10 August 2017   Leave a comment

In a move that I find inexplicable, the US has sent a destroyer (the USS John McCain–I kid you not) into the South China Sea within the 12-mile limit of a Chinese facility near Mischief Reef (again, I kid you not). This is the third time the Trump Administration has tested the right of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and the US has international law on its side.  But testing the Chinese at a time when the US is complaining that China is not doing enough to restrain the North Korean nuclear program makes no sense at all.   Moreover, the US move comes at a time when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has made the first tentative steps to reach an accommodation with China over the South China Sea (see the post of 6 August), a move that makes even less sense.  China seems to be losing patience with both the US and North Korea, but it is clearly biased in favor of no changes in the status quo on the Korean peninsula.  An editorial in Global Times, often a conduit for the official Communist Party position makes this position clearly:

“Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.

“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

Note the conditions concerning US and South Korean actions:  1) carry out strikes; 2) try to overthrow the North Korean regime; and 3) change the political pattern of the Korean peninsula.  There appears to be a degree of ambiguity about what the Chinese will and will not permit.

38 North is a website devoted to information about North Korea (its title refers to the 38th parallel–the boundary established between North and South Korea).  It is a publication of the US-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and it is by far one of the most reliable sources of information about North Korea.  One of its recent posts has to do with how the media translates Korean and often misses the nuances of the language.   North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho gave a speech at the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the pertinent parts of his speech were translated in this way:

We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table. Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves, unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated.”

38 North offers a different translation of that part of the speech which is far less categorical:

“Unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated, we, under no circumstances, will put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table and will not flinch even an inch away from our path of strengthening of the nuclear forces, which is chosen by ourselves.”

It is extraordinary that the differences are so stark.  38 North argues that the second translation is more consistent with previous statements made by North Korea.  In diplomacy, intelligent statespeople will choose the interpretation that offers more opportunity for negotiation.  In the Cuban Missile Crisis, US President Kennedy received two very different messages from Soviet leader Khrushchev.  He chose to conduct the negotiations on the basis of the more benign message and Khrushchev did not object.  The strategy actually earned a catchphrase:  it was know as the “Trollope Ploy” after a “plot device by nineteenth-century British novelist Anthony Trollope, in which a woman interprets a casual romantic gesture, such as squeezing her hand, as a marriage proposal”.

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Posted August 10, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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