A pro-reform newspaper in southern China (Southern Weekly) has apparently won its battle with provincial censors over an article calling for more action against corruption in the government. Efforts to block reporting critical of government misbehavior caused a public uproar against the provincial government. Government officials backed off when they sensed that these demonstrations might continue to escalate.
The national government also revealed that, last year, 160,000 officials were punished for corruption or other forms of misbehavior and that $1.24 billion was recovered (less than $20,000 per corrupt official). This makes it clear that nearly all those punished were low ranking government workers. Some senior officials were exposed (usually in Western media) last year as having illegally gained billions of dollars via corruption. These studies estimate that families of senior officials control wealth equal to a fifth of the annual Chinese GDP. In response some foreign reporters were expelled from the country. The government had hoped that by punishing (often with a reprimand and demotion, not jail time) low ranking offenders the more senior rascals would be ignored. This has not worked and has the senior folk worried. The government feels that the most dangerous corruption is that which directly and openly hurts many Chinese. Thus the enthusiasm for going after low level officials for corruption while leaving the senior (and larger scale) thieves alone. But there are over 80 million members of the Chinese Communist Party. Many of these are not government officials but they can, and often do, use their party membership to arrange corrupt deals with government managers.
The government has increased censorship of the Chinese version of twitter (the weibo microblogs) by forcing users to show their real names. The most troublesome (as far as government censors are concerned) of the 400 million weibo users have been banned from using the service. There is now a delay of up to seven days between someone sending a weibo message and it appearing on the Internet if the screening software suspects the post is critical of the government. This gives censors time to weed out any posts that are considered dangerous to the government. New censorship software is also blocking use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that have been used to access forbidden web sites outside China, while powerful new data mining and screening software checks for anti-government posts in real time.
Despite all this, Chinese continue to discuss forbidden subjects (mainly about corruption at the top and Chinese who openly protest the corruption and bad government). Chinese censors are not really going after individual offenders as much as they are seeking to prevent mass unrest from being ignited. Thus, sometimes even the arrest and punishment of Internet offenders is not publicized, lest this get a mass protest movement going. China has a growing problem with large groups of people hitting the streets to protest in the flesh. With the large amount of government corruption and inefficiency, there's a lot to protest. The Internet is seen as essential economically but also the chief means of local protests turning into major ones. That is not to be allowed, at all costs.
January 8, 2013: The new head of internal security made a popular announcement. The law that allowed the government to send people (government critics, small time crooks, and anyone a government official did not like) to prison work camps for four years without trial has been repealed. As of last year some 60,000 people were in these camps, where prisoners were forced to work in government owned farms and factories for free. It was a slave labor system used to terrify the population into submission. The camps were once a tolerated way to deal with small time crooks but became increasingly unpopular as they were filled up with people who protested the growing corruption in China.
January 7, 2013: In one of several gestures to calm things down with Vietnam, three Chinese warships visited Vietnam. The two countries are at odds over ownership of islands in the South China Sea.
January 5, 2013: Japanese F-15 jets were sent over the disputed Senkaku Islands when a Chinese Y-12 maritime patrol aircraft approached. The Chinese aircraft moved away before it could enter Japanese air space. This is the sixth such incident in the last month.
January 4, 2013: China has assured the Philippines that its warships would not board and search ships passing through disputed waters off the Philippines coast. China is claiming islets and reefs that, according to international law, belong to the Philippines.
January 1, 2013: China transferred two 3200 destroyers and seven smaller warships from the navy to the coast guard (actually there are several maritime patrol organizations that patrol coastal waters). This gives the Chinese edge when confronting coast guard patrol ships from other countries, usually in disputed waters.
December 31, 2012: An open letter to the Chinese government calling for reforms, signed by 70 prominent lawyers and academics, has been circulating on the Chinese Internet. The letter warns that without reforms (less corruption and more democracy) unrest will continue to grow and eventually lead to rebellion and another period of chaos. This resonates in China, where long periods of peace are often interrupted by years or decades of civil war and anarchy. The current communist government takes great pride in ending one such period (that lasted from 1912 to 1948). That and the economic reforms of the 1980s that have made so many Chinese wealthy and proud of their mighty economy keep many Chinese from openly criticizing the government. The corruption and inept government officials spread like a cancer, turning more and more Chinese against their leaders.
Government sponsored opinion surveys (many not made public) detail this growing unrest to senior rulers. The growing use of nationalism (as in claiming all of the South China Sea and regularly praising the armed forces) is a response to these critical opinion polls. One thing most Chinese can agree on is the need to once more make China center of the universe. The Chinese name for China translates as "middle kingdom" as in "China is the middle of the world." The Chinese government, a communist dictatorship by any other name, is using nationalism to keep its critics off balance. China has border disputes, expressed or implied, with all its neighbors. This has made the neighbors uneasy, especially as Chinese military forces have been modernized and more aggressive over the last decade.
December 27, 2012: China has opened Beidou (its version of GPS) to civilian use and expects to grab a major share of the satellite navigation market from the U.S GPS system by the end of the decade.
December 26, 2012: Photos have appeared showing a Chinese prototype of a military air transport similar to the American C-17, a 290 ton aircraft that can carry up to 100 tons (including one M-1 tank) anywhere in the world because of in-air refueling. The C-17 costs about $250 million each and entered service 17 years ago.