The effort to improve the quality of military personnel has run into money problems. Unless the military can offer more competitive pay and fringe benefits (especially living conditions) it has proven impossible to attract enough volunteers to staff the two million strong armed forces. Yet even without the better benefits, about half the military personnel are the higher quality desired. Most of these are NCOs (or headed for NCO rank) and officers. This is progress because a decade ago many NCOs and officers were basically in the military because it was a job, not because they wanted to be there.
China recently repeated its guarantee for foreign ships to use contested waters in the South China Sea but to be aware that China intends to fully exercise these claims. That would involve removing “foreign occupation” found on some of the disputed islets and reefs, as well as forbidding foreign ships from getting closer than 22 kilometers to the hundreds of bits of land in the South China Sea that China claims. This appears to be in response to a recent agreements between Vietnam and the Philippines that the two nations are developing joint military and diplomatic plans to thwart increasing Chinese aggressiveness in territorial disputes throughout the South China Sea. In the past, Vietnam tried to go it alone against China and got beaten in several battles. Perhaps because of the rough treatment Vietnam has received from Chinese forces in the past, the Philippines also repeated its staunch support for a “no confrontation” policy. This is part necessity because even with lots of charity, the Philippines cannot expect to ever afford a military that would be more of a nuisance to China. For confrontation, especially when China asserts its claims to territory right off the Filipino coast, an ally like the United States will be needed. So far the Americans have not committed to helping with such a desperate situation.
China recently admitted that it is building more aircraft carriers but did not provide any details. At least one of these carriers appears to be under construction and photos of that are in circulation.
China has joined with Russia to oppose any use of foreign military force against Syria. This was prompted by the recent Syrian use of chemical weapons against pro-rebel civilians. The U.S. and other NATO countries had earlier told Syria that such use of chemical weapons would bring military intervention. China and Russia have long been supporters of the Assad dictatorship and similar tyrants around the world. China and Russia lost their old friend Kaddafi, who lost his life clinging to power in Libya two years ago. Kaddafi was largely done in by NATO providing air support. NATO is reluctant to do that for Syria because the post-Kaddafi government (and post Arab Spring governments in general) tend to be tolerant of Islamic terror groups. But the Syrian civil war is dragging on and that is becoming embarrassing for the West. Assad losing power would be an even bigger embarrassment for China and Russia.
China is increasing its pressure on Chinese pro-democracy and anti-corruption advocates to keep quiet. While the government is officially against corruption (and not about to allow anyone but the Communist Party run the country) it does not tolerate anyone but government officials openly discussing corruption or government reform. Over fifty of the most outspoken reformers have been arrested so far this year and Internet censorship continues to intensify. This includes arrests of prominent posters of commentary on current news events, like the trials of corrupt officials. While China openly pledges to reduce bureaucratic obstacles to foreign investors (especially those running foreign firms in China) it does not want to openly discuss the continued unofficial (and often illegal, even by Chinese law) interference by Chinese officials (usually for personal gain). Foreign victims of this makes a lot of bad publicity for China, but that is the only real incentive China has to address this particular corruption problem.
Local and foreign economists agree that official Chinese GDP data has been manipulated to produce GDP numbers that are about 10-12 percent higher than reality. This is important mainly for propaganda purposes. The U.S. GDP last year was $15 trillion compared to $7.3 trillion for China. But even at $6.5 trillion, Chinese GDP is huge and growing. Annual GDP growth is slowing in China, from ten percent to 7-8 percent (actually closer to six percent). U.S. growth is much lower, more like two percent. China expects to surpass the United States in GDP in the next two decades but that may take longer, or never happen, because of problems China does not want to talk openly about (labor shortages and the cost of dealing with pollution).
China continues to quietly pressure North Korea to calm down and reform. The north has responded by repairing relations with South Korea, which earlier this year the north sort of declared war on. This annoyed the Chinese greatly, as has the continued North Korean effort to develop nuclear weapons.
Chinese violation of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) border with India continues and negotiations to settle the dispute are stalled. As a good will gesture both nations meanwhile agreed to hold joint counter-terrorism drills in November. This would be the third time this was done, although it hasn’t happened for the past five years because of the growing Chinese aggressiveness along the LAC (where Chinese are more frequently crossing the border and confronting Indian troops). These counter-terrorism drills only involve 150 special operations troops from either country and are mostly for show. The LAC is also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line and is the unofficial border between India and China. The LAC is 4,057 kilometers long and is mostly Tibet on the Chinese side. China claims much territory that is now considered part of India because when Tibet was independent in the early 20th century, Tibet agreed to the MacCartney-MacDonald Line. When China reconquered Tibet in the 1950s, that border agreement was renounced as “unfair.” China has never backed away from its claims on Indian territory and its violation of the LAC is a major crises for India (which has a defense budget one third that of China’s).
August 27, 2013: China turned down a Japanese proposal to hold high level negotiations over who owns the disputed Senkaku Islands. As far as China is concerned the islands are Chinese and all they wish to negotiate is how quickly Japan will remove it personnel, structures, and claims.
August 26, 2013: Chinese soldiers completed their largest ever air mobility and air assault exercise, moving combat ready troops long distances by aircraft as well as shorter distances, as if in a combat zone, by helicopter. About a hundred helicopters were involved. In the last five years the Chinese Army has organized at least six aviation brigades containing helicopters and large UAVs. The Chinese Army aviation was created in 1986, and before that the army had to depend on the air force for any air transport. This is still the case with fixed wing transports, but the army now has over 800 helicopters and in the last few years helicopter gunships were introduced as well.
August 25, 2013: Two Chinese frigates and a supply ship left port and headed for the West Pacific for a training exercise.
August 20, 2013: Chinese state controlled media mocked the capabilities of the Indian Navy, using the August 14th explosion that sank a Russian built Indian Kilo class sub while docked near Mumbai as an example. The 16 year old submarine had recently returned from Russia after an $80 million refurbishment. Eighteen sailors were killed as the sub sank at dockside. The Chinese media also criticized the earlier launching of India’s first Indian built aircraft carrier as essentially foreign made because the vessel used French blueprints, Russian aircraft, and American engines. This harsh commentary ignored that fact that China has had similar problems with its warships in the recent past and that Chinese built warships use a lot of foreign technology (usually stolen).
For the third time this year there has been an outbreak of Islamic terrorism in western China (Xinjiang province) where Uighur (ethnic Turks from Xinjiang province) Islamic terrorists have become increasingly active. The latest violence was the result of a police raid in a rural area that left 22 Uighurs and one Chinese policeman dead. Two months ago at least fifteen armed Uighur Islamic terrorists attacked government buildings in the town of Lukqun and killed 24 people (including two policemen). Police killed 11 of the attackers and captured four others. There had never been any Uighur violence in Lukqun before and this attack came as a surprise to the police. But Xinjiang province has been the scene of more and more of this violence. A similar incident five months earlier, elsewhere in Xinjiang, left at least 21 dead, including 15 government employees and police. Eight surviving Islamic terrorists were arrested. After that incident China demanded again that Pakistan shut down the Pakistani camps where Uighur Islamic terrorists are trained. Apparently several hundred Uighurs are operating some camps in North Waziristan, an area in the Pakistani tribal territories (along the Afghan border) where the government allows sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. One thing China and the United States can agree on is the need for Pakistan to shut down terrorist operations in North Waziristan. Pakistan refuses to do this, although it has sought out and arrested some illegal Uighur visitors in other parts of Pakistan and persuaded the Uighur terrorists to send more of their trained killers to Syria instead of back to China. Despite several years of increasingly angry pressure from China, the North Waziristan Uighur camps keep training more Islamic terrorists. In Western China the local Uighurs are under increasing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers and intrusive government officials. Because of that, many Uighurs continue to support anti-Han activity, and this makes it possible for Islamic terrorists to survive and operate. Chinese officials have been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs. The government tries hard to suppress the news of Uighurs unrest and the latest clashes received little coverage in the state-controlled media. The government has been at this for a long time, constantly shutting down web sites that promote Uighur autonomy and other Uighur matters. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security. This is part of an ongoing effort to suppress Uighur unhappiness in the face of the growing number of Han Chinese moving to traditionally Uighur areas and taking over the economy and most of the good jobs. Same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control. In the days after the Likqun attack, police and soldiers were out in force to intimidate the local Uighur population and see if any more Islamic terrorists can be found. The troops did encounter more violence two days later but not as bloody as what occurred earlier.