blocking Westerners as well as leading technology. By definition, “global” methods can’t merely involve competitor social media unique to China. Whether China has good reason to block the social media giants is a separate question altogether. If China wants to become a leader, it must have a measurable, defined way forward in its tech and trade ambitions, which must include how to involve people and markets that it has blocked by proxy.
Korea was also unusually quiet. The saber rattling took a hiatus over the holiday pre-week. On Christmas, North Korea was sure to puff its chest out, but that’s about all. It is entirely possible that the problems in Korea will magically and abruptly vanish, Korea will be united, and both the Communists and the Westerners will just go home. But, that would never have happened without the mounting pressure from both sides.
Whatever reconciliation comes at the end of this Korean “situation”, we will have both North Korea and the US military presence to thank for it. Should whatever new Korea emerges snub the US for providing the pressure to resolve a conflict no one else could, Korea’s best days would thus be in the past. Keeping friendship during times of peace is vital to keeping that peace. Lasting peace in Korea means lasting peace among Koreans as well as its friends and neighbors. Should there be a bloodless peace in Korea and America troops just up and leave, the US will probably beef-up its presence with Taiwan. That would be the other shift.
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.
It’s over. North Korea has been defrocked form among Communist nations. Russia and China aren’t trying to send any kind of message to the US by sending intel-gathering vessels to monitor the Vinson. Spectating usually indicates some kind of support. The “Ruskies” and “Chi-Coms”, as some affectionately call them, kicking back with coke and popcorn in hand isn’t exactly opposition. They are trying to send a message to Communists worldwide, including their own people: Act unruly and you’ll end up like North Korea.
The US can’t do an operation in their back yards without the neighbors keeping a close watch—and Northern Korea is in both Russian and Chinese back yards. If the Chinese and Russians wanted to send a message to Washington, they’d send attack vessels like Putin sent late to Syria—at least, he pretended to send a message.
Countries must appear strong. There is a lot of chest puffing and thumping, even with the soon-to-be-deposed occupation of Northern Korea. The Russians and Chinese will be glad to have the dictator child off of their table of concerns. And, in the process, they want their own people to know whose still boss.
So, it’s over. Soon, we’ll find out just how many Northern Koreans cried for the death of their late “Dear Leader” because they missed him or because they feared what the child dictator would do them if they didn’t. Korea is about to become one country, finally. Kim Jong-Un decided that over the weekend when he threw the temper tantrum that broke every camel’s back in the caravan. Now, the caravan is coming for him.