Black Swan, Red China

Washington Post pundit Fareed Zakaria says the "Shakespearian drama" taking place in North Korea "would be entertaining if it did not portend trouble," and warns that the DPRK's collapse could be a "black swan"—an "unlikely" event that could cause a major geopolitical "disruption." Without careful planning for managing its demise, Zakaria writes, "all hell will break loose." But Zakaria also reports that Seoul, Beijing and Washington don't even want to think about it.

Staying in Northeast Asia, Paul Krugman finds last month's fishing-boat-collision standoff between China and Japan "deeply disturbing" (mostly the part where China cut off Japan's access to rare-earth minerals, of which the Middle Kingdom accounts for 97 percent of the world's supply). In Monday's New York Times column, Krugman blames the "fecklessness of U.S. policy makes, who did nothing while an unreliable regime acquired a stranglehold on key materials," and also says it illustrates that Beijing is "dangerously trigger-happy, willing to wage economic warfare on the slightest provocation." A "rogue economic superpower," if you will. Naked Capitalism wonders if the rare-earths ban was something the PRC had "planned to do regardless," with the diplomatic dispute providing "useful cover." The blog also calls China's recent maneuvering "tactically clever . . . but strategically foolhardy."

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) isn't giving Beijing the benefit of the doubt, either. In a Times op-ed, he urges President Obama to slap tariffs on the PRC "to counter Beijing's unfair subsidies" to Chinese industries. Brown claims, "The strategy has worked before" against South Korea and Japan twenty years ago, when it encouraged those two allies to "build plants in America."

Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz piles on, too, this time for the Communist Party's stranglehold on information—the Party has censored remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao that called for greater political reforms; the censorship actually spurred some elder Chinese statesmen to write an open letter in support of Wen. For his part, Crovitz says the government's tight control of the media has "encouraged cynicism" among the Chinese public, and he sees an opportunity for the "outside world" to exploit the Party's "cracks" by encouraging "the growing number of disillusioned cadres" that are pushing for reform.