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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, June 12, 2017

Most of the news this week was rehashed hype. North Korea is making progress with missiles. This is nothing new. The US presence in South Korea is controversial among South Koreans. This is nothing new. But, the reminders keep coming in and politics never misses opportunity.

South Korea’s new president, Moon, is undergoing his own freshmen shake-ups. His military people didn’t tell him the whole story. US anti-missile systems, namely THADD, put out a lot of juice, having incredibly strong radars that no ham radio operator would be allowed to own. People don’t like living near them.

Two are already in place and are going to stay there. More, reportedly four, are at a US military base in South Korea, can be deployed at any time, and they are going to stay there. Security is not diminishing in South Korea, it is just not progressing as quickly as was scheduled.

The new Korean president is listening to his voters. He wants any additional missile defense systems in places that won’t slow-cook his own people. The delay seems to agree with China’s objection to the far-reaching THADD radars snooping on its own turf. Washington would have us think that South Korea is selling-out to the Chinese. And, China surely will get a big head over this, thinking that their economic threats against South Korea for defending itself against a loose-nuke cannon—that China funds—is finally having sway.

The real story is that time is running out in the “logistics” calculation. The US Navy is waiting. South Korea is irritated and can’t and won’t deploy endless missile defense systems. A China-backed dictator needs to be taken out. China knows it. Trump knows it. And, the Trump-Xi “bromancers” wish they could get North Korea dealt with quickly so they can take off the gloves over the South Sea.

There, in the South Sea, no lie Trump may have told about former director Comey could be as big as the lie Xi told about China’s man-made islands: They won’t be militarized. If the same islands aren’t being militarized then the anti-missile defense systems in South Korea are actually gumball machines and the US Navy is only in South Korean waters to throw a pizza party, which means that China has nothing to fear.

But, the truth is different from how slow-moving takeovers get glossed-over.

The press is moving against China and South Korea more and more, especially with “life inside” and other pro-democracy stories. China’s view is also about logistics. They lack food. China doesn’t have enough land to grow food for its own people. News stories from other countries put China in a worse light than is appropriate.

China’s solution is to expand. But, the Chinese don’t seem to understand the Western concept of expansion: Master what you have first; if you can’t manage your house as it stands, making it bigger will only grow the problem.

Now, China’s silk road is up against ISIS, making a third battle-front for the Chinese. And, after all that bravado against the US, the Philippines are welcoming US troops to help deal with their own ISIS problems. Don’t think that US- South Korean relations are down in the least.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia May 29, 2017

The situation in the Western Pacific grows more precarious. Muslims have taken over some territory in the Philippines. Martial law has been declared in those areas. The Philippines’ president, Duterte, has offered to resign if he can’t keep the peace.

For a long time, the Filipino people have wanted respect as a sovereign nation, hungering for that respect as much as China if not more. This has led the Philippines to diminish ties with other nations, including the US, and warm up to China. Sun Tzu might advise that any form of hunger can be exploited as a weakness, including hunger for respect. Now, an extreme sect of Muslims have interrupted the sovereign work of the Filipino government. If any forces lack respect in the Pacific and undermine rule of law, the US is not the foremost among them. The current security arrangement in the Philippines has failed to keep law and order. Duterte’s policies are being put to the test. If he can’t regain control, then both China and the US will step-up their presences.

Northern Korea is already stepping up its game, now with rumors of anti-aircraft missiles. The US has sent yet another strike force to Korean waters. China knows the US is the best hope to end the mess on the peninsula, whether in terms of finances, diplomatic affinities, or strength of arms. Importantly, the Western press is mounting a well-published case against the Kim regime comparable to the case the W. Bush administration mounted against Saddam Hussein.

In the South Sea, Trump sent his first “sail-by” through China’s man-made islands. US threats to blockade the artificial island militarized bases are not empty threats, not in the least. Nor is China’s threat to declare war if the US follows-through.

Trump is going to need to act on North Korea while still on friendly terms with China. Both China and the US know this. With these islands, China and the US can’t play “let’s be friends” forever. The problem of the artificial islets in the South Sea will compel quicker US action on the Korean Peninsula.

The majority argument, however, will go to the international view. If China’s military presence in the South Sea is benign, why didn’t China demonstrate respect and stop Muslims from disrupting the China-friendly Filipino government? That’s the question the Western taxpayers will ask, anyhow. The West will have gone to much trouble and will pin China as the perpetrator.

But, there is another part of Western Pacific strategy to consider. When the Korean peninsula is united, all those US troops in Southern Korea will be able to point their guns elsewhere. With the US being “the liberator”, the soon-to-be united Korea will not want to side with the People’s Liberation Army of China. China isn’t foolish; they’ve thought about that.

Moving on the Koreas will make moving on the South Sea more feasible, from the US military’s perspective. China knows that someone must move on the Koreas and that “someone” can only be the US. After that, islets in the South Sea can quickly be taken and turned against China. With Muslims disturbing the Philippines, Duterte—or whoever is president at the time—may suddenly turn away the Chinese for not helping enough and welcome cooperation with the US. But, if not, the Philippines would collapse if they abandon the mess at home to help China keep the South Sea.

Then, the spearhead aims at Taiwan like Saruman marching against the Shire. Two times this weekend, in both north and south of Taiwan, a train hit a person on the tracks. It’s a string of freak accidents that almost seems poetic, but with no explainable meaning as of yet.

Moreover, an outspoken DPP associate, Lee Ming-che, is still being detained in China with no statement on which law in particular he violated.

China’s situation is difficult and complex, even though the West will tend to take the easy road and villainize China. Beijing needs to retain domestic control. This is all the more evidenced by the situation in the Philippines. Lee is a disturbance, even if his cause is good. China doesn’t see the world in terms of values and ideologies, but in terms of maintaining power in order to maintain peace. Muslims are at China’s doorstep, not only in the Philippines, but also in Malaysia. This is no time for Lee to be stirring up trouble.

But, in the eyes of the evermore compassion-driven West, by detaining Lee after speaking out on matters of Human Rights, China is only trying to silence a whistle-blower for blowing the whistle on them. As with the anti-China press war that began in Hong Kong, the Taiwan question comes into play, affecting public image as much as military strategy.

Both China and Taiwan have some hypocrisy in the Lee situation. China claims Taiwan as its own territory—though claiming Northern Korea might be more tenable, more affordable, more militarily advantageous, and result in more peace. China certainly has paid the bills in Northern Korea. Taiwan is an island already surrounded by Western allies and is about to be surrounded by even more. Militarily, China’s claim to Taiwan is not strategic, it is about something else.

By China claiming Taiwan, Taiwanese have a vested interest in Human Rights issues in China. On the other hand, the DPP, the political party of Taiwan’s freshman president, a political party which Lee is affiliated with, claims that Taiwan is independent. This should mean that the DPP thinks that Taiwan “doesn’t have a dog in that fight” where Human Rights are concerned in China. They want to be independent, yet they also worry about the goings on in China as if they are family. The DPP makes it seem as if they want to have their cake and eat it too.

So, everyone is right, and wrong—it depends on who you ask. Eventually, push will come to shove and all the houses of cards in the Western Pacific will crash. If Russia intervenes then they might as well surrender Syria to the States. So, the “Ruskies” aren’t likely to tip any balances. Besides, they would rather bide their time, let China do their bidding, and let the US grow weary. Based on both push and advantage for action in Korea just before action in the South Sea, China could find itself in a checkmate in three moves. Then, we’ll see if that “bromance” between Trump and Xi was all it was chalked up to.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, March 20, 2017

North Korea made headlines again. Reports have it that North Korea performs a routine ritual of saber rattling every spring. It’s definitely “saber spring” in “Kim world”. Trump thinks the Great Successor is a naughty boy, behaving very “badly”.

China’s answer is to educate the US on calmness and diplomacy, while continuing to build weaponized islands in the South Sea. The US is certainly paying attention. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just made a pit stop in China. While the US won’t take anything off the table, including pit stops and naming that “military action” won’t be taken off the table, the stronger, less visible, and probably more important response from the US is money. The Fed is raising interest rates and China appears to be in some kind of economic cross-hairs. continue reading

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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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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 24, 2016

Pro-China legislators blocked the swearing-in of pro-Independence lawmakers in Hong Kong. Pro-Independence activists from Hong Kong told Taiwanese not to give up on independence. China said that independence for either China or Hong Kong is a “futile” plot. Then, Hong Kong told Taiwan not to meddle in other countries’ affairs.

Taiwan’s former president from the former-controlling party faces charges of leaking secrets of the State. That former-controlling party is working on formulating its opinion of Taiwan and China, while the newly-controlling party’s administration investigates the former president. The trend seems to be announcing opinions about other countries’ opinions about their opinions. So much opining about opining almost resembles pre-WWII Europe.

The Philippines won’t be cooperating with the US Navy anytime soon. Old traditions are over. Philippine military leadership wants China to make the first move in the South Sea, but China already has, especially with the man-made islands.

China also made the first move in Hong Kong’s independence movement. Without the change to vet politicians in advance, rather than vet HK laws after the fact, HK’s independence movement might not have had enough wind to be what it is. Likewise, the Western press continues to publish stories casting doubt on China’s economy based on debt. China’s press responds by casting doubt on the Western stories that cast doubt. The best-kept secret seems to be that everyone’s money is based on debt in this brave, new world, including the Philippines.

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Cadence of Conflict: Asia, October 10, 2016

The tied rises and falls, but tensions only rise in the Pacific, week after week. This week, China and its old buddy, Russia, were seen in public together. And, it seems China has a new friend in the Philippines’ defense office. The tension is at such a point where the public has not only learned about it, but is getting “used to” it. The excessive education writers insert into their news articles, informing readers and re-informing readers about the history of China’s “nine-dash line” and the South Sea certainly helps move this from “news” to “mundane”.

But, who is the villain? Arguably, the US is the villain, but not for the conventional reasons. Had Trump had his way, the US never would have borrowed money from China to get involved in the Mid East in the first place. The US Navy could have then operated out of the red and more in the Pacific blue. Then, China’s “island-building” might never have happened and Beijing wouldn’t have been strong enough to vie for a fight that it seems to want so badly—at least by proxy of the changes in the maps Beijing insists on seeing printed globally. But, that’s all speculation.

As you watch headlines, note the trickle of economic articles on China. China didn’t get it’s money through innovation, policy invention, or good will; it got its money because the Western lower-middle class pinched pennies so much they would spend $1.50 in gasoline to drive across town where an item cost $0.75 less. That drove jobs to China—which capitalized on US penny-pinching and pinched their own dollars into pennies, another thing Trump has criticized the Chinese for. China won the lottery, a story which ends well for few.

So, like a 16 year old with the keys to the Porsche he bought with his rich uncle’s money, China tried to build islands in hopes of rewinding the pages of history to their nostalgic splendor. While the US abandoned the mess it made in the Mid East—creating an otherwise would-have-failed enemy in the process of going and leaving—China could capitalize on the vacuum left by the AWOL US. Had China known how to earn the money it ended up with, Beijing would have had the smarts to be where ISIS now stands. Had they the smarts to learn from loss, they would have beaten Putin to the punch and build their islands closer to the vacuum. But, like a jealous company set on “wants” instead of “needs”, China is building islands that the US can take over in 15 minutes.

In the end, China will have to sign some kind of truce, though probably not a full “surrender”; the man-made islands will go to the US or some puppet thereof; and the US presence will have done exactly what China didn’t want, thanks to China: expand. A stronger China in the Mid East with “status quo” in the South Sea might have been more profitable, for China most of all.

The irony of it all begs the question: Was the penny-pinching culture of the American lower-middle class some CIA plot from the beginning to boost China’s confidence beyond feasibility? Probably not. But, is might make a great thriller “espionage intel.” novel.

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