China continues to make threatening moves and noises in the South China Sea. The nations on the receiving end (Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines) are alarmed at the aggressiveness China is showing towards India, a neighbor with nuclear weapons. This is demoralizing for China’s neighbors, who hope that the United States will provide some support if China becomes too aggressive. None of these nations are interested in negotiations either, in part because of the Chinese custom of using these meetings to generate more propaganda instead of seriously trying to work out a compromise. All the nations are putting more troops and weapons in the disputed areas and sending more naval and air patrols. Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy is seen more often in the South China Sea and Western Pacific. Not just warships, but also long range recon aircraft and marines staging landing exercises on these uninhabited islets. So far this year China has sent groups of warships into the Western pacific at least once a month.
Chinese naval officers are also boasting of sending surveillance and electronic monitoring ships to American coastal waters off Hawaii, Guam, and eventually the American mainland. This would be in retaliation for the U.S. doing the same off China for decades. China has complained about this “intrusion” but it is legal and China has only rarely tried to use force (without success, the American patrols continue).
There are also disputes in the South China Sea that don’t even involve China. For example, on May 9th, a Taiwanese fishing ship refused to halt when ordered to do so by a Filipino patrol boat. The Filipinos opened fire, and at least 40 bullets hit the Taiwanese ship, killing one of the crew. The Taiwanese ship then got away and the Taiwanese government accused the Filipinos of murder, excessive force, and attacking a Taiwanese fishing boat that was not in Filipino waters. China joined in criticizing Filipino “savagery” and Taiwan did not discourage this support. This dispute is still unresolved. The Philippines has been getting more and more aggressive with equally aggressive Taiwanese and Chinese fishing boats that deliberately fish in Filipino waters. Taiwan and China refuse to control their poaching fishermen, and in this case Taiwan is playing the victim and threatening retaliation, even though the Philippines apologized. Most Filipinos see this as bullying by the greedy and lawless Taiwanese. More uncharitable Filipinos mumbled about how “those Chinese are all alike.”
China continues to have active border disputes with India. Starting on May 17th, Chinese troops blocked the movement of Indian troops on the Indian side of the border in Kashmir. The Indians were headed for a road China had built that extended five kilometers into Indian territory. This came two weeks after China agreed to withdraw its troops that had set up a camp 19 kilometers inside India. To get them out India agreed to remove some border posts that annoyed the Chinese. Both nations declared victory but the Chinese got more out of the deal. During all this China insisted their troops were not inside India, something India continues to dispute. Now Chinese troops are not only building a road into Indian territory but are blocking movement of Indian troops on the Indian side of the border. India sees all this as the Chinese way of applying pressure on India to withdraw from territory claimed by India. Time after time this tactic is working. In response to public outcry over these embarrassments the government has promised to patrol more aggressively along the Chinese border.
China’s decades of spectacular economic performance are now being reconsidered because of a wide ranging investigation into fraudulent reporting of economic data. This has long been rumored, as another way for government and industry officials to make themselves look better to senior government officials. But the discrepancies between all these faked numbers and overall economic performance became too great, as did louder calls for investigating and punishing this sort of corruption. The adjustments are showing slower growth, more pollution, and poverty and growing fundamental (but unreported) problems that will seriously hurt living standards in the future.
These unreported economic problems are one reason over a million Chinese have headed for Africa. But that place has not always been the land of opportunity. For example, Ghana recently cracked down on illegal gold mining and among the many people arrested were 134 Chinese. This was not unexpected as the Chinese are displacing Arabs as the main facilitators of illegal activities (mining, logging, poaching, smuggling, and so on) in Africa.
China is also refusing to give ground on growing foreign pressure to halt military and economic espionage via the Internet. Foreign nations are threatening retaliation and China is denying everything and ignoring the threats.
More Chinese are being vocal about how unhappy they are with the vigorous government efforts to eliminate pornography. What is particularly annoying about this is how it leads to major cuts in foreign movies, in which material that would not even get a movie rated “adults only” in the West is cut as being too offensive for Chinese audiences. Chinese are also upset about how the government forces foreign (usually American) movie makers to change films that could be interpreted as “anti-Chinese.” While many Chinese like to see China throw its weight around, the fact that Nazi Germany made the same demands in the 1930s (and Hollywood complied) is unnerving. China does not like to think of itself as the new “evil empire.” Chinese consider themselves the victims of two centuries of abuse by the West and long overdue to get the appropriate measure of respect. To Chinese, China is the world’s premier civilization and foreigners need to recognize that.
June 5, 2013: The senior American military commander in the Pacific repeated the U.S. promise to oppose any Chinese effort to take control of disputed areas by force. China is taking that into account as it stages more accidental collisions of Chinese ships with “intruders” or the use of intimidation at sea. The U.S. is in the process of moving more warships to the Pacific and upgrading bases already there.
May 31, 2013: China agreed, as part of a $2.2 billion loan for economic projects, to provide training for troops in Sri Lanka (the large island-nation off the southern tip of India). This deal will also include delivery of more military equipment. Sri Lanka (which has long had tense relations with India) has become the beneficiary of Chinese economic and military aid over the last decade and has become very friendly with the Chinese. Sri Lanka received crucial military aid from China during the war with Tamil rebels (who received a lot of aid from Tamils in southern India and were finally defeated in 2009). India can't become too friendly with Sri Lanka without causing political problems with its own Tamils (many of whom still support the defeated Tamil rebels of Sri Lanka, where Tamils have long been a troublesome minority). Last year two Chinese fishing ships and 37 crewmen were seized by Sri Lankan Navy warships off the coast of Sri Lanka. The Chinese were charged with poaching (illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters). This sort of thing is common with Chinese fishing companies, who expect their government to exert pressure on countries that seize Chinese fishing ships. Sri Lanka was seen as a place where Chinese could get away with poaching. China managed to work out a deal with Sri Lanka over this, in large part because of Chinese economic and military aid.
May 23, 2013: China bluntly told North Korea to resume negotiations over their nuclear and missile programs. This news was made public, as has a lot of government activity regarding North Korea. This is meant to warn the North Koreans that China is their last and most crucial ally and it’s time to shape up or get cut off. This came after a senior North Korean general arrived in to China to negotiate “peace” with China. Those talks resulted in North Korea agreeing to some economic reforms, less warlike behavior, and peace talks with its neighbors (especially South Korea and Japan, along with Russia and the United States). In return China will reduce its sanctions. North Korea sent this emissary to China in response to Chinese displeasure at North Korea’s warlike behavior over the past few months. In addition to openly criticizing North Korea, which is rare, China also imposed more of the international economic sanctions on North Korea. China had refrained from this in the past and shrugged off the international criticism. But North Korean refusal to enact economic reforms (and cease being an economic burden on mentor China) and growing hostility towards South Korea and foreigners in general has made the Chinese very, very angry. North Korea has several other incentives to halt its months of warlike rhetoric. For one thing, the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile projects that caused the sanctions in the first place have been hurt by the new sanctions. This is especially true since China cracked down on illegal items, related to nuclear and missile development, moving in and out of North Korea.
May 21, 2013: The Philippines warned China to stay away from a reef in the Spratly Islands that was occupied by a small garrison of Filipino marines. A Filipino landing ship ran aground on this reef in the Spratly’s in 1999, and remained intact and was never removed. Since then the Philippines have used the (still functional) wreck as a base for some marines who monitor the area (which China claims). In the 1980s China removed a similar Vietnamese garrison by force and the Philippines fear that China may try that tactic again.
North Korean kidnappers released a Chinese fishing ship and its 16 man crew they had seized on May 5th. The boat was taken in international waters (100 kilometers from North Korea) by armed men dressed in North Korean military uniforms. The kidnappers moved the captured ship closer to North Korea and kept the crew prisoner at sea while they tried to extract a $100,000 ransom from the families of the fishermen and owner of the ship. Instead the owner eventually contacted the Chinese government, which in turn went after their North Korean counterparts. This sort of thing has happened before. A year ago another Chinese fishing boat was taken and aggressive Chinese diplomacy got the ship released. This time, although the ship and crew were released, the kidnappers took five tons of diesel oil, six barrels of gasoline, and other supplies. The kidnappers had removed portable electronics but returned these before releasing the ship and crew. Apparently these were rogue coast guardsmen seeking to make a lot of money. North Korea coast guard boats often extort cash and goods from foreign (usually Chinese) fishing boats that come close to the coast. Fishing boats often will pay up just to get the armed North Koreans off their boat. But $100,000 is more than what is normally carried on a fishing boat and had to involve people ashore. Some coast guardsmen may have successfully carried out kidnappings like this in the past and it never got reported (because of threats to hunt down and kill whoever blabbed). In any event, the North Korean government was silent on this incident.
May 20, 2013: Vietnam accused China of encouraging its warships and civilian vessels to threaten Vietnamese fishing boats in the South China Sea areas that are claimed by China and Vietnam. Today a Vietnamese fishing boat was rammed (and its hull damaged) by a Chinese patrol boat. China denies everything.
May 18, 2013: Pakistan has agreed to adopt Beidou (the Chinese version of GPS) and give it equal status with the American GPS. Last year China made Beidou available for civilian use and expects to grab a major share of the satellite navigation market from the U.S. GPS system by the end of the decade. China will build ground facilities in Pakistan to enhance Beidou, so that it can be used for precision applications (like landing aircraft in bad weather). Pakistan is the fifth country to adopt Beidou.