China: The Ultimate Nightmare


May 15, 2015: The military has banned wearable computers. This recent rule was prompted by an officers found using a smartwatch to take photos. The ban includes any device with wireless communications capability (cell phone or Internet), especially if they also have GPS.  China is facing the same problem all modern militaries are with troops taking their portable electronics with them while on duty. China is concerned with espionage.

Speaking of espionage, recently a China sponsored student organization (Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association or CUCSSA) at Columbia University (in New York) was shut down for violations of rules concerning finances and operational policies. The university administrators had been informed, apparently, apparently by the U.S. government and Columbia students, of the frequent use of CUCSSA for political and espionage functions. China has long used “social organizations” of Chinese citizens overseas to achieve Chinese intelligence and diplomatic goals. It was also no secret that any Chinese citizen going overseas, to study or on business, was obliged to cooperate with requests (often benign) from Chinese intelligence. All this begins when Chinese intelligence officials examine who is going overseas and for what purpose. Chinese citizens cannot leave the country legally without the state security organizations being notified. The intel people are not being asked to give permission. They are being alerted in case they want to have a talk with students, tourists, or business people before they leave the country. Interviews are often held when these people come back as well.  In the case of the CUCSSA some Chinese believe the students running the organization (or the intelligence officials back in China who supervise the students) got sloppy, corrupted or both. No one in China thinks the shady and illegal activities of the CUCSSA were unusual, but in America they are illegal.

Even with all the bans on military personnel with portable electronic devices, much information (and pictures) of Chinese military activities is already getting out. Most of these pictures and videos come from civilians and shows up on the web. Using that information and other sources U.S. military intelligence analysts believe that China is in the midst of a major naval buildup. In 2014 China began building, launching or putting into commission at least sixty vessels a year and apparently is going to continue this pace into 2015 and 2016. Announced naval building plans include several aircraft carriers, 26 destroyers, 52 frigates, 20 corvettes, 85 missile armed patrol boats, 56 amphibious vessels, 42 mine warfare ships and nearly 500 auxiliary craft of which ten percent are large seagoing ships. While a lot of these new ships are to replace older, Cold War era, Russia designs, many are based on Western naval concepts and built to operate long distances from China. Naval air power is also being expanded with additional helicopters, modern fighters, missile carrying bombers and UAVs. China is also building more diesel-electric submarines and continuing to perfect (get to work properly) its nuclear powered subs.  All this is because of the feeling (quite popular in China) that for the last two centuries China has been prevented from exercising its "traditional rights" in nearby waters because of the superior power of foreign navies (first the cannon armed European sailing ships, then, in the 19th century,  steel warships from Japan and Europe). However, since the communists took over China after World War II  there have been increasingly violent attempts to reassert Chinese control over areas that have long (for centuries) been considered part of the "Middle Kingdom" (or China, as in the "center of the world").

Another worrisome aspect of the Chinese military buildup is the fact that over 40 percent of global arms exports go to Asia (mostly China, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan). That is because of the arms race in East Asia as China continues to increase its defense budget (now the second largest on the planet and about a third the size of American spending) and territorial claims. The Middle East (largely Israel and the Arab Gulf states) gets 17 percent, with Europe getting 21 percent, Africa seven percent and the Americas 12 percent. The United States represents about 30 percent of these sales but far less of the imports.

Meanwhile, one of the unpublicized parts of the recent Chinese $46 billion aid and investment package for Pakistan is assurances that the thousands of Chinese who will accompany that money will be safe in general and especially from Islamic terrorists. Most of these Chinese will be involved with the $28 billion worth of infrastructure (roads, railroads and power stations) China is building. Thus Pakistan is organizing a special protection force of 12,000 men. This will consist of 12 infantry battalions (six from the army and six from the Rangers and Frontier Corps) and some special operations and intelligence personnel. China also wants more Pakistani action against Islamic terrorists (Turkic Uighurs) from China who have been based in Pakistan.  The $46 billion is in addition to a 2013 deal where China pledged to spend $18 billion to build a road from Pakistan’s Indian Ocean port of Gwadar to northwest China. This will require drilling long tunnels through the Himalayan Mountains on the border (in Pakistani controlled Kashmir.) This new deal expands that into a more extensive project called the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. This will make it much easier and cheaper to move people, data (via fiber optic cables) and goods between China and Pakistan. China also gets a 40 year lease on much of the port facilities at Gwadar, which India fears will serve as a base for Chinese warships.

The major threat Chinese leaders have to face every day is not military or diplomatic but economic. Economic growth is slowing down, as economists predicted, and will continue slowing down. The politicians are now paying more attention to the economists than the propagandists, who for over a decade have been proclaiming the Chinese “economic miracle” to be a lot of things it is not. Worse the media (and many government officials) spoke about how the economic growth made China fantastic capable of impressive sounding future achievements which were more hopes than real possibilities. So now the politicians are bracing themselves for something no Chinese ruler has had to deal with before; a large, powerful and assertive middle class that will not be happy with the slowing growth. China does have the examples of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, all Chinese cultures that went through this phase. Those examples are not very comforting because all dispensed with the police state model. China is, in fact, still a communist police state and some leaders are beginning to consider actually changing that. Whatever they do they have to admit that the times they are changing. While the threats of corruption, inadequate banking reforms and personnel shortages grab more media attention, the politicians realize that the new middle class is in the center of all those other problems while also being the solution or the ultimate nightmare for the current rulers of China. The politicians were reminded of this recently when it was announced that the Apple iPhone was, for the first time, the best-selling smart phone in China (for the first three months of 2015). Chinese smart phone manufacturers have long dominated the Chinese market with smart phones that give nearly the same performance as the iPhone but for much less money. But the Chinese middle class sees the iPhone as a more fashionable and technically sophisticated smart phone and now that middle class is large enough and affluent enough to make the iPhone the biggest seller in China and China the largest market for iPhone.

Another threat, at least to provincial and some national leaders, is the growing popularity of religion. The latest example of this is the growing incidents of local (provincial) authorities banning the display of crosses on buildings (usually to indicate a Christian church or school). The government has always been wary of religion in general and foreign religions in particular. This has triggered a resurgence of officials taking on Christianity and treating some practitioners as potentially dangerous to the state. Christianity has been in China for centuries and currently is about five percent of the population and growing fast. Many believe there are as many Christians as there are members of the Chinese Communist Party (85 million). There has been a trend in some provinces where Christians are prominent (lots of churches) and numerous for the government to shut down churches and arrest clergy and prominent Christians for the least infraction of the law. This effort is most visible near the North Korean border, where foreign Christians (some of them ethnic Koreans or Chinese) have been assisting North Koreans who have escaped from North Korea. Another hotspot is the southeastern city of Wenzhou, long known as a “Christian city” (because about 15 percent of the population is Christian) where local authorities recently shut down dozens of Christian churches. Even before the communists took over in the late 1940s Chinese governments tended to see religion as a constant threat. What is especially alarming is any religion that attracts too many members and become more visible, especially as critics of the government. Some Christian sects are doing this and now comes the usual government response. The last thing China wants is any religion in China constantly demonstrating that it cannot be destroyed and can still fight back.

May 14, 2015: China responded to the American announcement of more warship movements in South China Sea waters that China considers part of China. In short, China did not threaten to use force to defend its claims but instead accused the Americans “threatening peace.” To China’s neighbors this is a victory because China has backed off on its earlier threats to defend its newly proclaimed territory in the South China Sea.

May 12, 2015: Two Japanese destroyers and a Filipino frigate held day long military exercises about 300 kilometers from a disputed shoal in the Spratly Islands. This was the first time Japanese and Filipino warships had ever trained together.

May 11, 2015: A Philippines general (the head of the armed forces) visited Thitu Island, which is only 37 square kilometers of low-lying ground and 480 kilometers from the closest large Filipino island (Parawan). Thitu is the second largest of the Spratly Islands, which China claims. The Philippines has occupied the island since the 1970s and currently 200 Filipino civilians and fifty military personnel live there. The military base has an airstrip. From Thitu you can see China building an artificial island on Subi Reef, which is 24 kilometers away.

May 8, 2015: Russia and China signed a Cyber War mutual non-aggression pact. Both nations agreed not to carry out state-sponsored Internet based attacks on each other. The two nations also agreed to cooperate to identify and eliminate hackers in each other’s territory who were attacking Russia or China for any reason. Unmentioned was the existing and continued cooperation between the two countries to develop Cyber War weapons.

American intelligence analysts believe China will purchase over 40,000 UAVs for its military in the next ten years. Most of these will be smaller ones (like the U.S. Raven) but Chinese firms already build (or are developing) UAVs of all sizes and, on paper at least, comparable to anything the U.S. military has or is actively developing.

Another (more important to Russia) agreement with China has run into trouble. The 2014 deal for China to buy $400 billion worth of Russian oil and gas has the two nations deadlocked over Chinese demands that Russia lower their prices to reflect current world prices for oil and gas. Russia is holding out for the higher prices stipulated in the contract but the Chinese insist this interpretation makes no economic sense for China.

May 7, 2015: The U.S. has publicly and privately warned China that America would begin fighting back in response to continuing Chinese efforts, via Internet hacking, to spy, steal and suppress media in the West, especially the United States. This became more of an issue after China recently began using state sponsored Internet censorship technology to shut down web sites outside China that Chinese officials found “offensive”. Attacks against anti-Chinese sites has been going on for years but the latest effort, using massive DDOS attacks on foreign websites, gave the Chinese effort a name; the “Great Cannon”.

May 5, 2015: In a government controlled newspaper (People's Liberation Army Daily) a front-page article admitted that the military still does not fully obey the law. A growing number of retired officers have recently told the media that corruption is still rampant in the military. These retired officers would not be allowed to make such public statements without government permission (otherwise they could be prosecuted for treason by revealing “state secrets”). For a long time details on corruption in the military was considered a state secret.

May 1, 2015:  Taiwan retired two of its eight elderly (built in the 1970s) Knox class frigates. Taiwan expects to receive two refurbished Perry class frigates from the United States later in 2015. Costing $270 million, the Perry’s will replace older Knox class ships Taiwan received in 1990s. All the Knoxs will be retired soon, mainly because of old age.

In the northeast police are investigating the murder of three people in a rural area near the North Korean border. It is suspected that the killers were North Korean soldiers. There was a time, a few years ago, when China and North Korea kept incidents like this quiet. No longer, mainly because it is happening more frequently and China believes the North Koreans are losing control with desertions in their military and security services on the rise. The last such confirmed incident was in December 2014. There are often no announcements of these murders in Chinese media but the diplomatic protests are usually big news outside of China and despite Chinese Internet censorship news of these murders gets into China and spreads rapidly. Since at least 2008 North Korea has been trying to do something about the growing number of soldiers who are deserting and fleeing to China. There are always some troops who desert and just disappear inside North Korea. But more of these deserters are being found in China, and South Korea. Those who make it to South Korea report that the troops are now going hungry, and senior officers are stockpiling food and attempting to move their families to China. The worst desertion incidents are the ones where the deserters take firearms with them and rely on robbery to survive. This is especially bad if they do this while still wearing their North Korean uniforms. Both China and North Korea have increased their border security but the number of people, armed or not, trying to get out of North Korea increases faster and the escapees are more desperate and resourceful. China is forming a civilian militia along the North Korean border to watch the border and promptly alert border troops if anything suspicious is seen.

April 29, 2015: Local officials in northwest China (Xinjiang province) have ordered shopkeepers to carry cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. This is being directed at Islamic conservative shop owners and their customers, who tend not to smoke or drink alcohol. This is but one form of harassment directed at Chinese Moslems. In one country of Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia and where most of the three million people are Moslem, everyone had been ordered to present (for inspection) their passports to a police station by May 15th or see their passport cancelled. This apparently has something to do with smuggling and Islamic terrorism. Most Chinese Moslems live in the northwest and most are Uighurs living in Xinjiang. Uighurs have been increasingly violent in the face of measures like this and in 2014 at least 450 people died in Xinjiang province due to Uighur resistance to the growing presence of ethnic (Han) Chinese. About a quarter of the 450 dead were Han, the rest Uighurs. The death toll was double what it was in 2013 and Uighur complain this is largely because of the more extensive and energetic police operations in Xinjiang against real or potential opposition to the growing economic domination of the region by Han. The nine million Uighurs in Xinjiang province are now less than half the population and most of the rest are Han Chinese. The government has been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security and tries to keep the unrest out of the news. The same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control. Since 2011 over a thousand have died in Xinjiang because of Uighur violence against Han rule. Thousands of Uighurs have been arrested and hundreds sentenced to prison, or death. Last year China convicted 712 people of “secessionist activities” and most of these were Uighurs, some of whom want an independent Uighur state in northwest China.

April 28, 2015: China warned Burma to get the fighting away from the Chinese border and to make sure no more rockets or shells (from artillery or mortars) land in China. Some of that has happened recently and the Chinese want it stopped, or else. The latest intrusions occurred when soldiers attacked a rebel position that was 500 meters from the Chinese border. Some of the army machine-gun and artillery fire at these rebels ended up in China. In situations like this the army usually stops firing and, by mutual but unspoken agreement, the rebels are allowed to move away unmolested.

April 27, 2015: Japan and the United States agreed to expand their defense cooperation. This means the two countries will work more closely in matters like ballistic missile defenses and peacekeeping missions worldwide. This was the first revision of Japan-American defense relations since 1997. These changes are driven largely by growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close