Minghao Zhao gives the Chinese view of what is at stake in Korea, and how they see the issue, and Donald Trump's bellicose stance

By Minghao Zhao*

Donald Trump is running out of patience with North Korea. Using heated language unusual for a US president, Trump recently warned that if Pyongyang threatens to attack the United States again, the US will respond with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Whatever action Trump decides to take, he must recognize that the stakes – not just for the Korean Peninsula, but also for America’s relationship with China – could not be higher.

North Korea’s two latest intercontinental ballistic missile tests, carried out last month, suggest that the country now has the capability to hit the continental US. The US Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that North Korea may well have already developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be delivered on such a missile. Experts from Johns Hopkins University anticipate a sixth nuclear test at any moment.

The United Nations Security Council has now unanimously passed the harshest sanctions yet against North Korea, in the hope of pressuring the small country to renounce its nuclear-weapons program. The resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood products, which together account for one third of the country’s already meager annual export revenue of $3 billion. It also prohibits countries from issuing new permits to North Korean workers abroad, whose wages, it is suspected, help fund nuclear and missile programs.

So far, however, the sanctions do not seem to be having the intended effect. North Korea has threatened to retaliate against the US “thousands of times” over – including by striking the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific – and reiterated its vow to never give up its nuclear arsenal. Similarly, at the just-concluded ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho asserted that the North would not participate in negotiations on its nuclear and missile programs unless the US abandons its “hostile” policy.

The US has taken a similarly stubborn line. In a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Susan Thornton articulated the administration’s belief that talks would not get North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, even if they brought much-needed economic concessions. “We will not,” she added, “negotiate our way to talks.”

Instead, the US has been working hard to tighten the screws on Pyongyang, by reinforcing its international isolation. The Trump administration attempted to convince the Philippines to exclude North Korea from the ASEAN forum, and is pushing Myanmar to suspend its military ties with the country.

The US has been more successful in pressuring Australia, the European Union, Japan, and other US allies to strengthen unilateral sanctions on the North. According to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU is considering additional measures, including further reductions in trade and financial exchanges. Japan’s government has decided to expand a re-entry ban for North Korean officials, and widen the scope of its asset-freeze program for entities and individuals connected to the country’s nuclear and missile development.

But the US is unlikely to put all of its eggs in the sanctions basket. Already, the Department of Defense announced that US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford and US Pacific Command Chief Harry Harris had spoken by phone with South Korea’s top military official, General Lee Sun-jin, to discuss military-response options to the launch. Moreover, US, Japanese, and South Korean forces have conducted several joint drills involving B-1B bombers and other strategic assets. The message is clear: the US is ready to fight, should it come to that.

Of course, avoiding such a fight is still the world’s best bet – a fact that even the turbulent Trump administration seems to recognize. But that will require cooperation from China, which the Trump administration has gone to great lengths to alienate.

As North Korea’s main trading partner, China has substantial leverage over the country. China’s suspension of North Korean coal imports alone – part of its obligations under the Security Council resolution – will reduce the North’s export earnings by an estimated $400 million this year (while also costing China a pretty penny).

But China has serious reservations about America’s North Korea policy. For example, China adamantly opposes the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, claiming that it undermines China’s own security.

Moreover, China condemns “secondary sanctions” placed by the US on Chinese companies and individuals found to have illicit dealings with North Korea as assaults on its sovereignty. Yet the Senate’s leading Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, is ready to double down on this approach, calling for the suspension of direct investment from China.

And that is not the only way the US Congress is antagonizing China. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the US House of Representatives last month, includes demands for the US government to strengthen military ties with Taiwan, with US Navy ships calling in at Taiwan’s ports.

Last April, Senator John McCain said that North Korea is presenting the US with a “Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion.” It is an apt analogy, but it gets one thing wrong: there is no longer anything slow about the situation. Trump’s administration had better catch up.


Minghao Zhao is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute in Beijing, an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, and a member of the China National Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP).   Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017, published here with permission.

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66 Comments

China said it will stay neutral if North Korea fires the first shot. What happens if China gets involved. How will this affect multicultural allies?
The Chinese government sees ethnic Han as family what ever their citizen ship [ref "the Upper Han - Economist]. Having said that HK Chinese preferred British type democracy and the Taiwanese want to stay independent?
Johnathon Haidt says human society is bonded by sacred objects and ideas. See what happens when Australia's multicultural icon Yassmin Abdel-Magied makes an offensive tweet about ANZAC day?
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-40712832

While it is unusual for an American President to become this heated, Trump is hardly your usual American President. Words no matter how wild or loud are still just noise, Trump doesn't understand that he is probably the most unskilled, ham fisted, dangerous propagandist the world has even seen. He has really painted himself into a corner. If he goes first he will have the blood on his hands of a mass murderer. If he waits for a NK strike, then he is the architect of another Pearl Harbour. Should have stuck to building walls.

Best to sit on hands and whistle?

No, and there was no intention to try and simplify a volatile and dire situation. But two things come to mind.An old proverb something like "many a fool regrets saying too much, few wise men regret saying too little." And Teddy Roosevelt's diplomacy "speak softly and carry a big stick.". There is no doubt Trump has found himself in the horns of a dilemma, if he either attacks or retaliates. Obviously he needs Chinese intervention towards a regime change but at the same time China wants the USA influence out of what they see as their region. Perhaps some sort of provocation by NK will allow a US attack without China getting involved, but that still has potential for millions of casualties. And then of course there is still Mr Putin more or less on the other border which nobody seems to be thinking about. But anyway, what would you do?

And then of course there is still Mr Putin more or less on the other border which nobody seems to be thinking about.

Indeed.

"Every country has a right to deploy armaments on its territory. China does not deploy armaments against the Russian Federation, we do not have such information. We have very strong ties with the People's Republic of China, including in the military field," Lavrov said at a youth forum called Terra Scientia in the Vladimir Region. Read more

You know while I was wandering around memory lane I recalled a quote by Chamberlain something like " the closer we get to war the more popular Churchill becomes, and vice versa." In this situation of course NK has never threatened any border than apparently SK. There may be some thinking up North if you like, that NK should have a moral obligation and rightto re-unite the country a la Nth Vietnam. But like you I would see there is sufficient conventional weaponry and Western alliance to deter that. In the old days it was called the balance of power. There is too a rogue consideration of supply to terrorists of nuclear components and in reality a shortage of cash is only going to make that more likely, perhaps? Like you I don't think the NK's will attack, and it seems there is a bit of an element of baiting and taking the piss, the louder Trump gets. But if they are really deluded and demented and hell bent on attacking then the world is in for the biggest shock since WW2 and despite that it is really difficult to see how the USA could get themselves into a position that would justify a pre-emptiness strike.

Is Trump mad enough to put MAD to the test?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction

We've found Al Jazzeera reporting on this issue really informative as you get government statements from a wide number of nations.

An exercise sponsored by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Energy set to take place on August 23 called EarthEX2017 will wargame responses to catastrophes such as mega earthquakes, cyber terrorism or high altitude electromagnetic pulse attacks.

The exercise will simulate a “subcontinent-scale, long duration power outage, with cascading failures of all other infrastructures,” according to the official Earth Ex website.

“Black sky events” are defined as, “Catastrophic occurrences caused by man or nature that bring society to its knees.”

http://dailywesterner.com/news/2017-08-09/femas-earthex2017-and-other-cr...

"Pre-emptiness strike" - Freudian slip?

Well how about that. I could say this tricky little machine popped that in there, but I should own it nevertheless. Believe it would be almost good enough to be from The Far Side.

Kim Jong-Un, demonized ad infinitum, is not a fool, and is not going to indulge in a ritual seppuku unilaterally attacking South Korea, Japan or US territory. Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal represents the deterrent against regime change that Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi could not count on. There’s only one way to deal with North Korea, as I’ve argued before; diplomacy. Tell that to Washington and Tokyo.

Meanwhile, there’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371. It does target North Korea’s major exports – coal, iron, seafood. Coal accounts for 40% of Pyongyang’s exports, and arguably 10% of GDP.

Yet this new sanctions package does not touch imports of oil and refined-oil products from China. That’s one of the reasons why Beijing voted in favor. Read more

B R Myers, SK resident and Norks expert, has a far more sobering view: here. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2017/02/wh...

The money shot:

The goal of [North Korean] nuclear armament is not mere security from U.S. attack, which conventional weaponry trained on Seoul has preserved since 1953—and through far greater crises than George W. Bush’s little “axis of evil” remark in 2002. As every North Korean knows, the whole point of the military-first policy is “final victory,” or the unification of the peninsula under North Korean rule. Many foreign observers refuse to believe this, on the grounds that Kim Jong-un could not possibly want a nuclear war. They’re missing the whole point.

(bold italics mine)

Shot#2:

In any case, we must stop focusing on short-term shifts and nuances in North Korean propaganda and instead grasp the fundamental consistency its ideology has maintained since 1945. We have to take that ideology seriously, however absurd the personality cult may seem. To a radical Korean nationalist, the division of the nation, the race, is an intolerable state of affairs. So too is the continued presence of the foreign army that effected that division in the first place.

Were Kim Jong-un to share our own leader’s love of slogan caps, his would read: Make Korea Whole Again. Unification is not just central to the North’s ideology, but the only sure and lasting solution to its security problem. That makes the nuclear crisis all that more difficult to solve. But we will never get anywhere if we don’t face up to the true and frightening nature of the North’s goals. For decades our politicians and cartoonists have mocked North Korean leaders as squalling babies who wave missiles around just to get our attention. We’re the ones who need to grow up.

As every North Korean knows, the whole point of the military-first policy is “final victory,” or the unification of the peninsula under North Korean rule.

Hardly likely given South Korea is a vassal state of the US military complex.

After Germany, with 34,805 troops, South Korea is the third largest host of US military forces, with 23,468 people on duty at 83 sites. More than 300 tanks, including the powerful M1 Abrams, and armoured vehicles are stationed there.

Set up as a bulwark against North Korea in 1957 after a three-year war, the United States Force Korea (USFK) says its mission is to “deter aggression and, if necessary, defend the Republic of Korea”. In April the US installed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or Thaad, in the country with the purpose of using interceptor missiles to destroy incoming missiles in mid-flight. Read more

I once had a long conversation with a US soldier stationed there in a reasonably important position - important not in the rank sense, but in the security classification sense. It was at a joint US-NZ military conference and I held a high security classification as well. So it was what you might call a free and frank discussion.

Thing is, the US presence in SK (at that time and this was well over a decade ago) was not necessarily welcomed by South Koreans either, such that he suggested the posting was likened to operating within a hostile territory.

I don't think I'm giving away any classified secrets :-) in mentioning it - but it does just further complicate our (Westerners) lack of understanding of different cultures.

Is this guy Zhao for real?
Stopping an evil dictatorship from becoming a nuclear threat is not just the USA's problem. It's the world's problem.
As Zhao admits, China is in the best position to deal with this but does nothing (then moans about losing some money from trading with the evil dictatorship!). Then this guy has the cheek to talk about the problem as if it is USA's problem alone, just because they are the only ones willing to do something! And he wants them to be nice to China while they do it? China being the ones that are supporting this evil dictator?

Then he says the US is angering the Chinese because of all the things the US is doing, like installing an anti-missile system in South Korea.
So... an ANTI-missile system annoys you, but a missile system is fine? And you will support the dictator that puts in place this missile system?

Who do you think you are fooling Zhao?

China is like a guy with a dog (a viscous rottweiler) that he feeds but can't quite control. Now he is losing control more, and the dog is starting to threaten the neighbour (USA) and other passersby (the world).
The neighbour says he is going to kill that dog if the owner doesn't sort it out, while the owner goes on pretending that this is a fight between his dog and the neighbour, and nothing to do with him.

And please don't bring up culture, as if it is just a cultural misunderstanding.
This is an issue of a dictatorship and lack of freedom for the people of North Korea (and China).

The west used to care about this stuff, e.g. opposition to apartheid.

I suspect China's position can be explained by one of two options, either:

(a). They are impotent and claim a level of influence or power they don't really have, or
(b). It suits their own aims to have an egotistical cult leader threatening the US and they choose to do nothing.

Actually by stating they will do nothing to help NK should they strike first is probably enough. But when you have a dictator like this, similar for want of a better example, to Saddam Hussein, living in their own totalitarian empire and deluded by sycophantic circles around them, who can tell how you can make them stop and consider consequences. Certainly neither of these two fine examples either have or had, any compassion or thought of protecting their own people from the consequences of a war let alone one that could not be won. It's all about them, nothing else and if you think like that and as well that you are both infallible and invincible, well then, that's really dangerous.

Why is doing nothing enough? Especially as they are essentially keeping this dictatorship afloat.I would actually prefer that they did nothing, i.e. stopped all trade and assistance completely.
That would be the neutral point if they did nothing.
Then the US could ask them to help out militarily. That would be doing something.

"Actually by stating they will do nothing to help NK should they strike first is probably enough"

On what scale of probability did you ascertain this to be true?

If China had not intervened in 1950 NK would have disappeared. That's what MacArthur, thought anyway until he crossed the 38th parallel. NK knows it needs China economically to survive but they cannot have forgotten they need their military back up, or potential of it, even more so. So if that guarantee of military might in support, is no longer there then that must obviously vastly diminish their ability to fight and survive a war. One would think a normal person could figure all that out and realise this would be a consequence should they strike first. But as said, this leader is hardly normal.

Having read all that I find it hard to conclude that, in the presence of egotistical dictators, doing nothing is "probably enough".

So you would do a Curtis Le May and bomb North Korea back to the Stone Age. The final solution. How lovely.

Apart from putting words into other peoples mouths they did not say, do you have any useful point?

According to your later comment China has a pretty ugly sort of government, dictatorship, and has the blood of millions etc etc so in that case they would not see too much wrong with the set up in North Korea. There's your answer, why wouldn't they do nothing to change a regime that is just like their own. What's your alternative proposal then?

Yes, I maintain the Chinese government is quite ugly to any objective analysis.
Yes, I maintain their government is an Oligarchy (Dictator means one).
Yes, I suggest China is happy with the state of affairs in North Korea, regardless of the risk to the rest of us.

I suggest the days of doing nothing have brought the international community to our current dilemma and the room for kicking the can down the road is reducing very quickly.

In my opinion, either China is a lot more in control of North Korea than we can see and therefore the risk is overblown, or their rivalry with the USA is blinding them to the scale of the risk in their own backyard.

China is the key to bringing lasting stability to this nuclear power. Unfortunately the Chinese track record on human rights leads me to suggest things do not look good for the people of North Korea, even if its dictator is brought to heal.

Look I agree with all of that and I agree totally that China is the key to defusing the situation and getting North Korea under some sort of control but how do you make them do that if they don't think they need to, And in saying that, again I agree with your sentiments that there is little depth of humanitarian conscience to appeal to.

In absence of all the facts we are not in any realistic position to say what the correct path here is (or isn't). But given my position I am somewhat flexible to various political manoeuvring and posturing that comes out in the press, however odd it might look on the surface.

If it were you and I trying to get a resolution here, with the half facts and conspiracy theories leaking out in the press we might like look just as weird.

As with all things Chinese, they need to save face because they are very proud. If the price is the USA willing to look like the 'silly' one, I'll take it over the alternatives.

Fair enough. Strange & unusual methods of diplomacy may triumph where traditional ones have failed. A final thought fromreading some of the other commentearlier, Mr Hume ? Mr Putin may yet play a part, and save everybody's faces. Good timing, good image, good for the ego and good for his border.

"If China had not intervened in 1950 NK would have disappeared".
No, NK wouldn't have disappeared, the evil dictatorship would have disappeared. That is an important difference.

Well they are Chinese not American and they want America out of the region but if not that, then at least, "Western"influence off their actual borders just as they succeeded in doing in Vietnam. So they see the opposite of that happening if NK collapses and SK takes over. It's not quite as simple as that either & much better scribes than me have posted a lot of material about this here as above, which is really worth reading. The Chinese don't think like us, they neither need nor want to, especially globally.

In other words, I'm sure they have their reasons, but because I'm a "westerner", I couldn't possibly understand, so let's not upset them.
I wonder how you would comment if the US were the ones supporting the dictator.
ps I looked up to find better scribes, but you seem to be the most frequent commenter here.

vox nihili

oooohhh.... Latin.

The US has supported MANY a dictator in the past!

Augusto Pinochet a classic one

And how did you respond to that?

Left the place behind and came to live in NZ.

Left it behind in protest? I assume?
Which leads me to assume you protest China's stance now?

No, those in power in each individual sovereign country will choose to do what they do for whatever reason. In many ways I view US society with greater concern than Chinese society - given the people in China don't really have free democratic elections, whereas they do in the US. In recent history (i.e., in my lifetime and to my knowledge), the US has invaded and/or politically interfered with more sovereign territories/nations than what China has done.

I can't understand this. You see an undemocratic society as less concerning than a democratic society. For what reason? I have exactly the opposite view, because democracy gives a voice to everyone.
And please don't pretend that democracy is just another form of government, with equal validity to a dictatorship, as some commentators believe.

So, because the US has invaded and/or politically interferred with more nations than China, you don't hold China to the same account as you do the USA? That is your reason for answering no above?
But you also say that each sovereign country will choose to do what they do for whatever reason, presumably meaning that you have to look at each situation on its merits, yet you are happy with the sweeping statement that the US has invaded more places, therefore they are bad.

I am concerned that people do not take democracy seriously.

Ever heard of that Winston Churchill saying along the lines of 'the best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter'?

Having lived in the US, I can agree with Kate. Democracy isn't always the best option. Having socialised with a lot of the 'average' voting pool who didn't own a passport and never left their State of birth...yet of course they knew with absolute certainty that they lived in the best god damn country in the world....how I would ask, you've never been anywhere else....this is the USA, that's why they'd say.....I left worried about the state of the country and the people....they were angry and lost....and a few years later, along came Trump to save them and keep their dream alive....

An alternative might be, "the best argument against dictatorships, despots and oligarchies who murder their own citizens in the millions is a 5 minute conversation with their average leader."

Having lived in the US perhaps you could juxtaposition that with some time in places like China, North Korea or Saudi Arabia, who haven't seen any democracy ever. Then you could give us a really balanced view.

If you are still alive of course.

To be fair he also said Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

Did you also hear his quote, along the lines of: "Democracy is the worst kind of government ... except for all the others".
Democracy doesn't guarantee that the chosen leader is smart. You also need education. But you do need democracy to spread the risk from one person (dictator) to millions of people.

Yes - he had a lot of good sayings didn't he..makes you wonder what he'd think of current issues..

I think he'd feel the odd twinge of deja vu

A heavy drinker , he was once remonstrated by a female MP of the opposition " Winston ! ... you sir , are drunk in the House of Commons ! "

... he responded , " ah yes dear lady .... but you are ugly .... and at least , in the morning I shall be sober ! "

Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you but a pig - he looks you squarely in the eye and treats you as an equal.

That same MP advised him his fly was undone. The response. Never fear, only dead birds fall out of nests.

That is your reason for answering no above?

Sorry, I didn't explain what my "no" meant. It meant "no" I did not leave the US as some sort of protest regarding either their society or their government.

A bit of an irony to use freedom of expression (which does not exist in China), to comment on a free press web site (which does not exist in China), on all kinds of issues, including home ownership, (which does not exist in China), under the protection of an independent system of law (which does not exist in China) for the purpose of expressing the idea the USA (where all these good things do exist) is a greater concern than a communist oligarchy with the blood tens of millions of deaths of its very own citizens on its hands.

Oh for goodness sake - every nation has 'history';

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bury_My_Heart_at_Wounded_Knee

And as for today, where the Chinese authorities imprison people for attempting to use free speech or subverting the State - the US imprisons people of colour for being. well... people of colour.

1. But one of your examples is debatable and one is not - you may not debate free speech in China but in the USA the Reverend King can lead a protest to Washington. That is not just history, it is *still* true today.

2. The Chinese also oppress ethnic groups, one could argue in a more systemic way than in the USA, so even in your cherry picked ideals it is two against one.

3. Should I level the same "oh for goodness sake" argument against your dislike of the National government? What is the rational substance of such an argument in any event, that if things are in the past we should forget it? Do you apply that to all issues of justice?

You seem to have lost all sense of proportion.

Check this out - you can click on the second column to get them ordered by lowest to highest rate of incarceration by country.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

Perhaps you'll get my point.

You logic appears to be; if there are similar attributes the things are the same. As far as I see it akin to, my cat has two legs, my dog has two legs - therefore my cat is a dog.

I suggest you apply this thinking to your political views to see where it ends because in my (limited) observation you don't apply this same standard on other issues. What about, the national party has sins, but (for goodness sake) everyone has history, therefore you should get over it.

The method of logic I think you are referring to is syllogism (deductive reasoning, an Aristotelian/Greek methodology). But no, that's not what I applied. My logic in this respect is more inductive reasoning (Baconian methodology).

I think you need to make the very important distinction between the state and the people.
Yes, the US has a history, and there is racism among the people, but this is not state-sanctioned. Education has improved the people's behaviour in the US hugely, but more education will be better, and time will also make a difference (some people do not change).

Yes, and what I'm saying is the Chinese people might have more qualities/traits/values I admire over and above that of the American people. I say might because that is a purely speculative impression on my part.

Not sure where above you were trying to say that Kate. But regardless of your racist/culturalist (if that's a word) views of the American people, the point is that the non-freedom system in China means the people you hold to such high regard have no say in their foreign policy anyway. It is the dynasty that you are backing, not the people of China.

The system is not necessarily the people and vice versa. This comes from someone (me) who is highly critical of the Chinese system.

Exactly, PocketAces, thanks, you get my point. But I'm not sure one can say that to the same degree about the American people. They aren't the system, however they do have a greater ability to change and influence the system - hence one does have to ask to what degree they are more complicit with respect to the injustices in their own society.

Lol. I guess you can make a vague comment mean whatever you want it to mean. Having a problem with injustices in America does not have anything to do with democracy. People change (especially through education). In a democracy that means the government changes. Not so without a democracy.
And having a problem with the American people does not mean it is okay to support a dictator threatening nuclear war.

Was actually going to say something like that, but the phone rang so I cut it short.

Hilarious, yet just furthers the case for democracy. Imagine one of these cherry picked retards being the leader of a country and you cannot vote him/ her out.

Some quote went something like, the great thing about America is that anyone can grow up to be President and if you don't grow up you can be Vice President.