Posted tagged ‘China’

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?

Hmmm.

This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.

Trump Meets China

April 2, 2017

President Trump will meet President Xi next week at Mar A Lago, the Florida White House. There will be no loss for topics both sides wish to discuss but almost assuredly the two lists will not include the same items. Maybe they will alternate. Hmmm.

President Trump seems set upon trade issues and steering the “free trade” towards “fair trade”. While this is a worthy objective (assuming that the President was at all interested in anything other than politics, like satisfying 2020 campaign bench marks), free and fair trade are very complex issues. What is fair to one side may be quite the opposite to the other side.

Most likely the upcoming visit will conclude with more of the phrases we have gotten use to… “Two nations pledge to work together on areas of mutual interest…” Hmmm.

China represents a clear picture of globalization and what outsourcing looks like.  Globalization has brought blessings and cruel dislocations in the same breath.

In the 80’s China began to stir. Adopting a more cooperative and welcoming attitude, China invited a few Western companies into their midst assigning them preferential business licenses. China provided space, people, and infrastructure support. The incoming companies provided manufacturing know-how and the promise of large markets overseas. Most of these new comers were American companies and with them came “outsourced” American manufacturing jobs.

On a macro scale, this arrangement seemed ordained in heaven. China got steady work for its peasant class, thereby raising the “lucky” peasant’s standard of living. With increasing volume, China (the Government) got hard currency generated by the sale of goods overseas.  And, of course, a lot of wealthy Chinese became even wealthier.

For the job exporting country (for example, the US), companies were able to offer for sale goods which cost considerably less than if had manufactured these goods been manufactured using American labor. This translated into lower selling prices, greater profits, or both.

For America (the Government), inflation slowed to a crawl. For American businesses, the way was clear to hold down wage and salary increases (because there was no upward inflation pressure).   And even better, the increased productivity could go in greater proportions to top executives and share holders. Hmmm.

So when we hear rhetoric promising to bring back to America manufacturing jobs, one must realize that the “forced” repatriated jobs will drive up the prices Americans pay (this is called inflation).  Worse, there is no reason to believe the returned jobs will pay anything more than minimum wages.  Hmmm.

There is nothing wrong with more jobs for Americans and if free enterprise were alive and well, the shift of jobs from China to the US would be cost/quality driven. (Most Americans would reject more expensive or lower quality goods.)

I wonder whether the Trump Administration will think about closing the barn door, once the lost jobs are back in the barn. Europe deals with “fleeing jobs” by making it costly for companies to simply lay people off.

Hmmm, maybe not.

Call Me Cynical

March 2, 2017

President Trump has announced his intentions to increase Defense spending by $50 billion, an increase “badly needed” according to the President. Hmmm.

The President’s story gets a little cloudy when he says he can pay for this budget increase by shifting money from the State Department and the EPA. This proposed slight of hand is necessary because (1) President Trump and most Republicans want to cut taxes, (2) the President wants to launch a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan, and (3) there is the inconvenient law restricting what increases in spending are possible (sequestration). Do we hear the deficit increasing on the GOP’s watch?

President Trump has proclaimed that part of making America Great Again is “rebuilding” the military, woefully underfunded, the President says. Hmmm. The Defense budget weighs in at slightly under $600 billion, more than all other countries combined. An increase of $50 billion or 8% could procure some more airplanes and ships, or could be used to outfit more sailors or troops. But for what purpose?

The Presidents suggestion of taking money from the State Department is laughable unless there were to be across the board reductions in Federal Government spending. But even the act of decreasing Defense and State Department budgets begs the central question, what is to be the over arching US foreign policy?

Many observers have had their fill of the notion that the US is world’s policeman. And to be sure, the US policies in Afghanistan and Iraq have been poorly thought through and to date, failures. But policeman and deterrent can be two different situations. A deterrent if effective can keep other nations from aspiring to enforce their wills on other nations, for example Russia, China, or Iran. Does the President or his advisors really think that buying more planes, ships, and tanks will be sufficient for him to “bluff” other countries into following America’s wishes?  And what will happen if the President’s bluff doesn’t work?

Beefing up the military is a nice sop for his nationalistic followers, especially those who have never worn a military uniform (like the President). More Defense spending will also please a lot of Defense Contractor CEOs. Hmmm.

Taking the money from State Department and the EPA, however, may reflect other motives. Weakening the State Department could (and most likely would) make implementing US foreign policy dependent upon military action. A self fulfilling prophecy so to speak.  Will President Trump be a war President?  Neoconservative rhetoric can be infectious until implemented, then if becomes deadly for the sons and daughters of other Americans.

It is the EPA donation may shine more light on an underlying and even more sinister motive. Which sounds more responsible to you, (1) cutting the EPA budget purposely so the EPA will become resource starved and cannot continue key programs like enforcement of clean air and water regulations or those related to global warming, or (2) cutting the EPA to fund serious national security concerns, and oh yes, unfortunately with a restricted budget the EPA simply cannot do as much as before?

Hmmm.

Danger Ahead?

February 11, 2015

It is relatively quiet on the domestic political scene. Alabama’s Supreme Court Justice, Rory Moore has fiendishly interrupted the gay marriage issue in Alabama, and in the process, struck a blow for State’s rights. In Congress, funding of the Homeland Security Department raises the prospect of a potential “shutdown” if agreement between Democrats and Republicans cannot be reached. Other than that, the Washington grid lock seems mostly in recess. Is this a time President Obama can relax?

Probably not. Look around the world and tell me what his next steps should be.

Syria is a political (and humanitarian) mess. Attempting to remove Basher Assad predictably has lead to an Iraq repeat, Arab killing Arab (and anyone else who gets in the way). Iraq is still highly suspect and shows no signs of uniting Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis into one functioning State. Egypt appears to be tilting further towards absolute authoritarian rule, albeit a secular dictatorship. Jordan, while currently flexing its muscles in its revenge battle with ISIS forces, is only inches away from chaos should the Monarchy be usurped.

And then there is Iran and Israel.

Iran’s government seems quite stable, but its foreign policies extend (and meddle) well into the Middle East.  Experts claim Iran is pursuing centuries old Persian and Shiite aspirations. Iran’s fingers are in Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen, and Iraqi’s Shiites goals. Iran is also engaged in negotiating a nuclear development agreement with the West. This agreement may come to pass or may continue to be drawn out while Iran continues its nuclear programs in secret.

Israel suffers from a different type of instability. Israel is a full blown democracy where religious interests continue to hamper a secular view of the world. As a result, Israel sees advantages is Egypt’s authoritarian government, is ambivalent over the turmoil in Syria and Iraq because it sees these situations as enablers for its ambition in the West Bank. But Israel’s largest concern is Iran and in particular Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations with Iran is out of the question because Israel fundamentally does not trust Iran to keep any promise, as well as Israel is not keen on making any concessions itself.

Hmmm. Is that all on the foreign stage?

Don’t overlook China and its aspirations to regain the leadership role China played in South East Asia thousand of years ago. (India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea may take exception to this goal.) And who can forget about Russia and their aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. On one level, Russia can be said to be reliving its Eastern Europe role dating to back long before the Czars.

While the pundits may look for an over arching foreign policy, it is hard to see one. Prioritizing these situations might be more helpful and in the long term present a better chance for lasting solutions.

First, the Middle East is not the most important hotspot in the world regardless of the chaos taking place.

Second, Russia is significantly more important than the Middle East. Russia has a second rate economy but a first rate military with both nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Confronting Russian military aggression, which may become necessary, must be a last resort.

Third, China represents the most important place where American diplomacy needs to be placed. With 1+ billion people and the first or second strongest economy, China is going to become more powerful whether we like it or not. If you want fo think about doomsday, consider India has also 1+ billion people and nukes, Japan has a highly advanced technical and manufacturing infrastructure and is said could convert to a nuclear power over a weekend, and places like Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea are proud people who want to access minerals lying off their shores, these countries might be ready to fight for what they see as their rights.

But China represents something more. China has a lot to lose. China is now a very rich country after centuries of poverty. Under the motivation of not regressing, China could choose to exercise positive leadership including economic development and defense against rogue states in its region.

Similarly, Russia has both much to lose and much to gain by behaving responsibly on the world stage. Russia could also provide economic leadership through export of oil and gas, and security with targeted action against rogue regimes from India to Turkey.

I hope that President Obama sees the path forward as going through China (first), Russia (second), and then and only then through the Middle East. Of course both Russia and China may choose to pursue their own future vision.  And then what?

The alternative that peace is achieved in the Middle East (in some presently unknown manner) but relations with Russia and China sour. Are we better off?

Hmmm.  Better focus on those policies with the greatest potential payoff.

Pass The Bullets

November 16, 2014

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Martin Dempsey, candidly testified before Congress that he would look favorably upon a request to send ground (read combat) troops into Iraq. Their purpose, to take back ground already taken by ISIS. So is General Dempsey just being honest or is he trying to goad his superiors or subordinates to make the request?

It would appear that General Dempsey knows his role. The military is suppose to carry out civilian orders.  The military’s role includes recommending the most appropriate strategy and executing it to accomplish these civilian goals. Anyone who has been in the business as long as General Dempsey also knows that in a political world, he can influence sometimes both the goal and the strategy. Maybe that what’s behind the General’s comments.

Whether the US should pursue ISIS is not a trivial decision. Pursuit requires resources and attention that could have been placed elsewhere. Were there to be more important uses for the military, for example confronting other situations which actually represent threats to vital national interests, America’s response might not be as good as necessary.

The current “pro-fight ISIS” cohort sound similar to those who argued for invading Iraq or doubling down with the “surge”. Behind every tree could be a terrorist and if we want to prevent that, the US must take the fight to them. Hmmm.

This argument raises skepticism. There seems to be no end of these groups who hate the West (especially the US) and love Allah (their way). Today the concentration of these Muslim extremists lies from Afghanistan to Libya. Less publicized groups, however, lie scattered across Africa and South East Asia including the Philippines. Are we to look forward to decades of “crusades” to strike down each of these religious zealots once they figure out how to hold others hostage for ransom?

America has traditional been an isolationist country. WWI and WWII shook the nation out of this way and since then, America has accepted the role of world policeman.

The fundamental business model being used by the likes of ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Boko Harum do not need religion to thrive. In the past we have label similar groups as insurgents, pirates, or renegades. There seems to always be one of these groups active someplace in the world. Should the US prepare to fight them all?

With the inevitable rise of China and the apparent resurgence of Russia, America needs to lead with diplomacy rather than the military in order to secure its commercial ambitions. To that end, there is also no better time than now to focus on North America and South America to foster civil relationships. In this way, America can focus upon how to deal with opposing economic philosophies so that the American economy can continue to grow.

Recognition that dealing with the ISIS crowd is irrelevant in the pursuit of American economic growth might be a good place to start.

Why Not Lead This Time From Behind

May 21, 2014

This week the Justice Department announced charges against 5 Chinese military officers. The charge, fraud by computer theft. The victims, major US companies and one labor union. The question, why now?

It has been long rumored that Chinese groups had been hacking into US computer networks. It was also reasonably well known that a number of individual Chinese living in the US had engaged in theft of US intellectual assets and then tried to smuggle them back to China.

So why these public charges and why now?

Intellectual property does not carry the same value in China and Korea as we are used to in the US. It is not unheard of for Chinese and Korean firms to buy blueprints from reputable sources in order to build a factory. Subsequently, they will replicate those factories without any compensation to the blueprint’s architect. In their ethical system, once intellectual property is in the public domain, it is free to be used. Hmmm.

But these Justice Department charges are different. These refer to official government employees acquiring information and transferring this know-how to quasi-private sector companies. The assumed goal of this theft appears to be to provide competitive advantage to Chinese companies. To the American psyche this is two against one, unfair.

The greater question about US action is why these indictments? There is no chance of ever arraigning these individuals. In the world public opinion court, the US complaint will fall on very deaf ears, thanks to the Snowden-NSA leaks. And in the real world, business in China does not follow the same rules as doing business in Pennsylvania.

(A short reflection on how the European Powers trampled over Chinese rights with forced trading agreements should provide some understanding on where the Chinese might be coming from.)

If in fact the Administration was just firing a shot across the bow, “knock it off” so to speak, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Russian President Putin arrived the next day for a State visit and will leave with a $400 billion energy deal. It would seem that if the US were trying to unite once again Russia and China, these charges were a step in the right direction. With China acting up in the South China Sea and Russia making moves against Eastern European lands, I would have expected a far more strategic move by the US. Divide and conquer would seem as relevant as ever.

On the other hand, what if these charges were highly influenced by domestic policy issues? What if pro-NSA factions within the US government wanted to turn attention away from the personal privacy issues raised by Edward Snowden? What if these Pro-NSA forces were just fine with a wedge between the US and Russia or China? What if pro-NSA fans wanted the spot light off NSA spying? In government, most things are not what they appear to be.

The beauty of these Justice Department charges are that they have legal merit even if they are impossible to press. While the news media ponders the greater impact upon US-China relations, the NSA-types smugly will go about their business as if Edward Snowdon had never existed.

What a situation for the President to lead from behind.

 

Foreign Entanglements, Hmmm

April 24, 2014

Our founding fathers warned about “foreign entanglements”, given the horrible history of wars they knew from Europe. Today that same worry rings just as true.

The US is on the hook around the world, at risk of being drawn into some conflict should a local quarrel break out. From Israel to Europe (NATO members) to India to Korea and Japan, attacks upon those nations would result in an obligatory US response.

Consider that the situation in the Ukraine is dangerously close to other NATO members who are also potentially exposed to the same type of old Soviet provocation. If Russia were to attempt the “Crimea thing” in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia, the NATO treaty compels all other members to come to their defense. Hmmm.

But here is a much murkier situation to understand.

The US has important relations with both China and Japan. While the US has no requirement to come to China’s defense, it does have one with Japan. So what happens when both of these nations claim the same uninhabited chunks of rocks in the sea east of China and west of Japan?

The Senkuku Islands (Japanese term) or the Diaoyu (Chinese term) lie some 1170 miles southwest of Tokyo and about 400 miles southeast of Shanghai. These islands are only about 800 miles south from Seoul, Korea and 200 miles north of Taipai, Taiwan. Yet both Japan and China have declare they will fight for these islands.

At this point you can safely guess that the region surrounding these islands must hold the promise of mineral wealth. Mixing the prospect of oil and gas with lost centuries of past military strength, modern China and Japan seem locked in a course that will lead to conflict.

What should the US do?

In President Obama’s visit to Japan this week, he said the Islands would fall within the US-Japan mutual defense agreement. That would call for the US to come to Japan’s assistance should China take control of the islands or the area around them by force.

That is an outcome clearly not in the anyone’s best interest. As in most similar issues, there are much more sensible solutions than claiming national integrity.

Western thinking would support a strong initial position (these islands are ours) followed by negotiations (China gets this much territory and Japan gets this much). But the Senkukus/Diaoyus fall under Eastern thinking and Eastern history.

The US has a dog in this fight even though it does not really care who controls these islands. Much of the world’s shipping moves through the China Seas and a much of Southeast Asia’s exports to the US (and vice versa) sail to their destinations from these seas. The US has a national interest that these waters remain open and safe for travel.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, western powers used force to get their way. It seems obvious that force in the age of nuclear weapons and globally linked economies will produce no winners. Playing for time seems the best options even if one of the parties were to use force.

While China is big enough to exert its will through military force, China is highly dependent upon exports to support its people. Much the same can be said for Japan although it would take years for Japan to rearm.

Entanglements exists whether we like it or not. The US has played the world’s policeman since WWII and the role is getting old. US influence, however, could still have value.

The world is well on the way to total global interdependence. Small shifts in trade can be even more effective than bombs. Loss of trade will hit the pocketbooks of a country’s wealthy quickly.

Trade wars are not risk free either. Never the less, they are a better way to attempt to resolve disputes until the principles can conduct sensible negotiations.