international

May 31st, 2009

Fixing North Korea Mess

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Asia politic is something close to me that I followed quite closely although not something I often blog about.

Yesterday, I tweet: *doh* When would US clueless hardliner learn how to deal with #China? RT @CNBCtopStories: Knocking Down the China Myth http://bit.ly/bda3m.

I am not surprised that Tony Fratto, ex-Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for the Bush Administration would take a hardliner view on China. He is absolutely right that China did not buy US debt out of altruism and it is in China self interest to continue to do so.

For those interested, one should read the excellent article by Paul Krugman China Dollar Trap.

But what he is wrong is the attitude with the assumption that US is in the position of strength in the negotiation. Squandered by the 8 years of Bush administration, in global goodwill as well as economy strength, US has to come to terms with the new reality.

Still, people in Washington continue to believe that US has the power to command or the very least, to bend China to her will, as we witness in the latest saga with the North Korea.

Washington’s think tanks are concerned with North Korea’s nuclear missile test, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates “raised the idea of a tougher approach toward North Korea‚Äôs recent nuclear test … including the prospect of building up United States military forces in the region should six-nation diplomatic talks with North Korea fail” (JS: ST reported Gates does not plan to build up American troops in the region…Hmm…)

At the same time, they are appealing publicly (and privately) that China should do more in the saga, and it is not in the interest for China and US and China must stand up to North Korea togther.

Promfret got it absolutely right that when he say “First, there’s a silly assumption in Washington that our interests (no nukes in North Korea) are the same as China’s. But they’re not. China’s first interest in North Korea is making sure the Kim regime doesn’t collapse. China’s second interest? Making sure the Kim regime doesn’t collapse. From Beijing’s perspective, nukes in North Korea rank somewhere around 10th.”

Asian mentality on society values stability above anything else. I quote Kishore Mahbubani “An imperfect government that commits some human rights violations is better then no government, in many societies”.

China emphasis of Harmonious society is a broader reflection of that philosophy. Western interpret that as working towards a better society of equality, freedom and prosperity. Chinese understood it as tolerance for imperfection in society and when inequality occurs, look at the cup half-filled not half-empty.

North Korea having nukes? Okay, bad idea but chances that North Korea will unleash it in China is next to zero. A unstable North Korea is far more dangerous to China. A known devil is better than an unknown friend.

So Washington’s think tank who really think China will do anything to step into the affair right now is just dreaming in their ivory tower. And as I noted early, US is no longer in the position of strength to bend China to its will.

China needs US as much as US needs China, economically. One is a producer, one is a buyer. One is a lender, and the other is a debtor. The two economy is tightly coupled and therefore, one yield to the other not because of differences in power but in the mutual interest of both party.

US may have greater military power over China as a whole. But with a war in middle east, and a mess-up economy, China know US cannot sustain a (cold) war in the Far East. US “threats” of greater US military presence is at best laughable.

Japan, who is traditionally US ally in this region, is also mindful of China rising power is also evaluating their position. Japan is honestly concerned over North Korea but unfortunately has little clot in the matter beyond making motherhood statements.

It is left to South Korea who feel the immediate threat to flex its military muscle with US support. North Korea immediately responded that South is nearly an act of war.

Perhaps that’s what Washington has in mind all along. Not exactly what I like to see but perhaps that’s what it takes to bring China to do something.

* Also read the excellent article by Eric Anderson.