Cadence of Conflict: Asia, June 18, 2018

Trump has stopped military exercises near North Korea, but he has not initiated any plans to withdraw troops. His reason for stopping the exercises is that they are provocative and expensive. He has a point: If the heads of state are talking then we are less in need of fighting practice in a scenario where heads of state are not talking.

The military exercises with South Korea are expensive and provocative, as Trump explains. Frankly, they should stop. With healthy conversations and progress toward peace already behind us, there won’t be a need for those drills any longer. Rehearsal for conflict that might never exist can often provoke the very conflicts we otherwise would not need to prepare for. As for the “expense” defense, few accountants will argue in favor of nickeling and diming away money as fiscally responsible and no one believes that taxpayers’ pockets are infinitely deep except pundits with portfolios in public funding.

The Western news is that Trump is wrong, specifically with regard to China that China wins. According to this week’s Western news narrative, China wins because of troop withdrawals that haven’t happened, because a friend of China will de-nuke, and because over 30k US troops will be free to go home—or go to Taiwan, Mischief Reef, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, or any number of other Pacific island-nations China doesn’t get along with.

Economically, China “wins” because manufacturing is leaving China—which must therefore mean that China’s innovation and science is the new source of manufacturing elsewhere. Perhaps that includes innovation and science like the Chinese government now trying to track every car with a chip as of 2019. The “Mad Scientist” theorem of the experimental police state research moving from North Korea to China continues to play out.

Just remember with everything: There’s more going on than anyone can see. Deals between governments are never fully explained to the public. They shouldn’t be. But, as peace develops in one part of the western Pacific, hostilities move around and every pundit seizes opportunity to say, “I was right.” No conflict is without news profiteering.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, June 4, 2018

North Korea inches further and further toward talks with the US. China fears this. If Kim Jong-Un get in the same room as the man who wrote The Art of the Deal, North Korea could become a stronger ally to the US than even South Korea overnight. That would likely lead to a quick reunification of the Korean Peninsula, as well as other shifts in power, even before any alliance might be formalized. But, Trump’s deal-making reputation should bring no shocks to what is about to transpire in the Singapore Summit.

Then, there’s China, about to be left behind. The hardline crackdown on free speech throughout China won’t be without consequence. Symphony has been saying so for years; Albert Ho effectively said the same, quoted in a Bloomberg article dated June 4. Party power is getting brittle. But, the consequences of brutal brittality are rarely explored. So, here goes.

Hong Kong won’t shut up anytime soon. The whining, whimpering bratty students of Hong Kong may be wrong to demand rights when freedom was largely handed to them by the British. But, those bratty students sure are drawing a press load of attention to China. That alone should be a heavy factor in logistics calculation. Hong Kong is a megaphone for any anti-China sentiment because the world reads about Hong Kong every day. After all, Hong Kong is “Asia’s World City”.

But, then there’s the problem of cracking down within “China proper”, the Mainland governed directly by Beijing, not a SAR like Hong Kong or Macau. If China considers friendly sarcasm to be a threat within China—that means tech companies and hardware manufacturers won’t have candid conversations about quality control and competitive design. Once free speech becomes a minefield, people will divert mental resources away from fee and open brainstorming toward making sure that they don’t say anything offensive. The key to good brainstorm sessions and innovation is that nothing is off the table and no one is allowed to take offense at anything whatsoever. That’s can’t happen in China anymore. Bye-bye Western manufacturing paradise. It’s only a matter of time before Western outsourcing brands figure it out. One little story, like an innovator being locked up for a tech suggestion because it was interpreted as “opposing to the Party”, might plunge Chinese factory stocks into the void below.

“Single-Party Rule” is the key topic now, at least according to Western papers. That’s the protest mantra in Hong Kong. It’s the talking point of headlines and marches. It is the so-called “problem” as is being presented to the world. The Western press is on a path for reporting a narrative that stirs sentiment for two-party rule in China. Whether it’s a typhoon, an earthquake, a solar flare, or some other “act of God”, if China suddenly adopts a two-party system, Western newspaper readers will have already been prepped to think it is a good thing.

Then, there’s Vietnam, exploring foreign investment “zones”. Deserved or unfair, distrust is stirring against China as a place of investment. This will have a double-edged effect in Vietnam. Firstly, Western manufacturing will flock to Vietnam as a way of fleeing the newspaper villain, China. But, with a Communist Party having total rule in Vietnam, Western investors will demand certain assurances before dumping too much money into yet another single-party market. Sooner or later, we could be looking at Vietnam adopting a friendly two-party system as a stronger strategy of competing with China. That will only add to the momentum of change in East Asia.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 21, 2018

Talk only went so far this week. I looks as if North Korea might not be dismantling its nukes, but hiding them, then threatening to close talks when exposed for this, then threatening to cancel the summit for some other list of excuses.

The big question on Kim Jong-Un backing out on the talks relates to his recent visits to China. Not that China has made any wild promises, but he feels somewhat confident in getting lippy with the US.

The big lesson was about Moon’s emphasis on diplomacy vs Trump’s emphasis on teeth. Diplomacy made progress in terms of leading to more diplomacy. But, actual action is a measurement of its own. So far, Trump’s action has led to China losing interest in any kind of trade war and Moon’s favored diplomacy seems to be leading to an undiplomatic end to diplomacy.

Things aren’t over nor have we seen the last surprise. The big news of the week is that China’s on the bench. Moon and Trump will meet to discuss Kim having a discussion with them in Singapore. Where’s China?—announcing its surrender on trade, reflecting on past meetings with Kim, another player that doesn’t really matter.

If Kim doesn’t show up, Moon’s populist diplomacy will prove to have failed and Trump will have the “political currency” for action against North Korea. Maybe that’s what China hopes for in allowing Kim to gain false hopes in something or other—to rationalize a little retaliatory action of its own. But, if military action was China’s first preference, Beijing would have already taken it.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, May 7, 2018

This was week of talk. A delegation from Washington went to talk with China. Trump talked about talking nice while talking. Economic talking heads are talking about the talks and everybody’s talking about it. Once the delegation that went to Beijing to talk gets back, they will talk with Trump. Warren Buffet even had some things to talk about.

Trump’s delegation to Beijing was indeed an olive branch. It spelled out “the line” in the sand, toured it, explained, it, discussed it, explored it, and made that line very, very clear. To quote Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, “Mr. Wayne didn’t want you to think that he was deliberately wasting your time.” But, the line is not the least bit likely to be respected.

China will ignore everything the US delegation explained and forewarned, but they will never be surprised when Trump does exactly what the delegation said he would, though they may act like it. More importantly, the list of expectations shows how well Trump knows China and Chinese methods of doing “business”.

Words like “retaliate” and “oppose” often surface with disfavor, as well as the US clearly being wise to the tactic of unofficially using backdoor channels to unofficially impose other restrictions to get what one wants. And, the US maintains its position on the “301” trade notice that China is non-market economy, specifically that China is to drop the matter completely and withdraw its appeals on the matter with the WTO.

There is no wiggle room in the US demands and those demands strongly demonstrate that Trump knows exactly the kinds of things Chins is likely to do. In essence the list of demands forbids exactly what China is most likely to do in the near future.

By contrast, China’s demands are mainly that the US back off on its recent action; that’s all. Consider the argument going around from pro-China stories about the trade “imbalance”—especially that US’ service and consulting help to narrow the “trade deficit”. The list of Chinese demands don’t account for this or ask that they be calculated in the “trade deficit”.

The mere demands, in themselves, tell us that China does not know what is about to happen in Washington and that Trump knows all to well—probably better than any of his advisers in the White House—what will happen in Beijing. China is in great danger.

Surprises are coming, somewhere. That’s how history always plays out. No war ends without the unexpected and there’s always a joker or two hiding in the deck. The surprises will likely include special and disputed territories, such as Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as international public opinion and some sector of trade or international protocol not yet considered or discussed by anyone—they will surprise everyone. That “surprise sector” could include ocean boundaries or specific products often traded. It could also be an act of God, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. But, we have no idea except that any intermediate history student should anticipate at least two surprises before the current cloud passes in the greater storm.

China looks at the US the way the poor working class looked at the aristocracy in Russia. Beijing thinks they are demanding “what is their right”. Remember, this is akin to “Opium War III”, started by a trade imbalance. China demands that the money and “tax payable by way of free technology” continue to flow net into China; the US demands things like “equal” and “fair” in the flow. That is rhetoric from the Opium War prelude. If that war resurfaces, the “English” speaking country won’t be Britain, though Britain still has a dog in the fight: Hong Kong is not to be changed for fifty years, yet this week Hong Kong military youth groups—comparable to Boy Scouts—rejected Chinese requests that they march according to PLA marching steps—meaning that China tried to make a change and Hong Kong could become a target for punitive action from China. Hence, Hong Kong is “fair play” in everyone’s opinion, including public opinion about everyone in the game.

If China had any kind of conflict with the West—whether militarily or over trade—the conclusion could require complete surrender of Hong Kong back to British rule—and Hong Kongers wouldn’t mind.

In the territorial disputes, Taiwan declaring independence would certainly rock the boat. Research says Taiwanese overwhelmingly view China as unfriendly. So, Taiwanese certainly wouldn’t mind making their contribution to making a few waves.

China is already on the bench with the Korean issue. Pyongyang just updated the North clocks to no longer be thirty minutes off, but back in time with the South. Where’s China?—exchanging trade demands with the country whose trade blockade preceded the Korean talks.

In all this, Warren Buffet’s advice is that China is a good place for the West to invest. We’ll see.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 9, 2018

China has been a source of great change.

Taiwan has received a license from the United States to build its own submarines. Wang, a legislature who sits on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee said that friendliness from the US is the highest it has ever been. Japan just commissioned its first marine force since WWII. 1,500 troops are ready, specifically to repel invasion of Japan’s islands. Thanks to China’s inspiration and initiative, many nations in the region are also making their contribution to peace and stability in Pacific Asia.

The US is re-evaluating trade with China. While much is just talk, Trump maintains friendly rhetoric. The shakeup with trade will force countries to reinvent and reevaluate trade policy. While a looming “trade war” remains the talk of many so-called “experts”, the long-term benefit will be the overall rebirth of trade throughout the world. Everyone will need to rethink trade. Any kind of thinking is good, especially in these times.

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