Symphony

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, February 12, 2018

There are those who know Asia and those who don't. There are those who know political gaming and those who don't. Last week, Symphony said that China wouldn't compromise in a "Sino-Vatico" deal. This week, a retired bishop in Hong Kong said basically the same thing: That if the pope vetoes Beijing too often, Beijing will tell the world the pope is unreasonable.

The pope is no fool. The Vatican knows to listen to a Hong Kong bishop concerning China. The deal is hotly debated in the Church and by no means unanimously supported as motherhood or apple pie. If the Vatican goes through with this controversial deal with China, then it indicates that the Vatican is counting on a popularity war against China, in which China loses respect, both among Catholics in China and everyone in every economy everywhere else in the world, except of course among Russians who always like a good fight.

If war breaks out between the West and China, and if China loses to a fierce West, China ought hold the Vatican partially responsible for playing the complex popularity mind game which is this deal. This agreement was always a cloaked plan to harm China. It seems that the retired bishop in Hong Kong hasn't figured that out.

The Vatican would have us believe that they haven't figured out China when they actually have things figured out all to well. That's what makes the Vatican arguably the greatest danger to China. No wonder China is so concerned, but still not concerned enough.

Equally concerning, Taiwan is seriously talking about moving their Legislative Yuan and their Executive Yuan offices with it. The new location would be Taichung, the center of Taiwan. That would put the central government seat in two locations and the frequent target of democratic demonstrations between the ideologically conflicted north and south. While this is purported to help connect the central government more closely to local governments—and to provide large, open plazas so that demonstrations don't interrupt local commerce—and to provide for an "earthquake" not disrupting the entire central government, that word "earthquake" carries symbolic meaning without mention. A change of cartography will also date any invasion rehearsals.

More than implicating an airborne "earthquake" from, say, China, promoting democracy demonstrations along with a united island of 23 million are the greater, yet more subtle, messages that may insult some offices on the other side of that Taiwan strait. Few in the West will understand how Taiwan's central government creating a "second seat" could spark the war that the Vatican is already piping the popularity to fuel.

Just as much, there are those who do and do not understand North Korea.  Every time the West is shown media coverage of North Korea, journalistic commentary doesn't know what to say. Look at them, they all clap in unison. Doesn't it look strange? They can't be happy; after all they never stop smiling. It's all fake. And, look at all of the crying at the Kim Jong Il funeral. That's either fake or it's radical support.

The press, wholly unqualified to explain events in Far East Asia, can't help but flaunt their own ignorance.

North Koreans are part of a tightly-controlled, cult-like, nannied-and-mommied play script. They are neither happy nor sad. They are caught in a culture of mass group think. They cry at a Kim funeral because that's what you do, much like taking your shoes off at the door. They cheer in choreographed unison at a sports arena because that's what you do at sports arenas and, more importantly, all cheering is choreographed anyway, right?

They aren't cheering from any obligation. They're like a bunch of Sunday Morning micro-church minions parroting their microcosm lingo because that's the only thing they have ever learned to do. A similar comparison would be to tone-lexical native language speakers—such as Cantonese and Mandarin—trying to use the free-form tone flow of Romance sentences, or asking someone who only reads sheet music to improvise for the first time ever. Singing spontaneously from the heart just isn't something they have ever known. And, all the Western press can do is gawk, but not understand.

It just shows how far we still have to go to get to know each other.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 15, 2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCG14hyDWu8

Jeffery Lewis at the Daily Beast has finally found a solution to the problem with North Korea: Kim Jong Un's port-a-potty. By bombing the dynastic successor's port-a-potty, the US would demonstrate both precision and presence. This would be the proverbial "arrow" from Robin Hood, conveniently shooting its way into the Sheriff's chamber.

Though the "papers" have not been "supplied" to top "brass" at press time, the premise has merit: showing that the US means business by "denying entry" for Kim to do his. While the "move" would surely cause an "emergency", their could be new security concerns about "individual privacy". The strategic proposal does not clarify whether or not to strike the "facility" while it is "occupied" by Kim "forces".

As for other port-a-potties in the region, China and Taiwan are deep in their own "potty" match. China is unilaterally opening new flight routs, reportedly in violation of agreements under the International Civil Aviation Organization. New flight routs are "required" to be coordinated first, but these were not. China simply "activated" them. The routs are very close to Taiwan airspace and Taiwan has made quite the buzz about it.

The US further complicated matters with a unanimously-passed bill from the House: the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows for high-level diplomatic visits between the US and Taiwan "under respectful conditions". The bill serves to support a shared "commitment to democracy". The House also passed HR 3320, which directs the Secretary of State to strategize for Taiwan to regain "observer status" at the World Health Assembly, which Taiwan failed to obtain in years past.

China made its own moves, particularly with doubts on the continued purchase of US Treasury bonds. That sent tremors through the markets in multiple directions.

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Symphony

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 8, 2018

The talks between South and North Korea are not at all what they are cracked up to be. While the world would love to believe that this is some grand exercise in "can't we all just get along" diplomacy that always-only ever failed under Obama in any and every hemisphere, North-South talks are not what they seem. They are a distraction, a false pretense, an ostensible cover story, a smoke screen for something much, much deeper.

In all likelihood, the talks will include a very subtle Asian-style, excessively subtle (since it's among Koreans) offer. Even bachelor's degree students of business management study the science of talking to an employee in such a way that he doesn't figure out he's being fired until he gets home and takes his first bide of dinner. Leonardo explained the idea well in his movie Inception.

The meeting, capitalizing on participation in the Olympic games so strategically timed and placed, is more akin to the close of the series The Sopranos. A lieutenant of a rival family meets with the head of another family to plot the "offing" of his own boss in order to stop an ugly war that no one wanted, which started when that new boss came to power. The rival family "does in" their own boss at the gas station, the main character makes his hospitality rounds, and the story ends.

That's what this seems like. The Trump administration is allowing it, taking partial credit in a preemptive expectation of due accolades, also reminding the Asian world that communication is a good thing. Symphony said the same two days before Trump sent his January 4 Tweet to the same effect: without pressure from the US there would be no talks.

If Kim Jong Un eventually disappears in the months ahead, remember that it all came from this meeting, purportedly about the Olympics. There wouldn't be any moves in northern Korea without already having "certain assurances".

But, don't let that distract you. Taiwan is definitely playing its role in provocative and irksome "spitting matches" with China. As with the min-boss in The Godfather Part III, Taiwan wouldn't do that without "backing".

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, January 2, 2018

China claims no part in the Hong Kong and Taiwan -related ships recently stopped by South Korean officials for illegally supplying oil to North Korea. China's claim might be believable, but during the holiday week, China blocked a UN attempted to blacklist those very vessels caught in the act. By blocking the block of the "smoking gun" ships, as it were, China has defined itself as an accomplice. It's a mere matter of fact and definition. There is no defense for China in regard to having some part to play with these two seized vessels.

Russia's role, however, seems more dominant and should be more disconcerting. But, where does the attention from the press turn to blame but China. The press loves to make China the global scapegoat, but China's responses don't help its own disposition any.

Beijing made it clear that military exercises all around Taiwanese airspace are the "new normal" and Taiwan will just have to get used to it. Taiwan is re-focusing strategy for asymmetric warfare—politically correct military language for "fighting a bigger enemy". Several Taiwanese companies are "rethinking" the presence of their factories in China after an entire zone was targeted for zone-wide shutdown. The catch to the zone shutdown story is that the entire zone is said to be targeted for a few blackout days because only some factories in the zone are polluting the environment too much. Factories that are within environmental regulations also have to shut down, argued to include Taiwanese-owned factories. Many factories in that zone are Taiwanese-owned. If China isn't sending a message that Taiwanese aren't welcome then Beijing could do a better job of not making it look that way.

Again, China's actions indicate more and more that China is hostile toward democracies in the East Pacific, namely South Korea and Taiwan. From the perspective of Americans reading Western headlines, it is more difficult every day to come to China's defense. That perspective among the masses is what the Pentagon is waiting for.

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Encore of Revival: America, January 2, 2018

Terrorist talk didn't wait as the New Year arrived. Protests in Tehran have drawn two kinds of buzz: the first is that "keeping quiet" is the best way to respond, the second is that "economics" is the reason for the protests.

Taking the obvious first, people don't protest and riot merely over economics. This is a clear attempt by de facto pro- status quo pundits and media personalities to diminish the matter. Iranian people object to their government for the same reason everyone else does: it's a tyrant and terrorist-sponsoring regime. Reporting that the cause and headline-worthy DNA of the protests in Iran are merely about the "economy" is an insult to both the protesters and the protest victims.

The more complex buzz—claiming that the best response is to "keep quiet"—has several levels of "irony". Keeping quiet didn't work with getting Otto Warmbier back from North Korea—a friend of Iran—when Obama instructed the same tactic with Otto's family. So, "keeping quiet" has already proven to not work. Supporting protests discredits the protests and therefore gives more power to the current regime?—people in the press actually expect Americans to believe that? But, the largest of all contradictions coming from the Left relates to Trump himself. If "keeping quiet" is the way to win, why doesn't the Left try "keeping quiet" about Trump, since they don't seem to be stopping him with their constant heckling?

Reactions and spin aside, the US is in "tyranny-crackdown" mode. Perhaps the Iranian people are taking to the streets because they finally believe that when America speaks something will actually happen. That has been the evidence of the last year, anyway.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 18, 2017

All signs indicate a gear-up for war. The US is full on-tilt, not only in military prep, but also in blaming China. The US and China face each other with North Korea in the middle. There is nothing China or Russia will do to stop Washington from gobbling North Korea whole, but a reaction is to be expected. A war just east of China's border should rouse China's military, if for no other reason than that North Korea might go rogue and invade China as a means of escape.

The US also has a precarious position. China trades with and supplies North Korea; of particular interest is oil. The US recently reached an oil deal with China to pay back China on old debts with oil from Alaska. Recent comments from Washington, including a statement at the UN, include that China must do its part to stop feeding North Korea, otherwise the US will take its own means of handling the part it was hoped China would handle. That's no threat, but it is an expected warning, as it is expected that Beijing would respond defensively.

So, we are headed to war and China won't sit this one out. While it is unlikely the Chinese would help North Korea defend a war with the US, the more likely option is an invasion of Taiwan. If China invades Taiwan, it would likely be seen as mere retaliation from the West, but would make strategic sense from China's view—at least if China assumes that invading Taiwan could be a success. With the US busy and expanding pro-democracy South Korea's borders northward, China would naturally want more territory. China might also thing that the US is too occupied with Korea to worry about Taiwan. And, the recent step-up in regular rhetoric over bipartisan support in Congress to defend Taiwan is China's perfect excuse to justify a strike of its own.

We'll have to wait and see how things play out. But, don't think that there isn't plenty of China-blaming in the press, including speculation that China would actually back North Korea militarily or even the smear by making China look inhumane for its implementation of the death sentence. Human Rights or not, there are press forces in the West always trying to smear China. But, just as much rhetoric comes from all sides, including Russia.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 11, 2017

More smoke got blown this week. South Korea's president is stepping-up efforts to talk to China about North Korea. Asian culture dictates that a country as big as China doesn't give a rat's synthetic tail about what a small country like South Korea thinks. All South Korea can expect is to be in China's debt merely for listening since the diplomacy won't affect outcomes whatsoever. China probably knows this. Whatever "deal" does or does not follow Moon's efforts with the Chinese will be an indication of China's greater intentions for the future. Don't expect too many fireworks; it's mostly politicians blowing smoke.

Things in Korea are stepping up, however. More sanctions are coming down. Secretary of State Tillerson commented about possible naval blockades, which sent a threat of "declared war" bouncing back from the North Koreans—more blown smoke from all sides. As for South Korea and Japan cooperating with the US—they will be "watching" missiles from North Korea. Usually, missiles have little to watch other than a trail of—well, a trail of smoke.

The big note to take about Moon is that his obsession with "talking" and "reconciliation" could prove very valuable after other players (the US, the UN, possibly China and others) do their parts to initiate reunification on the Korean Peninsula. When Korea becomes one country again, it might benefit from a leader like Moon who hungers for an opportunity to get opposite sides talking. But, we'll see.

China's state-run tabloid commented that a visit from the US Navy to a Taiwanese Naval port would activate a kind of "Anti-Secession" law in China and China's PLA would invade Taiwan and immediately reclaim the territory. The statement came months after US Congress approved and planned such port visits between Taiwan and the US for 2018. Taiwan is responding by constricting and banning select visits from Chinese diplomats, usually surrounding topics of "Human Rights" and warlike rhetoric. Again, all sides blowing more smoke without a shot fired, yet.

Usually, boiler cars bellow more smoke, blow their whistles, and let off steam as buildup to a conflict mounts—or just before a train wreck. The smoke is not without meaning, but as of this week, smoke blown remains little more than blown smoke and neither the topics nor the players have changed.

In fact, every small development reported by news outlets seems to follow the format of new facts in the first few paragraphs followed by the same, long background story, whether the background is about a conflict between North and South Korea or between Taiwan and China. That's what you call a clue: The press seems to feel that the public will need that background for the avalanche of news to come.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, December 4, 2017

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlFTIlhm9yY

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOftz57BjeA

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, November 6, 2017

While America faces its own falling "houses of cards", Asian empires face their own truth. With three aircraft carriers, and a fourth soon on the way, the US military presence in Asia is the highest it has been in a long while. Trump is currently making the longest presidential visit to Asia since 1992. It's a bold move, something the hermit kingdom wouldn't dare.

The bold visit to the region is part of a greater strategy, make no mistake. On the one hand, Trump gains respect if he only launches an attack in a region he has already visited. On the other hand, the enormous military presence makes it clear who can't win, no matter the losses. Arguably, the military buildup wasn't so much preparation for an invasion as it was to make the way for a visit from the president. A presidential visit to the region shows solidarity on Trump's part: North Korea's days are numbered. That level of confidence outshines both Kim John Un and Xi Jinping.

Make no mistake, Trump's visit serves not only to understand leaders, not only to court favor with his voter base, but also to gain respect from the people living in Asia—both in the countries he visits and the countries he does not.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 30, 2017

In the daily governance of Hong Kong, China has proven itself as a competent overseer. Hong Kong's "Basic Law", a kind of mini-constitution imposed not by referendum, keeps the SAR autonomous. Hong Kongers have only two reasons for complaint, having not chosen the Basic Law for themselves and the gentrification of Chinese money re-defining native Hong Kongers as a new lower class living among some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Crud hit the fan, however, when Beijing decided to "vet" Hong Kong politicians in advance. The Basic Law makes no direct provision for advanced-vetting, a statutory or policy decision heavily subject to interpretation. Youth are often quick to complain. In the minds of Hong Kong youth, Beijing's advanced-vetting policy is a violation of the Basic Law. Accordingly, Hong Kong youth have no interest in learning about the Basic Law from Beijing.

Now, Beijing has planned a Hong Kong -wide broadcast from a Mainlander—a Chinese speaking from Beijing's view—to educate Hong Kong students about the Basic Law. Schools are under no obligation to participate in Beijing's offer, so the public is led to understand. But, when your higher authority vets your politicians without a word-for-word clause to justify it, then invites your school to optionally learn how to follow the law, it is difficult not to feel some kind of pressure to "volunteer".

The best thing for China to earn good will is to rescind the advanced-vetting policy in favor of Hong Kong's local interpretation of the Basic Law and to allow only three schools to listen to the Basic Law address, applying with good reason. That's "basic law" of supply-and-demand economics. But, those ideas may be difficult for the Communist regime to quickly grasp.

So, it looks like China's path ahead will see plenty of conflict and strife. The student objections to the Basic Law seminar will by no means be the last, nor will it be Beijing's last attempt to educate Hong Kong's population.

The US has its own approach to PR. Notice how Korea made fewer Western headlines this week, though the situation is far from finished. Trump's planned visit, purportedly to include the Korean DMZ, is certainly a bold move to demonstrate courage from a leader and to eclipse North soldiers' respect for Kim Jong Un who wouldn't dare to get close. Don't be surprised if Trump walks right up to the border and speaks through a megaphone and says, "Where is Kim Jong Un? He can talk to me. Your leader is a coward. Don't trust him." Don't be surprised. Such a move befits Trump and would begin a cascade of implosion from within the Kim Dynastic ranks.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 23, 2017

Now, North Korea may have biological weapons. Every week, the news is worse and worse. Eventually, a conflict with North Korea will feel more like a relief to the public than an outrage, just from fatigue of bad news overdose. That level of fatigue is—or at least should be—part of military logistics calculation. However, that doesn't indicate whether the US plans a strike, only that increasing public support for action is yet another metaphoric "cannon" aimed at the Korean Peninsula. While the Kim Dynasty may not wise up to the mounting forces at its doorstep, Russia and China know that public support from the US shouldn't be ignored.

China, however is strengthening its long-term ambitions. The incumbent president, Xi Jinping, has been named and received honorary titles that place him above past presidents. There is talk of him becoming a "Chairman", thus equating him to Mao. Don't underestimate the power of a "mere title" in Chinese culture. Even with no written authority behind a title, Chinese culture is and always will be stronger than any law it writes to keep the "legalists" satisfied. Such a long-time leader retaining power compares him to the seemingly lifetime leader in Russia, Putin.

North Korea is a strategic linchpin for the China-Russia powers. Militarily, they cannot allow a united Korea. But, logistically, they may not be able to stop it either. Just as war games often do, propping up a Communist Dynasty may have backfired. That's a lesson to everyone, the US included. The US might not heed warnings when the balance temporarily tips in its favor. Meddling is always a bad idea, whether you win or lose, this time.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 16, 2017

It's not quite there yet. Korea's conflict escalates, but there's still more mount to climb. Trump is increasing weapons sales to South Korea and Japan, based on a September 5 Tweet; North Korea called him a "strangler of peace" and a "war merchant". Mattis told the Army to "Stand ready". Hawaii is rehearsing for attacks.

Most of the talk is to get everyone psyched-up plenty of time in advance—soldiers, nations, and peoples. The timing, however, will come at a convergence of defenses being in place and opportunity being open. Then, the US will either strike with "just cause" or "strik-taliate" as it did with Pearl Harbor and the Lusitania.

In the meanwhile, expect the escalation to continue. Expect more Navy strike groups to be directed. Expect the USS Ford to replace the decommissioned USS Enterprise and the USS Reagan to replace the USS Vinson, somewhere in East Asia. Three aircraft carriers, two on their way in and one their way out is certainly a military peak. But, also keep an eye out for a shift in types of Korea-related headlines followed by a quiet from central command. Once the press release statements resemble a ship casting off, that's what you call a clue. And, we haven't been clued in quite yet.

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