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, December 4, 2017

The US is gearing up for a demonstration of it’s new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets. North Korea is providing the perfect opportunity. When all is done, be ready to count the headlines in which the F-35s appear.

There are a variety of factors in the North Korean conflict. As you count them, don’t exclude the need for the US to show force in the region. Just two examples include Putin’s manners in Crimea—where Russian soldiers flew a flag over a building they had taken before a proper referendum became final—along with China not playing by UN rules with its man-made islands, yet remaining a UN member. There are other situations in the region.

Suffice it to say that North Korea is a perfect opportunity for the US to beat its chest and clear its throat for all to hear. Were there no such need, the US military presence might be a lot more low-key in the process of North Korea’s government being on the way out anyway. Always remember that Washington occasionally thinks like Hollywood—in the White House as in the Capital Building and at the Pentagon. America loves theatrics and, knowingly or otherwise, nearly all Pacific nations played their roles as the foil.

Once Korea becomes one nation, tryouts for the next performance will likely soon follow.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 27, 2017

Korea has on display the essential cultural clash that causes and sustains conflict across the world. North Korea’s leaders won’t communicate. They think non-communication entitles them to get whatever they want. South Korea’s president harbors something against Japan. It would be indefensible to claim his resentment is anything other than pure racism; the WWII Japanese government is gone and most WWII-era Japanese who harmed his country have died. His resentment against Japan can only be against their descendants—the Japanese people themselves, categorically defining him racist.

That’s the leadership in the Koreas. No wonder the country is still in a state of civil war.

This week, the spineless diplomacy of South Korea’s president proved itself so incapable. North Koreans are so desperate to keep people in their country that they tried to kill a defector before he escaped—a stark contrast to the US Military’s verdict on Bergdahl. In their desire to contain and kill their fellow soldier, North Koreans blundered, firing over and crossing the Military Demarcation Line. The violation of the armistice was clearly not malicious, but out of control.

The UNC (South Korea & US) solution to the armistice violation was communication—to request a meeting. North Korea’s solution was to cut the phone lines, dig a ditch, and close the bridge. The UNC responded by blasting messages on megaphones across the border. We don’t see South Korea solving problems by digging ditches or closing bridges nor do we see North Korea solving problems by communicating with a stack of megaphones.

It’s clear who is who, who wants to communicate, and who wants to be a hermit. “Trying to talk” with North Korea is a ridiculous suggestion. Cozying up to China won’t help anything either, regardless of China’s view of the matter. China looks like the adult in the room—canceling airline flights to a self-doomed hermit kingdom and yet remaining open to talks with both North and South Koreas.

In times like these, flimsy leadership methods don’t measure up to the great problems staring straight in the eye—no matter how much racism a flimsy leader uses to think himself wise.

Though the armistice has been tested, though it is still in place, the US will not back down on the request for a meeting to discuss the armistice violation. If North Korea does not answer the call, the US will have all kinds of excuses to badger and approach, and perhaps even invoke certain provisions of the armistice for such times that it is broken.

We could be looking at an avalanche that leads to the end of the North Korean regime, when all the North Koreans had to do to stop it was simply pick up the phone.

That describes almost every conflict, at every level from families to friends to companies to religions to governments, everywhere in the world. It’s just easier to recognize our own problems when they seem unique to the Korean Peninsula.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 20, 2017

Trump visited China in friendship and peace. His granddaughter sang in Mandarin. Her video was played at a high profile state banquet. Everyone seemed happy.

In South Korea, President Moon, likely to go down in history as a failed diplomat-wannabe, rehashed South Korean hard feelings against the Japanese. His country— threatened by his enemy to the north, backed by its ally, China—is cozying-up with China.

Trump was en route to visit the DMZ in Korea, but heavy fog forced Marine One to turn around. The US president returned home and China sought to strengthen relations with North Korea.

Regardless of whatever happens in and between the US, Japan, China, and North Korea, South Korean President Moon will go down in history as a capitulator who let a century-old vendetta guide him into the friend of his enemy. While the Western press narrative is to paint China as the bad guy, Moon is the real bad guy because he is the only leader in Asia who shows weakness.

China would do well to learn from Moon’s errors. Every bit of progress China makes with Korea comes from pressing forward and abandoning revenge campaigns of the past. Everything South Korea stands to lose comes from reviving revenge campaigns of the past.

Korea, both North and South, has become an arena. With North Korea’s dependency on China and Moon’s capitulation, Koreans are no longer players in the game. Either the US or China will be the one to bring peace on the peninsula and the region. The winner will be whoever looks to the future and forgives the past.

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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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