Ask and you shall receive. For weeks upon weeks on end, the American populace has watched Donald Trump and his administration, along with pundits in the corporate media, drone on about how China should step up its game in the effort to thwart North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. From the Washington Post on Tuesday:
“A North Korean delegation will attend a large multilateral economic summit in Beijing next week, China’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday, underlining its reluctance to join American efforts to completely isolate the regime in Pyongyang.”
The problem, of course, is that this isn’t the sanctioned tactic. When Trump and his crew said they wanted China to step up on North Korea, what they meant was they wanted China to join in on the sanctions and the international condemnation — in other words, the demonization of Kim Jong-un.
Take, for instance, the reaction of former vice president Joe Biden’s deputy national security advisor, Ely Ratnor, to news of China’s invitation to North Korea.
“Beijing publicly taking foot off gas on pressuring North Korea. Is this what Trump means when he says Xi is ‘doing an amazing job as a leader’?” Ratnor wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Ratnor failed to note, however, that China has publicly stated all along that trying to muscle out Kim’s regime is the absolute wrong strategy, and that the diplomatic approach is the way to go.
And China isn’t alone.
Even among U.S. allies in the region, diplomatic negotiation is preferable to military confrontation. As of Tuesday, South Korea has a new president, Moon Jae-in, and he’s a man who agrees with China that the U.S. should back off with the warships and allow discussions to resume.
In fact, Moon says that under his leadership, South Korea should be the party leading talks with its neighbor to the north. It should also be noted that both Moon and China’s President Xi Jinping have said negotiations with North Korea will end before they even begin if the Hermit Kingdom doesn’t first agree to certain concessions on its nuclear program.
So here we have a global superpower offering an olive branch via an invitation to an economic summit and a new regional leader who has said, in effect, that his country is willing to take the responsibility of de-escalating tensions.
One might be forgiven for thinking the U.S. presence in Asia is no longer needed, even in the context of the mainstream narrative that’s been splashing across news feeds for those previously mentioned weeks upon weeks.
But the warships will stay. The aircraft carriers will stay. The joint annual military drills with allies in the region will continue. And the United States, as Donald Trump himself has said, will have a strong presence in Asia for a very long time.
The reason for this has perhaps been there, in plain sight, all along — the Belt and Road Initiative.
This grand undertaking, birthed and led by China, is a push to create a permanent trade route connecting China, Africa, and Europe. Infrastructure investment alone would be worth billions, and it doesn’t require much of an imagination to envision the type of vibrant economic zones that would crop up under that level of international cooperation.
On that front, China has said any nation can contribute to the future prosperity of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. But leave the foolishness at home. It’s about commerce, China says, and peaceful exchange.
And it means any nation. It proved that Tuesday because the economic summit China just invited North Korea to is the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
That’s the olive branch China just extended to Kim Jong-un. It’s saying North Korea, even under the Kim regime, can get in on the action. But again, as with any other nation, the country would first have to knock off the antics.
Perhaps Donald Trump saw this all along. Perhaps that’s what’s been behind all his fiery China rhetoric from the beginning. The Belt and Road Initiative, after all, has been in the works since 2013. And the Donald, first and foremost, is a businessman.
Maybe he sensed it all was inevitable, that the initiative would be a success, and that in the not-too-distant future there would be a rich, competing trade route established in a far-off part of the world — a notion that would spark jealousy in the heart of even the feeblest of money grubbers.
So maybe he never had any intention of having his military fire on North Korea. Maybe he’s not concerned about the country’s nuclear weapons at all. Maybe it was all just an excuse to build up military hardware in the waters of East and Southeast Asia.
That’s the extreme eastern leg of this new “Silk Road” proposed by China. Ships would sail straight through the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands and fortified them with military hardware. Smart thinking, some might say, if you’re providing security for trillions of dollars’ worth of goods being shipped through those waters.
Maybe all this North Korea craziness was always just a rouse to establish military muscle — again, for the long-term — in a region where a whole lot of dollars could soon be flowing. Recall that staunch ally Japan is right there with one of the world’s most powerful navies.
Perhaps all this was just the United States forcing its way into a physical seat at the Silk Road table and saying to all parties involved that America refuses to be cut, quite literally, out of the loop.
That reality, such as it is, would certainly be preferable to the alternative — which, if taken to its inevitable conclusion, would almost guarantee bloodshed.