Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is China Losing Face?

We have been following the moves on the North Korean diplomatic chessboard, so we feel obliged to look at the current state of the game.

You might recall that the Chinese government, for having committed itself to tamp down its rebarbative protégé, has now been exposed as a weak player. Of course, the North Koreans do not want to look at though they are being pushed around. That would cause them to lose face. The Chinese do not want to look as though they are being pushed around by the Americans. That would cause them to lose face. And yet, the Chinese also want to exercise leadership. It would cause them to save face.

By now, however, the Chinese have backed themselves into a corner. The Trump administration has been complimenting them on their honest efforts... which is a nice way of saying that they have failed but that we respect them enough not to rub their faces in it.

Now, Andrew Browne offers an extensive news analysis where he exposes China’s problem.

He does not discuss it in terms of face saving, but the term is certainly apposite:

China faces a moment of truth in its own backyard on whether it is ready to assume greater global leadership.

So far, writes John H. Maurer, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, “Beijing is flunking the test.”

In Beijing’s view, the current crisis was largely created by U.S. belligerence, and thus the onus is primarily on Washington to fix it, with China acting as facilitator.

The Trump administration has handled the situation skillfully up to now:

President Donald Trump has tweeted that while he appreciates the attempt by his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help “it has not worked out.” China insists it has made “relentless efforts” to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The Chinese government is none too happy for having been backed into a corner:

An irritated China on Tuesday hit back at U.S. pressure to do more. “The ‘China responsibility theory’ on the peninsula nuclear issue can stop,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Yet China is Pyongyang’s enabler: Up to 90% of North Korea’s foreign trade runs through its neighbor. And commerce is surging; Pyongyang is a bustling capital.

Beijing appears to believe that living with a nuclear North Korea is preferable to the alternatives: the collapse of its socialist ally spilling refugees into its industrial heartland and bringing U.S. troops to its border.

Translation: the Chinese know that they have a problem. They do not know how they are going to solve it. Trump has called their bluff and they are about to lose a considerable amount of diplomatic respect around the world:

One thing is clear, however: China’s passivity doesn’t jibe with its quest for international respect as a great power capable of solving big problems.

Confucius said that shame is a good thing because it motivates us to act. We will see how it works out in East Asia.

The question now is whether China will come to see that its rogue ally imperils everything—its past victories against poverty, its dreams of future wealth and power. And whether that will inspire it to lead.

One notes, without an ounce of chagrin, that China had gained considerable status and prestige during the Obama years. It took over and armed islands in the South China Sea… without hearing the least discouraging word from the Obama White House. It has been playing a double game on North Korea... saying one thing and doing another. By now, however, the jig seems to be up. Just as Vladimir Putin is struggling to adjust to the presence of a new sheriff, so do is Chinese president Xi Jinping.


trigger warning said...

The Nork problem was solved in '94 by Bill Clinton and his "special" envoy, Jimmah Carter (former President, political patron of Ayatollah Rockinrollah, nookular engineer, Sunday School teacher, and peanut subsidy aggregator). The Norks got two reactors, $5B, and Carter won the No-Bell Peace Prize for Bumsucking Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Now, the Norks are misbehaving again.

I blame Donald Trump, The Wall, the Muslim travel ban, and undertaxed rich guys.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... it's always useful to remind ourselves whose mess we are currently cleaning up. And we should also keep in mind that the woman who helped negotiate the NK deal also helped negotiate the Iran deal. In less than ten years we will have that to deal with.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Confucius said that shame is a good thing because it motivates us to act.

I'm curious about this. The open question for me is how shame can or could or should work at the level of leadership.

Here's one quote from Confucius that could use some further checking, but it connects shame to courage seems to imply a pressure for action, or maybe it is a call for courage in prudence to avoid problems in the first place?

"To be fond of learning is to draw close to wisdom. To practice with vigor is to draw close to benevolence. To know the sense of shame is to draw close to courage. He who knows these three things knows how to cultivate his own character. Knowing how to cultivate his own character, he knows how to govern other men. Knowing how to govern other men, he knows how to govern the world, its states, and its families."

But what differentiates between good and bad action? Wisdom and good character apparently, but that requires high discernment. It's not something we can simply measure.

Perhaps we should say that all shame promotes defense mechanisms that can hide important truths from ourselves. However, by Confucius, if we have wisdom and good character we can work with the true message of shame, like identifying your own deficiencies, rather than the indirect impulse to shoot the messenger.

Or like Donald Trump's belligerent use of language would seem to spend more time shooting the messenger than looking in the mirror at his own ugliness. Scapegoating is clearly the correct word. People say he is shameless, but we can see the shame in his projections onto others.

Anonymous said...

Korea is divided because US asked Soviets to enter North China and carve up Korea between them.

WWII began with Germany and Russia dividing Poland, and it ended with US and Russia dividing Korea.

North Korea never would have existed if not for US request to Soviets to enter north China. (Soviets also handed over whole swaths of northern Chinese territory to the communists, thereby setting the grounds for communist victory.) Korea became North Korea and South Korea because US hatched a plan with USSR to cut Korea like a cake and create two separate states ruled by puppet of Russia and puppet of America. This set the ground for Korean War that killed 3 million people.

US needs to face up to its history. Asian history could have been very different if the US hadn't asked USSR to enter Asia. Stalin didn't intend to. He was coaxed by FDR. Even though Soviets had already lost 25 million men in war with Germany, US wanted Russians to lose more lives in Asia.

Also, even though North Korea is a nasty nation, its actions are essentially defensive since US had invaded nation after nation on bogus pretext, like WMD.

And what happened to Gaddafi after he gave up his WMD and decided to be nice? He was taken down and lynched to death with Hillary laughing.

NK is horrible nation, but US foreign policy has been the real aggressor.

Americans need to be more introspective.

Anonymous said...

"US needs to face up to its history. Asian history could have been very different if the US hadn't asked USSR to enter Asia. Stalin didn't intend to. He was coaxed by FDR. Even though Soviets had already lost 25 million men in war with Germany, US wanted Russians to lose more lives in Asia."

If you truly believe that I've got this wonderful bridge in Brooklyn for!

Stalin wanted a greater "in" to Asia, in the worst way and conned FDR, through Stalin's No. 1 agent Harry Hopkins, into begging the Soviets to help in Asia. Stalin agreed, but committed NO troops until the war was won by the Americans.

Stalin's minimal efforts netted him the Kuriles, part of Manchuria and huge influence in North Korea, all at virtually no cost, as he never intended to militarily assist, just hang around for the "spoils hand-out" party!