Kim’s tests help Xi hide problems in his nation
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipei Times 2017.9.07
Prior to North Korea’s underground nuclear bomb test on Sunday, Pyongyang on Tuesday last week fired a ballistic missile over Japan’s Hokkaido island, which flew 2,700km before breaking up over the Pacific Ocean.
If Pyongyang had instead fired the missile over Kyushu island, it would have touched down about 500km from the US territory of Guam.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was clearly saying that his threat to fire missiles at Guam is not just empty rhetoric.
Developing and launching missiles requires a lot of money, and the rapid improvements in North Korea’s missile technology suggests that someone is helping.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) efforts in this regard have not gone unnoticed, and to give himself cover, he has also implicated Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Aug. 5, the UN Security Council voted for heavier sanctions against North Korea.
However, China and Russia voted in favor. China once again tricked the US: If Beijing implemented these sanctions, Pyongyang would not be able to continue to provoke Washington.
Allowing Kim to do so permits Xi to build momentum ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th National Congress, and diverts public attention away from high-level power struggles and the domestic financial crisis.
Regarding the crisis, two important events recently occurred. First, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff General Fang Fenghui (房峰輝) resigned and is under investigation, while Shi Luze (史魯澤), second in command of the PLA’s Central Theater Command, which covers Beijing, reportedly has been arrested and is being investigated.
After five years in power, Xi still has not been able to eradicate former president Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) influence over the army, since Xi lacks army connections.
Second, China’s wealthiest man, billionaire Wang Jianlin (王健林), and his family have been barred from leaving China.
Wang’s and Xi’s families are closely connected, which demonstrates two problems.
First, high-ranking CCP politicians cannot be simplistically assigned to either the Xi or the Jiang camp due to an intricate network of interest groups, which are constantly entangled in disputes with one another.
Second, the domestic financial crisis is worse than most outsiders realize. Xi therefore has not hesitated to act against businesspeople who have colluded with high-ranking party officials to get so wealthy that they can stand up to the government.
Xi also has economic motives: Blocking wealthy businesspeople from moving capital out of the country could help alleviate China’s financial crisis.
In July, China’s National Financial Working Conference established the State Council Committee for Stable Financial Development. However, if this does not halt Xi’s “fat wallet diplomacy,” the nation’s financial crisis will deepen.
Of course, allowing Kim to provoke the US is calculated.
US President Donald Trump’s team is in chaos because of domestic race-relation problems, and Washington will have difficulty taking any meaningful action against Pyongyang — the response so far has been limited to a telephone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Second, before Trump’s planned visit to Beijing later this year, it does not matter what Pyongyang does, as Trump has placed his hopes on a second meeting with Xi.
If Trump does not unveil some genuinely tough measures, Xi will have won this latest round of high-stakes poker.
By Paul Lin 林保華
Paul Lin is a media commentator
Translated by Edward Jones