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, 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, January 29, 2018

It was a week of protests in both Hong Kong and South Korea. Neither side of any controversy rose above the fray. For the powers that be, it was PR gone bad. For the masses, it was spitting in the wind. When the governed don’t want the ambitions of the controlling few, the solution is not Delphi method, but re-evaluation at the fundamental level. When the disgruntled masses reject the powers that be, peaceful boycott can make more lasting changes than any message sent by heated protest.

No one forced students to attend Baptist University in Hong Kong. If 90% of the student body objects to the mandatory Mandarin classes then 90% of the student body would do better to simply find another school. If the leadership at the university believes Mandarin classes can help students, then one would think the students would volunteer for them. A better way would be to make the classes both optional and tuition free for students and alumni of up to four years. If leadership is correct that the most widely-spoken language in the world, right in Hong Kong’s back yard, would be useful for Hong Kongers—and classes with university credit were free for students and alumni—the university would see an influx of enrollment.

No one is forcing South Koreans to attend the Olympic Games. If South Koreans don’t want the Kim Dynasty to participate in the games, they can save themselves the expense and either save the time of going or replace that time with a public stand-in, carrying educational signs during the Olympics, whether on-sight or off. If the democratic South Korean government wants to promote a unified stance with North Korean athletes, they can use the abundance of Internet technology to poll the public on what would make the people happy to that end. Since South Korea’s new president is so popular, he should not have lacked feedback when asking his many supporters what they want to do.

Taiwan made it’s own—and likely most aggressive—move. By entering the world of AI development, Taiwan is entering the ring with other big players, such as China. Few will see it as the bold move that it is. The miracle of Taiwan’s AI venture was that the move did not insight protests.

The only positive communication seemed to be between China and Japan. They are communicating about communicating. That’s always a good thing.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 8, 2018

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”.

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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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