China: North Korea Finds A Friend

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November 25, 2010: China has taken North Korea's side after North Korean artillery fired on a South Korean island near the North Korean coast two days ago. North Korea said it fired (and killed four people) because the United States and South Korea insisted on going ahead with naval exercises off the west coast of Korea. Although these exercises are held in international waters, both North Korea and China consider the presence of foreign warships so close to them to be a provocation. Officially, China asked North and South Korea to work out their differences, and refused to condemn the North Korean attack. Chinese media (which is state controlled) reported the incident as one of North Korea responding to South Korean and American provocation. However, the North Korean torpedoing of a South Korean corvette last March did cause China to withdraw its unconditional support for North Korea. South Korea, a major trading partner with China, demanded that China chastise North Korea for the torpedo attack. China refused to do so publicly, but did so privately. This caused some strain between North Korea and China. While the North Koreans need aid from, and trade with, China, they still have the traditional resentment towards their large, and often overbearing, neighbor.

But China is trying to keep north and south Korea from going to war over this latest North Korean aggression. Overall, China wants the two Koreas to remain quiet, and not united. A war could bring unity, most likely with the south absorbing the north. China does not want that. Moreover, such a conflict would send millions of refugees across the border into northern China, where the economy and public order would be disrupted. China wants North Korea to stay independent, and become more self-sufficient via the economic reforms China has been using for three decades. But the North Koreans refuse, and grow increasingly paranoid, violent and unpredictable. Thus Chinese officials consider North Korea unstable and self-destructive and treat its leaders accordingly. China has, for centuries, preferred a weak Korea. A divided Korea, even with a prosperous and dynamic south, suits China just fine.

Meanwhile, it's official Chinese policy to force American naval forces farther out into international waters. China wants the U.S. to keep its military ships and aircraft 371 kilometers from the coast (the distance international law recognizes as the "economic zone"), rather than 22 kilometers (the distance international law recognizes as "territorial waters"). Ignoring international agreements on this subject, China is determined to bully the U.S. into backing off to the 371 kilometer line. So far, the U.S. is refusing. China is applying pressure any way it can, even to the extent of condoning North Korean attacks that could trigger a resumption of the Korean War (1950-53, when the fighting halted because an armistice, not a peace treaty, was signed.)

While Taiwan talks about upgrading its military with new weapons and better training, there is little progress in either area. Delivery of new weapons has quietly been delayed, and training reforms put off. While making the military stronger is popular with Taiwanese in general, government officials seem more concerned with not upsetting China (which is very much against a strong Taiwanese military).

China has prevented over a hundred friends and associates of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from attending the December 10 acceptance ceremony in Norway. The ceremony will be held anyway, but the prize will not be given. As soon as Liu Xiaobo is out of prison (for advocating reform), he will be able to pick up his Peace Prize medal and the $1.4 million that comes with it. China also tried to persuade other nations not to send their ambassadors to the ceremony, but only Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, and Iraq agreed to stay away.

Inflation is becoming a larger problem, with food prices up ten percent over a year ago (versus an overall inflation rate of 4.4 percent). In some areas, food inflation is higher, and local officials fear demonstrations or violence.

November 24, 2010:  China cancelled a long-planned trip by its foreign minister to South Korea (to discuss trade matters, and peace talks with North Korea). China has taken North Korea's side in current unpleasantness between the two Koreas, so such a visit would appear unseemly.

China has resumed shipments of rare earths, after a two month embargo. China tried to use its near-monopoly on the production of "rare earth" metals to jack up prices. The reaction from the rest of the world was vigorous and hostile. "Rare earths" are ores that are found in tiny quantities all over the world. Because that they are expensive to mine, many mining companies don't bother. But in the last century, more and more rare earths have been found to have useful applications in metallurgy, electronics and other areas. In the last few decades, China has extracted rare earths more cheaply than anyone else, and driven nearly all foreign rare earth mining operations out of business. But because of the new Chinese threat, other countries are reviving their rare earth mining operations, even if it requires government subsidies.

November 20, 2010: Two Chinese patrol ships approached Japanese controlled waters off the Senkaku Islands (which China claims, and Japan occupies). The Chinese patrol ships left the area the next day. One of the two Chinese ships was the 2,580-ton Yuzheng 310. This  is a new design and China's fastest fishery patrol vessel (top speed of 40 kilometers an hour). The Yuzheng 310 can also carry two helicopters on its aft landing pad. The Yuzheng 310 has the latest navigation and surveillance sensors needed for patrolling fishing grounds and finding poachers.

November 19, 2010: The former head of China's Nuclear Power Company (which is currently building or planning more than 25 new nuclear power plants) was sentenced for taking nearly a million dollars in bribes between 2004-9. His connections among fellow Communist Party members enabled him to avoid the death penalty, and will probably make it possible for him to get out of jail before he dies of old age. The senior Communist Party leadership has been forced, by public anger at the widespread corruption among party members, to openly call for corrupt officials to be punished. But there are so many of them. The party allows the most indiscrete of the corrupt officials to be prosecuted. Those with the fewest friends among party members get executed. The others are sentenced to long jail terms, but are quietly released before too long (depending on how much clout they had within the party.)

November 15, 2010:  The latest list of the 500 fastest supercomputers on the planet (www.top500.org) lists a Chinese machine as the fastest. While the 54 percent of the machines on the top 500 list are American, China is in second place (8.4 percent) and catching up fast.

November 9, 2010:  The new Chinese hospital ship, Pease Ark, arrived in Bangladesh, where it will stay for a week, dispensing free medical care. The Peace Ark has been on a good will tour for over  two months now and will return to China by the end of November.

November 8, 2010: In Turkey, Chinese and Turkish army units undertook a week of joint training.

 

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