Syria and North Korea: Two Steps in Trump’s War on China?

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April 10, 2017 – Fort Russ –

Ruslan Ostashko, Live Journal – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

According to American media, the Donald Trump Administration has sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the Korean coast. Reuters has cited a source in the White House asserting that, in so doing, the US is responding to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear program’s ballistic missile testing. Naturally, the question arises: does the White House not want to repeat what has been done in Syria in the case with North Korea? Let’s discuss this.

I originally argued that one of the key objectives of the attack on Syria was a show of force for Trump’s negotiations with Xi Jinping, who was in the US at the time. Of course, the domestic political situation as well as the desire to reverse the situation in the Syrian conflict and demonstrate a show of force to Russia also played a role, but let us once and for all abandon the idea that the world revolves around us. There’s no need to turn into Ukrainians. 

For the US – this was true in the Obama period and nothing has changed now – China is a serious problem. In many ways, this problem is much more serious than the problem of Russia. Proceeding from the fact that Trump is now fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s electoral program, it must be remembered that the last administration, and Hillary Clinton herself, were for rather harshly politically confronting China, including over North Korea and the territorial dispute over key islands in the South China Sea claimed by China, Japan, and practically all countries in the region.

Now the Trump Administration is actually going through with its threat that it made before Trump and Xi’s negotiations, and this threat boils down to the following: if China cannot be negotiated with on the North Korean nuclear program, then the US will solve the problem unilaterally. In Syria, the American administration demonstrated the method with which it might very well try to solve the problem. Judging by the fact that a carrier-based strike group is approaching the Korean peninsula instead of a diplomatic solution, negotiations with the Chinese leader failed.

I know that Russian media is now actively quoting American media, in which Trump is being praised for wonderful, beautiful, incredibly productive and amazing talks with Xi Jinping, from which they are drawing the conclusion that China has bowed before the US, and that now the two can tear apart Russia together, and so on. It is amazing how some people believe the American press and panicking rumors on social networks. But I’ve looked through both Chinese and American media and found no serious specifics in terms of the results of these epochal negotiations. Instead, I found only statements that friendship is good and that a straight line needs to be established between the Chinese and US militaries just in case. 

On the level of promises, everything is much more interesting. The Financial Times reports that the Chinese leader promised Trump two concessions: lifting the embargo on American beef and easing the access of American financial firms to the Chinese stock market. Journalists immediately noted that Xi had actually agreed to all of this with Obama, but this time simply promised to finally fulfill what he promised the previous administration. 

For his part, Trump has promised to reduce American officials’ resistance to Chinese attempts to buy high-tech American companies. For example, it is known that Washington is against China purchasing Westinghouse, which boasts nuclear technology that the Americans do not want to see in Chinese hands. It is precisely this kind of deal for which the negotiations were held. And now – attention – the question! Who lost more and who bent over for whom – Xi, who sold Trump for a second time the promises given to Obama, or Trump, who opened up access for the Chinese to purchase important technology? 

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Overall, there is the impression that Trump was using the aircraft carrier to wave his fists after the fight and show that he will still do what he wants and, if necessary, even bomb a country which is regarded as an unofficial vassal of China, without China’s consent.

If the US will really carry out a military operation against the DPRK, then, first of all, this will be extremely humiliating for China, and secondly, it will create the conditions for a real and very bloody war on the Korean Peninsula with absolutely unpredictable consequences. In this situation, Xi Jinping is in a very awkward position. In autumn of this year, China will have its 19th Communist Party Congress. It is very undesirable for Xi to be in open conflict with the US prior to the event, since him and his supporters could then be accused of irresponsible behavior and creating risks for the Chinese economy. Then Xi and his supporters would be pushed out of power. 

On the other hand, if nothing is done and he submits to Washington’s demands, then the already influential nationalists in the Communist Party as well as the Chinese army elite could present Xi Jinping with the claim that he has surrendered national interests, which would lead to negative political consequences. Even a diplomatic escape from this situation will now look bad, precisely like falling over in the face of Washington’s pressure. And then Washington would once again use this tactic in the dispute over the South China Sea islands which Beijing simply can’t afford to give up. Too much is tied to them from an ideological point of view and for the sake of controlling key maritime routes.

It must be borne in mind that in economic terms the Trump Administration is demanding that China not merely fall over, but die – an economic death through the destruction of China’s export economy which, from the Americans’ point of view, deprives the US of jobs, American companies of profits, and the American budget of taxes. 

It cannot be ruled out that Chinese leaders will agree to kill their own country. After all, we saw similar behavior on the part of the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who surrendered the whole working Soviet Union to the Americans. However, upon taking a closer look at Xi Jinping himself, he bears none of the traits of a Chinese Gorbachev. 

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Russia has almost no way of influencing the situation in North Korea, but I propose to look at the situation calmly and try to find the positive. And there is something positive. Of course it would be bad if war is unleashed in Korea, but on the other hand, there is still something positive. In the case of an aggravation of conflict with China, especially with the risk of an armed conflict, we can say with confidence that the Trump Administration will go down like one German leader who also thought that he could win a war on two fronts. In this case, our relations with China await unprecedented growth. As is well known, nothing unites more than a common and dangerous enemy. 

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