Here’s an example why I think operationalizing grand strategies in East Asia, at the very least, is problematic. Why did Beijing do an about-face before and after North Korea’s December 12 Unha-3 launch?
According to a person who is familiar with the intrigue, China’s short-lived tough posture on North Korea was sort of a “personal favor” by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to US President Barack Obama. Obama and Wen met in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on November 20, on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit gathering.
“At that time, Obama told the Chinese Premier Wen that North Korea would likely to launch a rocket and asked Wen to exercise pressure [on North Korea],” said the well-placed source, seeking the customary anonymity attached to discussing diplomatic affairs.
Surprisingly, Wen agreed. “That’s why China’s response this time to the North Korean rocket launch was different,” the source said, denoting the importance of personal ties in dealing with the Chinese leadership.
It is not clear in what context Obama asked the favor to Wen. It may have been either while the two were chatting or during their more official bilateral meeting, which they held on the sidelines of the Asian gathering.
What is not disputed is that a personal chemistry between Obama and Wen Jiaobao played a role, according to the source. China has its characteristic relationship network mojo, called guanxi. A good guanxi, based on personal affinity and trust, can do wonders. It can lead to business contract, for example. In this case, a good guanxi with the Chinese leadership made “the blip on the radar screen” in the Chinese posture on North Korea.
I guess this is as close to a prediction as I can stomach: IF North Korea ever strikes a deal with ANY government other than some Caribbean tax haven or an African warlord, remember the value of back-slapping, mutual admiration.