Steve Bannon Admits There is No Military Solution with North Korea; Wants Economic War with China

It is pretty amazing to me that someone from the White House would just call up a random reporter and be this open about their views, but as we have seen there is nothing conventional about Steve Bannon:

Steve Bannon

“We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”

Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.

“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”  [The American Prospect via a reader tip]

You can read much more at the link, but in regards to threat to Seoul Mr. Bannon is correct that it continues to restrain US actions against North Korea.  The fact that Bannon is willing to consider a freeze deal with North Korea in exchange for the removal of US troops I find very interesting.  I think everyone pushing for the freeze deal are now going to push it even harder if they see an opening that the White House might accept it.

Bannon in the article also talks about trying to get more hawks into the administration that don’t want to play nice with China.  He feels there are too many people in the government that think playing nice on trade with China will encourage them to help us with North Korea.

As far economic war with China it seems to me that a lot of the economic problems are self inflicted with the exporting of manufacturing jobs to China.  I don’t know if someone can even live a modern life any more if they made a conscious decision to not buy anything made in China.

North Korean Threats Have Not Stopped Tourists From Visiting Guam

With the vast majority of Guam’s tourists coming from Japan and South Korea it makes sense that they are unfazed by the recent rhetoric from North Korea which they have grown accustomed to:

Tourists haven’t been deterred from visiting the tropical island of Guam even though the U.S. territory has been the target of threats from North Korea during a week of angry words exchanged by Pyongyang and Washington.

Chiho Tsuchiya of Japan heard the news, but she decided to come anyway with her husband and two children. “I feel Japan and Korea also can get danger from North Korea, so staying home is the same,” said the 40-year-old.

Won Hyung-jin, an official from Modetour, a large South Korean travel agency, said several customers called with concerns, but they weren’t worried enough to pay cancellation fees for their trips.

“It seems North Korea racks up tension once or twice every year, and travelers have become insensitive about it,” Won said. His company has sent about 5,000 travelers to Guam a month this year, mostly on package tours.  [Bloomberg]

You can read more at the link.

South Korean Journalist Says She Is As Worried About President Trump as Kim Jong-un

Here is another example of the equivalency many journalists try to make between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump:

People watch President Trump on TV at a railway station in Seoul on Wednesday.

I think if I really think about it, I’m a little concerned. But it’s also in the sense that I’m concerned about how easily accessible nuclear weapons are increasingly in this world. And it’s not just North Korea. It’s the United States, it’s Russia, it’s all these different countries.

There’s another layer of hypocrisy in the way we report about North Korea. Like, the United States owns nuclear weapons, but why is North Korea in the axis of evil that doesn’t get to because it’s supposed to be the less rational one? I’m just generally afraid of nuclear weapons in general. I’m just as afraid of Trump owning nuclear weapons as Kim Jong Un owning one.  [VOX]

You can read more of the interview at the link, but does this South Korean journalist believe Japan should get nuclear weapons because everyone should have the right to pursue them?  That is the obvious logic being advocated for here.

Plus in my opinion anyone who thinks President Trump is just going to wake up one day and authorize a nuclear weapons strike should not be taken seriously.  The same can be said for anyone who thinks Kim Jong-un is just going to wake up one day and launch a nuclear weapons strike as well.

China Once Again Pushing for Freeze to US-ROK Military Exercises

CNN has a long article published advocating for a freeze deal with North Korea by suspending US-ROK military exercises.  As I have long said suspending or degrading the US-ROK alliance is a long term goal of China.  Suspending the upcoming UFG military exercises will only invite more belligerent behavior by North Korea by rewarding bad behavior and further advance China’s strategic goal of ending the US-ROK alliance:

In an editorial Tuesday, nationalistic state-run tabloid Global Times said South Korea should “act as a buffer” between the US and North Korea and urged Seoul to halt the upcoming joint military exercise.
The dual freeze approach put forward by China and Russia often “gets a bad rap” in Washington because of who backs it, said Delury. “But it’s a way for both sides to take a step back, lower the temperature (and) explore a diplomatic option.”
Zhao said such a freeze could “have prevented North Korea from fast advancing their missile programs, especially from acquiring an ICBM capability so quickly.”
However, Pinkston described such a deal as a “completely asymmetric,” pointing out that regular military exercises held by North Korea and China would not be covered by it.  [CNN]
You can read more at the link, but what I think the US should do is say they would sign up for a freeze deal if the punishment for non-compliance by North Korea is the authorization of preemptive strikes to take out their nuclear and missile programs.  The North Koreans would never sign up for such a deal because like past agreements they fully intend to violate it at a time of their choosing.  However, offering this condition shows the US attempted to negotiate and the North Koreans were the ones that would not agree to a deal.

North Korea Expert Says Conflict with North Korea Will Not Be Like Iraq or Afghanistan

I don’t think anyone with knowledge about North Korea’s capabilities even remotely thinks a conflict with North Korea would look anything like Iraq or Afghanistan:

Sung-Yoon Lee said the North Korean regime was more than capable of fighting back

Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, said the rogue nation was “no Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan” and was more than capable of fighting back.

The comments come amid growing tensions between Kim Jong-un’s regime and Donald Trump, who vowed to meet any attack on the US territory of Guam with “fire and fury”.

Speaking to CNBC, the academic said: “North Korea has a need to test more in the continental ballistic missiles to conduct another nuclear test and I don’t think Kim Jong-un will be deterred by this strong rhetoric – even rhetorical bellicosity coming out of the Trump administration.

“The truth is, since the end of the Korean war more than 60 years ago, despite countless provocations and lethal attacks from the north, neither the US or South Korea has ever responded with military force.

“Why? For fear of escalation because we know North Korea has both the intent and the capability to hit back – they are no Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan, they will strike back and we don’t want to go there.”

Professor Lee also called on the US for the “proper enforcement” of financial sanctions on North Korea.  [Express-UK]

Professor Lee’s comments about not responding with military force is not quite accurate.  For example there has been many DMZ shootouts over the decades and most recently the ROK military fired 80 artillery shells back into North Korea during the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea.

Kim Jong-un Backs Down from Plan to Attack Guam

Long time Korea watchers are probably not surprised by the below statement from Kim Jong-un who has backed down from his supposed plan to fire four missiles towards Guam:

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday that the army had finalized the blueprint and presented it to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he inspected his Strategic Force command the day before.

“He examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with the commanding officers in real earnest,” KCNA said, adding that Kim offered praise for the “close and careful plan.”

The leader reportedly said “he would watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees,” as the North calls the Americans, and warned that he may “make an important decision as it already declared” if the conduct persists.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying “that if the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the U.S. is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks.”

Kim said the U.S. “should stop at once arrogant provocations against [North Korea] and unilateral demands and not provoke it any longer,” the agency said.
Analysts said Kim was trying to tamp down skyrocketing tensions that have generated the most serious crisis on the divided peninsula in years. But they also warned he left the door open to launch a missile if he feels provoked.
“By North Korean signaling it’s a clear de-escalation, and it’s also an ask for the de-escalation from the American side,” said John Delury, an Asia expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link, but the whole threat was clearly just rhetoric because the regime is not suicidal.  They know full well attacking Guam would lead to the end of the regime.  This backing down from attacking Guam doesn’t mean they will not launch a provocation.  With the upcoming UFG military exercise they will very likely do something.

As I have said before if there are any deadly provocations planned they will be launched against a ROK target not the US.  North Korea has killed and injured many ROK servicemembers and civilians over the decades to include in recent years with little to no retaliation.  They know killing Americans will lead to retaliation which is why provocations directed towards the US have been missile and nuclear tests.  I don’t see anything right now changing this calculus for the Kim regime.

Charles Robert Jenkins Comments On Current Life 13-Years After Leaving North Korea

The recent tensions with North Korea has caused the US media to stop in and see what former US Army defector to North Korea, Charles Robert Jenkins is up to:

Now, Jenkins — 77 but looking much older, with a deep-lined face and distant expression — lives a quiet life on Sado, a small, pastoral island in the Sea of Japan. He speaks in the thick Southern accent of his North Carolina childhood, and the stories he tells, 13 years after the end of his North Korean adventure, recall decades of solitude, deprivation and torture.

“In North Korea, I lived a dog’s life,” he said in a rare interview, as he drove his boxy Subaru through Sado Island’s rice paddies and sleepy villages. “Ain’t nobody live good in North Korea. Nothing to eat. No running water. No electricity. In the wintertime you freeze — in my bedroom, the walls were covered in ice.”

Jenkins works now as a greeter in Mano Park, a placid tourist attraction on the Japanese island, selling senbei, a type of rice cracker. Tourists see him and squeal with delight — “Jenkins-san!” — as he passively poses for photos.  [LA Times]

Here is what he had to say about the death of Otto Warmbier and the safety of his family:

Jenkins was aghast that Americans would visit North Korea as tourists. “It’s crazy,” he said. “North Korea will do anything to keep a foreigner.” (The U.S. has banned tourism to the country, starting this month).

Yet he said North Korea’s medical system likely contributed to Warmbier’s death. Authorities there, he said, had forced Jenkins into several seemingly arbitrary medical procedures. “Had about five operations,” he recalled. In one day, they removed his appendix, followed by a testicle. “Because I was kicked when I was a school kid,” he said. “I didn’t have no problem, but they found out about it, and they said, ‘That’s gotta come out.’”

After his release, complications that developed from the two procedures could have killed him — and likely would have, if Japan didn’t immediately hospitalize him on his release.

Then there was the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam — Kim Jong Un’s half-brother — in a Malaysian airport in March. Two women ambushed Kim with VX nerve agent, one of the world’s most toxic substances. To Jenkins, it was a reminder that Pyongyang’s brutality knows no bounds — and no one is immune.

“I worry about my daughters more than anything,” he said as he drove his Subaru along the coast. He has forbidden them to comply if Japanese police should attempt to pull them over while driving. Anyone could be a North Korean agent.

“North Korea give them enough money, you don’t know what they’ll do,” he said. “North Korea wants me dead.”

You can read the rest at the link, but it seems that if the Kim regime wanted him dead they would have killed him by now.

Guam Governor Makes Good Point About Prior Threats Against North Korea Made By President Obama

It seems that further an American is away from the US mainland the better their perspective becomes on the recent rhetorical wars between President Trump and Kim Jong-un because I think Guam Governor Eddie Calvo is correct in his assessment:

Guam Governor Eddie Calvo

Guam’s leader said Monday that “sometimes a bully can only be stopped with a punch in the nose”, in a spirited defence of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against North Korea which has the island in its crosshairs.

While Trump’s critics accuse him of inflaming tensions with Pyongyang, Guam governor Eddie Calvo said he was grateful the US leader was taking a strong stance against North Korean threats to his Pacific homeland.

“Everyone who grew up in the schoolyard in elementary school, we understand a bully,” Calvo told AFP.

“(North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Un is a bully with some very strong weapons… a bully has to be countered very strongly.”

Calvo, a Republican, said Trump was being unfairly criticised over his handling of the North Korea crisis, which escalated when Pyongyang announced plans to launch missiles toward Guam in a “crucial warning”.

He said North Korea had threatened Guam — a US territory which hosts two large military bases and is home to more than 6,000 military personnel — at least three times since 2013.

Trump has responded by threatening “fire and fury”, warning last week that the US military was “locked and loaded” to respond to any aggression.

“President Trump is not your conventional elected leader, what he says and how he says it is a lot different from what was said by previous presidents,” Calvo said.

But he pointed out previous presidents had also used strong words to warn off Pyongyang, including Barack Obama who said last year that “we could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals”.

“One president (Obama) said it one way, cool and calmly with a period… the other said fire and fury with an exclamation point, but it still leads to the same message,” Calvo said.

He rejected suggestions that Trump and the North Korean dictator were as bad as each other when it came to the sabre-rattling playing out in the western Pacific.

“Well there’s only one guy that has vaporised into a red mist his uncle or a general because he fell asleep in a meeting with an anti-aircraft gun, that’s Kim Jong-Un,” he said.

“There’s only one guy that’s killed his brother with one of the most toxic nerve agents ever created, that’s Kim Jong-Un.”  [AFP]

You can read more at the link, but the statement that Governor Calvo is referring to is when President Obama threatened that the US could destroy North Korea in response to a submarine launched ballistic missile test just last year.  The media did not freak out and it did not lead to a global crisis where everyone thought war was imminent.