Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 1, 2019

China is being overwhelmed—Huawei to the west, British probes to the south, Kim to the north, but the prospect of trade to the east. The weakness is in the Chinese-cultural paradigm of negotiation. Chinese culture wants to sign a contract first, then negotiate the terms after. That’s a polite way of explaining “psychopathic negotiation”.

China labels Hong Kong as an “internal”, national security matter. It’s not; it’s a “joint” matter. According to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China can’t govern Hong Kong as its own until 2047—a mandate for Hong Kong being under Beijing’s leadership. By telling Britain to “face reality”, London will see the reality as Beijing reneging on the deal. It’s not that China wants to be malicious, but that China doesn’t understand what a promise really entails.

That could be why the Chinese offer such sweeping concessions to get better trade with America. They might not understand that promises about those concessions will actually have to be kept. But, there’s more that sails over Beijing’s brightest heads.

America shows no indication of backing down on Taiwan. By cozying up on trade, Beijing probably hopes America will receive an indirect message about Taiwan. But, if Taiwan isn’t discussed, then it’s not part of the trade agreement—or any agreement with the US. Beijing, probably laden with more wishful thinking than savvy, won’t understand. They just won’t understand.

That’s the Korean problem to the north. Trump knew exactly what he was doing by telling Kim exactly what “de-nuking” looked like. They had talked before. Kim had taken a three day journey to talk again. Now Kim knows reality: a free economy prospers, North with nukes has neither in the end. That won’t go over well with a culture more prideful than the Chinese. Trump knows this.

Now, Kim is a loose canon to China’s north and the only thing Trump did was unleash the obvious. We’ll see how long it takes for China to understand, if ever.

Read More

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 18, 2019

Drama and theatrics! The US might be in a position to enforce the Magnitsky Act against China. Now, like Taiwan before, the US is taking the pot shots. It compares to Tony Stark’s Iron Man tossing rocks at a tank to provoke the tank before obliterating the tank.

Talk of talks about trade with China while focusing on more military money for what Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan calls “China, China, China”—that’s not an effort to make peace with a country that wants it, but an effort to irritate a not-so-closet adversary into justifying a retaliatory victory. China will see the US as two-faced, never figuring out that the US is intentionally getting under Beijing’s skin because the Chinese don’t know how easily irritable their view of themselves makes them.

Then, there’s Korea. In a retelling from The Godfather III, we might say that Kim wouldn’t do this without backing. By rumbling about nuking up again, Kim is flexing muscles that shouldn’t be flexed—but only would be flexed if someone, say like Xi Jinping, were whispering support in his ear. More is going on than even Trump may be revealing, even if Kim’s rumblings are all for show. If tensions rise between the US and Northern Korea, China would be the likely backstage culprit. That would mean that tension in the Koreas would justify US action against China—yet another tank rock to toss.

Then, we have “melo-theatrics” worse than “damn lies”: statistics.

If Trump’s poll numbers were to suddenly plummet, nothing would bring them back like a victory against evermore unpopular China—now at 41% in America. That makes Trump, 47% as of Tuesday, more popular than China. If House Democrats were to take action against Trump, that might encourage China that he would not be able to sustain action against China—when actually a victorious action against China would bring up his popularity to make him politically immune to House Democrats. The freedom and opinion -driven dynamics of American politics eludes Chinese strategists, another front on which Beijing is likely to miscalculate.

If Trump’s popularity were to slip just before a conflict with China, it could have been intentional—as a means to provoke China into thinking that China is stronger against the US than it is. But, China will never figure it out, like the cat chasing the laser pen’s dot—they never figure it out.

Read More

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 11, 2019

China doesn’t get the message, likely because China is too self-absorbed in its own culture. Detaining Canadians will provoke Canadians to support action against China to have the detained Canadians released—even supporting military action. When the US and China finally officiate their conflict, Canada may join the fray, all thanks to Beijing belligerence.

The Western press inches up its hardline against China every day. Even Europe reports on social media censorship in China. This comes on the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. China closed visits to Tibet for this reason. But, that doesn’t matter since Taiwan could see a visit from the US Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the Dalai Lama.

Speaking of Taiwan, the self-ruled island is arming to the teeth. They just put in a request with the US, asking whatever military equipment they should buy so their military will be stronger than China’s.

Northern Korea has all the indications of someone whispering in their ears, encouraging and emboldening against peace with the US. After Trump met with Kim, after he returned home to the States to find a message that Kim would be less cooperative, Kim had spent significant time in China. Now, we have more indications that North Korea is continuing missile tests. The bigger problem in Korean North is that the people know the Hanoi Summit did not get economic sanctions lifted—Northern Koreans are learning the truth, despite controls on speech and information.

Now, Pakistan has put China in a precarious spot. The recent “explosive” squabble between Pakistan and India attracted Western eyes. It’s great that Pakistan wants to go after terror cells within its borders, but it’s terrible that Pakistan doesn’t go after terror cells that launch attacks against India. Pakistan buys weapons from both the US and China. The US won’t sell fighter jets to Pakistan for use against India; China would—or would it? If China did, then China would be backing the backing of terrorism.  So, little, tiny Pakistan has tipped the balance against China by being friendly with China as a weapons buyer.

So, all Chinese eyes are on Pakistan—and India and North Korea and Taiwan.

Read More

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 4, 2019

Buffoons became naysayers this week, arguing that tit-for-tat military drill concessions would be the path to peace and that progress without finality in Hanoi surmounted to failure.

Trump knows exactly what he is doing. Progress without “too much too fast”, passing up the invitation to stop in China while visiting Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam, replacing large military drills with detailed tactical exercises in South Korea, standing with the Philippines against “an armed attack” from China in the South Sea, delaying a tariff hike with China while inviting Xi to Mar-a-Lago, scrutinizing Chinese-funded “learning centers” in America—it all plays right into a larger overall strategy of strength and resolve in Asia.

As the US and China inch toward a trade agreement, Taiwan makes larger and larger strides asserting its independent activity. Backed by a recent US court ruling, Taiwan’s presence will only irritate China. Trade talk is part of the precarious path ahead. No trade agreement is enough to mitigate other disagreements between the US and China. The only way would require the US to surrender, and that’s not about to happen.

Read More

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, August 27, 2018

The Pacific is heating up bigtime. Just after Kim Jong Un meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump calls off a cabinet member’s visit to Pyongyang the day after the new North Korean envoy was announced. What was that all about? Consider China.

China has been moving in on Taiwan aggressively, both through marketing and through international relations. The TOEFL test given in Taiwan lists Taiwan as a province of China, using the controversial, “Taiwan, China” nomenclature. Taiwanese were furious because the US government requires tests such as the TOEFL, which is administered by ETS, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey. How does a US government recognized US-based English testing organization come to list a testing market contrary to how the US State Department does? The answer is: pressure from China.

Companies around the world have been strong-armed by China into listing Taiwan as a province of China. In the past weeks and months, airlines were required to comply in order to continue flying to China, many waiting until the last possible moment. This week, a PhD candidate at the University of Salamanca in Spain Tweeted a letter from China last October essentially demanding that the university shut down “Taiwan Cultural Days”.

Now, Taiwan ended ties with El Salvador for recognizing China instead of Taiwan. This came after Taiwan declined for a year to make a sizable investment in the Port of La Union. Taiwan was concerned about debt for both countries. Senator Marco Rubio wasn’t happy and a bill has already been amended to cut US funding to El Salvador.

While North Korea doesn’t seem to be making as big of strides as expected in denuclearization, China is cozying up to North Korea while soon-to-be-former US allies cozy up to China and while China and Taiwan exchange lobbing spit wads. The overall situation doesn’t look good for the pro-US side. But, there’s always more than meets the eye.

Read More

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.

Read More