Everybody is talking about North Korea and the excitement of witnessing the world’s first nuclear war to be started by two rogue leaders – Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Suddenly, nobody is interested about the world’s first economic war between two powerhouses – United States and China. The Korea conflict is indeed a major diversion from the real problems.
There’s nothing to see here – no Korean War 2, no World War 3 and certainly no Nuclear War. What the world will see is an exhibition of military hardware by the U.S. in the form of supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, some boring destroyers, a U.S. Navy Michigan submarine and some jet fighters polluting the air performing some military drills and exercises.
At best, perhaps U.S. would fire some Tomahawks at an insignificant North Korean military base before declaring the naughty Kim Jong-un has been taught a lesson – as if the U.S. has won a world war. The drama could see Mr. Kim agrees to stop conducting underground nuclear explosion in exchange for a softening economic sanction. China would be praised for its outstanding role.
What happens to Trump’s pledge to slap tariffs of up to 45% on import from China? Get real, all the three nations – U.S., China and North Korea – are playing “carrot and stick” game to get what they want. None of them believes a war is the best solution. All of them are afraid to press the button of destruction. And all of their threats are nothing but empty rhetoric.
North Korea has been playing the game for ages. Whenever the Hermit Kingdom wants something, they would start playing the boring nuclear game. Mr. Kim wants to be invited to a negotiation. If the U.S. wants North Korea to stop nuclear tests, the Yankees must offer something in return. North Korea wants its economic sanctions to be lifted, the same way Iran got theirs from Obama.
United States, on the other hand, wants North Korea to not only stop its nuclear tests and missile launches, but also to curb the rogue nation’s nuclear and missile development – permanently. However, before such carrot and stick diplomacy is put on the negotiation table, President Trump deliberately stoked military fears to put pressure on Dictator Kim.
Mr. Trump prematurely claimed that a naval armada had been despatched to the region, only to be exposed – embarrassingly – that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was on its way to the opposite direction of the ocean. Mr. Kim responded with threats to sink Trump’s armada. It was part of mind games to see if the other party would surrender without a bullet being fired.
Guess who was sitting with popcorn and Coke while watching Trump and Kim engaged in the childish game. Since the arrival of Xi Jinping in the U.S. to meet Donald Trump, the U.S. president has been praising the Chinese president as if he has fallen in love. What was supposed to be a 45% tariffs on import from China has turned out to be a 45º mountain of praises.
The sudden U-turn from Trump administration, of course, can be explained in one word – North Korea. In fact, Mr. Xi knew before his trip to America that Washington would not dare raise the subject of U.S. trade deficit with China, let alone calling Beijing a currency manipulator. That’s because Trump needs Xi more than China needs the U.S.
Beijing’s silence, despite multiple nuclear and missile tests carried out by Pyongyang, was meant to encourage Kim Jong-un to threat not only South Korea and Japan but also the United States. Unlike Middle East countries such as Syria, Mr. Xi knew Mr. Trump’s options, including military, are limited. The U.S. cannot attack North Korea without China’s consent, a blessing which the U.S. will never get.
North Korea has become Trump’s biggest global challenge, so much so that his administration is willing to close one eye on unfair trade, currency manipulation and Taiwan combined in exchange for Beijing using its stick on Pyongyang. Dragging its feet instead, China merely told both North Korea and United States to solve their problem diplomatically.
The Chinese has no intention whatsoever of putting a leash on fat boy Kim Jong-un because they knew they could continue to squeeze American juices as long as North Korea is a threat to the U.S. Why should China solve the problem immediately so that President Trump could get the credit and perhaps makes a U-turn and threatens Beijing with punitive tariffs on Chinese imports?
China cleverly creates, or at least encourages, a Korean conflict only to be sought consultation, to fix a problem they created in the first place. The North Korean nuclear and missile programs are so massively challenging that President Trump is practically at the mercy of President Xi Jinping’s assistance in trying to rein in Pyongyang.
The fact that Air China decided to resume flights from Beijing to North Korea two days ago that had been suspended goes to prove that Beijing is openly calling Trump’s bluff on a U.S. military strike. Whatever plan China has in its pocket, both North Korea and U.S. must play along. China’s plan is to test how desperate President Trump wants North Korea to be contained.
Besides bilateral trade imbalances and Taiwan disobedience, there’s something else China wants. North Korea provides China an opportunity to push Trump administration for a softer U.S. line on China’s military expansion in the South China Sea. Even if the U.S. can’t recognize China’s claim on the disputed water, at least the Americans must act dumb and close one eye.
President Xi Jinping knew Kim knows he cannot ultimately win a fight, but neither can the dictator risk humiliation. Mr. Kim is allowed to provoke Mr. Trump for one reason – to make China absolutely indispensable. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admits that while North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be a ruthless, murderous dictator, he is not mentally insane.
It is often forgotten that North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear programmes in 2007. It could do so again, given the right incentives. Unfortunately, Trump has little space to manoeuvre in the “carrot and stick” game. China owns the card and calls the shot. To further pressure Trump, Russia has been invited calling for a diplomatic solution, not a military action.
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