China: We Have A Bribe For That

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August 22, 2010:  After a review of its military policies, Japan has decided to redeploy its armed forces, to better deal with the growing threat from China and North Korea. Russia, despite the continuing dispute over the Kurile islands, is seen as much less of a problem. Throughout the Cold War, Japanese military power was focused on a possible attack from Russia. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and two decades of decline in the Russian armed forces, Japan now feels able to turn and confront the growing might of China, and hostility from North Korea. Japan is also upgrading its armed forces, especially its navy, in response to the growth of Chinese naval power.

For most of this year, China has been increasingly vocal (in the media) about American naval maneuvers off the coast. This is part of a campaign to scare foreign warships away from international waters close to the Chinese coast. This makes it easier for Chinese warships to train (and use their electronic equipment) without foreigners eavesdropping (watching, and recording how the Chinese electronics function). So far, this campaign is making a lot of noise in the Chinese and foreign media, but the U.S. Navy, having seen it all before (during the Cold War), is standing firm on the right of American warships to be in international waters.

Although Chinese journalists are discouraged (often with death threats) from investigating corruption, this is the number one topic of interest for most Chinese. This is because corruption affects everyone, in every aspect of their lives. Dealing with hospitals, to get born or die, often involves bribes. Schools, especially universities, are mired in corruption. Cheating, by faculty and students, is rampant, and bribery tolerated. For this reason, many Chinese students want to attend foreign colleges. There, they are sometimes lulled into thinking that plagiarism and cheating by local students is as extensive as it is in China. It isn't, and schools with lots of students from China find that a disproportionate number of their academic discipline cases are with these students. The Chinese quickly learn how to do the work without cheating, but it's pretty obvious what kind of academic environment they were raised in. Jobs in China often involve bribes, and commercial bribery is common. Westerners are warned to be careful who they do business with in China. Some Chinese businessmen rely more on cronies in the Communist Party, than business skills, to get ahead. In some cases, Western businessmen find themselves arrested and jailed because they objected to being cheated by a well connected Chinese. But the Chinese can adapt, when success depends on it. To successfully serve the export market, Chinese businessmen had to become bi-cultural (able to operate according to Western or Chinese business ethics). Many Chinese recognize that the more honest Western methods are superior, but thousands of years of corrupt practices are hard to let go of.

Meanwhile, as the old school communists had feared (when the market economy was allowed again in the 1980s), the thousands of Chinese multi-millionaires are throwing their money around, and doing what they want. Case in point is civil aviation. From the beginning, the communist government strictly controlled all aviation. But seven years ago, under pressure from the many wealthy Chinese who could afford to buy their own aircraft (like their Western counterparts), the government allowed private aircraft. But there were plenty of regulations (and bribery opportunities) and getting permission to fly was difficult (more bribes.) So an increasing number of billionaires are just taking off, without permission, and going where they wish. As long as you stay away from international borders, you are unlikely to find a jet fighter on your tail. And the top fine for an illegal flight is only $14,000 (with maybe some bribes added.) This is trivial for someone who can afford a private jet, and is considered another operating cost.

China has convinced North Korea, via some economic pressure and other threats, to resume talking to South Korea, America, Russia and Japan about nuclear weapons (mainly the North Korean ones.) China, more than any other country, has a good idea of what is actually going on in North Korea. It's not good. The country faces economic and political collapse. The economy has been in decline since the 1990s (when Russian subsidies disappeared) and that has led to more corruption and misbehavior by the security forces. The North Korea communists are losing control, and China does not want chaos on its borders. There is no obvious solution, although China is preparing to take over in North Korea, if there is a complete collapse.

August 17, 2010: The U.S. Department of Defense has finally released its annual review of Chinese military power. As usual, the report emphasizes the growth of weapons inventories. In China, military analysts decry the sorry state of military leadership, training and doctrine. It's easier to build new weapons than it is to train and maintain troops capable of using them effectively. The Chinese are more concerned with that, while the Department of Defense wants to portray China as a formidable foe, in order to justify a large defense budget. This is a pattern that developed during the Cold War, and continues. China has replaced Russia as the arch-foe. While the U.S. still pays attention to the defense of Taiwan, Chinese military power is seen expanding farther and farther into the Pacific and Asia.

A North Korean MiG-21 fighter crashed in China, 200 kilometers north of the North Korean border. The pilot was killed. There was no fire at the crash site, indicating that the jet was out of fuel. It's a common practice in dictatorships for combat aircraft used for training to be given a limited amount of fuel, to prevent the pilot from defecting, or engaging in any other sort of misbehavior. The North Korean MiG would have to head for Russia or Mongolia to defect, but he was a long way from either place when the fuel ran out. China later reported that the pilot had mechanical problems that took him off course. This does not explain why the pilot did not try and bail out, and it appears that the pilot was trying to defect, and China is helping North Korea avoid admitting to that.

August 11, 2010: Another  American  warship (the USS McCain, named after the father of a navy officer held captive during the Vietnam war) visited Vietnam, to celebrate fifteen years of renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries. This annoys China a great deal, because Vietnam has traditionally been a (very uncooperative) vassal state of China. Despite all the help China gave Vietnam during its war with the French (1945-54) and the Americans (1964-72), Vietnam refused to show proper gratitude. When China invaded Vietnam in 1979, the Vietnamese inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the Chinese. Now Vietnam is chummy with the United States, and China plots its revenge.

August 10, 2010: China launched another spy satellite into orbit.

August 9, 2010: Over 50,000 soldiers have been sent to rescue people made homeless or trapped by unusually severe monsoon flood. Increasingly, soldiers train for this kind of duty. Partly because it's an effective way to deal with natural disasters, partly because it's great PR for the government and the military, and partly because it's a morale boost for the troops, who get a chance to help people, and experience some gratitude.

 

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