This year Iraq surpassed Iran as the largest exporter of oil to China. This is because of the more severe sanctions imposed on Iran in 2012. Even Iran admits that it’s GDP has shrunk this year as a result. China would like to get more oil from Iran as well but the sanctions make that difficult. China needs a lot more oil because it is desperate to reduce its use of coal, which is causing more and more air pollution in the north and northeast. The annual “heating season” is in full swing up north, and with that comes more coal burning and more air pollution. Foreign analysts have looked at Chinese health and life-expectancy data and concluded that the air pollution problems in northern China has reduced life expectancy up there by at least five years. The government has long played down the air pollution problems in the north, but lately that has changed. This was because of growing public unrest over very obvious air pollution in urban areas. The situation is worse this year and the government is blaming the weather. This does not help much (even though it is true). The pollution is believed to cause over a million premature deaths a year and the censors have been unable to keep Chinese from knowing this or discussing it. Senior officials can buy expensive air filtration systems for their homes and offices but they and their families could not completely escape the dirty air.
Fixing the pollution problems are expensive and take time. Public pressure is making avoidance of the issue untenable. So now the government has dropped the attempts at suppressing news about the pollution and is openly discussing possible solutions. That is taking some of the heat off the government, but that is only temporary, especially if nothing is done and when the pollution is particularly bad, the Chinese believe nothing is being done. The problem is that coal use has more than quadrupled in the last two decades because of economic growth and increased demand for electricity and more heat. Fewer Chinese are willing to just shiver through the months of cold weather in the north as they have for centuries. They can now afford heat and coal is the cheapest solution. About half the nearly four billion tons of coal China burns each year goes for electricity and heat. The rest is for industry, to keep the economy growing. There is no quick solution (via nuclear and oil fired power plants and greater use of oil and natural gas everywhere) but the annual public anger gets worse each year. China has to switch, if only because there are only about four decades of coal reserves left (at current rates of use). China is the largest coal producer (and user) in the world.
There are nearly 100,000 large (and often violent) protests in China each year. Most have to do with land disputes, usually regarding illegal evictions of people from their property. These evictions, especially the illegal ones that basically steal land and homes, are a major source of discontent in China, and the government has been unable to get local officials to stop these thefts (often using falsified documents and police cooperation).
Russia is currently a close ally. This is something of an unnatural act. China is the major potential threat to Russia because of centuries old land disputes and the fact that there are few people in the Russian territory on the Chinese border. Meanwhile, the Chinese Army is three times larger than the Russian forces and has 15 tank and mechanized infantry divisions it could quickly move to the Russian border. Officially, Russia has ceased to consider Chinese ground forces a threat, as Russian nuclear weapons are supposed to be what would stop a Chinese ground assault. Traditionalists in the Defense Ministry are pointing out that nuclear war would destroy both nations and that the current situation allows China to quickly grab the Russian Far East (which China has long claimed) and then call for a peace conference. This is the sort of tactic China has used in the past, and the Chinese are big fans of their imperial past. No one mentions this publicly because even in Russia the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” seems like good advice for the current situation.
October 31, 2013: China protested Japanese intrusion into international waters off southeastern Japan where China was holding naval exercises. China had issued the usual warning that their warships would be holding training exercises in a particular patch of ocean between certain dates (October 24th to November 1st) and for all other ships and aircraft to stay away. This is a safety measure but also an effort to prevent other nations from assessing the capabilities of your naval forces. These exclusions carry no weight of law and other nations (especially China) regularly intrude. This time it was the Japanese who crashed the training party and sent a spy ship and a patrol aircraft into the Chinese training area between October 25th and 28th.
Taiwan received the first of 12 refurbished P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft last month and now have put that aircraft on public display in response to a recent media campaign by state controlled Chinese media to recognize the four decade old Chinese nuclear submarine force. While the Chinese nuclear subs have been getting better and better over the last 40 years, they are still second-rate and easy for aircraft like the P-3C to find. The 12 older Taiwanese P-3s are being upgraded in the United States. China has nothing like the P-3C but over the last three years has been testing the Y-8GX6 (also known as the Gaoxin-6). This aircraft is very similar to the American P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Both aircraft are similar in shape and equipment. Until the Y-8GX6 can be seen in action, it's difficult to say how close the two aircraft are in capability. The first flight of a fully equipped Gaoxin-6 took place in 2012, and apparently the design is being rushed into service. China is playing catchup here, as the U.S. has been using these anti-submarine aircraft for 60 years. While Chinese espionage efforts may have obtained details of most American anti-submarine aircraft equipment, there’s no way to steal decades of experience. Another problem China will have is that when their anti-sub aircraft are actually put to use tracking American and other (especially Japanese and South Korean) submarines this will take place in international waters, where the Gaoxin-6 can be followed and monitored by American intelligence collection aircraft and ships.
October 30, 2013: A Chinese warship arrived in Argentina for a short visit. As is customary, the Chinese crew was not allowed to leave their ship and mingle freely, nor were parts of the ship open to the public. This sort of behavior is seen as counterproductive, especially in light of what other navies do when they visit foreign ports.
October 28, 2013: In the capital an SUV was driven into the crowd at Tiananmen Square and crashed, bursting into flame because the vehicle carried an additional 400 liters (100 gallons) of gasoline. This killed three terrorists and two civilians, and wounded another thirty-eight. Police soon discovered that this was a terrorist attack by Uighurs (ethnic Turks from Xinjiang province in western China) that had been planned for a month. Police responded by arresting over fifty of the usual suspects in Xinjiang. This was the fourth time this year there has been an attack by Uighur Islamic terrorists, who have become increasingly active, although rarely in eastern China. The last incident was in August, when a police raid in a rural area left twenty-two Uighurs and one Chinese policeman dead. In June at least fifteen armed Uighur Islamic terrorists attacked government buildings in the town of Lukqun and killed 24 people (including two policemen). Police killed eleven 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 in March in Xinjiang left at least twenty-one 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 incidents receive 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 each incident, police and soldiers are out in force to intimidate the Uighur population and see if any more Islamic terrorists can be found.
October 26, 2013: In the south a journalist confessed to writing false stories about a state-owned company that was issuing inflated financial information. The reporter had been arrested on the 19th and worked for a privately owned newspaper who backed up the stories about corruption in the state owned company. But after the police coerced the reporter to recant, his employer got the message and apologized for the “falsehoods” it published. Reporting on this sort of misbehavior is dangerous because senior government officials usually own stock in the corrupt companies and will defend their investment by turning the police, and false accusations, on the offending whistle blower. The government is currently promising major “reforms” (the code-word for new efforts to curb corruption), but few Chinese believe anything will change. Too many senior officials and their families are getting rich because of all the corruption. But the censorship efforts continue as well. For example, the government recently ordered all 250,000 recognized journalists to take 18 hours of training in “correct journalism” (sticking to the Communist Party line) each year and pass an examination in order to remain an officially recognized journalist.
October 24, 2013: China has offered to sell Pakistan 3,200 megawatts of electricity supply. Building the transmission lines would take three years. However, Pakistan is unsure if it could afford the cost. The Chinese are not giving the electricity away and expect to be paid market rates. Corruption and mismanagement have caused growing electricity shortages in Pakistan, which has put a lot of pressure on officials to do something about it.
October 23, 2013: China and India signed a Border Defense Cooperation Agreement. Previous agreements signed in 1993, 1996, and 2005 were equally vapid and unenforceable. What these agreements do is calm things down a bit before China again grabs some more bits of territory and creates another crises.
In Liberia, 140 Chinese peacekeepers (riot police) arrived to join the UN peacekeeping operation there. The Chinese will serve in Liberia for eight months. In the last five years China has greatly increased its participation in peacekeeping operations. China tends to avoid the high-profile or dangerous peacekeeping operations and prefers to send support, rather than combat troops. From 1992 to 2006, China only sent some 6,000 peacekeepers to Cambodia, Congo, Liberia, East Timor, Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. China is now sending 2,000 peacekeepers to Lebanon. After 2006 China became a lot more active and currently has over 10,000 peacekeepers deployed overseas.
October 22, 2013: The Philippines has backed off from its September accusations that China had begun construction of an illegal base on Scarborough Shoal. Filipino sailors have found 75 concrete blocks dumped on the shoal, apparently the first stage of constructing a Chinese base on stilts. China has done this before and usually does it secretly and then declares the new structure a Chinese “base” that is protecting Chinese territory. The Philippines threatened to remove the blocks, which China insists it has nothing to do with. Now the Filipinos say the blocks were put there years ago and do not indicate new base building activities. Meanwhile, Chinese coast guard and commercial ships have been increasingly active in the area. For most of this year Filipino fishermen have complained that Chinese ships are trying to force them away from their traditional fishing areas near Scarborough Shoal. This is in violation of a 2012 deal made with the Chinese, who were quick to violate the agreement. Not only did Chinese patrol boats soon return to Scarborough Shoal but Chinese fishing boats again began operating there and even erected a flimsy barrier (with rowboats, rope, and fishing nets) across the entrance to the lagoon and forcibly preventing Filipino fishing boats from entering. Scarborough Shoal is in waters the Philippines claim in accordance with international law. The shoal is only 250 kilometers from one of the large inhabited Philippine islands (Palawan) and 1,200 kilometers from China. Despite this, China claims ownership of Scarborough Shoal but has not yet used deadly force to assert that claim. For the moment China is content to just send coast guard ships to the shoal to “protect Chinese fishermen.” According to China, they are in compliance with the 2012 deal, as they never agreed that Chinese fishing boats could not operate around Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines does not agree but has refrained from sending warships to the shoal and trying to chase the Chinese fishing boats away. To Filipinos this is another example of China saying one thing and doing another. China denies building a tiny base on stilts here, but they always do until the construction is completed.
October 21, 2013: China has been energetically fighting military corruption for two decades now. There has been some success but the problems were widespread and well entrenched. Cleaning it all up has been slow going. For each problem that is addressed (like forcing generals to sell off businesses the military bought or built and served to make a lot of officers rich) new ones pop up (like generals finding new ways to extort cash or favors from companies supplying the military). Some overall progress has been made, and by Chinese standards (which favor long-term rather than short-term success) that is a good sign. The latest effort is an attempt to halt, or at least reduce, the sale of civilian jobs in the Defense Ministry. All armed forces have civilian employees, who handle support and administrative jobs. In China a lot of the civilian jobs in the military were for sale and were often not real jobs at all but an excuse for someone to steal the pay and benefits that went with that job. These phantom employees are called “ghosts” (among other things), and the practice has been around as long as the military has had a payroll and bureaucrats to maintain it. China now intends to make it less of a temptation by adding more transparency to the recruiting process. That and more auditing and tracking of people once hired is making it much more difficult to mess with these civilian jobs and get away with it. So on October 19th China began recruiting civilians openly via the web, mainly for technical jobs. These are the positions you don’t want political appointees, or no one at all, in. By openly recruiting on the web the Defense Ministry reaches a larger audience of potential candidates and, so the thinking goes, makes better quality job candidates available.