Cadence of Conflict: Asia, July 10, 2017

The world has been put on notice. That was the message from the US this week to the UN Security Council. North Korea’s situation is unacceptable to many countries. The Kim Dynasty has named the US as a nuclear missile target, more so than their brethren in the South. South Korea, both the people and their new president, want a “diplomatic solution”. But, it’s easy to say that diplomacy is the solution to someone else’s problem. Unfortunately, unjustly, and unfairly, North Korea’s dispute is not with the South, it’s with the US, but the South gets to bear the brunt.

Claiming “diplomacy” and “rhetoric” as the way out of a dead end is the thinking of the ungifted CEO who inherited someone else’s company. It’s the thinking of a “Great Successor”. He doesn’t know how to blaze trails, to make the “necessary disruptions” that propel a business forward, so he starts to think that “getting along” is the only way. North Korea uses “rhetoric” as the solution because their side is the more difficult, and it’s about to backfire. South Korea, being more comfortable than the North, wants the “diplomatic” solution because, sadly, their own fight doesn’t involve them as much as it involves others. With their “get along” answer to the situation, the South is actually agreeing that it’s not their own conflict, thus inviting intervention from the US.

Pyongyang’s threat is increasing against the US, but South Korea’s president doesn’t want to deploy more THADD defense missiles, making the Northern threat even greater. By wanting less military cooperation, the South is asking the US to act unilaterally. Maybe that’s best, so the US and Pyongyang can finish their conflict and Korea can get back to being Korea.

There’s also a “good cop bad cop” factor; if the US takes action while the South wants “diplomacy”, peace between the Koreas seems both desirable and tenable.

But then, there’s Washington’s view of Korea within the greater region. This is an opportunity for the Pentagon to make North Korea a spectacle in front of China. While the Chinese and North Koreans show off their militaries with parades, the US will show its strength by ending the Korean War in a flash—though they’ll make sure it’s a long and delayed flash, just so Beijing doesn’t blink and miss the message. It’s an opportunity the US wouldn’t miss—to end the Kim Dynasty with such power and efficiency that Beijing either has second doubts about pursuing its map-meddling activities or else to turn off the voices of reason and dive into the waters blind and tied.

Korea is reaching D-Day; it’s a simple logistic calculation. The American people are most likely to support action. The US has less and less time to wait, and South Korea is a cooperative dead-end—and rightly so. The forewarning to the powers of East Asia is clear: stay strong at home, stop expanding, diplomacy won’t solve other people’s old problems. Whatever transpires in Korea over the coming weeks will be a foreshadowing of outcomes from any other confrontations that may ensue should that wisdom be ignored.

That’s right. The world has been put on notice.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, July 3, 2017

China views Hong Kong as a doorstep between the world and largely otherwise closed China. This week, investment highways opened, allowing easier offshore investments in China’s bond market. At the same time, the world gets a glimpse into Chinese dealing through Hong Kong. Like the proverbial cat chasing the laser pointer dot—who never figures out what’s going on—Western culture’s action and interpretation will always confound the Chinese.

As the West believes, if you want to change the world map, you must ask the world’s permission first. It’s even the law China is bound to as a member of the UN. But, in Chinese culture, whoever makes an assertive move first will automatically scare everyone else in the room to ignore any other decorum, rules, or even laws, and accept the assertive party as the emperor of the room for the time being. Building artificial islands, installing military airport equipment, and telling everyone else to “GTFO” means the US should either be scared, or at least quickly attack. But, the calm, casual response of the US Navy, such as to have the lone destroyer USS Stethem conduct a “man overboard drill”, confuses and confounds the expected “cultural tidal gravity” of the Chinese.

The move wasn’t just provocative, as Beijing claims; it was an outright declaration of everything inches short of war.

Taiwan had its own waters incident. While the Chinese refurbished aircraft carrier—the Soviet era diesel-powered Ukraine-made carrier purchased by the Chinese to be no more than a “floating museum”—sailed through the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan-owned F-16s scrambled to shadow the voyage. But, parading a diesel aircraft carrier is not any show of strength in the mind of the US, but a show of unaware weakness yet also a show of progress and a “coming of age” psychology not to be ignored.

At least, that’s the perception.

South Korea’s new and moderate president met with Trump. What they met to talk about doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they met to talk. Moon thinks negotiation with Pyongyang is the answer. Reportedly, 77% of his people agree with him. He won’t back down on military, but he won’t expand it either. No one will accept status quo anymore.

So, money opened up this week in Asia and waking waters met more objection. The only reunification on the horizon is on a large peninsula just left of Japan.

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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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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 13, 2017

Forget Japanese waters, headlines worry about North Korea and Hawaii. South Korea has their own two cents to add over the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half brother at Kuala Lumpur International. China says that North Korea and the US are like two trains headed on a collision course. China has a kind of “plan” to bring the US and North Korea together, but the US won’t make concessions for obeying a UN resolution and there is no mention of China cutting off its supply. It seems China wants to be the “great reconciler”, but the rift is too far between East and West. Japan’s answer is to strike first.

Taiwan may be able to make its own response. This week, the US handed off two Perry-class frigates to Taiwan. Taiwanese naval officers will learn how to operate the frigates from the US Navy and the ships should set sail in May. This is a very interesting development since President-elect Trump received a phone call from President Tsai, and since the US still has yet to deliver on several military sales, especially F-16s, that closed during the terms of former Presidents Obama and Ma.

China’s response to events this week is two-fold. An editorial with a persuasive tone appeared in China’s state-run Global Times, arguing that India would help itself more if it cooperated with Chinese strategies rather than Japanese and US strategies. Xi Jinping also underlined and emphasized China’s great need to catch up on technology. This comes in the wake of the coming American Lockheed Martin F-35 “Lightning II” fighter jet and the US Navy’s new electromagnetically trajected railgun. China’s response is both telling and predicting.

While China has made advances, both in approaching Tomahawk cruise missile technology and in nearing the completion of its first home made aircraft carrier (reverse engineered from a Soviet era carrier), China still feels claustrophobic. Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and India, not to mention the distant-yet-present US are all naval forces too close to China’s back yard. Xi feels the “squeeze”. China is in a tight spot.

President Xi also revisited his long-standing mission of countering squander and corruption within the Communist Party. By underlining the points he did, he seems to be vying for equity and credit. Doesn’t China’s leader have enough credibility or does Xi know something the West doesn’t? Regardlessly, the greater wild card is India. China believes that India is on the fence and is open to persuasion—and China is correct. Soon, India will feel its own squeeze. The question, then, will be whether India feels inclined to side with China rather than forces farther to its east or if India will decide to reverse engineer Western technology write persuasive editorials of its own.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, September 26, 2016

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, September 26, 2016

The iPhone 7 is why Taiwan’s market jumped last week. The US presidential debate is why the Asian market dipped Monday. At least, that’s what the “experts” say.

The US and Philippine militaries will practice, especially since the Philippine president thinks he needs more US troops in his back yard pool. China flew no small number of jets past Japan in their own rehearsals—for something. China is also investigating North Korea’s banking connection to their nukes. South Korea won’t help with relief from the devastating Tumen river flood in North Korea for concern that Kim would take the credit and bolster his power. And, the headline news from Taiwan is typhoon Magi, the approaching storm.

Two things are for sure: There is more than one storm brewing in the Eastern Pacific and money is involved in all of them.

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