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China: North Korea Ordered To Obey Or Else
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February 11, 2013: The military has been ordered to continue increasing training. This means more combat pilots spending more time in the air. Moreover, the air force is using more Western style training, meaning fewer scripted training flights and more where pilots are exposed to unexpected or uncertain situations. Warships increasingly travel into international waters, often near foreign shores that have rarely, if ever, seen Chinese warships in the past. The army is staging more frequent and realistic training exercises in all types of weather. Of particular note is the growing use of long distance movement by road, air, or ship and much more attention paid to logistics (keeping the troops supplied).

Despite all this emphasis on professionalism in the military, the Communist Party recently ordered more attention be paid to the loyalty of officers (most of whom are now college grads) and that everyone be reminded that the military answers to the Chinese Communist Party first of all. The growth in college educated officers has led to more enthusiasm for political reform by younger officers.

The government is still concerned about corruption in the military (an ancient problem in China) because it has a direct impact on military capabilities. The same can be said for corruption outside the military, which is having a corrosive and increasingly obvious impact on the economy and public order. As Chinese grow wealthier they get increasingly noisy about the corruption. Government efforts to curb corrupt practices are encountering a lot of (unofficial) resistance from the bureaucracy. It’s common for seemingly successful anti-corruption officials to be corrupt.

China has denied Japanese accusations that a Chinese frigate pointed its targeting radar at a Japanese warship on January 30th. This occurred during a training exercise in the East China Sea near the disputed (between China, Japan, and Taiwan) Senkaku islands. China has been pushing its claims more aggressively and Japan has been pushing back, which was why Chinese and Japanese warships were so close to each other.

Last year China surpassed the U.S. as the largest trading nation on the planet. In 2012, Chinese imports and exports totaled $3.87 trillion compared to $3.82 trillion for the U.S. However, if you count services, the U.S. still leads, with total (for goods and services) of $4.93 trillion. For 70 years the U.S. has been the largest trading nation in the world. The U.S. GDP last year was $15 trillion compared to $7.3 trillion for China. Annual GDP growth is slowing in China, from ten percent to 7-8 percent. U.S. growth is much lower, more like two percent. China expects to surpass the United States in GDP in the next two decades.

The government ordered 40 percent of the 12,000 coal mines in the country closed next year. Most of these will be the illegal operations that are the most unsafe and also contribute to corruption. China mined 3.66 billion tons of coal last year and imported another 244 million. China is under popular pressure to reduce use of coal, which is a major contributor to air pollution in urban areas. Recent record high pollution levels in Beijing have turned into a major scandal. The bad air has killed hundreds and terrorized people in urban areas throughout the country. The government is reluctant to do what would be needed to reduce the pollution because that would mean reducing the economic growth rate. It’s that growth which keeps the communists in power because otherwise many Chinese would be unemployed or a lot less affluent. That, plus all the corruption and police state tactics, could trigger a rebellion. It’s happened under these conditions many times before and China’s leaders are well aware of that.

North Korean and Chinese officials are still haggling over what to do in response to China’s unprecedented vote to back UN condemnation of North Korean nuclear weapons development and what appears to be preparations for a third nuclear weapons test. China has made it clear, and very public, that such a test would result in less aid from China. That’s serious for North Korea, which is undergoing a famine and severe energy shortage. China is North Korea’s major aid donor and trading partner. Most North Korean exports are illegal items (weapons, drugs, counterfeit currency) that can only be moved to foreign customers because of Chinese cooperation. China wants North Korea to fix its economy with reforms (more free market activity, which saved China three decades ago). But the North Koreans only pay lip service to the economic reforms and instead move ahead in developing nuclear weapons and believing their own propaganda about what a swell country they are. The Chinese UN vote may also indicate that the Chinese will finally execute an option they have been working on for over a decade: backing a coup in North Korea by pro-Chinese officials. North Koreans are aware of these rumors and in the last year many senior officials were forcibly retired (or executed). While presented as an effort to get some younger leaders into action, it also appeared to be a purge of people with questionable loyalties (real or imagined).

In Tibet the government is increasing its effort to seize illegal satellite dishes. These devices enable Tibetans to receive uncensored news from outside China, which helps keep resistance against Chinese rule in Tibet going.

February 7, 2013: Russia denied that two of its Su-27 fighters entered Japanese airspace off the northern island of Hokkaido. Japan said the intrusion was for less than a minute and Russia says it never happened. For the last decade Russian aircraft have more frequently been flying close to Japanese air space. This is mostly about a territorial dispute (over the Kuril Islands, which were owned by Japan until after World War II, when Russia took them as compensation for losing a war with Japan in 1905).

February 5, 2013: Three warships (a destroyer and two frigates) left the vicinity of the Philippines after several days of training exercises. The Filipinos had a hard time keeping track of the Chinese ships. To help with this Japan is giving the Philippines a dozen sea-going patrol boats.

February 1, 2013: China commissioned another type 052C destroyer. The Chinese press release described this ship, the Changchun (hull number 150), as a new type of destroyer. This 5,700 ton ship is very similar to American Aegis equipped destroyers like the Burke Class. The Changchun is about 30 percent smaller than the Burkes (which entered service two decades ago). There appear to be eight 052Cs under construction and the Changchun seems to have an improved Aegis type radar and combat system.

January 28, 2013: The government denied reports that it was supplying weapons to ethnic Chinese tribal rebels in Burma. That denial may not be entirely accurate, as Chinese smugglers need unofficial government permission to supply weapons in sensitive situations (like rebels in neighboring countries). China is trying to get tribal rebels in northern Burma to stop interfering with major Chinese energy projects (dams and pipelines) there. 

January 27, 2013: For the second time in a month the government announced a successful test of an anti-missile system. China has versions of the Russian S300 anti-aircraft missile system that have been adapted to anti-missile work by the Russians.

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