Tag Archives: North Korea

What Would Sun Tzu Do?

Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

With North Korea’s recent successful test of a Hwasong-15 missile that reached an altitude of 2,800 miles, more than ten times the altitude of the International Space Station, Kim Jong-un is back on the front page. This, experts suggest, gives the hermit nation the established ability to strike Washington, D.C. with a pre-emptive nuclear strike launched from within its own borders.

When confronted with the issue by reporters, Trump, characteristically, was dismissive: “We will take care of it.” How, exactly, no one knows. Sanctions clearly haven’t worked and whatever diplomacy Secretary Tillerson has been pursuing behind the scenes apparently hasn’t either. (Adding even more urgency to the issue, Tillerson, the one politician even broaching diplomacy, is rumored to be on the way out.)

According to The Washington Post, “A growing chorus of voices in Washington is calling for serious consideration of military action against North Korea,” although it is inconceivable that such options have not already been considered and ruled out as impractical. The loss of life, particularly in South Korea, would easily rival the 20 million Russians who perished during World War II, redefining the geopolitical landscape for decades to come.

China has clearly noted that it would consider any pre-emptive strike by the US to be an intolerable violation of sovereignty. Such military aggression, moreover, would be senseless unless the US was willing to follow its ordnance into the country to pick up the pieces and reshape the nation, and there is virtually no way the Chinese would allow this to happen without their strongest possible resistance.

Depending on whether Trump or China is higher on their derisory priority list on any given day, many Western media outlets have attempted to position the latest missile test as either indicative of China’s failure to follow through on the perceived commitment to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue, or Trump’s foolhardiness for believing he had that kind of personal pull in Beijing.

Personally, I think there is little incentive for China to do anything except sit back and watch. If it believes that Kim’s regime will ultimately collapse, it has little to gain by getting its hands dirty now, short of preventing the US from establishing a US military presence on the 880-mile border China shares with North Korea. Let it collapse and then step in to either push for a unification of the Korean Peninsula, with security and political assurances from the current South Korean government, or turn North Korea into an autonomous Chinese political zone not unlike Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet. (The latter, I believe, is the more likely scenario, all things considered.)

Two things, I believe, we can say with certainty:

1. Given any say in the matter, the people of North Korea will choose a Chinese protectorate over a US protectorate. Unless South Korea takes significant steps to distance itself from the US they will not, in all likelihood, even choose unification over China. Dennis Rodman’s diplomacy aside, the North Koreans do not see the US as Donald Trump sees us.

2. China will do nothing to give Trump face. In other words, he will accomplish nothing with China’s help if they believe he stands ready to take credit for it. He is quite literally shooting himself in the foot by touting his relationship with Xi Jinping in the context of his great self-acclaimed negotiating skills. To give Trump credit would be to compromise the Chinese Dream that is at the heart of Xi’s political agenda and legacy. He won’t do it; he has no incentive to.

To this latter point, I am quite confident that China did not release LiAngelo Ball and his UCLA basketball teammates after being arrested for shoplifting in Hangzhou because Trump asked them to. They did so because they concluded that it was in their best interest. It may, in fact, have been a simple test to see how Trump would respond.

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Trump’s reaction, in fact, could not have been worse in terms of his future ability to influence Chinese behavior. In his willingness to start a Twitter feud with LaVar Ball, Trump demonstrated beyond a doubt that he has no understanding of Chinese culture and the importance of face, particularly in the political arena. Certainly someone in Washington understands this.

I believe the most effective option for the US and the world remains the same. The US must withdraw its military presence from the Korean Peninsula unilaterally, while maintaining its commitment to protect South Korea from aggression using all of its resources, including nuclear weapons, if necessary.

Given the unlikelihood that a contained exchange of cannon fire along the 38th parallel will be sufficient to convince Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear capabilities, it is hard to see how a military withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula would materially compromise the US’ treaty obligations to South Korea or Japan.

Nor would it, in fact, cause a US loss of face in the region. As famous Chinese military general Sun Tzu is often quoted to have said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” In the eyes of Asia, it would take a strong and courageous America to unilaterally to pursue such a strategy, putting the clear burden for resolution of the North Korean problem at the doorstep of Beijing’s leadership.

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The proof is in the rhetoric. Why has China not seen fit to rattle its sword to the extent President Trump has? Why are there no anonymous quotes coming out of the Great Hall of the People? Is it because China is afraid? Or is it because China is clever and understands the importance of face in true diplomacy?

China can resolve the North Korean problem. And it will, if we allow them to solve it at their own pace and in their own way. In the meantime, North Korea is contained. There is no way that China will allow Kim Jong-un to unleash a single nuclear device on Guam, Japan, or the US. And there is no way that China would not know of such an attack long before the missile leaves the ground.

What is it that American diplomats are so afraid of? Does the Munich Pact still haunt the souls of our diplomatic core? The times and the circumstances could not be more different.

This would not be peace through appeasement. This would be peace through strength and confidence and a willingness to put humanity above any one individual’s standing in the polls. This is not an issue for Twitter. This is an issue for men and women of greatness to take the lead in the name of peace and stability.

If they fail to do so, history will not remember them kindly.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

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North Korea: A Sure Path to Peace

Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Today, Wednesday, October 18, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress convened in Beijing. This quinquennial meeting of party leadership is a time to review the party’s activities over the last five years, set markers for the next five years, and appoint future leadership. I provided my predictions on all of these fronts two posts ago so I will not be redundant here. Suffice it to say that my opinions haven’t changed.

Like anyone who has been monitoring the news, however, I am increasingly concerned about the situation in North Korea. Not out of any genuine concern that Kim Jong Un has any immediate plans to attack either the US or South Korea, mind you. I am more concerned that the issue has been thrown into the US political spin cycle and that it is quickly taking on a life of its own.

Speaking at a forum in Seoul just yesterday, Hillary Clinton noted, “…it should go without saying that cavalier threats to start a war are dangerous and short-sighted.” Nonetheless, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, arrived in Korea on Tuesday, where it joins the USS Tucson, a Los-Angeles class attack sub already there. And, of course, there are the ever-constant tweets from President Trump promising to incinerate Pyongyang if the “little rocket man” tries to start anything. (Name-calling is always helpful in de-escalating tensions.)

I am always hesitant to tout history as the reason to do much of anything. The context is always different. There are certain historical truths, however, that have proven to hold true again and again. And one of those, I believe, is that whenever the rhetoric rises to this level with no reasonable plan in sight, nothing good comes of it.

There is obviously a lot at stake, in addition, obviously, to the 75+ million people who live on the peninsula. That’s not counting the 170,000 people of Guam, who are, by the way, US citizens; or the 127 million who live in nearby Japan, which North Korea is already capable of reaching with a missile strike.

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A military solution to the stand off seems, at every level, both impractical and, frankly, more than a bit ludicrous. I am not a military expert but North Korea is dug in and I have yet to hear one person who is a military expert suggest that we can pop in, knock out Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program, and go home without leaving mass casualties in our wake.

So, what does everyone want out of North Korea? The US wants peace for the US and our regional allies; China wants border security and trade and does not want US troops on its southern border; Japan wants regional peace and perhaps some trade down the road; and South Korea wants peace, trade, and, ultimately, reunification of the Korean people.

An undecidable problem, as they say in computational complexity theory? I don’t think so. Counter-intuitive, maybe. But there is a solution.

The obvious first step in that solution is to remove all US troops from South Korean soil. OMG, OMG, OMG!!!

Yes, I did say that we should unilaterally, and with great fanfare, remove the US military presence from South Korea, where the US currently has 35,000 troops, and a whole lot of military hardware, sitting along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the most heavily fortified border region in the world.

Here are the pros and cons:

1. It ratchets down the rhetoric.
2. Opens the door to a regional diplomatic solution by South Korea, China, and Japan, where it belongs.
3. Gives face to China, in a political culture that turns on face.
4. Removes the most obvious justification for Kim Jong Un to take unilateral military action.
5. Gives the US the high moral and diplomatic ground at a time when it has largely lost it around the world.

1. North Korea could be tempted to attack.

If they do, China will crush them. South Korea is a much more important trading partner for China than North Korea. China doesn’t really trust Kim Jong Un any more than the US does. And China does not want chaos on the peninsula, with which China shares an 880-mile border. (New Mexico and Arizona, combined, share only a 580-mile border with Mexico.) If the North Koreans pour across that border to get out of harms way, it will strain China’s social and physical infrastructure in the region to the breaking point.

If the North Koreans defy logic and mount a suicide mission anyway, moreover, the US still has 40,000 troops in Japan, a massive military presence in Guam, and the most mobile military in the world. (Including two nuclear submarines, B-1 bombers, and multiple warships already in the region. And that’s not counting the stationary missiles that are undoubtedly trained on the rogue country already.)

2. A potential loss of face for the US.

That’s not how face works. This will give the US face because we are acting from strength. It’s a unilateral withdrawal taken with the utmost confidence in our military and our regional allies. This is not appeasement. We’re simply giving China every chance possible—and every incentive—to take charge of the issue, something that Trump, Clinton, Tillerson, and just about everyone else have been asking for all along.

3. Panic in South Korea.

To be determined, of course, but I don’t think so. As long as the South Koreans accept our sincerity in standing by our defense commitment, I think the average South Korean understands the reality of the situation far better than anyone else. And they want to see a reunification just as much as the Germans wanted to see the reunification of Germany some twenty-seven years ago.

What is the upside for the US?

That’s easy. We’re worried about the growing influence of China. A unified Korea could potentially create a large, stable, economically powerful, and democratically friendly ally in the region. Remember that South Korea is already a staunch US ally, US corporations have a significant presence there, and 2/3 of the Korean population lives in the southern half of the peninsula today.

And what’s the alternative? In my opinion, the only alternative is for North Korea to become an autonomous territory of China similar to Tibet, Hong Kong, and eventually, Taiwan.

We can safely make two assumptions. The first is that the current regime in North Korea cannot survive. “Let them eat cake” is not a viable strategy, even in a nation whose citizens are effectively cut off from the world.

Perhaps more importantly, China will never allow a unified peninsula on which there is any chance that the US military presence moves north from the DMZ. It won’t happen. And China will never trust our political system enough to simply take our pledge not to interfere, even if President Trump were inclined to provide it, which seems decidedly unlikely for the negotiator-in-chief. The inductive Chinese are all about results. Words are cheaper than cheap. President Trump, no matter what relationship he may have with Xi Jinping personally, will never convince China to expose it’s geographic underbelly to South Korea as long as American troops reside on the peninsula.

And why would China go along and what incentive do they have to de-nuclearize North Korea? They obviously want peace on their southern border, and they want to conduct trade with a developing North Korea, not a starving one. Most importantly, however, it is exactly what a world leader would do.

As will become evident as the 19th China National Congress unfolds this week, China wants nothing more than to be seen as a world leader on a par with the US, Europe, and Russia. They don’t need Kim Jong Un’s nukes to secure the region. What they want is to achieve the Chinese Dream; to take their place on the world stage and once and for all overcome the Century of Humiliation.

I don’t generally believe in win-win scenarios. My own life experience has taught me otherwise. This strategy, however, comes about as close as you can get to a win-win-win-win-win between the US, China, South Korea, Japan, and the people of North Korea. And it should gain the swift support of Russia, which also shares a small border with North Korea and has obvious interests in the region.

This is not appeasement. This is simply resetting the board in recognition of the current economic and political realities and aspirations of the region and the world.

And, of course, it is the right thing to do from every humanitarian perspective. We tend to forget that there are twenty-five million men, women, and children living in North Korea. Liberation, which only China and South Korea can orchestrate, not mass destruction and death at the hands of American military technology, is the only humane option.

Perhaps that’s another lesson we can rightfully take from history and leave for our children.

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
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Sen. Rubio and Rep. Smith Chide China?

Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), (not shown above), released a very predictable opinion piece to CNN over the weekend. It comes on the cusp of an upcoming triple news play on Sino-US relations. On Wednesday, October 18, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress will convene in Beijing. (See my previous post for the significance and my predictions.) On Thursday, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), of which Rubio and Smith are chair and co-chair, respectively, will issue its annual report delineating China’s alleged human rights violations and unfulfilled commitments to reform. And next month, of course, President Trump himself will travel to China for his first official visit to the Middle Kingdom. (I can’t fathom what a media circus that will be.)

Also predictably, China is sure to release its annual answer to the CECC report, detailing, in lengthy detail, America’s poor treatment of women, minorities, and children. Income inequality, climate change denial, and military aggression abroad are also likely to receive prominent treatment in the Chinese rebuttal.

Alas, you don’t have to be a Chinese apologist to accept that the Chinese do have a point in slinging right back at their American critics. The fact that American politicians still feel entitled, indeed obliged, to point out the faults, perceived or real, of the rest of the world, is perhaps the strongest evidence yet of just how out of touch America is with reality and itself at the moment.

After a week filled with salacious revelations about the exploits of Harvey Weinstein, who is most certainly not the exception to the rule in Hollywood, Trump’s threats to incinerate the people of North Korea, and Trump’s slap to the face of a country whose culture turns on face (i.e., Iran, if you have been away), Rubio and Smith apparently believe that China’s refusal to bend to US arrogance is worthy of America’s limited and painfully stretched supply of attention.

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Prominent in the Rubio/Smith piece is the accusation that “It [China] is increasingly dismissive of international norms and ‘Western’ ideas…” Say it ain’t so. How could China fail to yield to “principled American leadership,” as they call it? That we have to ask the question, once again, is ultimately both ruefully recursive and, quite frankly, beyond comprehension.

As is typical of the CECC report every year, this report will, if the Rubio/Smith letter is representative of the final product, focus on the alleged suppression of the freedom of expression in China. The Hong Kong “umbrella movement,” Tibet, religious expression, and, of course, the alleged repression of activists of all stripes, in areas from the environment, where it was the US which backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement and ceded environmental global leadership to China, to, of course, the Internet and the media, where our digital gatekeepers are being openly criticized for not censoring Russian propaganda during the 2016 election, but censoring at least one Twitter account and a domestic political ad.

Taken in total, these accusations against China calibrate just how far America’s media myopia has progressed. If hateful social media platforms, fake news, and infantile political name-calling are the standard of a free and noble media, then the Chinese should consider themselves lucky to be ruled by such alleged oppression.

Finding bogeymen in the same old places, the letter also accuses China of “Coercive enforcement of population control policies continued in violation of international standards.” It is an unfounded and logically inconceivable accusation given that China already accounts for 20% of the world’s population (China’s population has tripled in size since it’s founding in 1949.), but where the government not only guarantees, but funds, a woman’s right to control her own body. The US, on the other hand, is one of only two countries in the world (Papua New Guinea is the other) that does not provide for paid maternity leave and even now operates the most expensive, and selectively available, health care system on the planet.

This kind of moral grandstanding is what our politicians discern to be worthy of their time? This, despite the reality that our prisons, part of the largest institution of incarceration in the world, are disproportionately filled with young men of color, an entire race of Americans feels compelled to call out selective use of force by the police, a single man can buy enough military-style weaponry to mow down more people than there are US governors, all because we nonetheless guarantee multi-millionaire professional athletes the right to kneel on the job during the playing of the national anthem.

I have nothing against kneeling, mind you, but I am deeply offended by hypocrisy. And that is why, no doubt, I felt so welcome during the nine years I lived in China. I was a foreigner, for sure. But the Chinese I met never pretended to be anything that they weren’t and that courtesy to be who we are was universally extended to my family and me as well.

The closing line in the Rubio/Smith letter actually made some sense to me. “President Trump would do well to remember, even in the midst of heightened diplomacy on North Korea (author: I’m really not sure where that comment is coming from. What diplomacy?), that governments which trample on the basic rights of their own citizens are unreliable international partners.”

Well said, Senator Rubio and Representative Smith. But who, exactly, are you referring to there? Us or them? As you and your colleagues have repeatedly taught us, the choices are digital. If we’re not with them we must be against them.

I only hope that the Chairman Xi Jinping and the leaders in Beijing don’t share that perspective.

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

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October 18, 2017

Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Wednesday, October 18, 2017, will be an important day for the world. Its ultimate significance is likely to be even greater than the 2016 US presidential election.

On this day, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress will convene in Beijing to review the Party’s work over the past five years, discuss and set the future direction for the country, and to elect a new central leadership.

During this Congress, it is widely expected that Chairman Xi Jinping will both secure his legacy and tighten his grip on power. It appears an almost foregone conclusion that he will come away from the Congress with a grip on power not seen since the reign of Mao Zedong himself, although no leader will ever quite achieve the historical status that Chairman Mao has.

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Assuming that comes to pass, the world can expect Chairman Xi to double down on the major initiatives of the past five years for the next five, at least. All will be aligned with achieving the Chinese Dream at the heart of Xi’s political, social, and economic agendas. It is a redemptive legacy designed, first and foremost, to assign the Chinese Century of Humiliation (roughly 1850-1950) to the historical dustbin. This task will both influence and define everything else.

That said, here are my predictions for the next five years and beyond.

1. Energy – According to China Daily, more than 2.5 million people currently work in China’s solar power sector. That’s roughly ten times the number employed by the solar industry in the US. And in January of this year China vowed to invest 365 billion USD in renewable power generation by 2020.

Starting in 2019, China’s automotive companies will be required to begin the phase out of cars powered with internal-combustion engines. Some have predicted that by 2030 they will be outlawed completely.

China will continue to take the global lead in renewable energy and climate change. It has to and it wants to. China’s environmental degradation is not sustainable and it believes that the world will ultimately face the same challenges it does as population levels continue to rise. That spells economic opportunity for those companies at the forefront of renewable and alternative energy technology.

2. SOE Reform – Following China’s “opening up”, a process that began in 1989 and ushered in an era of unparalleled economic growth, many state-owned enterprises were privatized. Much of China’s economic growth, and a significant share of its burgeoning personal wealth, flowed from this transformation.

Some of China’s most powerful and influential industries, however, such as banking and financial services, remain under government ownership. By the end of this year, however, the Party has committed to turning all SOE’s into limited liability or joint-stock companies. This may well unleash an even more powerful surge in economic growth at a time when the Western economies continue to struggle for wage and inflation growth. China’s economy, as a result, now the second largest in the world, should equal the US in the next one or two decades.

3. South China Sea – There will be no backing down by China. China will risk World War III to protect its sovereignty. In its mind, it has no option. The West will ultimately be forced to accept this reality, with or without armed conflict.

4. North Korea – In one form or another, the rogue province will ultimately become a sovereign territory of China. China cannot and will not allow South Korea and its American ally to occupy the 880-mile (1,420 km) border it shares with North Korea.

For both environmental and competitive reasons, moreover, China needs to decompress the geographic concentration of its heavy industry (e.g. steel) and find new sources of low cost labor. North Korea will provide a convenient and geographically well-positioned opportunity to address both needs while providing a security buffer to China’s all-important southern region.

5. Regulation – Despite the ownership reforms cited above, government regulation will both federalize and increase in the future. The environment will be regulated with an iron fist. The Chinese Internet will be rigorously defended as both a Chinese asset and a tool for social and economic progress, not a medium for personal political expression. American technology companies will find limited opportunity there.

6. Hong Kong and Taiwan –  Neither will be granted the kind of political independence that Western political activists would like to see. This won’t even be considered. (On the contrary, North Korea will ultimately join them.) And any resulting social unrest, which should be quite limited, will be swiftly quelled.

7. Belt & Road –  Otherwise known as China’s Silk Road Initiative, China will continue to view this as a top foreign policy initiative. China views this as its best chance to economically develop its western provinces and release some of the cultural and political pressure it currently faces there. This will have a significant impact on all of Central and South Asia, including India, Pakistan, and many of the former members of the Soviet axis.

8. Politics –  China will exhibit no desire to export its political model except in matters of national security. Nor, however, will it move to adopt any form of the US political model. To most Chinese, the American model is not an attraction. If they are to borrow any foreign political ideals they will look to the socialism of Scandinavia, with “Chinese characteristics”, of course.

Is this good or bad news for the US and the West? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It will happen. The West, for a myriad of reasons, has lost the ability to shape world events. Phase III of Western imperialism (i.e. I. colonization, II. de-colonization, III. colonial dominance—the global dominance of the former colonies) will inevitably unfold.

As a pragmatist, I accept this reality. It is what it is. And if forced to choose, I believe, on balance, that this can be a period of positive replenishment for the US and its citizens. We will achieve far more by focusing our resources and our energy on renewing the American spirit, revitalizing American infrastructure, and revitalizing opportunity for all American citizens and immigrants, than we will on continuing to pursue inevitably ineffective attempts to reshape the world in our image.

It’s not a digital choice, however. We aren’t limited to putting America or the rest of the world first. Isolation isn’t a realistic option, as China itself has learned. By being a collaborative partner and embracing the diversity of the world, and accepting the inevitable ills of unfettered free markets and their corporate champions (e.g., polarized wealth distribution), we can help to usher in an era of unparalleled global prosperity, peace, and enlightenment.

And it could all start on October 18.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Five Minutes & Counting

Author Gary Moreau

One of the few benefits of being a sexagenarian is that when a media commentator attempts to make a point using an historical analogy there is a good chance you were around when the analogy actually occurred. That happened for me this week when a CNBC senior columnist argued that Trump should channel Ronald Reagan in dealing with North Korea.

Reagan, of course, is generally credited with bringing an end to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. And it happened without any “fire and fury.”

There was, however, a lot of anxiety in the US regarding a pre-emptive nuclear attack. My book, The Bomb Shelter (Kindle version now only $.99, click here) recounts what it was like. As an eight-year-old boy living in the Northeast US I practiced huddling under my school desk with my hands over my head as part of the Civil Defense drills common to the era. Our neighbors actually built an elaborate bomb shelter to protect them during a Russian assault—think about the philosophical questions that raises for a moment—and they were far from alone.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the analogy, however, is that it was on this day, August 11, 1984, that President Ronald Reagan, during a sound check for a radio address, joked to the people in the room, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

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That was the genius of Reagan. You could tell when he was joking. With President Trump, it seems, you have to check with his staff first and the explanations aren’t always consistent. “Was he really joking or was that, like, an alternative joke?”

Contrary to the CNBC columnist’s claim, however, any analogy ends there. North Korea is not Russia. (And the Chinese are not threatening us.) And while North Korea’s economy is clearly straining under the burden of its nuclear ambitions, North Korea has the second largest economy in the world as a neighbor, main trading partner, and ally. (China is, interestingly, the second largest trading partner of Russia as well, just behind the Netherlands.)

Perhaps the most important distinction between the Cold War and the current North Korean saber rattling is that Reagan actually met personally with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian leader at the time, to talk it out. They met in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1984, and while the summit ultimately collapsed, the Berlin Wall, which I traveled behind before the collapse of the Soviet Union and still have a piece of as a memento, came down three years later, in 1987.

The CNBC column suggests, in my words, “escalate but don’t shoot,” and suggests that Japan’s Shinzo Abe could play the role of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister and staunch Reagan ally. Frankly, I don’t even know where to go with that suggestion given Japan’s militaristic history in the region, its lack of any ability to project a military force at the moment, and the practical fact that no one can play Margaret Thatcher. (No offense intended to either Thatcher or Abe.)

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There is no doubt that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un would use any meeting with the US as a piece of golden propaganda with his own people. It would be off putting, perhaps, but where’s he going to go with it? His is a small hermit nation that is unlikely to start a war without provocation or Chinese support. (Even if the latter was likely, which I don’t think it is, we should be talking with the Chinese about that, not Kim.)

If history has taught us anything, it is the fact that most wars are actually precipitated by misunderstanding. And as I noted in Understanding China, the Chinese, and Asians in general, have a world view built with an inductive lens. As a result, they put far more emphasis on face than words. Their words must always be interpreted in context.

President Trump, very much unlike Reagan, is a transactional leader who uses words to aggrandize himself and to knock his enemies back on their heels. Subtle or humble he’s not.

Essentially, Trump seems to ignore context in his communication with world leaders. He is what linguists call a transmitter-oriented communicator. He talks and others are expected to listen. (The Chinese, in contrast, listen when they see a reason to.)

If nothing else, Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is undoubtedly confusing both China and North Korea. Is he serious, they must wonder? (Many Americans share their bewilderment.)

That is why, I suspect, the Chinese have seen fit to respond to Trump’s “fire and fury” threat, which he followed up with the public observation that perhaps he hadn’t gone far enough with the remark. And the Chinese response couldn’t be any clearer. They will remain neutral if North Korea initiates war. And they will protect North Korea if the US attacks first.

And there’s your Reagan analogy. The Chinese are clearly saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” Reagan’s famous remark in a speech he gave, it should be noted, while actually standing at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, not huddled away at his golf course in New Jersey.

Game over. With China’s clarification of its position, it is clear that Trump has literally backed himself into a corner. A pre-emptive strike now would be suicidal—and an annihilatory sentence for the South Korean people.

It’s time to talk. The only way out of this mess for everyone involved is for the US to engage North Korea in face to face diplomacy. What is there to lose? If the talks prove to be a total waste of time the option of a Cold War escalation are still on the table. As is a pre-emptive strike. The only real risk is that time gives North Korea more time to develop its nuclear abilities. That’s the price we pay, and will pay either way, for our unwillingness to talk face to face before now.

There is one other element to the issue that no one is talking about. Having lived in China for nine years prior to 2016, I have always believed that China has more military strength than US analysts estimate. It would not serve the Chinese agenda to brag about their strength beyond their established ability to defend the homeland and to project power into the South China Sea. There’s a reasonable chance, moreover, that their advanced capabilities, should they have them, came from the US itself. (Unknown to the US, of course.) Admitting the existence of such military technology would risk the loss of face in the world community, China’s top diplomatic and political priority.

Either way, the one thing I do know is that if you want to communicate with the Chinese or the Koreans, it’s best done over a cup of tea. Words mean as little to them as they apparently do to our own president. They need to sit in the same room.

Contact: You may write the author directly at gary@gmoreau.com
www.gmoreau.com (Author’s website)

Face Trumps Diplomacy, Again

Author Gary Moreau

With North Korea’s recent launch of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile that experts believe is capable of reaching the US mainland, President Trump took to Twitter to publicly reprimand China. “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Trump tweeted.

That’s the President’s opinion, of course, and everyone expects the President of the United States to have one. Both here and abroad American politicians are known both for having opinions and for sharing them.

The bigger issue for me, however, is not whether the President is right or wrong, but whether or not his is the best strategy for influencing Chinese behavior. Diplomacy is not a real estate transaction, and even if it were, the Chinese negotiate employing a very different model than Westerners do.

All Chinese culture revolves around personal relationships and the obligations that flow from them. Both are governed by universally accepted norms established over centuries that include elements of Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion. The public expression of those norms, and whether or not they are being adhered to, is generally referred to as “face.”

There is good face and bad face. You can give face or lose face. You can save face and you can fritter it away.

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Face is a lot like respect, but broader and more nuanced in meaning. It is both subtle and fragile. Volume and vulgarity, or even gestures involving the lone digit, have little to do with it. Content is everything. What you say and what you do is all that matters when it comes to face.

The other big difference between respect and face is that respect is essentially one-directional. If my enemy disrespects me I may show disrespect in return. Each incident of disrespect, however, stands on its own. When face is lost, on the other hand, it is bi-directional from the start. He who causes a loss of face generally loses face at the same time.

President Trump’s tweets regarding China’s alleged non-intervention—I say alleged because the Chinese government is criticized by the West for nothing more vehemently than it is criticized for a lack of transparency, so how do we know what China has done or not done diplomatically—may or may not be a loss of face for President Xi Jinping. The norms of obligation are complex and delicate. North Korea shares both a border and a history with China and the North’s current intransigence with the West keeps American troops on the far side of the 38th parallel.

Trump’s behavior is, nonetheless, clearly a loss of face for Trump and the United States. I am merely observing, but for right or wrong, the President will not change the opinion of a single Chinese with his public rant. And, admittedly, that’s probably not his intent. He is talking to the American public, not the Chinese. (Perhaps, anyway. I don’t pretend to know the man’s thinking.)

I do wonder if he will change many American minds either, however. Since returning to the US in 2016 it has been my impression that most Americans have pretty set opinions on China and Chinese intentions. And they certainly have rigid opinions about Trump himself. It’s hard to imagine anything that he or his critics could say that is going to change many minds.

Having traveled the world for much of the four decades of my working career I have come to accept face as a more effective model of behavior than respect or the lack thereof. Our choices do have consequences for all involved, after all. They might as well be acknowledged. Most of life’s worst pain is self-inflicted in the end.

Because it is an individualistic standard, moreover, a social contract built around respect naturally encourages the marauder and the bully. Face, in contrast, is a collectivist perspective. It tempers the excesses of the wolf that defies the pack.

The other benefit of the standard of face is that it really eliminates the gambit as an effective strategy of influence. A barrage of insults may impair the insulter more than the insulted since, in the world of face, the intent of the blow is more meaningful than the landing of the blow itself.

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It does seem that Trump’s pre-emptive negotiating ploy is to start every negotiation with, “Screw you, just in case.” That will work some of the time, particular where victory and domination are both measured in the moment. It’s seldom a good long-term strategy, however, which is why mobsters make sure to kill the son along with the father. Revenge doesn’t expire.

North Korea will be a nuclear power. That much seems certain. China will not stop it because it is not in its best interests to do so. And Trump, of all people, should understand that. He got to Pennsylvania Avenue on the “me first” bus, after all.

President Trump claims he has a solution. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump told the Financial Times. Trump is quick to bluff, however. And bluffing is a bit like taking hostages. Once you kill the hostage, or show your willingness to bluff, you lose all leverage.

One of the keys to face is knowing when to hold your tongue. Silence can speak volumes, but empty threats are more than just unproductive. In a world governed by face, they are counter-productive.

The thing about face is that it trumps all other considerations (pun intended). Even what China wants will be subordinated to what China must do to save face. “Just in case” is now a sure thing. Trump should face it. He’s on his own, now more than ever.

Contact: Reach the author directly at gary@gmoreau.com


The author’s latest book, Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance, is now available on Amazon. Click here to go directly there.

Description: Building and managing a large corporation on values such as honor, integrity, obligation, and trust may seem antithetical to achieving and sustaining business success. But if you want to engage your most critical stakeholders—your employees—at the highest level, those are exactly the values you must leverage and prioritize.

It’s not that companies ignore what seasoned business leader Gary Moreau calls the “soft tools” of business management. However, in placing more emphasis on the measurable tools of development and growth, such as quantitative marketing and financial modeling, executives tend to make the soft tools secondary when it comes to achieving their business goals. And without the real trust of those who do the work, companies won’t grow in a sustaining way.

In his latest book in the Understanding series, Moreau shows business leaders—especially those just starting out—how to establish real trust with those they lead and create an environment that is inclusive and appreciative of diversity, from culture and gender issues to leadership styles.

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A tree exists in context.

Context is everything. That’s nothing new. It has been this way since humankind first invented language as a means to communicate.

Because language is a human invention, unlike sunshine and rain, it is imprecise. Context provides clarity of meaning. This is particularly true in a language like Mandarin where words can take on very different meanings depending on how they are being used—their context.

I am fluent in almost every language in the right context. If I am on an airplane anywhere in the world and the flight attendant rolls the beverage cart down the aisle, hands me a bag of peanuts and asks me a question, it doesn’t matter what language he or she uses. I know with certainty that he or she is asking me what I would like to drink.

Context is particularly important given the reality of what Buddhists call emptiness. It is not a state of nothingness, but recognition of the fact that everything in the universe is interconnected. No action or behavior exists in isolation.

There is a dichotomy to the interconnection of everything. It can be used as both a tool of understanding and a tool of disinformation.

I was reminded of this reality recently when I read two news accounts on a single day regarding Chinese intentions. One article related to the one belt, one road initiative, a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s economic and political agendas. The other had to do with China’s willingness to help satisfy US objectives in North Korea.

Both articles painted a rather negative context around a single word—self-interest. The one belt, one road article essentially argued that the investment of trillions of dollars in the infrastructure of Southeast Asia was a Chinese ruse to build hegemony in the region and to isolate implied rival, India.

The second article challenged China’s willingness to de-nuclearize North Korea both because China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and because if a war between South Korea/US and the hermit kingdom were to come to pass, China did not want to invite North Korean aggression, their common border extending 880-miles (1,420 km).

Language itself is a dichotomy that derives much of its meaning from context. Meaning is seldom obvious without it. A single word can be laudatory or pejorative.

The unbridled pursuit of self-interest is the very foundation of the free market capitalism that the US economy is built upon. It is the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith used to describe the market forces of self-interest that generate free market competition—the golden nectar of capitalism itself.

When used to describe those that we wish to characterize in an unflattering light, however, self-interest becomes an adjective laden with implications of selfishness, arrogance, and immorality. It suggests one is not interested in what is fair or right—or compassionate.

But isn’t self-interest at the very core of democracy? If not, what then is identity politics? Why do political candidates spend so much time and effort articulating specific policy issues? Why do political debate moderators focus almost exclusively on questions of how and what? And why does experience matter, as virtually every political incumbent would have us believe?

Freud argued that all of life is personal. We are the lead character in all of our dreams and the monster in all of our nightmares. This is the context in which we live our lives, not the barrier to living a good life.

Of course the Chinese act out of self-interest. So do the Americans, the Russians, and virtually every member of the European Union. Even Switzerland’s famous neutrality flows from self-interest. The citizens of all of these countries also breathe and require food and water to survive. What’s the point?

Since self-interest is universal, it can only acquire a negative connotation in a certain context. And that context, more often than not, is hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the context of delusion or worse. It is a blight on human integrity and the search for truth. It is the weapon of prejudice and conceit.

Researcher Albert Mehrabian performed several studies in the late 1960’s that established that the words themselves play a minor role in the effectiveness of communication. Tone and body language, he concluded, were far more important.

Both tone and body language are components of context. As is intent and, most importantly, so are the other words used in the communication. A tree is a tangible and singular thing. But it exists in the context of the weather, the soil conditions, altitude, and the landscape in which it resides. A tree, in other words, is just a tree in the narrowest sense.

So, too, is every news story ever written or reported. The words employed are secondary to the context in which they are used. Every news reporter, every commentator, and every editor, works within a context. It’s a given.

And that’s okay so long as we, the readers and listeners, don’t ever forget that universal truth.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com

Will China Help Trump in North Korea?

Author Gary Moreau

One of life’s preeminent lessons is that we can’t always get what we want, even if we have truth and virtue on our side. And such appears to be the case with North Korea’s continued attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons capable of firing on the US.

On New Years Day North Korea’s Kim Jung Un proclaimed that his country was on the verge of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could propel a nuclear warhead to America’s west coast. President-elect Trump, to no one’s surprise, immediately took to Twitter and pronounced, “It won’t happen.”

Clearly no one wants to see it happen. The Chinese don’t; South Korea doesn’t; Japan is fearful; and, of course, it’s the last thing Americans want to experience. But desire, even conviction, are not always the stuff of reality. Life just isn’t that fair much of the time.

Economic sanctions have apparently had little impact on North Korea’s nuclear intentions. As much as we’d all like to believe that North Korea will – must – crumble under the weight of its own tyranny, that hasn’t happened to date.

In recognition of that fact, the US and South Korea appear ready to install Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range missiles before they strike. China, of course, has protested loudly because the advanced radar system on which THAAD depends would be capable of reaching beyond China’s border. (Would President Kennedy have allowed THAAD, if it had been available, to be installed by the Soviets in Cuba?)

Trump, like most people, appears to recognize that China stands the best chance of bringing Kim in line. China is North Korea’s only real link to the greater world. Ninety percent of its foreign trade goes through China and even its sparse links to the Internet originate in Shenyang, the capital city of Liaoning Province.

Trump, as a result, has expressed indignant frustration that China has not done more to stop the nuclear proliferation although no Western diplomat can truly know what conversations have taken place behind closed doors. And, Trump vows, he will make Beijing do more through artful negotiation and sheer will.

China, however, is in a difficult position. It shares an 880-mile (1,420 km) border with North Korea. (The border between North and South Korea, by comparison, is only 160 miles in length and the distance between New York City and Chicago is less than 800 miles.) And while China is clearly the superior military power it is a border that would nonetheless be difficult to close, particularly given the number of government sanctioned North Koreans already living in China’s Dong Bei region. (North Korea also shares a small border with Russia.)

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China, as a result, is reluctant to see the North Korean regime simply collapse. North Korean refugees, no doubt, would pour into China, creating the kind of humanitarian nightmare we have witnessed all too often elsewhere in the world.

And it certainly does not want South Korea, a staunch US ally, to fill in any power vacuum that might be created by a collapse of the North. There is no doubt that the 30,000 US military personnel currently stationed in South Korea would tag along, creating an enormous security risk to the Western-wary Chinese. (The Chinese have not fared well at the hands of the West in the past.)

In the meantime, Trump continues to tweak the nose of Beijing on issues ranging from trade to the South China Sea to the decades-entrenched one China policy. This is certainly not the way to earn Chinese trust or support.

And this, in the end, is the biggest risk to the relationship of the US and China and stability in the region going forward in the Trump era. Trump is a businessman and, having been one myself, I have no quarrel with that. He, however, sees everything through a transactional lens. Everything, including foreign diplomacy, is negotiable. All policy positions are mere chess pieces to be manipulated as part of the overall negotiation. He will, he believes, get China to do more, just as he will get Mexico to pay for his wall.

There is a fundamental flaw in his logic, however. The Chinese are not transactional. Their culture, political and otherwise, is built on the Confucian foundation of obligation that flows from relationships. They will not isolate the pieces of that relationship and will, instead, take a much more holistic approach to diplomacy.

President-elect Trump must, therefore, set clear priorities for his foreign policy team, a practice that he has yet to display any real interest in.

China can help with North Korea. And I’m sure they have no more interest in a nuclearized Korean peninsula than anyone else. It’s clearly not to their advantage.

But China won’t be bullied either. The world has changed. The US cannot always get what it wants. Our foreign policy must be prioritized and pursued through diplomacy and the strengthening of relationships, not through the art of the deal.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.