Blogs: The Skeptics

Time for a Better U.S.-China Grand Bargain on North Korea

NATO's Real Alliance Dilemma

Will Another Pivot to Asia Be Lost in a New Middle Eastern War?

The Skeptics

There were nonspecific promises of cooperation, perhaps most importantly regarding North Korea. Secretary Tillerson admitted that “There was no kind of a package arrangement discussed to resolve this,” but he said that President Xi agreed the issue was at a “very serious stage.” Again, what that meant in practice remains unclear.

After the meeting President Trump focused his tweets on this area, offering trade benefits in return for the PRC taking unspecified action against the North. Yet he acknowledged that after listening to President Xi he realized that it wasn’t so easy for China to “solve” the North Korea problem. President Trump also announced that he no longer believed Beijing to be a currency manipulator, while declaring that he believed President Xi “wants to help us with North Korea.”

President Trump cited China’s latest rebuff to North Korean coal ships, but that merely implements a decision announced late last year. More significantly, the semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested that Beijing might be willing to end oil shipments if Pyongyang staged another nuclear test. Whether this was a serious threat against Pyongyang or a negotiating offer to Washington remains to be seen. An agreement might be possible, but much more serious negotiation would be required to close a deal.

The summit meeting appears to have been a draw of sorts. None of the disasters imagined as likely from a confrontation between the ill-prepared former real estate operator and seasoned political pol occurred. President Trump appeared to orchestrate a civil dialogue with the Chinese leader even if they weren’t “friends” as most people understand the word. Trump did not bungle his most important meeting yet with a foreign leader.

As for President Xi, he met the U.S. president as an equal. The Chinese leader offered no specific concessions that we know of, despite some tantalizing hints on North Korea, while seemingly developing a smooth relationship with the unpredictable U.S. president. Avoiding disruptive conflicts leading up to the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress this fall obviously benefits Xi.

There has been much speculation on the impact of President Trump’s decision to strike Syrian forces. Although the timing of that attack was driven by Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons, some observers speculated that the action had the unplanned benefit of demonstrating to Xi the administration’s willingness to use military force.

However, Beijing could not have missed America’s oft-demonstrated military prowess around the world. Moreover, Chinese officials are aware that previous U.S. administrations threatened to attack the North—but did not follow through for good reason. North Korea has a conventional capability to devastate if not destroy much of Seoul, which sits around thirty miles from the border. Tossing a few missiles at an air base in Syria, a country ravaged by civil war, is quite different than bombing nuclear facilities in the North, which has front-loaded its conventional military forces and already has or soon will have a deliverable nuclear capability.

Undoubtedly the diversion irritated the Chinese leader, who likes to maintain control over events and images. President Xi’s visit ended up largely ignored in America in the midst of dramatic coverage of what could become America’s newest Middle Eastern war. On the other hand, the PRC prefers that Washington’s attention and resources remain anywhere but Asia. Something similar happened with the infamous Obama administration “pivot,” which lost much of its practical impact when Washington shifted its focus back to Europe and the Middle East, never to return to Asia.

Foreign Policy’s James Palmer noted that Beijing is quite aware of America’s military strength, but what the former is “continually and pleasantly surprised by is how stupidly the United States uses that strength.” For instance, while Washington fulfilled its obsession with the Middle East, “China was building factories, economic alliances, and artificial islands,” argued Palmer. Joining the Syrian imbroglio would provide Beijing with a similar opportunity in coming years.

Presumably the Mar-a-Lago meeting is merely the first of many to come. Indeed, the two presidents agreed to hold the next summit in China later this year. Hopefully the conversation will be civil and even cooperative. And perhaps it will help solve at least some of the problems President Trump spoke of. There is no more important bilateral relationship. Contrary to expectations, the Trump administration could end up improving those ties.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Image: M777 Light Towed Howitzer in service in Afghanistan.

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Trump's Republican Cheerleaders Want More Action in Syria

The Skeptics

There were nonspecific promises of cooperation, perhaps most importantly regarding North Korea. Secretary Tillerson admitted that “There was no kind of a package arrangement discussed to resolve this,” but he said that President Xi agreed the issue was at a “very serious stage.” Again, what that meant in practice remains unclear.

After the meeting President Trump focused his tweets on this area, offering trade benefits in return for the PRC taking unspecified action against the North. Yet he acknowledged that after listening to President Xi he realized that it wasn’t so easy for China to “solve” the North Korea problem. President Trump also announced that he no longer believed Beijing to be a currency manipulator, while declaring that he believed President Xi “wants to help us with North Korea.”

President Trump cited China’s latest rebuff to North Korean coal ships, but that merely implements a decision announced late last year. More significantly, the semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested that Beijing might be willing to end oil shipments if Pyongyang staged another nuclear test. Whether this was a serious threat against Pyongyang or a negotiating offer to Washington remains to be seen. An agreement might be possible, but much more serious negotiation would be required to close a deal.

The summit meeting appears to have been a draw of sorts. None of the disasters imagined as likely from a confrontation between the ill-prepared former real estate operator and seasoned political pol occurred. President Trump appeared to orchestrate a civil dialogue with the Chinese leader even if they weren’t “friends” as most people understand the word. Trump did not bungle his most important meeting yet with a foreign leader.

As for President Xi, he met the U.S. president as an equal. The Chinese leader offered no specific concessions that we know of, despite some tantalizing hints on North Korea, while seemingly developing a smooth relationship with the unpredictable U.S. president. Avoiding disruptive conflicts leading up to the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress this fall obviously benefits Xi.

There has been much speculation on the impact of President Trump’s decision to strike Syrian forces. Although the timing of that attack was driven by Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons, some observers speculated that the action had the unplanned benefit of demonstrating to Xi the administration’s willingness to use military force.

However, Beijing could not have missed America’s oft-demonstrated military prowess around the world. Moreover, Chinese officials are aware that previous U.S. administrations threatened to attack the North—but did not follow through for good reason. North Korea has a conventional capability to devastate if not destroy much of Seoul, which sits around thirty miles from the border. Tossing a few missiles at an air base in Syria, a country ravaged by civil war, is quite different than bombing nuclear facilities in the North, which has front-loaded its conventional military forces and already has or soon will have a deliverable nuclear capability.

Undoubtedly the diversion irritated the Chinese leader, who likes to maintain control over events and images. President Xi’s visit ended up largely ignored in America in the midst of dramatic coverage of what could become America’s newest Middle Eastern war. On the other hand, the PRC prefers that Washington’s attention and resources remain anywhere but Asia. Something similar happened with the infamous Obama administration “pivot,” which lost much of its practical impact when Washington shifted its focus back to Europe and the Middle East, never to return to Asia.

Foreign Policy’s James Palmer noted that Beijing is quite aware of America’s military strength, but what the former is “continually and pleasantly surprised by is how stupidly the United States uses that strength.” For instance, while Washington fulfilled its obsession with the Middle East, “China was building factories, economic alliances, and artificial islands,” argued Palmer. Joining the Syrian imbroglio would provide Beijing with a similar opportunity in coming years.

Presumably the Mar-a-Lago meeting is merely the first of many to come. Indeed, the two presidents agreed to hold the next summit in China later this year. Hopefully the conversation will be civil and even cooperative. And perhaps it will help solve at least some of the problems President Trump spoke of. There is no more important bilateral relationship. Contrary to expectations, the Trump administration could end up improving those ties.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Image: M777 Light Towed Howitzer in service in Afghanistan.

Pages

Is America Prepared for a Post-Assad Vacuum in Syria?

The Skeptics

There were nonspecific promises of cooperation, perhaps most importantly regarding North Korea. Secretary Tillerson admitted that “There was no kind of a package arrangement discussed to resolve this,” but he said that President Xi agreed the issue was at a “very serious stage.” Again, what that meant in practice remains unclear.

After the meeting President Trump focused his tweets on this area, offering trade benefits in return for the PRC taking unspecified action against the North. Yet he acknowledged that after listening to President Xi he realized that it wasn’t so easy for China to “solve” the North Korea problem. President Trump also announced that he no longer believed Beijing to be a currency manipulator, while declaring that he believed President Xi “wants to help us with North Korea.”

President Trump cited China’s latest rebuff to North Korean coal ships, but that merely implements a decision announced late last year. More significantly, the semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested that Beijing might be willing to end oil shipments if Pyongyang staged another nuclear test. Whether this was a serious threat against Pyongyang or a negotiating offer to Washington remains to be seen. An agreement might be possible, but much more serious negotiation would be required to close a deal.

The summit meeting appears to have been a draw of sorts. None of the disasters imagined as likely from a confrontation between the ill-prepared former real estate operator and seasoned political pol occurred. President Trump appeared to orchestrate a civil dialogue with the Chinese leader even if they weren’t “friends” as most people understand the word. Trump did not bungle his most important meeting yet with a foreign leader.

As for President Xi, he met the U.S. president as an equal. The Chinese leader offered no specific concessions that we know of, despite some tantalizing hints on North Korea, while seemingly developing a smooth relationship with the unpredictable U.S. president. Avoiding disruptive conflicts leading up to the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress this fall obviously benefits Xi.

There has been much speculation on the impact of President Trump’s decision to strike Syrian forces. Although the timing of that attack was driven by Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons, some observers speculated that the action had the unplanned benefit of demonstrating to Xi the administration’s willingness to use military force.

However, Beijing could not have missed America’s oft-demonstrated military prowess around the world. Moreover, Chinese officials are aware that previous U.S. administrations threatened to attack the North—but did not follow through for good reason. North Korea has a conventional capability to devastate if not destroy much of Seoul, which sits around thirty miles from the border. Tossing a few missiles at an air base in Syria, a country ravaged by civil war, is quite different than bombing nuclear facilities in the North, which has front-loaded its conventional military forces and already has or soon will have a deliverable nuclear capability.

Undoubtedly the diversion irritated the Chinese leader, who likes to maintain control over events and images. President Xi’s visit ended up largely ignored in America in the midst of dramatic coverage of what could become America’s newest Middle Eastern war. On the other hand, the PRC prefers that Washington’s attention and resources remain anywhere but Asia. Something similar happened with the infamous Obama administration “pivot,” which lost much of its practical impact when Washington shifted its focus back to Europe and the Middle East, never to return to Asia.

Foreign Policy’s James Palmer noted that Beijing is quite aware of America’s military strength, but what the former is “continually and pleasantly surprised by is how stupidly the United States uses that strength.” For instance, while Washington fulfilled its obsession with the Middle East, “China was building factories, economic alliances, and artificial islands,” argued Palmer. Joining the Syrian imbroglio would provide Beijing with a similar opportunity in coming years.

Presumably the Mar-a-Lago meeting is merely the first of many to come. Indeed, the two presidents agreed to hold the next summit in China later this year. Hopefully the conversation will be civil and even cooperative. And perhaps it will help solve at least some of the problems President Trump spoke of. There is no more important bilateral relationship. Contrary to expectations, the Trump administration could end up improving those ties.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Image: M777 Light Towed Howitzer in service in Afghanistan.

Pages

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