China’s “occupy and defy” tactics are forcing the neighbors to back down and reconsider their defense plans. Occupy and defy is an ancient Chinese tactic and it involves moving military forces and economic activity into a disputed area that will then be claimed by China because the Chinese are there. China dares the other side to attack, secure in the knowledge that this would make China the victim and help China win any ensuing battles. This tactic has become more effective as Chinese military and economic power has grown. Most of China’s neighbors do not have sufficient military power to make a credible threat to the Chinese incursion and China will often offer economic incentives (or threats) to their victims.
There is always the threat of encountering credible resistance (from the United States or a really angry Japan, South Korea, or India). At this point the Chinese have to be careful to accurately calculate how far they can push their victims before Chinese forces must be withdrawn. Such a pull-back can have serious repercussions at home because Chinese leaders have been pushing nationalism to divert public attention from police state tactics and corruption inside China. A nationalistic atmosphere in China makes it very unpopular to back down and that could trigger widespread unrest by people who are now reminded that their leaders are not only cowards but corrupt and police state bullies as well.
Another danger is that a frightened South Korea and Japan might decide to do what they have long been capable of, building nuclear weapons. Japan could do this most quickly and this would force China to be more reticent about encroaching on territory Japan also claims. But that won’t stop the use of “occupy and defy” against Japan. India has nukes and China continues to move into disputed territory there and get away with it. The big prize is the South China Sea and its numerous fisheries and oil deposits.
Because China is in clear violation of international treaties it has signed, it is refusing to accept international courts or arbitration to settle the territorial disputes off its coasts. China also refuses to allow a third party to decide the border disputes with India. China insists that history is on its side and that the borders India claims were established by British colonial administrators during a period when China was weak and Britain did what China is doing now (establishing borders China did not agree with while daring a weaker China to try and change it by force). Outsiders miss nuances like this, that the border dispute with India is actually with 19th century Britain, that numerous times used superior military power to force concessions from a humiliated China. This is something that still annoys the Chinese, a lot.
China continues to refuse Indian requests that it withdraw several dozen soldiers who have been camped out 19 kilometers into what the Indians consider their territory, in Kashmir, since April 15th. The Chinese troops were there for over a week before Indian patrols spotted them. China insists that the exact border has never been agreed on and that their little camp (a few tents and the armed troops) are actually in China. India has moved up more troops but has not yet resorted to armed threats and force to get the Chinese to withdraw. For its part, China is willing to continue discussing the matter but will not leave. The area in question is high (over 5,000 meters) in the mountains and sparsely populated. However, the local tribes are not happy with this confrontation as it has interfered with the smuggling (largely of Chinese goods into India). This area was once a branch of the ancient “Silk Road” trade route from East Asia to Europe, India, and the Middle East. Although the border was technically sealed after China took control of Tibet in the 1950s, the smugglers continued to maintain their ancient routes through the mountains.
In the South China Sea and the Western Pacific (especially the Senkaku Islands Japan also claims) China is increasing its naval and air patrols around disputed islands. China is mainly using its greatly expanded (in the last few years) coast guard fleet so they can say this is not a military dispute for them. But a lot more Chinese warships are also being seen far from China for training cruises in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific. Most of the Chinese aircraft overhead are new model warplanes, flown by pilots who get as much air time as many Western pilots. China put its first aircraft carrier, and its warship escorts, into service this year, and that carrier task force is going to make training cruises in these disputed waters before the end of the year. Chinese officials recently admitted that more, and larger, carriers are to be built. China is building more bases on these normally uninhabited atolls and tiny islands. This is expensive but cheaper than having to fight a war over this territory. This passive-aggressive strategy is working for China and will continue to be used until it doesn’t work.
A recent global survey of Internet crime found that about a fifth of the attacks were basically espionage (for commercial, diplomatic, or military secrets) and some 96 percent of those attacks were coming from China. When asked about this Chinese officials deny any involvement, despite the fact that most of the intel data being stolen is mainly of use to China.
Despite the growing government support for anti-corruption efforts, police have been ordered to track down and arrest civilians who carry out freelance investigations of corrupt officials and then share their findings on the Internet. This crack down reinforces Chinese suspicions that the government is really not serious about curbing corruption, especially among the senior leadership.
April 27, 2013: Japan announced a five year plan to increase security for its “maritime interests.” This is largely directed at China, not just the territorial claims but the increasingly bold Chinese fishing boats sneaking into Japanese waters.
April 24, 2013: The senior American military commander (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) on a visit to China told his Chinese counterparts that the U.S. is committed to defending its ally Japan. This is all about the disputed Senkaku Islands and increasing Chinese military pressure to get Japan to give in to Chinese claims. The Japanese won’t back off and apparently asked the Americans for some verbal reinforcements.
South Korea and China established a hot line so both governments could quickly consult and coordinate their responses to any new crises in North Korea. This is part of continuing discussions between China and South Korea about who should do what in the event of a North Korean collapse. Despite the huge cost of unification to South Koreans (who have only become affluent in the last 30 years) the idea of uniting Korea is still very popular in all of Korea. China has reservations about this and the South Koreans have been trying to work out an understanding to get China to approve unification. Such a deal is not unprecedented. In the 1950s Austria ended its post-World War II occupation and partition (into allied and Soviet zones) by promising the Russians that it would remain neutral forever (or, as it turned out, until the Soviet Union disappeared) if Soviet troops left. A similar deal is apparently attractive to the Chinese, or at least they are willing to quietly talk about it. South Korea is a major trading partner and any deal that solved the North Korean mess and got U.S. troops out of Korea appeals to many Chinese.
Chinese military aircraft made a record number of flights (at least 40) over the disputed (with Japan) Senkaku Islands. This was apparently a response to a recent visit to the islands by some Japanese political activists. Until last December Chinese military aircraft never entered Japanese airspace around the Senkakus. Since then the Chinese intrusions have become more common. This is the main reason why last year, for the first time, Chinese aerial intrusions into or near Japanese air space exceeded those of the Russians. China has asked the Japanese to stop sending up jet fighters to confront the Chinese intrusions, as this might lead to an unfortunate incident (someone opening fire). Japan declined this Chinese advice. The Japanese prime minister said Japan would use force to keep China out of the Senkaku Islands.
April 23, 2013: In western China (Xinjiang province) Uighur (ethnic Turks from Xinjiang province) Islamic terrorists were discovered by some local officials. Police were called and the situation got violent. Before it was all over 21 people were dead, including 15 government employees and police. Eight surviving Islamic terrorists were arrested. China then demanded again that Pakistan shut down the Pakistani camps where Uighur Islamic terrorists are trained. Apparently several hundred Uighurs are operating some camps in North Waziristan, an area in the Pakistani tribal territories (along the Afghan border) where the government allows sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. One thing China and the United States can agree on is the need for Pakistan to shut down terrorist operations in North Waziristan. Pakistan refuses to do this, although it has sought out and arrested some illegal Uighur visitors in other parts of Pakistan. Despite several years of increasingly angry pressure from China, the North Waziristan Uighur camps keep training more Islamic terrorists and sending them back to Xinjiang.
In Western China the local Uighurs are under increasing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers and intrusive government officials. Too many Uighurs continue to support anti-Han activity and this makes it possible for Islamic terrorists to operate. Chinese officials have been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs. The government tries hard to suppress the news of Uighurs unrest. The government has been at this for a long time, constantly shutting down web sites that promote Uighur autonomy and other Uighur matters. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security. This is part of an ongoing effort to suppress Uighur unhappiness with the growing number of Han Chinese moving to traditionally Uighur areas and taking over the economy and most of the good jobs. Same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control.
In the west (Sichuan province) three Tibetans burned themselves to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. In the last four years, 119 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in protest but the world is not really paying attention. There was a major uprising in 2008, which was quickly and brutally put down. Areas where Tibetan resistance is most active are flooded with additional police and the Chinese troops stand ready to crush anymore insurrections. The sixty year old Chinese plan for cultural assimilation of the Tibetans proceeds. This is how the Chinese empire has expanded for thousands of years, and all around the periphery of China there are unassimilated groups, most of them too small to bother with. The Tibetans are numerous enough to target for cultural assimilation.
April 20, 2013: In Sichuan province a severe earthquake struck, killing hundreds, injuring over 10,000, and leaving several hundred thousand people homeless. China promptly ordered nearly 20,000 troops, along with over a thousand trucks, helicopters, and fixed wing aircraft to join the relief effort. Journalists were advised to concentrate on the positive aspects of all this. The bureaucrats do not want more of the bad press the government got during an even deadlier earthquake back in 2008. Over 80,000 people were killed in the mid-May earthquakes and millions were made homeless. In that case the media had a field day exposing local corruption that allowed flimsy public building to go up (and quickly come down during an earthquake). Thousands of school children died because of that. The journalists also reported the shortcomings of using troops for relief work. After three months disaster relief duty in central China, the army began withdrawing the 130,000 troops sent in to help. Some of the troops remained until the end of the year. Chinese troops are increasingly used for disaster relief and responded quickly for the 2008 disaster. This was one of the largest such deployments ever, with over six percent of armed forces personnel sent in. The media exposure of problems had alarmed and angered the government who saw the journalists ignoring all the good the troops were doing. Since then the military has added disaster relief training for commanders and troops and prepared more effective plans for these operations. The government tweaked its Internet censorship software and procedure to catch and delete negative reports about the disaster and relief efforts. While many Internet users may not see those deleted comments, government officials do and seek ways to fix problems that are fixable. Now the government wants more attention directed at how some corruption was addressed (so that buildings put up after the 2008 quakes held up in the current earthquake) and that the troops have gotten more effective at bringing aid to earthquake victims. These censorship efforts are noted. Chinese also notice that the government is no less fanatical about controlling what is reported about these disasters. Most Chinese believe that government suppression of free speech is expanding and that is very unpopular with the general population.