China is allowing North Korea to continue hosting tourists from China. These visitors are a valuable source of foreign exchange for North Korea, and some 20,000 Chinese tourists visit each year on these day trips. North Korea recently advised the Chinese tour operators that they could include non-Chinese (including Westerners). This is one of the few bits of good news for North Korea from China recently. In the last two weeks China has found numerous ways to express its displeasure over North Korean aggressiveness towards its southern neighbor (a major trading partner with China and much easier to deal with) and continued efforts to develop nuclear weapon equipped ballistic missiles. These nukes are thought to be intended to threaten the West (and Japanese) but they could also be pointed at China. This, and so many other things North Korea has done (like not reforming its economy as China did in the 1980s), has apparently become intolerable for China and, without making any public announcements of a shift in policy, China has become much more hostile to the North Korean government of Kim Jong Un. This includes grooming his older brother Kim Jong Nam to replace him. Kim Jong Nam was long believed to be the heir apparent to Kim Jong Il but this heir was too much of a playboy and had an unhealthy (to North Korean officials) positive attitude towards the West and the way China was run. Kim Jong Nam spent much of his time in China and basically lives there supported in luxurious fashion by the Chinese government. That includes protection from any North Korean assassins who might be sent to kill him (by his nervous younger brother). China has long recruited members of the North Korean leadership, usually via favors, like tolerating their private business enterprises in China. The Kim clan in North Korea has fought this infiltration as best it can, firing officials thought to be pro-Chinese and even executing a few. But Chinese economic activity in North Korea is so widespread and crucial that is has proved impossible to shut the Chinese agents out. This new Chinese pressure could result in push-back in the form of more real or suspected pro-Chinese North Korean officials losing their jobs, freedom, or lives.
Succession conspiracies aside, China has imposed some more immediate and debilitating restrictions on North Korea. Access to Chinese banks is being cut off, one bank at a time. This makes it very difficult for North Korea to pay for illegal imports and get profits for illegal exports (weapons, drugs, counterfeit currency). China has ordered border police to crack down on the illegal North Korean smuggling. This was long tolerated, as long as the drugs and counterfeit currency did not land in China. That rule was not always obeyed by North Korea and now China is making up for lost retribution. The Chinese border guards can be bribed (with a lot more money), but that won’t shut down all the many other Chinese security organizations under the same orders to block those exports. North Korea, fearful that China will cut off oil imports, is trying to make a deal with Iran to trade iron ore for oil, but that assumes the Chinese (and American and so on) navies will allow those tankers and ore carriers to complete their deliveries. That is not likely to happen. North Koreans view all this with dread because for centuries this is how China handled troublesome neighbors. American diplomats have openly praised China for all these moves.
May 15, 2013: Japan announced it could, not that it would, attack unidentified submarines approaching the disputed Senkaku Islands. Apparently Japanese warships recently detected such a sub near the Senkakus and believed it was Chinese. International law prohibits foreign ships (especially warships) to get any closer than 22 kilometers from another nation’s coast without permission. Since Japan has long owned and controlled the unpopulated Senkakus it enforces the 22 kilometer “territorial waters.”
May 13, 2013: Three Chinese warships approached the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands and briefly entered them (getting closer than 22 kilometers to one of the islands). China has been probing like this with increasing frequency, using ships and aircraft (both military and commercial).
May 11, 2013: Britain and the United States both report numerous new efforts by Chinese hackers to obtain secret data about the new American F-35 stealth warplane. British firms are developing some of the F-35 components. The Chinese deny these charges but more evidence of Chinese involvement is being released.
May 8, 2013: The government has another corruption embarrassment, with revelations that the 41 year old granddaughter (Kong Dongmei) of communist China founder Mao Zedong is worth nearly $800 million and is listed as 242 on a list of the 500 wealthiest Chinese. Kong Dongmei also has three children, a violation of the one-child policy. Mao Zedong (who died in 1976) was always a strong believer in state ownership of everything and no private property. Many Chinese still regard Mao Zedong as a hero, even though those polices led to the death of over 20 million Chinese and the impoverishment of most of the population.
May 7, 2013: The Philippines protested the presence of Chinese warships 11 kilometers from Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands. The Philippines claims part of the Spratly Islands (which are closer to the Philippines than China) and Ayungin Shoal is occupied by Filipino military personnel.
May 5, 2013: Indian and Chinese officers met to resolve yet another border dispute and a bit of Chinese aggression. China agreed to withdraw its intruding troops while India agreed to remove some border posts that had annoyed the Chinese. Both nations declared victory but the Chinese got more out of the deal. It was all about twenty or so Chinese troops who have been camped out 19 kilometers inside Indian Kashmir since April 15th. China said their troops were not inside India, something India disputed. Neither country seemed eager to escalate this, or resolve it, but negotiations eventually began. China initially said it would withdraw if India would abandon an observation post in the mountains that overlooked Chinese positions. The Indian outpost was in Indian territory but the Chinese don’t like being watched. The Indians refused and pointed out that there had been three other Chinese incursions recently, but these troops did not linger. India saw all this as the Chinese way of applying pressure on India to withdraw from territory claimed by India. The Chinese stood fast and once more this tactic worked. Many Indians were appalled at how their government had given in to Chinese aggression. Indian politicians and media are pressuring the government to fight back next time and everyone assumes there will be a next time.