China, Miscellaneous »

Consequences of the Cheonan Attack

U.S. Navy photograph by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Richard J. Brunson

On Friday, the UN Security Council came out with a weak statement that failed to assign blame for the attack and sinking of a South Korean naval ship in March. China and Russia declined to participate in an international inquiry, watered down the Security Council statement, and now willfully look the other way as North Korea continues denying its involvement. The Council’s statement mentioned the results of the internationally-backed inquiry that showed a North Korean torpedo was responsible, but that was all.

Frankly, Korean president Lee Mung-bak failed to take advantage of the considerable leverage he had to press China to take a harder line against North Korean provocations. Lee made the understandable decision to reassure investors by ruling out military retaliation early on. But in doing so, he also took away what appears to be the only thing that would change China’s calculus on North Korea: the possibility of major escalation.

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China, Miscellaneous »

China-Taiwan Trade Agreement Could Help Re-Integrate Taiwan in Asia
[30 June 2010, Comments Off on Progress in the Taiwan Strait, Tags: , , , , ]

Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou campaigned on the idea that economic growth depends upon better relations with the mainland (Photo by Daniel Michaeli, Taipei, March 2008)

An Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between China and Taiwan was signed yesterday in Chongqing, promising a substantial boost to Taiwan’s export industry. (A Taiwan government-sponsored study claims the deal will create 260,000 jobs and add 1.7 percentage points to Taiwan’s GDP growth each year over the next seven years.) This agreement has been called a “game changer” by both proponents and opponents, though it still requires the approval of Taiwan’s legislature.

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U.S. Policy »

The President Needs to Make a Public Case for Engagement With Asia

The world as seen from Washington, DC.*

The fact that President Obama canceled yet another trip to Asia (after having canceled his March trip and deciding to skip Indonesia in November) is disappointing. This makes sense from the narrow American political perspective; Obama is afraid the Gulf oil spill could become his “Hurricane Katrina” incident, exposing the U.S. government as aloof and unable to respond to crises.

But the message sent to the Asia-Pacific region is not a good one.

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China, Publications, U.S. Policy »

Date: 24 May 2010.

Publication: The Huffington Post.

Authors: Daniel Michaeli and Joel Backaler.

Monday’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the United States and China provides the Obama administration with an opportunity to forge agreements in a number of areas of crucial significance for both U.S. economic competitiveness and strategic stability in Asia–but only if U.S. negotiators are willing to give non-headline topics the attention they deserve.

At this time of economic uncertainty, the future of the American economy is firmly linked to the ability of U.S. companies to compete for marketshare in China, the world’s fastest-growing market. So U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner’s agenda should not overstress the revaluation of China’s currency. Despite the degree of media attention paid to the issue, nearly 80% of U.S. firms in China don’t expect a revaluation to increase their profits, according to a recent American Chamber of Commerce in China survey. Rather, across a host of industries, Chinese commercial rules give domestic firms an unfair leg up over American ones, and this is the more significant reason U.S. companies have been unsuccessful in cracking the Chinese market.

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Japan, U.S. Policy »


Ginowan City, with Futenma Air Base in the Center*

In negotiations between democracies, the atmosphere and public perceptions of the negotiations can matter even more than their paper outcome. In negotiations with Japan over relocating Futenma, the U.S. Marine Corps air station in the middle of Ginowan City, it’s time for the United States to recognize that. Maintaining an effective relationship with the Japanese public requires a policy change on Futenma relocation.

The U.S. bases much of its presence in Japan on Okinawa, an island strategically located near the Taiwan Strait. The tactical arguments for why the U.S. marines need to be in Okinawa province are compelling, even if the public relations effort at explaining it has been inept.

Marines operate as a combined air-land-sea force and these different elements would have to be brought to bear together, and quickly, in the event of a crisis–such as an attack on Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. The new V-22 Osprey transport aircraft the Marines plan to deploy there can take off and land vertically, but apparently requires a new long runway “just in case” due to reliability issues.

But the reason the U.S.-Japan relationship works is, more than anything else, strategic rather than tactical. Japan–and, for that matter, Taiwan (as I noted here)–are able to develop closer ties with mainland China because they understand the United States is committed to ensuring their security. The reason the United States is able to protect its allies and economic interests in the region is because commitments have been made in treaties and are consistently repeated at the highest levels. That is a strategic, not a tactical, matter.

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China, Miscellaneous »

Beijing Bails Out Kim Jong-il, and Earlier Than Usual
[3 May 2010, Comments Off on North Korea’s Chinese Buddies, Tags: , , , , ]

With “a battalion of security guards and female dining companions” aboard his train, North Korea’s leader arrived in China today en-route to Beijing. Kim Jong-il finds himself increasingly under pressure for the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan in March, isolated by international sanctions, and still reeling from having angered much of North Korea’s elite with last year’s currency fiasco.

So Kim would probably be grateful for just about anything Beijing will give him. And reports suggest China has lots of goodies to offer, in exchange for access to minerals and ports along the Sea of Japan.

China has attracted well-deserved criticism for ignoring the Cheonan ship incident for nearly a month. Now, after finally meekly expressing sympathy for an event that caught China (and the region) by surprise–an event that suggested North Korean brinkmanship could be getting more serious–why is Beijing going out of its way to help Kim?

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Miscellaneous, U.S. Policy »

What to Do if North Korea Is to Blame

Coming up with an effective response to the Cheonan incident won't be simple. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Byron C. Linder/Released)

North Korea has a history of aggressive behavior towards the South. So it would not be entirely out of character for it to have ordered an attack on a South Korean ship in retaliation for a naval skirmish last year, as some are alleging (including a North Korean defector).

If it becomes clear that North Korea’s top leaders ordered this attack, with a probable death toll of 46 sailors, the South Korean public will demand a forceful response from President Lee Myung-bak. Since the Cheonan was sunk nearly four weeks ago, the issue has been on the front pages of all the major South Korean papers every day. The population is stirred up.

Waiting to respond was the responsible thing to do; we don’t yet have definitive knowledge that this was a North Korean attack. But waiting is also raising the stakes for Lee’s government.

The dangers of striking back militarily are obvious. The North Korean side, which is denying it had anything to do with the original incident, could retaliate and set off a cascade of events ending in a regional war. North Korea’s conventional weapons and Seoul’s proximity to the North make this a very deadly prospect.

My sense is that the best way to respond would be, in public, to work to catalyze the natural changes resulting from aggressive North Korean behavior. And in private, Seoul and Washington should look at ways to hit back that will send a message to the Kim Jong-il regime without provoking undue pressure from North Korea’s elite to escalate the situation.

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