Remind China We Have Escalation Dominance

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS July 11, 2017

The headline for a July 7 editorial in Global Times, the mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, read "Xi-Trump meet defies naysayers in West." The Presidents of China and the United States met for over an hour on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. The CCP paper declared that the meeting was marked by "maturity" and declared that "the Sino-US relationship has stood up to the frictions and remained constructive as a whole." The favorable slant with which the editorial opened had an Orwellian feel to it, which is not uncommon in publications put out by dictatorships.

For example, the same paper claimed that the visit to Hong Kong of the aircraft carrier Laioning and its five escorting warships "is a guarantee for the region rather than a show of force and it could elevate the local people's pride for the country." The South China Morning Post was more candid, quoting Hong Kong's Chief Executive as hoping "the visit would instill a sense of patriotism among an increasingly divided society." The vibrant city has been in turmoil as the population sees the freedoms enjoyed when it was a British colony eroded by the Communist regime. To most objective observers, the visit by the People's Liberation Army Navy flotilla was a show of force meant to quell unrest.

By the same token, the SCMP found "all that wide-eyed optimism" shown after the summit between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at Mar-a-lago three months ago "was gone" after the G20 meeting. The independent paper warned its readers to "Brace for a sanctions-induced trade war between the world's two biggest economies." Let's hope that prediction bears out, because as President Trump tweeted after North Korea tested an ICBM capable of reaching America, "So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!" Perhaps, given that ever administration since Bill Clinton has done so; but how many times must the same tactic fail before it is abandoned in favor of something stronger with a better track record?

That confrontation is replacing cooperation was evident even in the Global Times. Near the end of its editorial it stated, "China's US policy is all about candid wishes and the bottom line. Therefore, Washington will gradually realize that Beijing has little room to make concessions in the face of US pressure.... [China] will not impose additional sanctions on North Korea.... Beijing-Washington cooperation on Pyongyang's nuclear issue must respect China's attitude, and the US should adapt to this." Earlier in the piece, "divergences on Pyongyang's nuclear issue" between the two powers had been acknowledged.

The "divergence" has been obvious for decades. China wants to maintain North Korea as a buffer state and will do nothing that could topple the Kim dynasty and give South Korea the chance to unite the peninsula. Beijing supports Pyongyang's view that nuclear arms will further protect the regime from externally induced regime change. Furthermore, Beijing believes that the propaganda spread in the Western media that even before Kim Jong-un has a weapon of mass destruction that can hit America, he has "escalation dominance" because of his masse

d artillery within range of Seoul. This is supposed to deter any military action to take out North Korea's research centers.
However, neither North Korea nor China has escalation dominance and the Trump administration must make it clear to both regimes why the balance of power still rests with the U.S. and its allies. Any attempt by North Korea to attack any of its neighbors in the wake of a limited strike against its nuclear and missile programs would mean the end of the Kim regime. Allied retaliation would be massive with the core objective of decapitating the government and military. If fighting persisted, the North would be decisively defeated and China's worst fears would be realized.

Kim must be told in no uncertain terms that he must disarm or face death. Menacing his neighbors is what will imperil his rule. If done quietly, we can count on him being too much of a spoiled brat to embrace martyrdom; problem solved.

Beijing must be given only two options; control and perhaps even remove Kim or risk being pulled into a wider war where its years of economic development would be demolished. For President Xi to take actions he does not want to take against Pyongyang, he must be presented with outcomes he finds even more unpalatable. As Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, the purpose of war is to "compel the enemy to do our will." That end can also be accomplished by diplomacy at a much lower cost; but only if the enemy believes war (and defeat) will be the consequence of diplomatic failure.

China knows the risks. The day after the Xi-Trump G20 meeting, Global Times ran a story on a joint U.S.-South Korean exercise, "Saturday's drill, designed to 'sternly respond' to potential missile launches by North Korea, saw two US bombers destroy 'enemy' missile batteries and South Korean jets mount precision strikes against underground command posts." The article concluded with the claim that "China has repeatedly expressed opposition to North Korea's missile launch against UN Security Council resolutions, as well as unilateral sanctions bypassing the UN Security Council, calling relevant parties to avoid escalating the tension and come back to the right track of peaceful negotiations." Beijing believes from experience with past American Presidents, that if America is talking, it is not acting---- and it is only acting that Beijing worries about. Talking gives North Korea more times to find a way to perfect long range weapons and nuclear warheads to put on them. Strategic patience is the route to Pyongyang becoming a global nuclear power           

China retreats from a superior United States, but reverts to form when the threats subside. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Beijing organized the Six Power Talks to negotiate the "denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula so as to head off a feared attack on North Korea which had been lumped with Iraq and Iran into what President George W. Bush called an "axis of evil." The diplomatic efforts collapsed when it became apparent that the U.S. was not going to expand its military campaign against nuclear proliferators. No threat, no need to make concessions.          

In 2010, after North Korea sank a South Korean warship, tensions flared and military exercises were held by China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. all around the peninsula. Beijing's rhetoric hit new highs for militancy, but it backed away from any direct confrontations as a USN carrier group sailed into the East China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked to forge a strong coalition all along the Pacific Rim, including overtures to Vietnam. President Barack Obama, however, undercut Clinton. At a summit with President Xi, he called on business leaders from both countries to work together to promote peace. This sign of weakness assured China that it need not make any concessions on either North Korea bellicosity or its own mercantilist trade policies; both of which are dangerous to American security. The Chinese had taken stock of Obama and were not afraid.           

President Trump got Beijing's attention at Mar-a-lago by sending a barrage of missiles into a Syrian airfield in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. But there has been no follow up in Asia. Washington has reinforced its naval and air strength in the region, but Beijing does not think anything more will happen than in 2010. Global Times even proclaimed, "The Trump administration has not been as tough on China as expected....Trump is returning to Washington's previous China policy." This so-called "engagement" policy of past years has worked in Beijing's favor, supporting both its own rise and that of North Korea. Trump must prove the Chinese wrong.  Only if there is a credible threat to Beijing's core interests will the Chinese work to resolve the crisis before the costs of resistance becomes too high to bear. The threat will not become credible until the costs actually start to be felt as America takes action. As the old and tested saying goes, "actions speak louder than words."

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.


blog comments powered by Disqus

FSM Archives

10 year FSM Anniversary

More in Economy ( 21 OF 25 ARTICLES )