NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.
George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster.
Earlier this month you heard one part of a wide-ranging conversation he had with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky.
They talked about terror threats to the United States.
Today, a discussion of East Asia.
MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Okay, let’s take a tour of the world starting with what’s going on with North Korea. A year ago you were saying Kim is very smart. He’s played it well. Is he still playing it well?
GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Well, we’re in a frozen conflict. Kim is not going to give up his regional nuclear weapons. He has no reason to. We’re not going to go to war, because we might lose—and it’s a very bad idea to go to war and lose. It’s very difficult to invade North Korea. It’s very difficult to know where his nuclear missiles are. So we are at a Mexican standoff.
There’s no way that the United States can eliminate the nuclear threat, and we’re quite pleased so long as Kim doesn’t build an ICBM so they could reach the United States, which is not done. We would know if he did it because we would see the tests.
So we’re in a situation where Kim is guaranteed at least the United States is not going to undermine the regime—and with all those nuclear weapons would rather see him stay there. And we will have sanctions on him.
The United States, on the other hand, is going to live with the fact that there is a regional threat from weapons.
The country to really watch is Japan, because Japan is a historic enemy of Korea going way back and because they had been very careful not to develop nuclear weapons, but they’re the ones in range of the missiles. And so the Japanese have been moving more and more aggressively toward being armed.
OLASKY: So, what would lead North Korea to fire a nuclear missile into Japan?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I don’t believe they will. But if you’re the Japanese, after Pearl Harbor, they can say be prepared for the worst. You don’t know what the North Koreans will do. You don’t know what they will find rational. You don’t know if they’ll be irrational.
So the Japanese problem is that not knowing what the Koreans will do. Not certain to the United States is prepared to mix it up with the North Koreans, they now have to address their own national security.
Remember, Japan is the third largest economy in the world. It’s a serious country. If it decides—with it’s over 100 million people—to address the question, it will.
OLASKY: If it wanted a nuclear weapon, it could get one?
FRIEDMAN: I suspected Japan doesn’t have nuclear weapons, because there’s a final screw left turn into their bomb. In other words, theoretically, they have no nuclear weapons. Very practically, they could rapidly have it.
Remember this is the most advanced nuclear power country in the world. They’re very, very good at technology, and this technology is 70 years old. So, yes, they will have nuclear weapons when they need them.
OLASKY: So let’s say five years from now, would you expect them—meaning Japan—re-militarized with nuclear weapons.
FRIEDMAN: Japan already is re-militarized. It has a substantial navy, substantial air force, standing army. The question is how far will they push militarization?
The political challenge they have right now is they’re not certain to what extent they can depend on the American nuclear guarantee. And the United States is not certain how much it wants to guarantee it.
One of the things that President Trump has said is that the Japanese should develop their own nuclear weapons, because we don’t want to take responsibility for their national security. Whatever you think of that that suggestion, the Japanese heard what he had to say. And they watched the United States pulling back from various places in the world.
Remember Japan also faces two other major nuclear powers—Russia, with which it has a dispute over some islands, and China, of course, with which it has a very serious dispute. So, Japan is facing the question of how does it guarantee its national security? And the answer increasingly is going to be by taking responsibility for it, which the United States does not object to.
OLASKY: I want to get to China, but let me first just ask a question about Vietnam. How weird is that this, in a sense a neutral site, is going to be hosting this summit in Hanoi, given the history.
FRIEDMAN: Well, remember Vietnam is an enemy of China. They fought a war 1979. The Vietnamese beat the Chinese. Ever since then the United States and Vietnam have been weaving a friendship.
Until this point, U.S. naval vessels are based in Cam Ranh Bay, where they once were. The U.S. and Vietnamese are cooperating in a number of different ways because both have a common interest in blocking the Chinese. The Vietnamese are not hostile to the United States.
They are hostile to China, and rather than appearing very strange, Germany and Japan, once enemies—they became allies. We kind of specialize in this kind of alliance switching.
And the closer we get to Vietnam, the more we can irritate the Chinese, which is sort of our foreign policy at this point.
OLASKY: OK, then channel President Xi for us. What’s going through his mind?
FRIEDMAN: He became president of China because China’s elite was afraid of China fragmenting. He became the dictator. And countries don’t get dictators when everything is just fine and they say, ‘Hey, why don’t we have a dictator?’
He became dictator to try to hold the country in the midst of a terrific economic crisis, quite independent of American sanctions. They’ve built an economy that is too large for domestic consumption. And they are entirely dependent—to stabilize their economy—on exports.
Ever since 2008, the appetite of the world for Chinese export has declined—one, because of recession and weakness, and second, because the Chinese no longer have the cheapest exports that [go] to places like Vietnam, like Thailand, like Colombia, like Chile.
So as a low-cost, high-volume producer, China’s not that competitive anymore. China is trying to get into the technology area, where it’s going to be meeting the United States, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Germany. These are tough tickets to play into. I mean, you can’t just decide that you’re going to become a technological power.
And so it’s caught between its past and its future. And Xi is very, very afraid of the direction in which China’s going—trying to hold it together by reign of terror. So far, so good.