Three Chinese coast guard ships again moved closer than 22 kilometers (the limit of territorial waters) near one of the Senkaku Islands, which both China and Japan claim. This also happened a week ago and several times earlier this year. Japan often sends warships armed with aircraft to confront the Chinese ships, which usually withdraw. It is feared that there might come a time where the Chinese ships do not turn around, or there is some confusion over who is doing what and someone opens fire.
The Philippines has told China that it will not be intimidated into abandoning small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. One of those detachments is stationed on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre) that the Filipino navy deliberately ran up on Second Thomas Reef in 1999, to provide a place for an observation team. Chinese patrol ships have recently come within nine kilometers of the LST, which China insists is there illegally. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against the grounded ship. Filipino, Japanese, and American officials have met recently to organize joint efforts to resist Chinese aggression in situations like this. Second, Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point. Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. China is the biggest offender here and shows no sign of slowing down.
One aspect of Chinese aggression against its neighbors that tends to be neglected in the West is the impact of Chinese immigrants throughout the region over the last few centuries. Although the Chinese government (until this century) was not interested in external trade (the official Chinese attitude was “we have all we need”), individual Chinese could leave the country and move to other countries, and there these Chinese often proved to be catalysts for economic growth. Many Chinese merchants got involved and invested large sums of money in Malaysia, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, and as far away as the Persian Gulf and East Africa. Great risks were taken and great profits achieved. The Chinese government didn’t care as long as much of that money returned to China, where it could be taxed. Now China is using all that private entrepreneurial activity as an excuse to make territorial claims on neighbors.
In the southwest (Yunnan province) police seized 9.2 tons of drugs at the Burma border in the first five months of this year. That’s up 23 percent from the same period last year. About a third of the seized drugs are heroin, with most of the rest being methamphetamine. Drug arrests are up 13 percent this year, with over 8,000 people grabbed through May. Burma is the main source of illegal drugs in China and that has been a problem for over two centuries.
The Chinese stock market index (the Hang Seng) fell 13 percent in the last five weeks. This is in response to several years of bad economic news. China has problems with corruption in the banking system and the large number of state owned firms that underperform and soak up large quantities of government cash, often via shady loan deals. There is also a growing labor shortage (especially of skilled people) and too much excess inventory from factories that kept producing in the belief that exports and domestic consumption would grow. The growth isn’t there as much as it used to be, and the problems that the government has avoided dealing with for so many years are now dragging down the economy.
Chinese and American leaders have met and agreed to coordinate efforts to get North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program. This time around it is more than just talk for the Chinese. On the North Korean border the Chinese are no longer looking the other way at North Korean smuggling and other scams that depend on transit to Chinese ports and then on to international customers (as “Chinese” and not “North Korean” cargo). China is sending less food and oil to North Korea and has been telling the North Korean leaders they have to shape up. The North Koreans continue to resist this pressure and Chinese leaders are becoming visibly upset at this defiance.
Although the Chinese government has officially increased anti-corruption efforts, the many corrupt officials are fighting back. It’s very difficult to get a conviction for the most senior officials and Chinese citizens who find and report corrupt behavior risk arrest and prosecution for whatever the corrupt officials can conjure up to intimidate such critics.
June 21, 2013: A deal was signed with Russia to buy $270 billion worth of Russian oil over the next 25 years. The Russian oil company supplying the oil is receiving an upfront payment of $70 billion. In a separate deal China bought a 20 percent stake in a large natural gas field off the north coast of Russia.
June 17, 2013: For the first time in three years, China has regained the number one position on the list of the 500 most powerful super computers on the planet. In 2010 China made it for the first time. The new Chinese Tianhe-2 achieved 33.86 petaflops, twice the speed of the number two system. For the last 21 years the top 500 list has been recalculated and released twice a year. Currently, China has 66 supercomputers on the list while the U.S. has 252. China has been catching up here for a decade now. China spent about $300 million to develop Tianhe-2, which used a lot of hardware and software developed in China.
June 15, 2013: India has offered to negotiate with China over their border disputes. China has not responded to this offer yet. Most of those disputes are about China taking control over thinly populated areas that India has controlled for centuries.
June 14, 2013: Three Chinese coast guard ships moved closer than 22 kilometers (the limit of territorial waters) near one of the Senkaku Islands, which both China and Japan claim. This is the first time this has happened since May. Japan warned the three Chinese ships to leave and they did.
June 11, 2013: In the west (Sichuan province) a Tibetan Buddhist nun burned herself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. In the last four years at least 120 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.
China launched three people into orbit, where they will remain for 15 days.
June 10, 2013: In Central America, Nicaragua announced that it will begin construction of a canal to compete with the nearby Panama Canal. The new canal is being financed by China. Actual work has not begun yet. The project would take at least eleven years to complete and cost at least $40 billion.