China: Avoiding The Coming Revolution

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February 12, 2009: China keeps badgering the United States to halt high-tech weapons shipments to Taiwan, or else relations, especially military-to-military cooperation, will suffer. China is hoping the new American president will be more sensitive to these threats than previous presidents. But Taiwan is seen as less a problem right now than the global recession. After two decades to spectacular growth, a year or two of no growth won't kill the economy (many Chinese banking officials welcome it, for providing an opportunity to get things in order). But security officials point out that unemployed and poorly treated (by employers and government officials they sought help from) workers are the source of over half the demonstrations and riots the police have to deal with. The government has ordered officials to keep these outbursts to a minimum, throwing money (paying off the demonstrators) is need be (and cash is available).  Chinese officials are very well versed in Chinese history. They know that a common cause of mass uprisings in the past have been sudden changes in economic conditions. This is especially true if the people are harboring other grudges against the government. These are the kinds of "interesting times" that Chinese proverbs advise people to avoid.

February 10, 2009: China is executing another senior official for corruption. But, as is usually the case, the guilty official is "administrative" (a manager), not "political" (in the government chain of command). Li Peiying, formerly in charge of 30 of the largest air ports in the country, was convicted of stealing $3 million between 1995-2003. While the government seeks to terrorize government managers into being less corrupt, they try to persuade political operatives to clean up their act. There is some success with this approach, but usually in the form of officials being more moderate in terms of how much they plunder. Too many Chinese take it as a given that, if you get a government job, you have a license to steal. In the military, this means weapons are built in substandard ways, and equipment is not properly maintained. Military corruption is an ancient Chinese custom, and accounts for most of the poor military performance in the past.

Corruption is less of a priority to government officials now. Unemployment, and increased civil disorder because of it, is the new item all officials are ordered to concentrate on. The government admits to losing 20 million jobs because of the global recession. But it is much worse than that. While the official unemployment rate approaches five percent, that does not count the rural "migrant workers." This is a force of over a hundred million "temps" who are the last hired and first fired. Count them, and the overall unemployment rate is closer to ten percent, and rising. This is a major problem, because many Chinese only tolerate the continued rule of the corrupt Communist Party, because the government allows people to be economically free, and get rich. Take that away, and you have a lot of angry Chinese. The government still predicts economic growth this year. But 2008 growth was ten percent less than expected, and the fourth quarter was off by 40 percent. If the economy stalls this year, the government is going to have to deal with millions of very unhappy Chinese (who are already troubled about the corruption and pollution).

February 8, 2009; South Korea has completed delivery of its first nuclear power reactor to China. Doosan Heavy Industries will have the 600 megawatt reactor on line in two years, after completing construction and testing. Firms like Doosan have been selling China power plant components for years, but this was the first sale of a complete nuclear power plant. China already has eleven reactors producing electricity, with another 17 planned or under construction. Existing nuclear plants only provide about two percent of electricity, and China wants to increase that in order to reduce pollution (80 percent of current electricity is produced by burning coal.)

February 1, 2009: The Chinese government has admitted what a lot of Chinese have suspected; the increased pollution from the booming economy has led to an increase in birth defects. The government says the increase is about ten percent (about five percent of Chinese births involves some form of defect.) This is a particularly touchy subject, because urban couples are limited by law (one of the few that is strictly enforced) to one child. The pollution caused defects are the result of toxic materials getting into the air, water and food supply. This is a touchy subject, because many cases of large-scale pollution can be traced back to officials taking bribes to look the other way.

January 31, 2009: In Tibet, Chinese soldiers and police are on alert for violence directed against Chinese New Year celebrations. At least that's the word on the street. Tibetans are still angry over the violent way the government put down separatist demonstrations last year.  Then there's the 50th anniversary, next month, of the Dai Lama fleeing Tibet, and its Chinese occupiers, for exile in India.

 

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