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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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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