“Saving face” is an extremely important part of Asian society. Nothing matters more than one’s honor, and backing down, now matter how wise, showing cowardice or weakness, is the ultimate sin.
Such is the situation Kim Jong-un finds himself in today. He has blustered and he has threatened weak American leaders as his father did, for two decades, knowing that there would be no repercussions.
Preparing for the Hermit Kingdom’s sixth nuclear test, Kim has now placed his bet against a different sort of player, who has drawn a red line, “Don’t do it!”
Will Kim back down or risk the deaths of potentially millions of innocent people to “save face,” proving that he was strong in the face of overwhelming odds? The smart money is on the latter.
I am reminded of a scene (video below) from one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josey Wales, in which Clint Eastwood, playing Wales, is wanted and is in a saloon with his back to the wall, facing the door. A bounty hunter enters and declares that he is looking for Josey Wales. In the dark back of the bar, Wales asks, “Are you a bounty hunter?”
“A man’s gotta’ do something for a living these days,” the bounty hunter replies.
Wales responds, “Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.”
Shaken, the bounty hunter turns and walks out of the saloon, speaking to his partner on the street outside. To save face and not be labeled a coward, he knows he has to go back and face Wales. The expression on his face and the surrender in his voice tells you he understands that it is suicide as he says, “I had to come back.”
Wales answers, “I know,” and waits for the bounty hunter to draw his pistol, which he does, only to be blown back through the door by Wales’ fatal shot.
There is no question that Kim (and Iran) has gotten away with far more than should have been allowed by the international community, but for whatever reason, nothing was ever done.
Now there is a new sheriff in town and things are about to change.
As millions of North Koreans celebrate the Day of the Sun today, marking the birth of their cruel dynasty’s founding dictator, Kim Il-sung, his grandson’s nuclear ambitions have put the nation’s fate on a knife-edge and threatens peace throughout East Asia, reports the Daily Mail.
The chubby young tyrant, Kim Jong-un, has enjoyed playing the unpredictable despot ever since he inherited power in 2011. Now he is playing with fire.
This is a leader who would willingly take his small, poverty-stricken country to the brink of war with the world’s only superpower.
He knows he can’t win, but he also knows that a second Korean War will be a bloodbath because he has a vast arsenal – everything from primitive nuclear bombs, ballistic missiles and nerve gas to 150,000 cannon – with which he can hit South Korean cities and the US bases there.
To save his own rule – and after the ominous threats emanating from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in recent days it would be an unimaginable humiliation for him to back down – Kim Jong-un is prepared for North Korea to take the suicide option with devastating consequences for the region.
And so a terrible game of dare is unfolding between the Supreme Leader and America’s new President.
Like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-un has grown used to facing down America and the United Nations, ignoring sanctions and taunting them with repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
But in Donald Trump, he is up against a man who likes to surprise, too.
In the past ten days, Mr Trump has reversed the US position on Syria, Russia and China. His furious rants on the election trail against sending American troops to solve foreign problems are forgotten.
He has launched airstrikes on Syria and there is talk of ‘boots on the ground’ to follow.
He has dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on Afghanistan to rout Islamic State.
And he has sent an aircraft carrier group, with more strike power than the whole of the RAF combined, towards the Korean peninsula in response to intelligence reports that a sixth nuclear weapons test by North Korea was imminent.
Official images released yesterday of American troops on ‘exercise’ close to the border between North and South Korea, and fighter planes lined up at US airbases in Japan, suggest a war footing rather than war games.
Pyongyang is on notice that this administration is not afraid to use force against its enemies – or align itself with former enemies should the situation demand it.
Before his election, Trump talked tough about China as a trade rival, and as the protector of the North Korean regime. Then the Chinese President Xi Jinping was wined and dined at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, last week and a diplomatic somersault followed.
Xi was told that Trump had taken a trade war with China off the agenda. China’s subsequent decision to abstain at the UN on Thursday, when its old friend Russia vetoed a Western resolution condemning Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, was viewed by some as a reciprocal gesture.
Washington believes China is its trump card in dealing with Kim Jong-un. If the US and China act in tandem – one wielding the big military stick, the other threatening to cut fuel and food supplies – surely North Korea would have to give ground and denuclearise?
But President Xi sees things differently because he is closer to the crisis. Conflict on the Korean Peninsula would have huge repercussions for China as well as for US allies, South Korea, and Japan, drawing these countries in militarily, and triggering a flood of refugees.
Why else would the normally soft-spoken Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, have raised his voice in alarm yesterday, warning that war could ‘break out at any moment’ and urging all parties to stop before reaching an ‘irreversible and unmanageable stage’.