China continues its aggressive behavior and risking war with its neighbors. North Korea, despite being a long-time ally, has now become a growing problem. The North Koreans have openly defied China with increasing regularity. China is not happy with having an unstable nuclear power as a neighbor. In an effort to deal with the matter North Korea is getting more threats, some of them public, from China. Meanwhile, in the South China Sea China has embraced the idea that this entire area is not international waters, or the property of the nearest country, but part of China. This violates international agreements on such matters but China disagrees and is becoming more aggressive enforcing these claims. China is using the “death by a thousand cuts” approach, constantly pushing other nations away from disputed rocks and reefs and threatening worse if anyone tries drilling for oil or gas in these offshore waters. China is applying the same tactics against India along their 4,000 kilometer land border despite occasional agreements with the Indians that are eventually broken by more Chinese border violations.
China has been increasingly successful using “cash diplomacy” to counter international uproar over China’s aggressiveness. An example of how this works can be seen in Burma, where Chinese generosity with aid and large investments in Burma make Burma one of the few reliable Chinese allies in the region. Otherwise China is much disliked by its neighbors, mainly because to border disputes and Chinese claims over the South China Sea. This is a 3.5 million square kilometer (1.4 million square mile) area south of China and Taiwan, west of the Philippines and north of Indonesia. China claims all of it and this has aroused the ire of the neighbors and caused them to unite against China. This is often done via ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation), which has taken a lead role in trying to arbitrate the disputes between ASEAN members and China over ownership of island in the South China Sea. This move is meant to persuade China to behave. Burma is an ASEAN member and is the only member that defends China. That has proved very useful in limiting the diplomatic damage ASEAN can do to China. ASEAN was established in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, and later expanded to include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. All the ASEAN nations have some disputes with China. China agreed, in 2002, to cooperate with ASEAN over the Spratly Islands dispute but that was apparently all for show.
The year began with a noticeable increase in public speeches by senior military officers to their subordinates about the importance of loyalty to the Communist Party. Since the founding (1949) of the communist government in China the troops have sworn their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) not the country of China. Chinese leaders see the troops moving away from blind obedience to the CCP and thinking of themselves more as Chinese patriots. This is incorrect thought and the Chinese leadership has been openly demanding that Chinese military personnel remember their oath to ensure that the CCP remains in control of China.
January 21, 2014: Taiwan will reduce its military personnel from 215,000 to 170,000 over the next five years. The official reason is better relations with China but another reason is the inability to attract sufficient volunteers.
For several hours today millions of Chinese Internet users were redirected to a site connected with banned (and persecuted) religious group Falun Gong. There users were shown how they could easily get around the heavy government censorship of the Internet. It is believed this is yet another Falungong hack. Back in 2010 the U.S. government donated $1.5 million to an Internet freedom group GIFC (Global Internet Freedom Consortium), whose main function is producing software that enables Chinese Internet users to get around Chinese government censoring software. GIFC is one of several similar groups. But what really got the Chinese steamed, and angry at the United States, is that GIFC is supported and heavily staffed by members of the persecuted (in China) Falungong religious sect. The government sees religion as a constant threat. While Chinese are free to worship anyway they want, the government picks religious leaders, and imposes discipline. Thus the ongoing war against Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism. Both of these religions refuse to accept government control and are persecuted for it. But the persecution has not wiped out these two movements and this government officials know sets a dangerous example for other Chinese. Throughout Chinese history, governments have been overthrown by religious movements that harnessed and directed mass discontent. Falungong has used hacking and Internet based efforts to embarrass the government and this appears to be yet another one.
January 18, 2014: China confirmed that it is building a second aircraft carrier. Last August the government admitted that it was building more aircraft carriers but did not provide any official details. At least one of these carriers was obviously under construction last year and cell phone photos of that have been in circulation on the Internet for months.
Taiwan denounced Chinese efforts to impose their fishing regulations on what everyone else considers international waters in the South China Sea. The Chinese are demanding that all non-Chinese fishing boats ask permission to fish in the South China Sea except in waters very close (within 22 kilometers) to shore. This demand violates several international treaties and even the United States has accused China of illegal activity here. Now it’s up to China to try and use force to make their new rules work.
January 15, 2014: The first Chinese combat aircraft built specifically for aircraft carrier use, the J-15, appears to have been equipped with the in-air refueling pod. These pods contain additional fuel and the hose and drogue refueling gear for getting the fuel to other fighters. Thus when a carrier launches four fighters, two can be equipped with the refueling pod and transfer their fuel to the other two, providing those two with more range and time in the air. This reflects the fact that carrier aircraft can carry more weight in the air than they can when taking off. The U.S. has been using this technique for a long time and Russia eventually adopted it as well.
January 14, 2014: The government allowed the media to reveal an investigation and prosecution of a retired general (Gu Junshan) who made hundreds of million dollars via bribes and theft. The general has been under investigation since 2012 and was widely known to be dirty because of his lavish lifestyle and the sudden wealth members of his family were displaying. Gu Junshan apparently went too far and there was no pressure from senior generals to back off with the investigation. Still, publicizing Gu Junshan’s misdeeds is making a lot of dirty officers nervous. Especially scary to dirty generals is the government crackdown on overseas bank accounts and property holdings of corrupt officials and officers. It is believed that over 20,000 corrupt officials and tax-dodging civilians have moved $4 trillion to overseas accounts since 2000. Stealing is not as easy to do or get away with anymore, but the corruption is still popular and considered by many officers as a fringe benefit for the bold and greedy.
January 12, 2014: Off one of the Senkaku Islands three Chinese warships entered Japanese territorial waters (within 22 kilometers from shore) for two hours. China claims ownership of the Senkanus even through Japan has occupied them for over a century. The last such intrusion was on December 29th.
One of the 80 new Chinese Z-19 helicopter gunships in service was recently seen equipped with a mast mounted radar, as in the American AH-64D. Actually the Z-19 is a heavily armed scout helicopter, a 4.5 ton, two seater armed with a 23mm autocannon and up to half a ton of munitions (missiles, usually). The AH-64D weighs twice as much. Cruising speed is 245 kilometers an hour and range is 700 kilometers, the Z-19 is basically an upgraded Z-9W (armed transport helicopter, a license-built version of the French AS365). But the mast mounted radar is a first for the Chinese.
January 10, 2014: The government announced that it had prosecuted 182,000 corrupt officials last year. Punishments ranged from a written warning (the most common) to execution (very rare but well publicized).
Chinese are noting that the government is getting more energetic in its anti-corruption efforts. But for 2013 it means that for every million Chinese 134 officials were “punished”. From the beginning the Chinese communists were anti-corruption, but early on the corruption returned and kept getting worse. This has, as it has done for thousands of years, caused a lot of popular unrest. So in 2013 the government tried to show that it was “getting serious” about corruption and not just pumping out more propaganda. In 2013 several hundred senior officials were investigated and many were removed from office and dozens were sent to prison. More than 90 percent of corrupt officials are still getting away with it but if the prosecutions continue at their current level the risks of getting punished are going to discourage a lot of officials from misbehaving in the first place. Chinese are also watching to see if this anti-corruption campaign will, like previous one, fade away or keep going until it makes a permanent dent in misbehavior.
January 9, 2014: A Chinese attempt to impose fishing restrictions in the South China Sea areas off the Philippines resulted in all the other nations in the area refusing to cooperate. China demanded that, as of January 1st non-Chinese fishing boats must request Chinese permission to fish in most of the South China Sea.
January 8, 2014: Tensions with Japan (over World War II atrocities and current disputes over islands) continue to generate more Chinese military activity against Japan. Chinese warships are training near Japan more frequently and the number of Chinese aircraft flying near Japan remains high. For the last three months of 2013 Japanese jet fighters scrambled 138 times to confront approaching Chinese warplanes (often recon aircraft). That’s nearly three times more than in 2012 and continues to be more than Russia, which accounted for 110 incidents and was for decades the most common aerial intruder. Russia and Japan have a long standing dispute over ownership of islands off northern Japan (which Russia seized after World War II and Japan wants back.)
January 6, 2014: Japan and India signed agreements to increase military cooperation. This is largely directed at China, which has claims on the territory of both countries.
January 4, 2014: : China recently completed construction of a monument outside Beijing dedicated to the hundreds of espionage agents executed in Taiwan during the 1950s after they were caught spying. China admitted that at least 1,100 of the 1,500 spies sent to Taiwan (usually as refugees) in the early 1950s were caught and executed. China did not mention those who changed sides, which may be why only 846 names were on the monument. The monument includes statues of four prominent casualties from this operation. One was a Nationalist general who secretly switched sides and was later caught, along with two subordinates and a woman who took care of getting secrets back to China. It is known that these four were caught because a prominent communist agent in Taiwan was persuaded to reveal information that led to identifying hundreds of Chinese spies.
The government kicked off a year-long “campaign” to increase workplace safety. Of all the major industrialized countries China has the worst worker safety records. Deaths and accident rates among miners, construction and factory workers are among the highest in the world. This was long kept quiet because the state controlled the media. But with the growth of cell phone and Internet use in the last two decades the people now know, are increasingly upset over the situation and the government is demonstrating an effort to make it all better.
January 3, 2014: Cell phone photos of a new family of armored vehicles are coming out of China. Most were taken while these vehicles were being transported, apparently from the factory to their users. The new “Type X” vehicles look like a redesigned Type 89 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). This was a 14-15 ton, 6.15 meter (20 foot) long vehicle that was, without a turret, able to carry a crew of two and 13 passengers. The IFV version had a turret armed with a 25mm autocannon. That meant it had a three man crew and seven passengers. The Type 89 was introduced in the 1990s and developed from the Type 63 which was a 13 ton clone of the Russian BMP 1 but without the turret. The Type X looks more like a Western design than the Russian models China has been using so far.
January 2, 2014: In the south (Guangdong province) police raided a town that had become notorious as the source of much of the methamphetamine (a popular and illegal drug) in the region. Police shut down 77 meth “cooking” operations, arrested 182 people and seized three tons of methamphetamine. All this happened in the town of Bosche (population 14,000) where the local economy was dominated by the meth business and among the arrested were the senior Communist Party officials for the town. It was estimated that 20 percent of the families in Boshe were involved with making or distributing meth. The illegal drug business made a lot of them rich but now many are going to jail.
China sees an opportunity and has recently loaned Venezuela $5 billion. But this has strings attached as China wants government assistance in establishing a larger Chinese role in the Venezuelan economy. China is taking the long view, believing that the current socialist government is probably going to self-destruct and in the aftermath China will be a major player in many industries and have another economic foothold in South America. China has become a major customer for Venezuelan oil and has put $36 billion into Venezuela since 2008.
January 1, 2014: China’s first aircraft carrier (the Liaoning) and its escort group returned to base after 37 days at sea. The Chinese Navy then announced that Liaoning had successfully completed its sea trials. Liaoning was commissioned (accepted into service by the navy) in September 2012 but still had to complete more sea trials before it was ready for regular service. Before commissioning Liaoning had performed well during over a year of sea trials. During that time Liaoning went to sea ten times. The longest trip was two weeks. All this was mainly to see if the ship was able to function reliably at sea. After commissioning Liaoning carried out 15 months of additional trials and preparations have been made for the first flight operations, which took place in late 2012. During the first year of sea trials some aircraft were spotted on the flight deck. This was apparently to make sure aircraft could be moved around the deck, and down to the hanger deck, without any problems. The last month of Liaoning trials was the first time China had ever sent a carrier task force out onto the high seas to train. It was a historic moment and the Americans were there to watch.
December 31, 2013: Given the growing Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific, Japan has raised defense spending 2.8 percent for 2014 (to $46.8 billion) and released a list of priorities for the new, improved and larger defense budget. The Chinese were not pleased with this list as it emphasized dealing with the Chinese threat and saying so publically is considered bad manners in East Asia. The Japanese plans involve improving reconnaissance around disputed (between China and Japan) islands and ocean areas that China is claiming control over. The Japanese also speak of improving their ability to move air, land and naval forces quickly to counter any Chinese surprises. The Japanese planning document goes into some detail about how civilian and military resources would be mobilized for this, along with help from allied nations. This is all very upsetting for the Chinese who hate the Japanese for eighty years of humiliation inflicted on China until 1945. Before that China had considered Japan an occasional nuisance, a warlike people living on several large island off northeastern China who were best left alone. Most of the time the Japanese seemed content to fight each other rather than threaten the Chinese coast. But that all changed in the late 19th century when the Japanese decided to industrialize, arm themselves like Westerners and adopt a more aggressive attitude towards China. The Japanese now believed they were the best hope for making East Asia competitive with the West. The bad blood between Japan and China over what happened between 1880 and 1945 will poison relations between the two countries for many generations to come. China becomes angrier when threats directed at Japan are not received properly and when the Japanese respond with more defense spending and plans to thwart Chinese aims. People in East Asia fear that all this will not end well.
Syrian officials publically thanked Russia, Iran and China for supporting the Assad government and making eventual victory over the Sunni rebels possible (although not guaranteed).
December 30, 2013: In the northwest a group of Uighurs attacked a police station. The attack failed with eight Uighurs killed and one captured. In northwestern China the local Uighurs are under increasing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers, and intrusive Han 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. Most Uighurs are found in Xinjiang province. There the nine million Uighurs are now less than half the population and most of the rest are Han Chinese. Chinese officials have been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security and tries to keep the unrest out of the news. 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. The same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control.
Recently photos from China showed what appeared to be an American UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter landing at a Chinese military base. This mystery helicopter was promptly dubbed “Copy Hawk” for the Chinese eagerness to copy foreign military gear. While China has never had any Black Hawks, they did manage to buy 24 S-70s, the civilian version of the UH-60, 30 years ago (before the Tiananmen Square massacre and subsequent arms embargo). At least three of these S-70s are known to still be in service. The Copy Hawk, on closer examination, was definitely not an S-70. There were several obvious differences (mainly in fuselage shape and rotor configuration). Parts of the Copy Hawk looked like the new Chinese Z-10 helicopter gunship. Nothing is known of what engines and electronics were used in the Copy Hawk and whether it was just an experimental design or a prototype for a new medium helicopter transport based on the S-70.
China expressed displeasure with the latest North Korean crackdown on real or imagined traitors, especially its anti-Chinese spin and met with South Korean officials today to discuss how to handle a collapse in North Korea. This is another example of Chinese flexibility and pragmatism. China and South Korea may be at each other’s throats over who owns some uninhabited islands in offshore waters, but that does not interfere with growing trade and mutual concern over a North Korea collapse. North Korea is in effect another territorial dispute between the two countries. South Korea wants to unite Korea and if North Korea collapses the opportunity will be there. China does not want a united, democratic Korea on its border. Neither country wants to start World War III over the dispute so they will try to negotiate some sort of compromise. The U.S. has agreed to accept whatever decision South Korea makes, although America advises avoiding any actions that could lead to a major war. Meanwhile China is equally pragmatic with North Korea and continues to round up North Korean refugees and send them back. Those who are wealthy enough or useful enough (as in senior North Korean officials fleeing possible execution
December 29, 2013: In late 2013 China banned Battlefield 4, a popular American video game. Despite having done this dozens of times over the last few years, this particular ban got picked up by the mass media. Battlefield 4 annoyed the Chinese because one of its scenarios portrays a China that has undergone civil war and sundry other humiliations. But these bans are largely ineffective because Chinese gamers are heavy users of pirated versions of video games and can also buy banned games without too much trouble. The bans are mainly for show, to demonstrate that the Communist Party (which runs China) will not openly tolerate anything that is immoral (especially anything related to gambling or drugs) or that makes China look bad.