Is The Apprentice White House being bamboozled?
A little war would go a long way to cement China’s claims to the South China Sea
If Donald Trump was in the finals of my celebrity apprentice television show, “The Apprentice White House,” the ongoing “Fire and Fury” debacle would be hard to trump as failures go.
The final assignment for the two remaining apprentices, Donald Trump, the expert negotiator, and Dennis Rodman, a retired NBA clown, would be to get a contract for peace from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Mr. Jong-un is in dire need of new friends, access technology, and world markets, but everything is going the wrong way. His constant leveraging of nuclear war as a negotiating tool has only succeeded in increasing North Korea’s isolation from the world. Even worse, because of sanctions, North Korea is seeing reduced trade income from her top trading partner, China.
The assignment’s criteria is pretty clear — accomplish a deal with North Korea that would get the country to trade pursuit of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missile technology for prosperity and peace. Side benefits would be that such a deal could save face for the United States and China, as well as prevent a future regional war. That future war could extend far beyond the Korean Peninsula.
It would seem that Mr. Jong-un is ripe for any deal, but despite unique advantages, each contestant faces an issue that goes deeper than missiles and nuclear bombs.
Should the art of the deal fail, any military action in the region could lead to a wider conflict that would likely involve China. At the very minimum, China’s response could be to assert whatever actions she deems necessary to defend the her regional hegemony, including forcefully claiming most of the South China Sea as Chinese territory.
The “instant fail, you are fired right now” option will trigger if the process of negotiation leads to any kind of military action. The reason for this is that many think China wants a limited war in the region and is willing to sacrifice North Korea if it helps her cement claims to large swaths of territory now in dispute.
Here is where World War III could come into play.
If China were to successfully establish a claim as defined by the “Nine-Dash” map, most of the South China Sea would become Chinese territorial waters. The fallout of such a claim would adversely affect allies such as the Philippines and Japan, as well as Vietnam and Malaysia. All those countries would lose access to offshore shipping corridors, traditional fisheries, and adjacent coastal waters necessary for commerce and defense.
If the South China Sea were recognized as Chinese territorial waters, US naval assets could not safely travel west of the Philippines. That would not sit well with current US interests in the region. As of today, despite competing claims and sovereignty disputes, much of the South China Sea is still treated as international waters..
If access to the South China Sea was denied or restricted to foreign commercial and military naval traffic, shipping that transits from the Indian Ocean to Asia and the Americas, via the Straits of Malacca, would be forced to go south around Australia. China could impose conditions that would dramatically increase costs to move goods, including oil from the Middle East to Japan and destinations across the Pacific.
The “Nine-Dash” map outlines what China would like to claim as territorial waters. “China’s Tongue” would be a massive grab of the South China sea that overlaps the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of at least five regional neighbors. China bases her claims on how the Asian continental shelf extends under the South China Sea. That claim, which dates back to 1947, is based on the underwater land mass being an extension of China that gives her the right to extend territorial waters deeper into the South China Sea.
Under that precedent, the United States could lay claim to all of the Gulf of Mexico and extend territorial claims far into the Caribbean Sea. Cuba would clearly be ours and we may be able to claim the Yucatan as well.
Dennis Rodman’s failure at this was predictable. Although Kim Jong-un appears to be genuinely fond of the former NBA star, Rodman’s visit once again resulted in nothing more than a few photo ops and a basketball game. Dennis Rodman was not able to leverage his personal relationship with Kim Jong-un into a world-changing deal!
Trump clearly had the advantage, including his self-touted supreme skills at the “art of the deal.” All throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump bragged about his ability to make deals happen. To back up his bigly negotiation skills, Trump has the entire resources of the United States, NATO, and even the United Nations at his disposal.
The decision who to fire ends up being pretty simple.
Donald Trump had more resources and is allegedly an expert negotiator. Despite those advantages, Trump not only failed to put a deal on the table, he opted for the weakest close any salesperson or negotiator could leverage — Trump closed his offer with a threat.
We have all experienced a weak salesperson. In retail, your salesperson surrenders control when they throw out a discount instead of dealing with objections. In almost all cases, trying to close a deal on price only works if you attach a condition up front.
“Would you buy this now if I was able to save you some more money?”
At best, this only works when you know what you got is what your client needs. In all other cases, closing on price signals the potential buyer he gets to make the deal.
A savvy client, in his case, Kim Jong-un is obliged to walk away or test the offer. Kim Jong-un did both. He walked away and left a very specific counter threat to emphasize the weakness of Donald Trump’s offer.
Donald Trump, You are Fired!