Geopolitics

US-China and the ‘Fat Boy’ Syndrome
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 May , 2017

‘Little Boy’ was the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima by the US but if Little Boy was a US citizen, he would not have much difficulty in connecting the dots and timings of Choe Son Hui, North Korean DG for US Affairs (bigger the designation more the gas like North Korean Generals wearing medals even on trousers) stating Pyongyang would have dialogue with the US administration if conditions were right, CNN and BBC showing a smiling (relieved?) President Trump, China welcoming Trump’s openness for talks with North Korea and the OBOR meet in Beijing.

Choe was reportedly in Norway for what was described as some back-channel Track II albeit only one former US diplomat met him. It may be recalled that Trump had warned in April that a “major, major, conflict” with North Korea was possible, but that he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute, North Korea having conducted five nuclear tests in defiance of UN and US sanctions, preparing for a sixth one, developing long-range missiles, and threatening to attack the US.

Trump then surprised everyone by saying he would be “honoured” to meet Kim Jong-un, North Korean President. Then is the recent deployment of ships and units from the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group to the western Pacific, USS Carl Vinson leading a carrier strike group some 400 nautical miles east of China’s Hainan Island and northeast of the Parcels, China bristling over US THADD anti-ballistic missile deployment in South Korea and egging South Korea to resist deployment which has already been completed and made operational.

Newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in can hardly comply with Chinese demands given the US military presence, and the North Korean missile threat even if he is for reducing tensions with North Korea. Moon has already said the THADD issue can only be resolved when there is no further provocation by North Korea. Beijing maintains the THADD system can spy on its territory.

But despite all the stern warnings prior to the inauguration of President Trump of stern action in the South China Sea (SCS) against China’s island building and militarization, Pentagon under Trump has not permitted sailing of a single warship close to artificial islands China has built in the contested waters. The last freedom of navigation operation (FONOPS) by US Navy made public was in October 2016, four months before Trump took power. Earlier FONOPS in SCS were regularly authorized by the Obama administration albeit with US naval vessels not sailing closer than 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands – not even flying aircraft or helicopter closer than this. China has been describing these US FONOPS serious breaches of law and intentional provocation.

Significantly, at his confirmation hearing in January 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said that the Trump administration might take a more aggressive approach to the South China Sea, saying, “Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. It’s taking of territory that others lay claim to”. He had even hinted that Chinese access to the artificial islands could be restricted by US vessels. Of the many instances of mellowing down of Trump compared to his earlier rhetoric and first telephone talk with the Taiwan President, some are: Trump saying he’d call Chinese President Xi Jinping for permission before he spoke to Taiwan’s leader over the phone again; backing down on his pledge to label China as currency manipulator; agreeing to “one China” policy – all resulting in diplomatic and political advantage to China.

During the ASEAN leaders meet at Manila in April, China scored a major victory when the ASEAN joint statement seriously watered down the denunciation of its island-building in the SCS, even though China had earlier split the ASEAN by influencing Laos and Kampuchea using her substantial economic muscle. According to Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia, “ASEAN cannot maintain its position in dealing with China … unless the pressure is on China by the maritime powers”, implying the US.

Is Trump nurturing apprehensions of overreach despite commanding the most powerful military forces in the world: Syria and Iraq are far from being resolved; Ukraine and Crimea remain in US-NATO cross hairs; Trump’s decision to support the Kurds even as Turkey is full NATO member, not that fast radicalizing Turkey is any saint – with the ISIS trained on its territory by CIA and Mi-6 before unleashing them to capture Mosul in 2014; next phase of the Great Game having begun in Afghanistan with Pentagon supporting the Afghan Government while CIA uses Pakistani proxies to pressurize Russia in Northern Afghanistan and Iran in Helmand region of South Afghanistan, and; Russia-China-Iran teaming up with Taliban to oust US-NATO from the region while Pakistan plays the common joker in every pack. Or is it that trump is in a quandary what if North Korea strikes a US naval vessel.

But while US occupies the top rung in sub-conventional and hybrid operations and way back John F Kennedy had said “no matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth”, it is China that takes the cake in psychological operations and perception building. Witness the manner in which it has portrayed the ‘peaceful rise of China’ to its own public despite killing some 20-30 Chinese nationals in the process, and the world at large despite invasions and all around aggression including in the SCS. The prophecy made by HJ Mackinder in 1904 appears coming true when he said, “Chinese might constitute the yellow peril to the world’s freedom, just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region”.

The most successful Chinese perception building campaign is making the US believe China is the solution, not the problem to the North Korean crisis. Actually, if the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days after nuking Hiroshima was called “Fat Boy”, Kim Jong-un, is China’s “Fat Boy” against the US – not by physique alone, but in strategic terms.

Trump would do well to read the book ‘The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation’ by Thomas Reed, former US Air Force Secretary who himself designed two nuclear devices. The book describes how China intentionally proliferated nuclear technology to risky regimes; particularly Pakistan. More significantly, Reed explained to US News that China under Deng Xiaoping, decided to proliferate nuclear technology to communists and Muslims in the third world based on the strategy that if the West started getting nuked by Muslim terrorists or another communist country without Chinese fingerprints, it would be good for China. That is how North Korea and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. What reinforced Chinese lies is that while China raised a host of objections to exposures in Reed’s book, all were withdrawn subsequent to discussion with Chinese scientists.

Pakistan-North Korea nuclear cooperation goes back decades but so does China-Pakistan-North Korea nexus, with Pakistan acting as China’s conduit to North Korea. Last year, the Arms Control Association report ‘Assessing Progress on Nonproliferation and Disarmament Updated Report Card 2013–2016,’ says, “Despite progress on its export controls China continues to supply Pakistan with nuclear power reactors, despite objections that the sale of the reactors did not receive a consensus exemption from the NSG. What the US needs to closely examine is how has North Korea despite US and UN sanctions over so many years has managed to maintain formidable armed forces, enormous expenditure in defence and even winning medals in Olympics; compare it to Cuba which was also under sanctions for decades.

China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and main source of food and energy. North Korea is one of the nuclear talons of the Chinese dragon, the other being Pakistan. The euphuism that North Korea’s collapse would be catastrophic for the region is an excuse, same as argued in the case of Pakistan for own geopolitical interests. Given the financial and military muscle that China has been using to make many countries fall in line, China could have easily tamed Kim Jong-un, even have him eliminated. Instead China is using him as the ‘Fat Boy’ against the US and its allies to up or down the heat in Asia-Pacific. In the instant case hints of possibility of talks is perhaps to get US support for OBOR. For decades China has steadfastly stood between North Korea and military intervention by any country, specifically the US. Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister recently said, “Military force cannot resolve the issue. Amid challenge there is opportunity. Amid tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.” That conforms to Chinese foreign policy of biang-biang noodles; take you round in circles, hiding own intentions.

OBOR being bandied about for development of the regions that it passes through is actually vital to Xi Jinping’s grandiose plan of the ‘China Dream’ to rule the world. The Chinese government doesn’t have the money to implement it but is using finances of private companies to invest, but land, establish ventures, squeeze the countries for by way of exorbitant interests and highly priced products like power, providing massive avenues for Chinese nationals to work in the concerned countries and settle down in the special economic zones. The strategic impact of OBOR is that it draws the countries it passes through into the political and strategic influence of China. Same goes for Chinese investments in the IOR region, some so large that the country concerned would not be able to return at least in decades or not all, keeping it permanently indebted to China. Of course Chinese ventures on foreign lands are executed by PLA owned or PLA supported companies and have fair representation of serving PLA cadres and veterans, Special Forces and intelligence operatives.

In January 2005, Lt. Gen. Lin Yazhou, Deputy Political Commissar of PLAAF, had proclaimed, “When a nation grows strong enough, it practices hegemony. The sole purpose of power is to pursue power ……. Geography is destiny ……. When a country begins to rise, it shall first set itself in an invincible position”. From the assertiveness, aggressive stance, in addition to the arrogance of China’s state controlled media, it appears China believes it has already reached that ‘invincible’ position. What she fails to acknowledge is that the OBOR (oxygen for future China) and her ventures strung all over the globe are also her vulnerabilities. Recent terror attacks in proximity of the CPEC may just be tip of the iceberg.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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