#suntzu

Forbidden fruit(cake) in the Fordbidden City

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Sun Tzu once said, “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Let us not mistake China for one second. China is the master of the long game. It knows Trump has a maximum of 8 years in power. Letting him dine in the Forbidden City, the first ever foreign head of state to do so, speaks volumes of respecting an unpredictable foe. Xi Jinping knows his adversary is not all about bark. Better to cater to his huge ego and make him feel he has their attention (which he does) and get him to work solutions in their favour now it is clear they do not have carte blanche to use the USA as a door mat as they did with the previous administration.

Recall Obama’s final state visit to China. Air Force One was met with no senior officials, no red carpet and no stairs. Obama had to climb down Air Force One’s emergency exit . No more telling display of complete lack of respect to the leader of the most powerful nation.

China built man made islands in contested regional waters and did so knowing it had a maximum of 8 years to extend its future power base. Even Australia was dim witted enough to lease a port to the Chinese. Yet it was done with military precision when it knew it could.

Now China realises that Trump is not kidding over North Korea and is doing his darnedest to get China to commit to removing the snake head or otherwise America will do it for China. China, as CM has written many times before does not want to lose the strategic buffer North Korea provides from pro-US countries. China knows it could turn the lights out (China is responsible for 80%+ of imports & exports to the hermit kingdom) on Pyongyang in a heartbeat. Yet as a priority it has not been toward the top of the list.

The flip side to China taking care of the North Korean solution could mean that the US gives it certain concessions elsewhere. Foreign policy is very often about ‘optics’. China taking care of North Korea would be seen as preferable to the world than an attack by the US. China wins only if China takes care of it by itself. America wins in either scenario. China knows it is vastly militarily inferior to this US so the idea that China rushes to defend North Korea is more bark than promise to bite.

So view the idea of allowing the forbidden fruitcake (a sop to the liberal media) to dine in the most treasured of places in China as none other than the ultimate display of respect that Trump has the upper hand (which he does) but at the same time allow China to extend the ‘timing’ of any action on dealing with the ‘Rocket Man’ to give maximum optic effect for Xi. Yes, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump must have been summoning The Untouchables – “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer” (Xi) vs “in my neighborhood they said you can get much further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word!” (Trump).

The press might want to critique the President’s skill with chopsticks but they should focus on the fact that China put its most expensive national crockery on display to bring Trump over to their side in negotiations over regional problems. To that end call him a fruitcake all you like but this is a win-win for both supposed tyrants.

China send ultimatum to Kim Jong-Un

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As written yesterday in North Korean Roulette, “China has no choice but to step up to prevent the US giving it a bigger headache than it already has. Trump has clearly shown he is willing to pull the trigger when nations get out of line…Somehow China will be summoning Sun Tzu before it escalates out of its control.” So it appears China have overnight sent a ‘bottom line‘ threat to North Korea saying it’ll bomb their nuclear sites if crossed. According to the military-focused Global Times (owned and operated by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper), said that if the North impacts China with its illicit nuclear tests through either “nuclear leakage or pollution”, then China will strike hard. Taking out North Korea’s nuke arsenal would also win China credibility in neutralizing a global threat. Without nukes North Korea is a toothless tiger and Trump could end up with the result he needs by forcing Xi to act. That may well be to remove Kim and install a puppet. Korean CDS have edged slightly higher to 57.8bps but hardly showing fear. China is Kim Jong-Un’s biggest client. Best heed the warning.

North Korean Roulette

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In years gone past, North Korea used to up the ante on its belligerence when it needed a cash injection. Its neighbours tended to see that as the easiest way to put the Hermit Kingdom back in its place. Sure enough the North Koreans went away until the next ‘hit’ was required. China bought coal from North Korea to give it hard currency and prevent 20 million starving refugees trying to cross its border. It is no surprise that China has mobilized 150,000 troops to watch it. China has recently banned coal imports from North Korea to send a message that KJ-U’s antics can’t be tolerated. It may well be that the Trump/Xi dinner at Mar-a-Lago wasn’t clinking champagne but scoffing Red Bull over a chess board.

The chart above shows the extent of Kim Jong-Un’s thirst for missile testing. For a man willing to knock off his own brother, a man who looked as if he had no eyes on usurping Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Un will be an all or nothing trade. Cutting the head off this snake would plunge North Korea into deep crisis. It is highly likely that the many of the adoring generals all hate each other. Although China is likely to have a puppet in waiting.

The other problem is that all the while no action is taken, PyongYang’s arsenal grows more sophisticated. Eventually it will be sufficiently credible. In 1994 then President Bill Clinton came closest to taking action against its nuclear capability but in the end chose diplomacy.

On April 10, China’s special envoy on the North Korean nuclear programme, Wu Dawei, visited Seoul with the idea of pushing a harder UN resolution in case of another nuclear test. In the short term China is hoping a short term halt to coal imports will bring Kim Jong-Un to heel they have not ruled out removing him.entirely. It is the least preferred option but now Trump has dispatched a carrier battle group nearby China is being forced to up the ante.

Let us not forget the strategic benefits of North Korea to China. It provides a buffer to the US friendly South Korea and keeps China the dominant player geopolitically in the peninsula. However China must be thinking Kim Jong-Un is becoming more of a liability than an asset. How does it keep the strategic importance of North Korea in a palatable package that even Trump can tolerate?

North Korea has 3 main nuclear missile launch sites (Musudan-Ri,  Punggye-Ri and Tongchang-Ri) among the fourteen nuclear facilities ranging from R&D, power generation,  mining and refined fissile material production. A surgical strike would be difficult to achieve without North Korea getting away a few missiles itself. Naturally Japan would be a soft target for reprisal given its pacifist nature.

China has no choice but to step up to prevent the US giving it a bigger headache than it already has. Trump has clearly shown he is willing to pull the trigger when nations get out of line. Should he shoot one of Kim Jong-Un’s missile tests down to show he isn’t joking Kim will need to weigh up being a laughing stock by backing down or go down in a blaze of glory. Somehow China will be summoning Sun Tzu before it escalates out of its control.

One interesting take is the reaction on financial markets. South Korean CDS have jumped from 50bps to 57bps in recent days.  When Kim Jong-Il died these rates surged to 240bps from around 100bps. GFC by way of comparison was 700bps. The Korean Won has slid for 6 days running but it hardly looks like a collapse.