Dear President Xi:
I never know whether to offer congratulations or condolences to people when they are elected president of a country -- let alone a condo or a synagogue. Sure, being elected president of anything -- especially the most populous nation on earth -- does carry a mega-ton of ego strokes. But then again, the way things are going in the world, one wonders why anyone in their right (or left) mind would ever want to don the mantle of leadership. You know, all that Shakespearean "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown . . ." sort of stuff.
In any event, congratulations on becoming President, and welcome back from your trip to Africa; I know the latter was a success. I mean, you guys have really been going great guns on that continent for a couple of decades now. If I'm not mistaken, every year since 1991, your foreign ministers have made their first overseas trip to some African country and, from 1996 to 2011, your country's trade with Africa has grown from $6.3 billion to $166 billion -- a whopping twenty-six fold increase. Truth to tell, you're leaving the U.S. in the trade dust.
And, so far as I know, the only "non-negotiable demand" you make on the 54 countries comprising the African continent is that they recognize Beijing -- not Taiwan. As of today, I am told that there are only four holdouts -- Swaziland, Burkina Faso, Săo Tomé and Principe and Gambia; they still recognize tiny Taiwan. But I would imagine that with appropriate incentivizing, you can look forward to bringing the remaining four into the fold. Where there's a will -- and profit -- there's a way.
My purpose in writing you goes beyond mere words of congratulation; I am deeply interested in what plans you have in store for North Korea. To be perfectly honest President Xi, trying to figure what "Lil Kim" (Kim Jong-un) and his Stalinist henchmen have up their collective sleeve is more than daunting; at this point, it is no better than
a fool's errand. One seeks even a shred of lucidity amidst all the lunacy. I mean, one day the pinheads of Pyongyang are ferocious, the next day they are weak and the day after that just plain crazy. Then the cycle begins anew. Tell me President Xi: are these bouts of ferocity, weakness and insanity actual ingredients of a diabolically coherent strategy, or a dissociative disorder? I mean, in February, Kim and company detonate an underground nuclear device; herein, a display of ferocity. Within a month you guys -- North Korea's only significant ally, vote against them at the U.N., which clearly demonstrates Pyongyang's weakness. Then, Kim and his comrades start threatening to launch full-scale attacks against South Korea and turn U.S. cities into "seas of fire." This, to put it bluntly, is shear, utter insanity. Just yesterday, Pyongyang threatened to close the Kaesong industrial zone -- one of the very few remaining forms of inter-Korean cooperation. This is yet another example of insanity, considering that the Kaesong zone gives North Korea access to approximately $2 billion in hard currency each year.
The other day, George Friedman, one of the sharpest geopolitical thinkers in the business, wrote: North Korea's primary goal is regime preservation. Demonstrating ferocity -- appearing to be close to being nuclear capable -- makes other countries cautious. Weakness, such as being completely isolated from the world generally and from China particularly, prevents other countries from taking drastic action if they believe North Korea will soon fall. The pretense of insanity -- threatening to attack the United States, for example -- makes North Korea appear completely unpredictable, forcing everyone to be cautious. The three work together to limit the actions of other nations.
Without question, President Xi, the United States, while recognizing that North Korea has a history of spewing bellicose B.S., is taking the threats, the ferocity and the insanity seriously. Less than 48 hours ago, in a rare show of force, the U.S. flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula. Although I can't imagine North Korea wanting to resume the Korean conflict in dead earnest, given that Stalinist nation's utter unpredictability, one would do well to take the threat seriously.
What do you think, President Xi? It seems to me that it would be in everyone's best interest -- especially yours -- to take charge of the situation and issue your own ultimatum. Let's face facts: you are the only power with significant influence in North Korea. I can't imagine your being sanguine with a nuclear nation on your border, much less than a country undergoing gross political instability. You need tens of millions of North Koreans streaming across your border like a hole in the head. President Xi, you provide North Korea with a majority of its food and fuel; without you, they would starve -- not that there are many overweight North Koreans to speak of. Just as importantly, you have been turning a blind eye to all the illegal trade that goes across the China-North Korea border. Yes, yes, I understand that tightening the noose too much could cause the Kim regime to topple which, from your point of view, is not in your best interest. After all, North Korea does act as a kind of buffer between your country and South Korea . . . which contains upwards of two dozen American military bases and just under 30,000 American troops. And, with President Obama's new-found interest in Asia and the Pacific, you must be walking on more than a few egg shells.
President Xi, no one said it was going to be easy. You've got a ton of challenges and problems in your country . . . just like any president. You have to walk a fine line between what is right and what is politic; between what is economically in one's own self interest today and what will work tomorrow or the day after. Like President Obama you are faced with issues of war and peace, pollution and prosperity, of all those things which make even the most thick-skinned chief executive ask "What in the world have I got myself into?"
Please President Xi, exercise a bit of your power and prestige and get "Lil Kim" and his comrades to cease and desist; to curb all the bellicose B.S.; to make the world a safer place.
©2013 Kurt F. Stone