The dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal has heated up again as China continues to maintain warships in the area and threatens Filipino ships trying to enter one atoll. Next year the Philippines plans to allow exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas near its coast (Palawan Island). China says it will not allow this. By international law (a 1994 treaty), the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. China has angered its neighbors by claiming all the islands (especially tiny uninhabited ones) in the South China Sea. This is a 3.5 million square kilometer (1.4 million square mile) area south of China and Taiwan, west of the Philippines, and north of Indonesia. China claims the entire area, as if it were one big EEZ. This has aroused the ire of the neighbors and caused them to unite against China.
Despite the United States mutual-defense treaties with many claimants (Philippines, Taiwan, Japan), China believes it will prevail, simply by applying constant pressure on all fronts (military, economic, media, and diplomatic). China has openly threatened economic retaliation against nations that protest the great South China Sea land grab and is, by implication and its actions, threatening the use of military force as well. Chinese state-controlled media have pushed these claims on nationalistic grounds. This has been very popular with most Chinese, who see China becoming a world power again. However, this use of nationalism is dangerous as it could push China into a war if neighbors resist China actually making good on their territorial claims.
Meanwhile, the Philippines denied media reports that they have allowed the U.S. Marine Corps to operate on Palawan. The Philippines has not denied that more American warships are visiting the Philippines. The Philippines have also annoyed the Chinese by announcing that the sea area off Palawan island, out to the limit of the EEZ, has been renamed the West Philippine Sea. China insists this area is still the South China Sea (which they claim to own).
The Chinese government is allowing (or at least not shutting down) more anti-Japan demonstrations. The government has helped keep alive the memory of Japanese atrocities during World War II and the 1930s. Japanese troops and civilians behaved badly in China after Japan defeated Russia in a 1905 war. China inherited Russian "concessions" (Chinese territory the Chinese government had been forced, at gun point, to allow foreigners to operate in). Japan expanded this territory and essentially took control, with the object of making northern China a part of Japan. This sort of thing was very unpopular in China back then and still is.
China and Cuba have agreed to increase military cooperation. China has supported the Cuban dictatorship for over fifty years but has never provided much in the way of economic or military aid. Six years ago China became Cuba's second largest trading partner (after Venezuela). China achieved this by extending credit to Cuba, despite a long record of unpaid trade loans. China also pays Cuba for the use of electronic monitoring (of the U.S.) facilities. China maintains a low profile in Cuba, apparently in order to avoid a confrontation with the United States that would weaken Chinese complaints about American military forces operating near China.
India and China recently agreed to resume joint military exercises. These had been suspended two years ago because of very public Chinese claims on Indian territory. The claims remain but the Chinese are no longer releasing press releases about the issue. The Chinese are also trying to halt the growth of an international coalition opposing Chinese claims on all of the South China Sea. At the same time, Chinese officials visited Pakistan and very publically assured their long-time ally that China would continue to support Pakistani independence and supply Pakistan with modern weapons.
China state-controlled media recently featured stories about Su-30 fighters, carrying live ammo (missiles and smart bombs) in Tibet, along the high-altitude border with India. There were also prominent media reports of recent amphibious training exercises. This was directed against Japan, which has become increasingly aggressive about asserting its ownership of the Senkaku islands.
The government has lost another battle with the Internet. This one involved efforts to cover up a March incident where the 23 year old son of a senior Communist Party official died when his $800,000 sports car crashed. His two passengers were women, one of them naked. Both the women survived the crash but one is paralyzed from the neck down. The dead man was a recent college graduate and made about $10,000 a year from a government job. Thus the question was how could he afford an expensive sports car. Even his father's much higher salary could not pay for such luxuries. The government wanted to keep all this quiet because it was another reminder of all the corruption and nepotism in the senior leadership. But the story did get out and despite energetic efforts by the Internet police and censors, it spread nationwide, with pictures of the wreck and those involved.
September 14, 2012: The African dictatorship of Zimbabwe opened a Chinese built and run military training center. China loaned Zimbabwe $98 million for the construction of the center and the loan will be repaid with diamonds from Chinese operated mines in Zimbabwe. China has supplied the dictatorship in Zimbabwe with weapons and military training in return for economic opportunities. The Zimbabwean government has ruined their economy and the Chinese provide help, with no questions asked. This has been a successful Chinese tactic in Africa, at least with the remaining dictatorships there.
September 13, 2012: South China Sea disputes are heating up as Taiwan sends two patrol boats to the disputed (with China and Japan) Senkaku islands. This is part of a problem caused by China's neighbors refusing to accept Chinese claims to the entire South China Sea. China was particularly angry because two days ago the Japanese government purchased the Senkaku islands from the Japanese family that had owned them since the 19th century. China and Japan are also sending small warships to patrol contested parts of the disputed Diaoyu (in Chinese) Islands (Senkaku in Japanese and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan).
The islands are actually islets, which are 167 kilometers northeast of Taiwan and 426 kilometers southeast of Japan's Okinawa and have a total area of 6.3 square kilometers. Taiwan also claims the islands, which were discovered by Chinese fishermen in the 16th century and taken over by Japan in 1879. They are valuable now because of the 380 kilometer economic zone nations can claim in their coastal waters. This includes fishing and possible underwater oil and gas fields. For China, the islands are a valuable source of fish, whith Chinese fishing boats taking over 150,000 tons a year from the vicinity of the Senkakus. China fears that Japan might try to prohibit Chinese fishing in the area. A conservative Japanese political group built the lighthouse in 1986, to further claims of Japanese ownership. Currently, the Japanese have the most powerful naval force in the region and are backed up by a mutual defense treaty with the United States. China was long dissuaded by that but no more. China is no longer backing off on its claims and neither is Japan. So these confrontations are becoming more serious. Taiwan is not considered a serious contender in this dispute but is showing up anyway.
September 8, 2012: In rural eastern China (Shandong province) a man who had been mistreated by local officials built a bomb and brought it to government offices where he set it off, killing himself and wounding six other people. Government attempts to suppress news of this event failed.
August 30, 2012: In northeastern Tibet two teenage Buddhist monks burned themselves to death to protest the Chinese occupation. In the last few years about 40 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in protest but the world is not really paying attention. There was a major uprising in 2008, which was quickly and brutally put down. Areas where Tibetan resistance is most active are flooded with additional police and the Chinese troops stand ready to crush anymore insurrections. The sixty year old Chinese plan for cultural assimilation of the Tibetans proceeds. This is how the Chinese empire has expanded for thousands of years, and all around the periphery of China there are unassimilated groups, most of them too small to bother with. The Tibetans are numerous enough to target for cultural assimilation.