Drafting Peace in the Pacific: Asia, April 13, 2017

We no longer live in a world without alliances. Yes, individual nations retain sovereignty within their borders. However, the days are over when a single nation will boss and police an entire region alone. One nation can no longer take out an “enemy” in another nation as the “lone ranger”. Any nation that tries will face scorn from others. If a government goes rogue, a plurality of other nations must intervene. This is international political gravity today.

We live in a world of growing alliances between sovereign nations.

China has been seeking respect and peace in its part of the world. The US has been seeking to cut off enemies before they have an opportunity to grow. In the Far East, the US’ solution has been to patrol freely in Asian waters. China’s solution has been to fly its national flag on more soil. Neither process will continue to work. And, if both processes continue, they will lead to unimaginable fallout, what some might think as WWIII, though still not that grand.  · · · →

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 3, 2017

China continues an uphill battle with the Western media. Sunflower students were cleared of all charges in their occupation of their nation’s legislature three years ago, almost to the day. Joined by leaders Lin and Chen, Joshua Wong from Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement urged the release of a Taiwanese college instructor, Lee Ming-che, from China’s custody. Lee is an advocate for human rights and is being held for matters of “national security”.

The best way to understand the Hong Kong Umbrella movement’s end game is regime change in China. Hong Kong has no military and pro-independence Hong Kongers don’t seem to be advocating mandatory military draft enrollment for all Hong Kong males. Taiwanese males not only have mandatory draft enrollment, but have a minimum compulsory service time after finishing school. Taiwan’s student movement interrupted secret government talks between the US adversary China and the US ally Taiwan. Taiwan purchases military equipment from the US, including Apache gunships and F-16 fighters, though trade was the primary concern of the Taiwanese protest. Both military and trade are China-related talking points from President Trump, especially this week. No such talking points related to the Hong Kong protests.

The Taiwanese movement was led by young men who would serve in their nation’s military, disrupted the government’s legislature for three weeks, and resulted in change. The Hong Kong protests were led by young men forbidden by their government from serving in their military, occupied public streets for three months, and only led to international attention. The only way to gauge the Hong Kong protests as a success is if the goal was to stir international attention in the media to raise sentiment against China—enough sentiment that China’s government changes enough to grant Hong Kong independence. That is quite a significant change, enough for China to consider the matter one of national security.

So, then, viewing activism as a matter of “national security” in China makes sense. Hong Kong’s status with China and human rights are topics Western media readers are interested in. By detaining people who live outside of China inside of China, activists such as Joshua Wong are receiving all the ammunition they need, courtesy of China.

China truly is in a war against the Western newspapers. That is probably why economics are Beijing’s primary tool against North Korea, while Donald Trump seems to have a different strategy in mind.

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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, March 6, 2017

China took the bait once again. Whether independence for Hong Kong and Taiwan would be better or worse, that independence becomes more likely every time the topic even comes up, no matter how much dissent the idea receives. Within China’s borders, the “all press is good press” principle may seem to work differently, but when China makes statements to the world beyond China’s press control, gravity and tides operate in a way that may seem foreign to Beijing. This week, China’s premiere stated the intention of having Taiwan return to Chinese control.

For better or worse, if China hopes to acquire Taiwan and keep Hong Kong, the most likely path to success is to never even mention, respond to, or otherwise acknowledge the subject in public—not ever. But, Chinese officials just can’t stop talking about it. So, for better or worse, while Taiwanese independence has seemed a likelihood with the US involved—and now all the more with Trump—the near impossibility of Hong Kong breaking away from China is being made less of an impossibility… for better or worse.

It’s not as if East Asia has a lack of problems. North Korea made its own headlines this week. It fired a missile into Japanese waters. Tokyo wasn’t happy. And, after Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was murdered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, North Korea’s ambassador made some statements, Malaysia objected, and now the visa-exempt program with North Korea has been given the boot, along with North Korea’s ambassador.

The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is making a tour sail with some Philippines cabinet members. Though everyone and his cat claims this is not a show of force, a show of force would not be without arguable reason. The largest active military in the world, which has neither declared victory nor defeat in any war, will soon have two aircraft carries. As China’s second aircraft carrier nears completion, videos have been released diagramming its basic construction. From the video, this first Chinese-made carrier was seemingly “reverse engineered” from China’s Soviet-made diesel-powered Liaoning, initially purchased to become a “floating casino”. Irony often accompanies poetry.

Any victory or defeat of China would be a first. So, logically, China’s stated ambition for change in the South Sea is, by definition, a gamble. Without history to calculate, with stepped-up rhetoric foreseeably backfiring, the Liaoning and its soon-to-be christened copy did become metaphoric casinos after all, for better or worse.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, February 20, 2017

Keeping 70 years of war on the books is not only a bad idea, it is a hazard. That period is longer than copyright laws and ten times longer than debts can be collected and taxes audited. At some point, old debts are better to be sold off to keep the books clear of overdue accounts receivable. China has its reasons to want Taiwan, just as the Taiwanese have their reasons not to want China’s flag flown on their soil. But, keeping the discussion unresolved has resulted in growing opposition, not for Taiwan, but for China.

China’s “One Belt One Road” project in Europe is under investigation for legal compliance. Just the investigation is an insult and, even if it ends in China’s favor, that investigation could be reopened at any point in the future, even after the railroad has been completed. The two main points to note in the deal are that the government of China is negotiating in the manner of a private business entity and that China is consistent in wanting singularity in more areas than just maps.

The US has sent carrier group USS Carl Vinson to what it is calling “routine operations” in China’s backyard. Without 70 years on the books, not so many changes could be so easily chalked up to “routine”. Now, India wants in on the game.

When resisting Beijing control, many will cite Communist States like North Korea or Cuba. People don’t want their country to change in a way that introduces the need to join the government or military in order to have hope of a stable future. Taiwanese see smog in China’s air and feces in China’s streets and they think that more territory would make life even worse on an already strained government.

But, then there is what happened in Hong Kong. Regardless of which side of the issue people are on, media mogul Jimmy Lai, students, police, government, and businesses in Hong Kong saw quite a disturbance in Central during the “Umbrella Movement” occupation. But, Taipei’s “Sunflower Movement” only lasted three weeks and ended voluntarily, not three months only ending by forced eviction. Taiwanese elect whomever they want and they are happy.

Hong Kong’s theater and controversy, on all sides of the biases, can’t happen in Taiwan as the island’s situation now stands. If China’s flag flew over Taiwan’s, that would change and ways of life that are as subtle as they are constant would be up for grabs.

Chinese have their reasons for wanting to reclaim Taiwan. Taiwanese have everyone’s way of life in Asia as their reason for wanting the countries to call status quo what it is. Regime change would be a disruption, no matter who makes it.

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