President Trump’s Nominee for Australian Ambassador, Admiral Harris Talks Tough On China

In my opinion Admiral Harris is a great pick for ambassador to such an important regional security ally as Australia:

US President Donald Trump meets with Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr. in Hawaii on November 3, 2017

China is seeking to “undermine” the international order in the Asia Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, US President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Australia, said in Washington on Wednesday.

Addressing the US Committee on Armed Services on the challenges facing the US military in the region, Adm. Harris, the highest commander of US forces in Asia Pacific region, said the Trump administration must work to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.
“China’s intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril,” he said in public testimony. “I’m concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order.”
Plain-spoken and well-known in the international community for his remarks on US policy in the Asia Pacific, Harris has often provoked a vitriolic reaction from Beijing, in particular for his passionate calls for action in the South China Sea.
His appointment would raise the stakes in the battle for influence in Asia, with experts saying Harris could push the Australian government to tighten military cooperation with its traditional ally.  [CNN]
You can read more at the link, but Australia has very strong economic ties with China with their mining industry exporting massive amounts of resources to the Chinese mainland.  Picking such a high profile US military figure that has been so outspoken about Chinese intentions, is a good counter to any influence the Chinese may try to use on Australia economically.
We have seen in the past how the Chinese used their economic leverage against South Korea in the ongoing THAAD dispute.  If they try the same tactic against Australia, for example in a South China Sea dispute, the US will have a strong voice in Australia to speak out against it.

Explaining the “Wedge Theory” for North Korea’s Nuclear Program

A ROK Drop favorite Tom Coyner explains the “wedge theory” in a recent article in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

Tom Coyner

If Washington affairs are unpredictable, the same can be said about the entirety of the Korean Peninsula. As such, there are various ideas and theories of what is the fundamental thinking and strategy of North Korea. The most likely scenario being played out is the so-called wedge theory. Many scholars disagree, but I subscribe to it as the most likely explanation for both obvious and insidious reasons.

North Korea is unintentionally serving China’s geopolitical interests. First and most obviously, it serves as a physical barrier between China’s capital and U.S. forces based in South Korea. More controversially, North Korea’s nuclear program is not being designed to start a nuclear exchange unless absolutely necessary. Rather, its weapons are like other nations’ nukes. The weapons are meant as deterrents. But unlike other nations’ arsenals, the DPRK’s nukes are serving the hegemonic interests of its neighbor, China.  (…..)

Many North Korea watchers believe the real aim of the DPRK nukes is to threaten the U.S. and intimidate Washington out of its ironclad guarantee to come to the aid of Seoul under all circumstances. Which is to say, be able to challenge the current or future American president into deciding whether to stand by Seoul or risk having one of America’s cities be nuked. Of course, such a scenario would lead to the total destruction of North Korea by a vengeful America. But beyond simply living with a nuclear DPRK, all military scenarios are high risk, including ending with the ultimate destruction of North Korea. (……..)

Consequently, the wedge theory is the most plausible. If the U.S. backs away from its 100 percent support of South Korea, North Korea can further its political agenda to ultimately achieve a peace treaty leading to confederation without need for U.S. forces.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link, but I have long believed that the Kim regime and the Chinese government have a long term goal of driving a wedge between the US and the ROK.  That is what is behind the THAAD retaliation against South Korea by the Chinese government.  They know THAAD is not a threat to them, but it is an issue they can use to drive a wedge between the US and the ROK.  Likewise that is what North Korea is to the Chinese, yet another issue to drive a wedge between the US and the ROK.

USFK Commander Stresses Regional Unity to Address North Korea

Here is what the USFK commander General Brooks had to say about North Korea’s recent overtures:

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), speaks in a lecture at Seoul Cyber University on Jan. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

The commanding general of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Thursday stressed the importance of combat readiness and unity among regional powers to cope with North Korea’s recent peace offensive.

“We can be generally pleased by the recent overtures that happened. But we must keep our expectations at the appropriate level,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said at a lecture in Seoul.

He was referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Day statement that his country is willing to join the Winter Olympics that will open in the South Korean town of PyeongChang next month. He proposed immediate inter-Korean dialogue to discuss the issue.

In a follow-up move, the two Koreas reconnected a cross-border communication channel Wednesday, two years after it was severed, and are preparing to hold high-level talks.

It represents Pyongyang’s “sincere” pursuit of reconciliation, but it may be in line with its typical strategy to keep apart five countries — South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia — aimed at weakening their power against the regime trying to win the status of a “nuclear capable” nation.

“We can’t ignore that reality,” the command emphasized during the session at Seoul Cyber University, organized by the National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential consultative body mainly on long-term inter-Korean ties.

In the face of the North’s peace gesture, he said, it’s important for South Korea and the U.S. to maintain an “ironclad and razor sharp” alliance and joint combat readiness in the event that it leads to a “negative outcome, not a positive outcome.”

He likened North Korea to the center of a palm and the five regional powers to five fingers, showing his right hand.

The North wants these five fingers to be separated but they should operate in “harmony and closely connected to one another” as a fist to create necessary pressure to cause a change in its course, he added. [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but I think the problem with General Brooks analogy is that two of the fingers have no intention of being part of the fist, Russia and China.  It is arguable they share the same strategic objective of the Kim regime to separate the US from the ROK.

Kim Il-sung Once Asked Mao Zedong to Cede Part of Northeast China to North Korea

Below is a fascinating read in the Nikkei Asian Review about how the Kim regime has long claimed that Northeastern China should be ceded to North Korea:

Sino-North Korean relations have traversed three eras in China — under Mao, Deng and Xi — and a North Korean dynasty of three Kims — Il Sung, Jong Il and Jong Un.

Back in May 2000, Kim Jong Il made his first trip to China as North Korea’s top leader. An informal visit, it was kept under wraps until Kim, the father of North Korea’s current leader, returned to Pyongyang.

Kim had a big request for Jiang Zemin, then China’s president.

“I am preparing for an inspection of the northeast region [of China],” Kim told Jiang. “Could you make arrangements for it?”

Jiang’s face contorted into a quizzical expression. The word Kim used was the Korean equivalent of shicha, a Chinese term meaning inspection. Inspections are what leaders conduct to see how their own common people are doing.

Kim’s use of inspection not only contradicted reality, it was disrespectful to China.

Jiang told Kim in a calm manner, “In your case, you mean visit, correct?”

“No,” Kim snapped back immediately. “It is an inspection. My father [Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first leader] told me that the entire ‘northeast’ belongs to us.”

Stunned by Kim’s response, Jiang asked the North Korean leader, “How can the ‘northeast’ be all yours?”

“This is not my father’s view,” Kim said. “This is a remark made by Chairman Mao Zedong,” the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.

Again, Jiang was flabbergasted. This time, he summoned an official from the Communist Party’s International Liaison Department and ordered him to check whether Mao had actually made such a remark in the past.

The official reported back to Jiang the following afternoon, confirming Mao’s remarks.  [Nikkei Asian Review]

You can read the rest at the link, but Mao made a comment to Kim Il-sung how prior Korean dynasties had been pushed out of Northeast China to south of the Yalu River by past Chinese emperors.  Kim Il-sung used that comment to justify North Korea being ceded a chunk of Northeast China which Chinese leaders over the years have scoffed at to include when Kim Jong-il brought it up.  It is unclear if the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shares such delusions of grandeur, but considering that his grandfather and father believed in it, I would not be surprised if Kim Jong-un doesn’t bring up the issue again at some point with China as well.

President Trump Has Strong Comments About China in New York Times Interview

In long interview with Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, President Trump had plenty to say about how China has not been helpful enough with enforcing sanctions on North Korea:

President Trump arriving in Florida last week.

SCHMIDT: Explain your North Korea tweet to me today.

TRUMP: Which one?

SCHMIDT: You said about the oil, that China. …

[Cross talk.]

SCHMIDT: What’s going on there. Tell me about that.

TRUMP: Yeah, China. … China’s been. … I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together. He’s [inaudible] of the United States. …[Inaudible.] China’s hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. O.K.?

[Cross talk with guests.]

_________

SCHMIDT: Can you finish your thought on North Korea. What’s going on with China?

TRUMP: I’m disappointed. You know that they found oil going into. …

SCHMIDT: But how recently?

TRUMP: It was very recently. In fact, I hate to say, it was reported this morning, and it was reported on Fox. Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!

SCHMIDT: What was the deal?

TRUMP: My deal was that, we’ve got to treat them rough. They’re a nuclear menace so we have to be very tough.

RUDDY: Mr. President, was that a picture from recent or was that months ago? I don’t know. …

TRUMP: Oil is going into North Korea, I know. Oil is going into North Korea. So I’m not happy about it.

SCHMIDT: So what are you going to do?

TRUMP: We’ll see. That I can’t tell you, Michael. But we’ll see. I can tell you one thing: This is a problem that should have been handled for the last 25 years. This is a problem, North Korea. That should have been handled for 25, 30 years, not by me. This should have been handled long before me. Long before this guy has whatever he has.

SCHMIDT: Do you think we’ve been too soft on China on North Korea?

TRUMP: No, look, I like China, and I like him a lot. But, as you know, when I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, O.K., which is another $300 billion. So, China — and you know, somebody said, oh, currency manipulation. If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I’m not happy about that. I think I expressed that in probably [inaudible].

TRUMP, as aides walk by: And, by the way, it’s not a tweet. It’s social media, and it gets out in the world, and the reason I do well is that I can be treated unfairly and very dishonestly by CNN, and, you know, I have — what do have now, John, 158 million, including Facebook, including Twitter, including Instagram, including every form, I have a 158 million people. Reporting just this morning, they said 158 million. So if they a do a story that’s false, I can do something — otherwise, Andy, otherwise you just sort of walk around saying what can I do? What, am I going to have a press conference every time somebody, every time Michael writes something wrong?

So, China on trade has ripped off this country more than any other element of the world in history has ripped off anything. But I can be different if they’re helping us with North Korea. If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do. China can help us much more, and they have to help us much more. And they have to help us much more. We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China, and it’s not good for Russia. It’s no good for anybody. Does that make sense?

SCHMIDT: Yeah, yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

TRUMP: The only thing that supersedes trade to me — because I’m the big trade guy, I got elected to a certain extent on trade. You see, I’m renegotiating Nafta, or I’ll terminate it. If I don’t make the right deal, I’ll terminate Nafta in two seconds. But we’re doing pretty good. You know, it’s easier to renegotiate it if we make it a fair deal because Nafta was a terrible deal for us. We lost $71 billion a year with Mexico, can you believe it? $17 billion with Canada — Canada says we broke even. But they don’t include lumber and they don’t include oil. Oh, that’s not. … [Inaudible,] … My friend Justin he says, “No, no, we break even.” I said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not including oil, and you’re not including lumber.” When you do, you lose $17 billion, and with the other one, we’re losing $71 billion. So the only thing that supersedes trade to me is war. If we can solve the North Korea problem. China cannot. …

SCHMIDT: You still think there’s a diplomatic solution?

TRUMP: China has a tremendous power over North Korea. Far greater than anyone knows.

SCHMIDT: Why haven’t they stood up?

TRUMP: I hope they do, but as of this moment, they haven’t. They could be much stronger.

SCHMIDT: But why not?

TRUMP: China can solve the North Korea problem, and they’re helping us, and they’re even helping us a lot, but they’re not helping us enough.  [New York Times]

Satellite Photos Show Chinese Ships Trading Oil Illegally with North Korea

If the Chinese government wanted this illegal activity to be stopped they could easily stop it, but they are clearly turning a blind eye to this illegal activity.  The publication of these satellite photographs is clearly a signal to the Chinese that their bluff is being called after more stringent UN sanctions were passed last week against North Korea:

U.S. reconnaissance satellites have spotted Chinese ships selling oil to North Korean vessels on the West Sea around 30 times since October.

According to South Korean government sources, the satellites have pictured large Chinese and North Korean ships illegally trading in oil in a part of the West Sea closer to China than South Korea.

The satellite pictures even show the names of the ships. A government source said, “We need to focus on the fact that the illicit trade started after a UN Security Council resolution in September drastically capped North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products.”

The U.S. Treasury Department placed six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their ships on sanctions list on Nov. 21, when it published spy satellite images taken on Oct. 19 showing a ship named Ryesonggang 1 connected to a Chinese vessel.   [Chosun Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

What Would China Do If the US Attacks North Korea?

I tend to agree with this analysis from Carl Schuster from Hawaii Pacific University:

But if U.S. forces were to enter North Korea, how China responds will depend largely on why, said Carl Schuster, a retired Navy captain who now lectures at Hawaii Pacific University.

“Let’s say North Korea does something stupid like launches a missile that lands in South Korea or hits a U.S. base, or North Korea suddenly fires some artillery rounds across the DMZ and Seoul, if North Korea does that, China will have no problem with us pounding North Korea’s government into the dirt,” he said.

But there is a difference between aerial strikes and troops on the ground, and how the Chinese regime will respond to either is uncertain. At the very least, Beijing will seek international pressure to stop a U.S. offensive.

But while crossing the 38th parallel may be tolerated under some circumstances, taking the North Korean capital will not be, he said.

“If it looks like we are going to go north of Pyongyang, in their minds, that will be a red line.”

China may tolerate U.S. forces crossing the border to crush the North Korean army, he said, but he expects Beijing would send forces to occupy Pyongyang. North Korea’s capital will remain a no-go zone, he said.

“If North Korea initiates the conflict, China will watch it closely, prepare for North Korea’s defeat, but they won’t intervene if we don’t go to far.”  [The Epoch Times]

You can read much more at the link, but I have always believed there is a strong possibility the Chinese would move in and occupy Pyongyang if they feared the US or ROK were going to occupy North Korea.  This would not be a repeat though of the massive Chinese intervention into the Korean War where they played a significant combat role.  Instead I believe the Chinese will rapidly, but openly move into Pyongyang under the guise of being peacekeepers.

If the US or the ROK were to attack the Chinese troops they would be initiating combat against peacekeepers.  I think this will likely prevent any action against the Chinese troops and give Beijing a strong negotiating hand to settle the conflict in a way favorable to Chinese interests.