Symphony

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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Symphony

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, December 19, 2016

All eyes went to Taiwan this week. The Taipei Times shows an uptick in article views. China held no less than three military activities that made headlines in Taiwan’s backyard, and is reported to have broken its promise not to militarize it’s freshly-made islands. In one incident, the Japanese even responded.

The topic of Taiwan’s Independence is not going away anytime soon. The topic was formally debated in Taipei with careful scrutiny over the implications of Nixon’s (1972) and Carter’s (1979) policies involving Taiwan and China. The Taiwanese, reading the tealeaves as it were, suspect that they won’t be able to trust the current political party that just took power, and the new “Power” party is already on the rise with “Independence” as a “crucial” talking point.

China has gone full-swing into testing it’s one-and-only operational aircraft carrier, the diesel-powered, Soviet-made Liaoning. The other carriers are still being assembled in the docks and aren’t scheduled for commission for a few years. But, China already has its own “unsinkable aircraft carriers”, man-made airport islets in the Spratly Islands.

With the Western and Eastern press in full-swing, with military events moving as they are, neither the West nor the East will be lacking, neither in force nor in press nor in public support for what’s been brewing in the South Sea.

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