After watching and listening to the charades between Trump and the President of China at Mar a Lago, together with the dearth of information coming from the Secretary of State as he continues his whistle-stop tour around world, the notion that our President and his posse of amateurs are going to get the best of China’s President Xi Jinping in anything more complicated that a game of rock-paper-scissors is more than worrisome.
While Xi neatly shuffled the economic issues down the road with a 100 day plan to continue “discussions,” of significantly more importance today is China’s position with regard to North Korea. In this area, we are acting like the spoiled child and China is the responsible adult in the room. Whether Trump and his advisers will see this and change course in time is becoming crucially important.
Secretary Tillerson, continuing our course down the wrong path, placed the United States right behind the eight-ball when he declared that no further discussions would be had with the North Koreans on the matter of nuclear proliferation; a declaration that is exactly 180 degrees from where we need to be. To make sure that the forthcoming disaster was not ignored, President Trump then told Xi Jinping at their dinner, and then confirmed it all in a series of tweets, that if China did not take steps to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear threat, the United States would do it alone.
This single-sentence threat to Xi has to rank among the dumbest things Trump has uttered on the international stage in his short term as President. Just exactly who does the Old Fool think is being backed into a corner? It sure as hell is not China! “Oh, you think you can do this without us? Well, why don’t you just go ahead and try?” Slam.
Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, of North Korea, is not backing down. He promptly announced an intent to conduct a nuclear test within the near future, and threatened that if the U.S. took any aggressive action at all towards North Korea, it would respond with attacks on U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea.
Not to be deterred, and in typical fashion, Trump doubled down and dispatched a carrier strike group, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and its coterie of missile cruisers and destroyers, to the Sea of Japan off the Korean Peninsula, due to arrive in the next week or so.
So far, every threat from us has been met with a counter-threat from the North Korean government, increasing the stakes and repeating the positon that we, not they, are the aggressors here, and that any aggression from the United States will be met with immediate counterattack. Although it may be uncertain what China’s position would be if North Korea strikes first, China is treaty-bound to come to North Korea’s aid if we preemptively attack.
Now, if there is a war on the Korean Peninsula, and China stays out of it, there is no question from a military standpoint that North Korea would completely and quickly lose. North Korea may have a first-strike capability of intermediate range missiles and nuclear warheads that would inflict great damage upon all of South Korea and as far as the remote coasts of Japan, but it has no staying power, and it is completely incapable of sustaining any kind of war term. Our immense military capability would eventually prevail, no matter how extensive the initial destruction might be. However, although we would win this in the end, the devastation to South Korea and perhaps Japan from just the first strike would be horrendous.
If military action is started and China does get into it on the side of the North Koreans, the long term outcome is not at all certain. If it could be contained to the Korean Peninsula that would be one thing; if it spilled over, the premonition is WWIII. Macarthur’s caution of over 65 years’ ago, to avoid at all costs war on the mainland of Asia, which we repeatedly ignore to our everlasting regret, is as timely today as it was then. What has to be obvious is that is if we are to continue to attempt to escalate the military situation anywhere in the Orient, things cannot improve – ever. So long as a military intervention appears imminent, any action by either side will mean an utter and complete world-wide catastrophe.
What is required of us is that we totally upend our present foundations and foreign policy thinking towards China and North Korea and completely reset the dialogue in a new direction. We must realize that the despotic leader of the hermit kingdom can only be cajoled off the ledge of thermonuclear war, and ideally into coughing up his stash of nuclear weapons, through diplomatic means, and that the increasing demands and threats of military action from us do not work but will lead to disaster.
This means we must abandon our time-honored bullying tactic of threatening forthcoming military action if our demands are not being promptly obeyed. We must de-fuse the situation militarily. We should take back the threat we made to Xi, recall the Navy strike force, and assure the Koreans – both North and South – and all of Asia that we have no intention of precipitating military action of any kind. And then we must get out of China’s way in order to allow it to work out a negotiated agreement with North Korea.
We must recognize that we are the wrong entity to lead on a diplomatic solution to this problem. The country with the depth of knowledge, cultural skill and political clout sufficient to pull this off is the despot leader’s next door neighbor, China, which also has an intense interest in seeing North Korea back into the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, and the elimination on its northern border of the war-like attitudes of the supreme leader. China understands the North Koreans, understand its leader, and understands the importance and nuance of “face” and of allowing Kim Jong-un a way out of this mess without a loss of face. It is clearly in China interest to see this happen, and Xi has as much as said so. He does not need blustering threats from our Old Fool to do what needs to be done.
While remonstrating against Trump for his overbearing position, China has still invited the U.S. to cooperate. “Military force cannot resolve the issue,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned recently. But then he said, “Amid challenge there is opportunity. Amid tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.”
The huge question remains, is there anyone listening who can get this to Trump in time, or will the generals win out and insist on blowing something up first?