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Great Game on the North Korea Chessboard
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I have a piece up at Asia Times on Donald Trump’s North Korea options: waste it, sanction it (and China), or have a burger with Kim Jong Un : Trump, North Korea, bombs, and burgers.

“Kinda crippling sanctions” got another workout at the UN on November 30, highlighting a point I made in the piece that the US and PRC are interested, for differing reasons, in 1) maintaining North Korea’s status as an international pariah but 2) keeping it on life support.

The PRC’s motives are pretty simple: North Korea isolated and hopelessly reliant on the PRC is infinitely preferable to a North Korea pivoting away from the PRC to engage with the US, Japan, and/or South Korea.

US motives, I think, are somewhat more complicated: There’s loyalty to a lazily-executed denuclearization strategy that has so far failed miserably; there’s also the fact that the “North Korea threat” allows the United States to maintain and upgrade its military posture not just in South Korea but also in North Asia to provide heft and credibility to the China-containment regime.

Bottom line is North Korea is highly unlikely to surrender its nukes for reasons Muammar Qaddafi, if he were alive, would find compelling; the PRC still has insufficient incentive to take the highly risky step of cratering the regime through a genuine economic blockade; and the US was, at least until the North Korean ICBM program began to develop some homeland-threatening credibility, quite happy to let the situation drag on a.k.a. strategic patience.

US bestie Japan, I imagine, is also not too interested in North Korea regime collapse and the emergence of a competing Korean powerhouse spanning the whole peninsula either.

So you get incremental stuff like this:

The new sanctions target North Korea’s hard currency revenues by placing a cap on coal exports, cutting them by at least 62%.

Diplomats said the new sanctions further clarify that the “livelihood” exemption, which allowed the Chinese imports, is meant only to protect the livelihoods of those currently living inside North Korea, not Chinese people or companies doing business with the country.

North Korea’s main ally and largest trade partner, China, hailed the sanctions as striking a balance between punishing the rogue nation and protecting its people.

“The resolution adopted by the council today demonstrates the uniform stand of the international community against the development by DPRK of its nuclear missile programs and forward the maintenance of the international non-proliferation regime,” China’s ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said, adding that the measures “are not intended to produce negative consequences on DPRK’s humanitarian situation”.

You may notice that, thanks to the UN sanctions resolution, as long as the DPRK keeps its nukes the PRC has a license to ratchet up the economic pressure on North Korea for whatever reason, whether it’s endangering the world through WMD or just inching too close to the US. That’s pretty sweet.

I should add that one motive for the US pushing the UN sanctions strategy is it sets the table for US national “secondary” sanctions targeting countries and enterprises that continue to do business with North Korea. That strategy was used by the Obama administration with reasonably good effect in the case of Iran, especially against highly vulnerable European institutions that were canoodling on Tehran trade; the PRC was also targeted though Chinese “backfilling” via barter & RMB-denominated transactions was a continual headache for the US.

There is every indication that Hillary Clinton intended to clone the Iran strategy on North Korea when she became President, not necessarily in hopes of denuclearizing North Korea as much as having a perpetual US sanctions club ready to beat the Chinese.

Believe it or not, the US had already road-tested the strategy of threatening PRC international financial institutions over North Korea back in the Bush administration. It is apparently remembered only by me that the money-laundering designation of Banco Delta Asia in Macau was intended to impress and cow the PRC with a demonstration of the power of the US Treasury Department financial sanctions death star.

One reason the PRC is deeply engaged in the North Korean UN sanctions effort (other than its utility in keeping North Korea isolated, flat on its behind, and reliant on China) is to sustain and channel the UN track and avoid giving the US a legal basis and political justification to impose national sanctions.

The energetic PRC efforts to internationalize the RMB should not be understood primarily as an attempt to replace the Almighty Dollar as the international reserve currency. They are meant to ensure that, if the US deploys the secondary sanctions weapon again, the PRC has the international financial infrastructure in place to conduct its business without the need to clear transactions through the US Fed, as is the case with all dollar transactions conducted through the international clearing networks such as SWIFT.

The concept that all significant dollar transactions touch base in America is why the US government can drop the hammer on those European banks that paid gigantic fines for business they did out of Europe with Iran, Cuba, Sudan, etc.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Back to North Korea, which can be regarded a) as the last great treasurehouse in Asia unexploited by Western capitalism and b) the chessboard upon which the US, China, and Japan play the North Asian Great Game.

The Chinese play wei-qi, the strategy game; Shinzo Abe plays multi-dimensional chess as he juggles the needs of the US alliance with the reality that Japan must have the capability to act independently; Donald Trump apparently just wants to play checkers.

I previously wrote about Trump’s disinterest in complex multilateral Asian initiatives like TPP and the pivot and his preference for simple bilateral deals with immediately realizable benefits.

You know, like normalizing relations with North Korea, sticking a finger in the PRC’s eye, and jumping the line ahead of South Korea and Japan in pursuing economic advantages in the North.

In other words: Eat the burger, Donald.

I expect the foreign policy/military/security quadrant is laboring mightily to convince him otherwise, since it is totally committed to the pivot architecture. I see the pivot as a futile, expensive, dangerous, and ultimately doomed gambit to sustain American pre-eminence in Asia past its sell-buy date but that’s just me, and maybe devotees of offshore balancing like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trump knuckle under to the blandishments of what is, frankly, the main business unit of the US government and a trillion-dollar presence in America’s economy and politics.

Trump’s initial stimulus/pork barrel/institutional bribery plans centered on a supersized 350 ship navy, so I expect he will find it equally expedient to give it some ego-enhancing missions in the South China Sea. CSIS is already agitating for its precious FONOPs (“Mischief Reef! Gotta do Mischief Reef!”) even though the underlying strategy of isolating the PRC as an UNCLOS renegade is pretty much an omnishambles with Duterte’s tilt toward China.

In any case, “Presided over U.S. retreat from Asia” is a resumé bullet point that any president would happily defer to his successor.

So I’m leaning toward big ticket muddling instead of opportunistic burger munching.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, North Korea 
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  1. “The PRC’s motives are pretty simple: North Korea isolated and hopelessly reliant on the PRC is infinitely preferable to a North Korea pivoting away from the PRC to engage with the US, Japan, and/or South Korea.”

    This is simply wrong.

    First, mentioning a pivot of either part of Korea to Japan is sheer ignorance. That will never happen.

    Second, the PRC would support enosis between North and South under one condition–that the US get its armed forces out of the Korean peninsular. The PRC will not allow US military forces on its border with northern Korea.

    Incidentally the US is increasingly unwelcome even in South Korea.

    With the US out, a unified Korea, by virtue of the North’s technical prowess, will be a nuclear power.

    The PRC doesn’t particularly fear that if Korea is not a puppet state of the US as it is now.

    The prospect is pure terror for the Japanese of course, since they are despised north and south.

    Incidentally the PRC is getting along famously with South Korea economically.

  2. CK says:

    Chess checkers go three closed systems. Complex yes but ultimately closed, with unchanging rules.
    Trump is not a closed system guy. He doesn’t dream in 19×19 or 8×8 he doesn’t plot within a rules book he didn’t write. Lifelong pols and pollovers think within the closed loops; it’s what they do because it is what they had to do to get the access. I suspect that Trump thinks a lot more in what we might call tensor calculus than any other pol the world has known.

  3. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    I think, at this point, the bulk of the blame must go to the US.

    Why? Consider the three sovereign powers that have some influence on the Koreas: China, the US, and Russia. (Japan is a major economic power but has no political independence as it is a whore of the US. )

    What is China’s position on the Koreas? It is willing to deal with both North and South. It is not opposed to peace between the two Koreas and eventual reunification. China doesn’t favor North against the South. It would be happy to see the Korean problem resolved.

    What is Russia’s position on the Koreas? Russia, as core of USSR, once held great sway over North Korea. After all, Stalin installed the Kim regime. But Russia’s view is that Cold War is long over. It has no direct interest in the Koreas. It is happy to deal with both North and South. It will gladly do business with both and not meddle in their internal affairs. Like China, Russia has peaceful relations with both North and South, and it doesn’t care if North and South were to embark upon peaceful means of reunification.

    In contrast, what is America’s position on the Koreas?

    It refuses to deal with the North. It keeps on making BS demands on the North even though no sane government should trust the US that has a long record of destabilizing and destroying other nations since the end of the Cold War. US has been the main nation-wrecker around the world. US has done this with sanctions, ‘color revolutions’, subversion, aiding Jihadis with air campaign(as in Libya and Syria), and outright invasions. And the driving force behind the US agenda has been Zionist supremacism. Whatever enriches and ensures greater Jewish power counts as ‘American Interest’. Whatever threatens Jewish supremacy is seen as against ‘Western Values’. Jews get away with this rot because they control the Media and Academic Narrative in the West.

    Neither North Korea nor South Korea has anything to fear from Russia or China. Russia only wants diplomatic relations and business with the two Koreas. China has a closer relation with North, but it actually does far more business with the South.
    If China-South Korea relations have been strained in recent years, it is due to US provocation of North Korea as pretext to plant more missiles in South Korea, ostensibly to defend South from North but really meant to target China.
    Of course, US knows this will sour relations between China and S. Korea, but that is precisely what it wants. And S. Korea knows this will upset China, and S. Korea doesn’t want to go along with this, but it has to do so since it is the whore-dog-puppet of the US. Thus, the US drives a wedge between S. Korea(its whore) and China by provoking tensions between the South and North.

    Let’s be realistic. North is ruled by a rotten regime, but it is no threat to anyone. The North throws tantrums because it is a cornered animal. It is the US that insists on more joint War Exercises with the South. These ‘exercises’ are openly promoted as practice-runs of how US and South will invade the North. Why wouldn’t the North not panic and throw fits? In some ways, the US is all too happy that North has a nuke project because that can be invoked to justify US hostilities in the peninsula forever, just like Jews always bitch about Iran’s nuclear plan — even though Israel has all the nukes and violates all international nuclear inspection agreements — to justify more interventions and provocations in the Middle East. That way, South is pressured to go along with US with these ‘training exercises’ that threaten the North. The North freaks out and makes belligerent noises. And then, the US invokes to North ‘craziness’ to scare-monger the world that Mad Kim is building the Doomsday Machine to blow up the world. This is 007 fantasy nonsense.

    Zionists control US foreign policy, and these sociopaths couldn’t care less about gentiles in Russia, China, Korea, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and etc. Since the US is the Pawnshop Jewel of Jewish power — like India was the Crown Jewel of the British Empire — , Jews use American Power to manipulate and mess up global affairs any which way to further their own tribal interests.

    In a perfect world, no nation would have nukes. And especially a nation ruled by shi*s like North Korea shouldn’t have nukes. But every regime wants to survive, and nothing is more rational than North Korea’s nuclear program since the US has destroyed so many nations without proper WMDs to defend themselves. Indeed, when the US wants to destroy a nation, it accuses the nation of having fantasy WMD’s to destroy it. Iraq. Or, even when a nation gives up its WMD’s, as Libya did, the US will cook up fantasy ‘atrocities’ to destroy that nation. The US isn’t ruled by Americans, most of whom are decent folks who mean harm to no one. It isn’t ruled by average Jews, who also mean no harm to anyone. It is ruled by Jewish Globalist Elites who are the New Nazis. They are mean, nasty, vicious, and vile. They are cold-blooded like Madeline Albright who yawns at 500,000 dead Iraqi kids. They denounce ‘white supremacism’ but use their power to force all US politicians to shout Hail Zionism at AIPAC Nuremberg Rallies. After all, supremacism cannot tolerate other ‘supremacism’. According to Jewish logic, the mere desire of a white European nation to preserve its race, culture, and territory is ‘far right’, ‘supremacist’, and ‘hateful’. But these very whites are forced to shout Hail Israel as a Jewish state.

    Anyway, China has peace with both North and South. Indeed, its relations would be even better with both if US stopped provoking the North. China provokes neither North or South. It wants a peaceful resolution.
    Russia has peace with both North and South. Russia doesn’t tell either nation what to do. It respects their own agendas.

    But the US? By allowing the South to get rich, the US owns that nation as its chic whore. The US is also culturally imperialist. Russia doesn’t force Russian values on Korea. China doesn’t force Chinese values on Korea. But America is, of course, the ‘exceptional’ and ‘indispensable’ nation, the nation that is more ‘evolved’ and superior because it has massive homo parades and has Bruce Caitlyn Jenner wee wee in a lady’s room. Because the US is so superior because it worships homos and came up with ghetto trash rap music, it has the right to push its icons, idols, and ‘values’ onto other nations, be they South Korea, Vietnam, Turkey, Russia(bad bad nation according to Jews because it doesn’t allow homos to take over Red Square), Iran, Syria, and etc.
    US dream of a better Iran is a nation where girls over there dress and act like Lena Dunham and Miley Cyrus, where Iranian men invite black ‘bulls’ to hump their wives in their own bedrooms, and where Iranian children wave homo flags instead of reading the Koran.

    According to the US, the Zionists have a right to oppress and occupy Palestinians because… uh… Zionists have ‘gay pride’ parades whereas Palestinians don’t.
    Since Koreans have proven themselves to be most loyal, slavish, and servile, the US doesn’t want to lose its whore-and-military-puppet-foothold in the Asian continent.
    Koreans are, by nature, a dog-like people. Under Japanese, they were loyal collaborator-puppets of the Nipponese Empire. Under Soviet rule, Koreans in Russia were the most loyal dogs of the Soviet system. No wonder Russia valued Koreans over other minorities. Koreans worked hard and served the system most slavishly.
    And under American Empire, Koreans were the most loyal mass-killers of Vietnamese in the War. Koreans work hard, have some talent(look at their economy), and follow orders(since they lack original thinking and independence of mind). So, the US doesn’t want to lose this dog.

    Of course, the US has other dogs too, but Koreans are special dogs. Saudis are US dogs too, but Saudis still have some independence. Saudis play along with US foreign policy, but Saudis have pride of culture and heritage as preserver of Mecca and the holy land of Muhammad. So, even though Saudis go along with the US, it has a cultural, spiritual, and moral sovereignty that is independent of Americanism. This has been problematic to the US. Saudi foreign policy runs both parallel and counter to US interests. Saudis will work with the US to weaken or destroy common enemies — usually Shia-dominant nations or secular-modern-Arab nations — , but this can come to bite the US in the ass, as happened on 9/11 when the very Jidadis that US had once funded and used(with the help of Saudis) turned on the US.

    In contrast, South Korea has no culture or value system of its own. Whatever it once had seems to have been long forgotten. What is Korean Culture today? Christianity adopted from American Missionaries? Imitation Rap Music? Plastic Surgery to look like Japanese cartoon characters? K-pop that apes hip hop and techo-whore dance music? And growing homomania and worship of Diversity because South Koreans think the US is the model for everything that Koreans must follow.

    Saudis play along with the US, but they have a sense of culture and heritage independent of the American Way. In contrast, South Koreans believe their culture has no validity except to imitate whatever happens to be the Current Year in America. Sadly, Japan is going the same way. This is what consumer-globalism does to all nations. Turns them into mindless commodities.

    North Korean threat has to be the biggest hype in the world.
    But then, the US tried to turn the Georgian molehill into a mountain to antagonize and vilify Russia.
    And then, the US turned a mini-crisis in Ukraine into a major crisis to antagonize Russia even further, leading to a series of events that led to Hillary the monster threatening ‘new cold war’ and even war with Russia.

    Without US hype, what is North Korea? It is a has-been nation with a ruined economy. It has nukes only to defend itself from the US as a neo-imperialist power. It no longer has China and Russia as sponsors of its ideology. China wants to do business with the whole world. Last thing it wants is war nearby. Russia renounced communism and Stalinism. It has better relations with the South than North.
    So, why all the tension? The US is controlled by hyperventilating Jews. But then, these Jews are so nuts that they said Trump is ‘literally Hitler’. They say Trump voters are ‘deplorable white supremacists’. But then, these very Jews who denounce ‘white supremacism’ demand that whites better support Jewish nationalism in Israel and praise Jews to high heaven and even pass laws attacking free speech that is critical of Jewish power and abuses.

    North Korean regime is vile, but we have to be realistic. North Korea is a very poor and weak country. And must of its bluster is defensive. It’s like a pufferfish that blows up to look much bigger because it doesn’t want to be swallowed.

    This US provocation has three reasons.

    1. Keep Korea divided and use South Korea against China.

    2. Vilify homogeneous/nationalist North and persuade the South that it has much more to gain with Diversity and race-mixing. After all, if North is into homogeneity and nationalism, it must mean those things lead to failure. But, in fact, didn’t South Korea achieve economic development as a nationalist and homogeneous nation? If race-mixing does wonders, Philippines and Indonesia would have higher per capitas.

    3. Strangle North economically so that it won’t be able to do business with Muslim nations hated by Israel as Zionist want Nuclear Supremacism for Israel only. Jews are strange this way. No people rhetorically denounce supremacism as much as Jews do, but then, no people practice their own tribal supremacism as much as Jews do.

    Now, the US will continue doing what it is doing because it has no concern for the Koreas, which is just a piece on a chessboard. It is up to the Koreans to have enough sense and courage to wake up and speak truth to globo-US-imperialist power, but then, these Korean dogs only know how to take orders.

  4. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Here’s a conspiracy theory which I don’t believe in ‘just saying’ mode.

    Maybe it may have some validity as a ‘subconspiracy theory’, meaning the people who came up with the plan didn’t consciously plan it that way but were subconsciously feeling something along those lines. The mind works weird.

    There is a pattern in the American attempt to divide China, Korea, and Vietnam.
    Why were those three East Asian nations targeted for division?

    During WWII, why didn’t the US plan to use Chinese troops to fight the Japanese? China had tons of manpower but not enough weapons. By the beginning of 1945, Japan was crushed at sea and things were bad at home. Japanese troops in China were cut off from supplies and just barely hanging on.

    As China had no shortage of troops, US could have equipped masses of Chinese and trained them for basic warfare and threw them at the Japanese. Then, Japanese could have been defeated in China without Soviet entry.
    Why did America not consider this? Did the US fear a rise of a united and victorious China?

    The only part of the world that could threaten Western world power was in East Asia. Not Africa, not Middle East, not Latin America. Japan, a small nation with limited resources, proved how fast and how much it could rise. So, if China were to emerge victorious in WWII as a united power, what would happen? Rise of yellow peril that may be more threatening that the rise of Japan. After all, China is much bigger than Japan. Indeed, if China had modernized like Japan, and if China had fought the US, it might not have lost the war.

    So, instead of helping the KMT to achieve victory against the Japanese, why not allow Soviets to enter from the North and effectively hand over control of Northern China to Mao and the communists. Meanwhile, the southern half would be controlled by Chiang and KMT. That way, China would not one massive united power but a divided nation, like a big version of divided Korea and later divided Vietnam.

    According to his conspiracy theory, the US wanted a permanently divided China, with Communists ruling the upper half and Nationalists ruling the lower half. China would remain weaker that way.

    Later, US decided to divide another East Asian nation, Vietnam.

    In neither China, Korea, or Vietnam did the US try to help their allies unify the nation.
    US only tried to maintain the division.
    US support of KMT was lukewarm and confused. And US gave no indication that it wanted to help South Korea take North Korea and unify. And US position in Vietnam was defensive. To keep the nation divided than help the South take over the north.
    McCarthur did try to unify Korea once the war happened, but that was his whim that Truman’s policy.

    As it happened, China and Vietnam did manage to unify. Korea didn’t.

    Brits also played on Hindu and Muslim divide in India to weaken the power of the natives.

    And in the US, the Jewish elites play on ‘red state’ and ‘blue state’ divide to make sure that one bunch of whites hate another bunch of whites, thus less able to unify against Jewish-globalist domination.

    If you fear the emergence of a great power or threat, try to keep it divided.

    • Agree: CK
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