China: Censors Have A WTF Moment


May 11, 2012: China and India continue to build up military forces on their common border. China claims a large chunk of northeast India, and in the last few years India has moved more troops and aircraft into the area. Across the border, in Tibet, China is basing more troops in the area. This is not easy because the high altitude makes many Chinese soldiers ill (altitude sickness) when they exert themselves. It takes months to adapt soldiers to the thin air. China has the high ground here, as their Indian adversaries across the border are in the lowlands. China has a better road network on its side of the border and a new rail line reaching Tibet. India's side of the border is less well developed, and the Indians are busily constructing roads there.

India is also worried about China and Pakistan coordinating military operations against India. China has long been a major supplier of weapons to Pakistan. But the Chinese do not have a high opinion of Pakistani military power or the reliability of Pakistan as an ally. Indian fears are mostly the result of growing Chinese aggressiveness in claiming Indian land and naval activity in the Indian Ocean.

A Chinese training task force (two destroyers, two frigates, and a large amphibious ship) are moving towards waters off Okinawa for annual training exercises. They are going there a month early this year. These exercises make Japan nervous because Okinawa is a part (although distant) of Japan. China also has claims on Okinawa but the Chinese government has not become aggressive about this yet (as they have with claims against India).

The fallout from the removal from office of popular politician Bo Xilai continues with aggressive efforts to remove any mention of Bo from the public record. Bo was an aggressive self-promoter and left monuments to his achievements all over the center of his power, the southwestern city of Chongqing (population 28 million). Bo's demise was embarrassing for the senior leadership of China because the incident put the spotlight on corruption and misbehavior at the highest levels of government. The Bo situation was also another reminder that the government no longer has complete control over national media. Communists, first a century ago in Russia then in China, used complete control of the media to operate a very effective police state. The Internet and cell phones have changed that. Despite an enormous and very expensive effort, China has been able to exercise some, but not complete, control over the Internet. With the proliferation of more powerful cell phones (especially smart phones, which are basically hand held PCs) the efforts at media control grow even more useless. The word still gets around and all most Chinese have to do is make a little extra effort to find out the latest tricks needed to circumvent the "Great Firewall of China." Bo was not only bad but now everyone knows it and more details are coming out. Nearly all the senior Chinese officials are, well, "dirty," as are many of their kin, and the Bo situation led to more Chinese discussing, on the Internet, details of many other dirty leaders. Whatever the solution to this problem (the corruption and the censorship) is, it won't be easy to implement.

If the Bo Xilai mess wasn't enough, last week a blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, under house arrest for putting the spotlight on too much corruption, managed to escape and reach the U.S. embassy. China responded by seizing and torturing Chen's wife and threatening other friends and family. This caused Chen to agree to leave the embassy, with assurances that a diplomatic agreement between China and the U.S. protected him from further confinement. China broke that agreement immediately and Chen expressed a willingness to leave China. Most Chinese reformers prefer to stay in China and fight the government. This can have more impact than doing it from outside China. But Chen has been reminded how ruthless the government can be and he fears for his wife and kids.

China is experimenting with new Internet restrictions, at least in Tibet, where Internet users must provide more information to government censors before they can go on line. Many Tibetans want the Chinese out of Tibet and are getting more violent about it.

May 10, 2012: China is insisting that international agreements do not apply in its dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal. Chinese warships entering the Filipino exclusive economic zone (anything within 380 kilometers of land) are violating a 2002, agreement by nations bordering the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal is 200 kilometers from the Philippines and 850 kilometers from China. After signing the 2002, agreement China changed its mind three years ago and is now claiming ownership of the entire South China Sea. This has triggered a move by most of China's neighbors to form new, or closer, military ties with the United States. This includes hosting American warships and aircraft. China is trying to bully these nations into keeping the Americans out, but that just seems to justify the closer ties with the United States.

Today a Chinese military newspaper repeated the claim to Scarborough Shoal and warned that China would do whatever it takes to maintain its claim, no matter who (like the United States) backs the Philippines. That's pretty scary stuff coming from an official military publication.

In southwest Yunnan province a woman set off a suicide bomb at a government office to protest land evictions. Three were killed and four wounded. These evictions, especially the illegal ones that basically steal land and homes, are a major source of discontent in China.

Another (Yaogan 14) military reconnaissance satellite was launched. This was the seventh Chinese satellite launch so far this year. China is now second only to the United States in the number of military satellites it has in orbit. Russia was, for a long time, number two but was eclipsed in the last decade by China.

May 7, 2012: A Chinese news anchor accidentally described the Philippines as part of China. This was on a news show on one of the largest (and state controlled) networks. Many Filipinos believe this was no accident and point out that the Chinese government has considerable control over their media and often plants rumors or organizes demonstrations or other "spontaneous" outbursts in support of government policies. Many Filipinos see this "accident" as a test of popular support for seeking to make the Philippines part of China. This resonates with many of China's neighbors, many of whom have border disputes with China and fear being claimed out of existence.

May 3, 2012: China sent ten fishing boats and four patrol boats to Scarborough Shoal and began illegally (according to Filipino law) fishing there. The Philippines have not sent warships to drive the Chinese away this time.


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