Here, Grandma Sandoval demonstrates proper technique for dealing with an unreliable panda pinata. Git 'im, Grandma!
For your daily dose of I didn't know that Wikipedia tells us that the pinata possibly originated in China, as a new year's ritual in which an effigy of a cow containing seeds was broken open in order to ensure agricultural success. I suspect it developed as a practical alternative to the sacrifice of a real, expensive cow, just as the first Qin emperor broke with Zhou tradition and decided to protect his tomb with terracotta warriors instead of real, dead soldiers.
I think this factually and logically counterintuitive effort to package the US and PRC as "pivot partners" is something of a first in US media.
Does this risible effort at rebranding hint at anxiety in pivot-land as the North Korean crisis lumbers on and the US pivot strategy is unable to offer any hope of meaningful leadership, consensus, or resolution?
Pissing off China is perhaps a noble cause but a rather alarming geopolitical strategy, so Campbell is on call to reassure us that his beloved pivot is not a strategic cock-up.
As Rogin reported:
China has long considered North Korea a useful check against a united, pro-American Korean Peninsula. But Chinese frustration with Beijing could eventually lead to a more dramatic shift in Chinese foreign policy that would change the state of play in Northeast Asia, according to Campbell.
"It's very clear [to China]: If this is a buffer state, what is it good for?" he said.
For his US audience, Campbell seems to be promoting the idea that the North Korean nuclear tensions are, in a way, a good thing because that allows the US to buttress its military pivot into East Asia, thereby reassuring our allies and discombobulating the Chinese (if not the greedy and ambitious PRC military establishment), thereby making the case that North Korea is China's strategic liability (while, I think, willfully ignoring the significant value of the DPRK to China as an exclusive economic zone beyond its buffer status), thereby increasing the pressure on China to relieve its DPRK-exacerbated regional security stress by strongarming North Korea to America's satisfaction.
For the Chinese audience, Campbell may be dangling the possibility that, if China plays ball on North Korea, the PRC will attain the privileged position of pivot partner instead of pivot pinata.
But I don't think the PRC leadership will bite.
The best outcome that China can expect from knuckling under to the US and compelling North Korea to denuclearize is the undying hatred of the North Korean leadership if the DPRK survives...and a nasty security crisis if the regime implodes.
In the big picture, it would be geopolitical suicide for the PRC to make concessions in response to a US military buildup in Asia, because any concessions by the Chinese will not usher China into a G2 nirvana; it will simply reward and further encourage the US military buildup in Asia and adventurism by China's resentful neighbors.
In my opinion, the pivot to Asia will be met by asymmetric Chinese counterprogramming, not discreet surrender to the superior diplomatic and military might of the United States and abandonment of North Korea.
I will be pretty surprised if the Chinese took a genuine step toward modifying the behavior of North Korea, like issuing an ultimatum to Pyongyang to cease nuclear and missile tests or else face an across-the-board Chinese embargo.
I will, on the other hand, not be surprised if the whole crisis fizzles out, leaving North Korea with an enhanced portfolio of nuclear material, in a stable if not particularly affectionate relationship with China, and the PRC with an increased suspicion of US intentions in Asia.
And if the pivot can't exact desirable PRC behavior on North Korea--the biggest headache/most conspicuous piece of low-hanging fruit in the whole East Asian rebalance equation--then what good is the pivot?
But this interpretation is anathema to Campbell, whose pivot strategy relies on the assumption that a heightened military presence and more inflexible diplomatic stance vis a vis China will yield concrete dividends that justify the tensions and unpleasantness.
So it is a matter of some importance for Campbell to demonstrate to the US foreign policy establishment, journalists, and the interested public that the pivot, in the case of the North Korean crisis, is yielding genuine benefits by compelling China to pressure North Korea into discarding its irritating and destabilizing nuclear program in response to US saber-rattling.
Case unproven, in my opinion.
Bernard over at Moon of Alabama has a good, derisive take on the wishful thinking that passes for tea-leaf reading by Western journalists (probably abetted by Obama administration officials anxious to assert that the US strategy on North Korea is not driving US-Chinese relations into a ditch) on Xi Jinping's Boao speech and the PRC's putative urge to dump North Korea.
The best geopolitical play by the United States has nothing to do with the atmospherics of the pivot and, indeed, is well known to everybody in the foreign policy establishment: rapprochement a la Burma with North Korea while somehow finessing the DPRK's determination to retain its nuclear weapon and missile assets.
The PRC leadership is probably slightly bemused that the United States, in order to advance its security-heavy pivot concept, is pushing the DPRK away instead and forcing it back into the arms of China—a place where North Korea really doesn’t want to be.
It would be nice to think that US hostility toward North Korea is a profoundly subtle strategy of ensuring the regime's continued survival and hostility so that it can serve as a reliable pretext for the US security presence in North Asia.
Unfortunately, I don't think so. I think our North Korea policy is a reflection of general strategic drift and an inability to square the circle between our interest in rapprochement, US non-proliferation policy, and the anxieties of our allies.
Absent a viable strategy to denuclearize or engage North Korea, in public media the US punts to China—which lacks the standing to influence North Korea on this issue and has no interest in imploding the regime. That’s just meaningless PR kabuki. And China makes disapproving noises at Pyongyang in order to placate the West. More meaningless PR kabuki.
To me, the North Korean impasse demonstrates that the pivot is counterproductive because it simply demands that the PRC conform to US interests doubling as universal norms. In other words, it's zero sum. There's no win-win for China in just doing what Barack Obama wants.
A serious underlying problem for the pivot is that the US is increasingly boxed into zero-sum options for China as allies are becoming more independent and refractory (and US leadership, as demonstrated in the cases of Egypt, Libya, and Syria, becomes more hands-off and dilatory), and the list of win-win scenarios that the US can unilaterally deliver to the PRC is shrinking.
We're not offering carrots; just less of the human rights/intellectual property/cyberwar/freedom of navigation stick until time, circumstance, principle, and the priorities and opportunism of our allies combine to demand return to the China-bashing status quo ante.
By this reading, the pivot is a second-best, default strategy by a superpower with limited resources--primarily the ability to project power across the Pacific--at its disposal. It is instability without an endgame.
By the most generous reading, the pivot is an optimistic relaunch of the Star Wars/arms race strategy and economic stress test under Reagan that allegedly drove the USSR to spend itself into oblivion. But 2013 isn't 1976, China after thirty years of economic reform isn't Russia, and the current CCP leadership lineup is conspicuously devoid of gullible Gorbachevs.
As the Obama administration rather desperately finesses the pivot and tries to keep US-China relations ticking along despite its self-created problems, the PRC will look for the right opportunity to challenge the “pivot” through pressure on local US allies and demonstrate that the US lacks the military will (and disregard for economic damage) to pick up the military gauntlet thrown down by an increasingly assertive and suspicious PRC.