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Frank Gaffney's OpEds | | Asia, Nuclear Deterrence

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Secretary of State John Kerry spent the weekend showing what predictably comes of the North Koreans behaving badly:  China benefits.  Unfortunately, this is not the only example of the Obama administration’s cravenness in the face of misbehavior on the part of Beijing and/or its proxies. Call it Team Obama’s China Syndrome.

Let’s start with the umpteenth time the Chinese “good-cop” vs. North Korean “bad cop” gambit has been run against the West.  After weeks of Kim Jong-Un’s regime threatening to unleash “nuclear fire” on our allies and on us, the post-Americans in the Obama cabinet have responded as did their predecessors – by rewarding both Pyongyang and its Chinese sponsors.

Concessions from the United States and its allies to date include: forgoing a long-scheduled – and needed – test of an American Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile; terminating joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises; inducing Seoul to offer to resume aid to the North; offering new bilateral negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang; and promising to remove the modest missile defenses sought by our allies if only the new top Kim in Pyongyang would make the same empty promise as his forefathers to denuclearize.

To be sure, Beijing wants us to know that it is not happy with North Korea. The Chinese supported a new round of UN sanctions after the Kim dynasty’s latest nuclear and missile tests, although considerably weakening them in the process.  The state-controlled media has been allowed to criticize Pyongyang.  And Secretary Kerry’s interlocutors encouraged him to believe that they shared his view that the North must behave better from now on.  Or it will be further isolated, or be scolded sharply or something else really bad.

Please.  We are once again being treated with the contempt reserved by the xenophobic Middle Kingdom for kow-towing foreigners.  The Chinese enable North Korea to survive as a gulag-nation.  As Nina Shea pointed out Monday in National Review, international human rights monitors have described it as “a prison without bars.”  But for Beijing’s food, fuel and forced repatriation of refugees, the Kim dynasty would have been out of business decades ago.

It is nothing less than outrageous that under U.S. administrations of both parties China has for years been given a pass on the dangerous behavior in which it is enabling its client to engage. Why would anyone think such a response this time will be met by anything but more of the same sort of belligerence from North Korea?

And, notwithstanding the kerfuffle last week about a disputed Defense Intelligence Agency finding that advanced North Korean missiles could be equipped with nuclear weapons, one thing should be clear:  Pyongyang has today the means to act on its threats to this country through shorter-range missiles launched from offshore and capable of electro-magnetic pulse attacks, weapons smuggled across our borders or potentially via satellites it has now been able to put into orbit.

It would be bad enough if such benighted efforts to appease China were happening in a vacuum.  But what makes them worse than in those in the past, is that they come against a backdrop of many other threatening Chinese activities.  Such activities enormously exacerbate the dangers associated with encouraging it to behave aggressively, either through cut-outs or in its own right.  These include:

  • The Chinese are said to be engaging in millions of cyber attacks against U.S. official and private sector computers every day.  They are not simply seeking to purloin proprietary and classified information.  The former have been a tremendous boon to the PRC’s economy and competitiveness.  The latter have translated, among other things, into incalculable cost-avoidances on defense research and development that would otherwise have been required to field a world-class military. Taken together, such attacks are, if not actual acts of cyberwarfare, certainly precursors to it.
  • It seems the ominous implications of China working with trading partners like Australia to foster deals denominated in other-than-U.S. dollars are being studiously ignored.  Such efforts appear to be precursors to ending our currency’s status as the world’s reserve, with potentially devastating repercussions for our already-perilous fiscal situation.
  • China is engaging in an escalating pattern of assertions of sovereignty throughout the East and South China Seas.  These increasingly involve threats to American allies in the region that are going uncontested by the United States’ declining power there.
  • Last but not least, Team Obama has assiduously low-balled the growing capability of China’s armed forces.  Its Pacific Commander asserts that the greatest challenge in his area or responsibility is climate change.  The much-touted U.S. military’s “pivot” to the region has vaporized in the wake of the latest round of budget cuts – and still more that have been promised by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Particularly worrying about the administration’s China Syndrome is its blindness with regard to Beijing’s nuclear build-up.  For example, the Chinese construction of 3,000 miles of hardened tunnels to conceal their clearly expanding strategic forces, their vast and growing number of shorter-range nuclear capable missiles aimed at Taiwan and other U.S. regional allies and assets and submarine pens dug into mountains stands in sharp contrast to the atrophying U.S. deterrent and to Team Obama’s blind, unilateral pursuit of “a world without nuclear weapons.”  It persists in claiming Beijing has only a few hundred weapons, an estimate that may be off by a factor of ten.

President Obama is enabling the emergence in China of the next – and perhaps the next sole – superpower.  No good can come of a syndrome that has that effect.

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