China's nuclear puppet gambit — Kim Jong-un
By Mark Alexander
The growing tension between the U.S. and North Korea's brutal communist dictator Kim Jong-un is reported by the mainstream media as if it were a dangerous one-dimensional game of checkers. While it is most assuredly dangerous, it is in fact a multidimensional strategic chess match influenced most by China's trade with the U.S., and U.S. debt held by China. (Of course, that would be too complicated for the media to explain between soundbite-punctuated advertisements.)
Last week, responding to the sixth nuclear detonation and latest nuclear missile tests by North Korea's 33-year-old Western-educated "Dear Leader," the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose its most restrictive sanctions yet against NoKo. Signers of the resolution include both China and Russia, Kim's largest trade partners — which is to say, China's dictator Xi Jinping and Russia's dictator Vladimir Putin exercise a lot of control over Kim's puppet strings.
Our UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, made our position clear: "Today we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. War is never something the United States wants. We don't want it now. But our country's patience is not unlimited. ... Twenty-four years of half measures and failed talks is enough. ... North Korea has not yet passed the point of no return." She deflected protests from Russia and China, which have called for the U.S. to dismantle its THAAD missile defense systems in South Korea, noting those demands are "insulting."
Insulting is an understatement, given that half of South Korea's 52 million people reside in its capital city of Seoul, just 35 miles from the 150-mile-long 38th parallel DMZ border with NoKo. That is why the United States Pacific Command has almost 30,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stationed in South Korea, as well as a strong fleet presence in the region.
Of course, President Donald Trump already put NoKo on notice, saying a nuclear strike against the U.S. or any of our allies "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." (Actually, the world has seen some "fire and fury" in that region.)
You would be hard pressed to find a Leftmedia outlet or conservative MSM homepage that isn't promoting headlines on the NoKo nuclear threat. But what you won't see or read on those pages is the backstory — how China, and to a lesser extent Russia, are using the Kim/NoKo nuclear threat as a king pawn to protect their own trade and foreign policy interests.
In other words, the Kim/NoKo threat looms only as large as China and Russia allow it. Thus far, that threat has been little more than political theatrics in the form of missile displays and rhetoric — which is not to say it couldn't potentially become a catastrophically lethal political theater. If it does, however, that will only be with the tacit approval of China and Russia. And, should China's Kim/NoKo gambit not preserve the balance of its trade interests worldwide, a very limited conventional NoKo strike against South Korea or Japan's outlining territorial islands, two of China's most significant economic competitors, is a scenario that could follow, in order to ramp up the threat and ward off any alterations of China's favorable trade interests.
A conventional strike would be considered a precursor to a NoKo nuclear strike, the latter being highly unlikely as it is clear to both Kim and Xi that such a strike would lead to the obliteration of NoKo and a lot of fallout over China. The greatest nuclear threat posed by Kim is not a direct assault but the transfer of a fissile weapons to an asymmetric Middle East threat vector — Jihad terrorists acting on behalf of ISIL.
Though Kim already has the ability to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S. mainland — not that any of his rudimentary missiles would penetrate U.S. strategic nuclear defenses — it is exponentially more difficult to deter an asymmetric terrorist strike.
For the record, Kim is no "military genius," as portrayed by NoKo's propaganda directorate. He was arbitrarily made a "four-star general" in 2010 as the heir apparent to the line of eternal leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. But this rank appointment was, and remains, an insult to NoKo's senior military leaders. However, they would not risk assassinating Kim and installing a new government for NoKo's 24 million people, because they know well Kim has the full backing of Xi's Red Chinese.
China has far more at stake than Russia, and is thus, and has been since Kim was appointed supreme leader after his father's death in 2011, his primary controller. If the Chinese economy were to further contract due to U.S. trade restrictions, it would pose a significant risk to Xi and his communist regime. The Kim/NoKo threat has been an effective front thus far, protecting China from any U.S. restrictions on its considerable trade advantages and foreign policy initiatives. In effect, Kim is for China what Castro was for the USSR.
Despite China's control over Kim, it obfuscates the appearance of such control by projecting tension with NoKo. Here are three examples of China/NoKo political theater that appear at face value to represent political friction between the two:
It is this latter concern, the threat of economic sanctions by the Trump administration, that presents the greatest threat to China.
As we noted in 2011, "U.S. negotiators are rightly concerned about bilateral trade, the valuation of U.S. and Chinese currencies and Beijing's influence in North Korea, where the Chinese plan an economic consortium, undermining U.S. efforts to isolate Pyongyang's dictator, Kim Jong Il." Of course, the Red China/NoKo consortium was openly allowed to flourish under Barack Obama's foreign policy malfeasance and appeasement.
Enter candidate Trump and his clear warnings to China about the lack of trade parity. Here are a few of Trump's observations during the 2016 presidential campaign:
"There are people who wish I wouldn't refer to China as our enemy. But that's exactly what they are. They have destroyed entire industries by utilizing low-wage workers, cost us tens of thousands of jobs, spied on our businesses, stolen our technology, and have manipulated and devalued their currency, which makes importing our goods more expensive — and sometimes, impossible. ... [China is] an economic enemy, because they have taken advantage of us like nobody in history. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world what they've done to the United States. They've taken our jobs. ... We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing. ... They suck the blood out of us and we owe them money. ... We're like their whipping post. We are being ripped by many countries, China being the No. 1 abuser. They do it better than anybody else. ... The single biggest weapon used against us and to destroy our companies is devaluation of currencies, and the greatest ever at that is China. Very smart, they are like grand chess masters. And we are like checkers players. But bad ones. ... China is the great abuser of the United States economically and we do nothing about it, and it would be very easy to stop. ... We should use our economic power, because without us, China would be in serious trouble."
In August, Trump signed an order to investigate China's theft of U.S. intellectual property, one of the first steps he has taken to retaliate against China. But why has he waited so long to do so little?
The Washington Post's editorial board unwittingly answered that question, suggesting that the president is distracted by China's use of North Korea as a shield against economic sanctions: "For all his talk during the 2016 campaign about taking on China for 'stealing' American jobs, President Trump has hardly launched the trade war against Beijing that many feared. He has not slapped across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods; he has delayed what once seemed an imminent crackdown on aluminum and steel imports; he has declined to brand Beijing a 'currency manipulator.' Rather than trade, Mr. Trump's approach to China has emphasized enlisting President Xi Jinping's help in defusing the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons."
And that would be precisely China's strategy.
Again, the Kim/NoKo nuke threat is a shrewd subterfuge. The chess match strategy is all about trade and ultimately about the self-preserving desire of China's Xi Jinping to keep his communist party in power. Kim is likewise motivated, and, in fact, he's taking measures to model his country's economy after China's successful "economic liberalization," or the oxymoronic Marxist contradiction, "free-enterprise communism."
So what is Trump to do?
He's now shifting gears in line with China's ruse, to influence China's control of its Kim puppet strings.
The latest shot across China's bow is President Trump's threat to curtail trade with any country that does business with NoKo — knowing that 86% of Kim's exports go to China.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asserts, "If China doesn't follow these [UN] sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system, and that's quite meaningful. North Korea economic warfare works. ... We sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea — we would consider them not trading with us."
Indeed, China was officially put on notice when Treasury executive Marshall Billingslea told members of the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, "If China wishes to avoid future measures, such as those imposed on Bank of Dandong or the various companies sanctioned for illegal trade practices ... it urgently needs to take demonstrable public steps to eliminate North Korea's trade and financial access."
Ed Royce, who chairs that committee, agreed: "We must target major Chinese banks doing business with North Korea, such as China Merchants Bank and even big state-owned banks like Agricultural Bank of China."
Mr. Trump then sealed the strategy, warning, "Those sanctions are nothing compared to what will ultimately have to happen." Trade "fire and fury"?
There are two factors that can be an asset or a liability to Trump's strategy of refocusing on the trade issues that China has diverted with its Kim/NoKo threat strategy.
First, U.S. exports to China are $170 billion, while imports are $480 billion — a $310 billion trade deficit with our largest trade partner. U.S. imports represent 20% of China's export market. While a trade war over this deficit and China's corrupt trade practices would shock the U.S. economy and its consumers, the threat of a trade war would mean significant economic contraction in the Chinese economy and a serious threat to Xi Jinping's dictatorship. As China scholar Steve Tsang notes, Xi must be focused first and foremost on sustaining his communist party power.
Second, according to the most recent Treasury data, China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, owning more than $1.24 trillion in bills, notes and bonds, or almost 30% of the $4 trillion held by foreign countries. China owns about 10% of all publicly held U.S. debt, and the implications if China were to begin dumping debt are ominous. At the same time, however, the security of that debt is of grave concern to China. So it is, in effect, a two-edged sword.
Responding to the latest efforts by the Trump administration to pivot from the Kim/NoKo threat back to trade, China's UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said, "China will continue to advance dialogue."
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.