Where the hell did that come from?
North Korea's alleged H-bomb test seems to have taken the world completely by surprise. Indeed, when it comes to constructing impossible devices with no resources, Big Kim and his boys would surely give the A-Team a run for their money.
There are two possibilities here. Firstly, that a nation instructing its soldiers to "steal corn from the fields" has somehow managed, in complete secrecy, to expedite such a rapid development in its nuclear program that the power of its weapons has increased fivefold in eighteen months.
The second possibility is that they've had outside help.
Given that Pyongyang's gloating publicity pictures immediately made me think that Sean Connery was about to burst in and beat up the bad guys, I'm pretty confident that, as usual, China is the hidden director behind this latest international drama.
Let's look at the evidence. China controls roughly 90% of North Korea's trade and supplies aid directly to Pyongyang, thus bypassing the United Nations. To put it another way, North Korea is completely dependent on China for its continued existence. Despite it endless propagandising, the DPRK is in fact a Chinese franchise state, almost completely under Beijing's control. The North Koreans literally do not eat without the continued support and goodwill of the Chinese Communist Party.
This inconvenient truth naturally raises another important question. Why is China giving material support to North Korea, and thus encouraging this dangerous escalation of tensions between (alleged) nuclear armed states? Surely China's interests lie in keeping their impoverished neighbours on short rations. Business as usual has been very lucrative for the Chinese, as they circumvent UN sanctions by plundering North Korea's mineral wealth and laundering it through their massive manufacturing sector. That rather grubby practice has given Western consumers cheap iPads, funded China's continued military expansion and made a handful of merchant banks and global corporations rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Everybody's happy, except the starved and brutalised peasantry of the North Korean gulag. Hey ho.
Instead of continuing to grow ever wealthier and more powerful, China suddenly seems willing to risk all that by pushing its most closely controlled vassal state into a game of nuclear brinkmanship with unknowable outcomes. For some reason, Beijing now believes this is the right path to follow.
What has changed? What could possibly be at stake to risk such a hazardous and uncertain course of action?
I believe the answer lies here, in plain sight.
With little fanfare and even less mainstream publicity, a press release recently appeared on the official White House website. In part it says that "President Trump is signing a Presidential Memorandum to direct the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to examine whether China should be investigated for unreasonable or discriminatory policies that may harm American [intellectual property] rights, innovation, or technological development."
The memorandum itself specifically states that China has "implemented laws, policies, and practices and has taken actions related to intellectual property, innovation, and technology that may encourage or require the transfer of American technology and intellectual property to enterprises in China or that may otherwise negatively affect American economic interests."
In other words, China stands accused of wholesale appropriation and outright theft of huge amounts of intellectual property from Western companies, developers and agencies. Unsurprisingly, Beijing has bristled at the mooted enquiry, denouncing it as a "unilateral and protectionist practice." However, an Associated Press article claims that "more than 20 percent of 100 American companies that responded to a survey by the U.S.-China Business Council, an industry group, said they were asked to transfer technology within the past three years as a condition of market access." The article goes on to say that "foreign business groups complain companies are being squeezed out of promising Chinese markets or pressured to hand over technology for electric cars and other emerging industries."
No wonder the Chinese have released their snarling attack dog to threaten the current cosy world order, the very foundations of their suspiciously swift economic and military growth are under real threat, perhaps for the very first time.
The information war has finally arrived in the real world, and it could get bloody.
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net