Monday, April 03, 2017

Putting North Korea in its Place : A Dialogue Between China and the United States

"The only way a pre-emptive strike makes sense is if you really have the intelligence that North Korea is about to launch a missile especially a nuclear missile into Seoul into Tokyo, into [a credible threat to] really kill people."
"If we knew that, and that's a big if, then a preemptive strike might make sense."
"But to try to strike the Yongbyon nuclear reactor or to try to strike two missile launch platforms on North Korea just because they're test firing an intercontinental missile would potentially trigger not only a tit for tat with North Korea that could escalate to the nuclear level but could bring the United States and China into a regional nuclear war."
Dr Patrick Cronin, Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program for the Centre of New American Security, Washington DC
File photo of a missile test in North Korea.
File photo of a missile test in North Korea. Credit: AP
Looks like a match. No, not China's President Xi Jinping and the American President Donald J. Trump, both powerful men to be sure, but the Chinese president for all the seemingly reckless events that have occurred during his administration, unsettling his near neighbours with China's claims to geographic ownership of land and sea areas contested by Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and others, likely doesn't clasp to his bosom the push that would shove toward a nuclear war. There are no such considered thoughtful pullbacks with the volatile spontaneity of Mr. Trump.

If psychological personality traits are to be compared, it is likelier that Donald Trump has more in common with North Korea's nasty little dictator, Kim Jong-un; both impetuous and each believing in their own superiority and entitlement to act as they please. President Xi's arrival in Washington for the purpose of assessing the character and potential to act of his American counterpart will likely make him no wiser than if he had simply picked up a telephone and discussed the matter of North Korea long-distance.

For one thing, there's a very, very long distance between what President Xi can hope for and what President Trump is prepared to proffer. Trump is not accustomed to standing back for anyone, and nor for that matter is Xi, but his sense of premonition and caution is likely to be infinitely more sensitive than Mr. Trump's. President Xi's position is not an enviable one since he is placed diplomatically between that proverbial rock and a hard place. On one side is the new representative of the world's most powerful nation, on the other the scion of the world's most powerfully irritating nation.

A rational discussion with either is impossible, since neither Trump nor Kim have any use for rationality. And China's 'strategic patience' with its sole 'friend' in its geographic neighbourhood has been sorely tried, convincing Mr. Xi that any other, alternative overtures would be destined to fail. Instead he has attempted to reason with Obama, now Trump; stand down by cancelling all further joint war exercises with South Korea. Even were President Trump to agree, which he would not, since no one tells him what to do, Kim would never surrender his dozen little nuclear bombs.

They represent his assurance that his regime is to be taken seriously, since those weapons are capable of doing serious damage to say, South Korea, Japan, U.S. installations in the geography. And were the U.S. to seriously consider taking out North Korea's nuclear facilities, hoping to destroy the weapons Kim would use destructively, the result would be the chaos of Hades visiting Earth. Still, the U.S. has a powerful incentive to do something, but just what, is anything but clear.

There are reports that U.S. bases are vulnerable and that is certainly true. American Asian allies are susceptible to Kim's threats at the present time, and in the very near future the expectation is that Kim's advanced long-range ballistic missiles will be powerful enough and accurate enough to hit the U.S. mainland. Some whispered alarms exist that Kim could even, at the present time, launch strikes capable of hitting San Francisco.

What is undeniable, however, is that should an American attack on launch facilities in North Korea take place, South Korea would be inundated with whatever would be left of North Korea's million-strong army, its 4,000 tanks streaming into its neighbour's territory and a protracted war ensue, or even a much shorter one with the exchange of nuclear weapons, possibly bringing in Chinese troops for a full-on conflict more gravely violent than any imagination could supply.

China shudders at the grisly vision of a mass of North Koreans flooding over its border. It cannot contemplate a full-on war with the United States since the consequences would be too costly for all involved. Its sacrifice of North Korea would leave it completely friendless in its near abroad but for the occasional neighbourly call by the Phillippines' Rodrigo Duterte, another hot-headed upstart given to spouting nonsensical statements reflective of a gangster mindset, placing him in a category alongside Kim and Trump.

Those comparisons of character and outright frighteningly rude ignorance of actions and consequences serve to almost make President Xi appear statesmanlike in comparison. Let's see if he comes away from his meeting with President Trump any more impressed than German Chancellor Angela Merkel had reason to be, up close and personal with the American President, weighing his wisdom and depth of knowledge of all he inveighed against.

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