The government recently ordered its Internet censors to crack down on what people say on Chinese social media. This quickly led to many local critics (or simply commentators) of the Chinese government disappearing from the Chinese Internet. This does not surprise most Chinese, especially since in 2013 the government finally revealed the number of people (two million) involved in Internet censorship operations. This operation is called Golden Shield (or “Great Firewall of China” in the West) and it’s a huge information control system that has been under construction since for over a decade. Before the new revelations Golden Shield was believed to have at least 40,000 full time Ministry of Public Security employees dedicated to monitoring and censoring Internet use throughout the country. This was done using specialized hardware and software and lots of paid and volunteer censors. These “irregulars” were known to be numerous but it was difficult to get an accurate estimate. Now the government revealed that irregulars bring the total Internet censorship manpower up to two million. This is for keeping some 600 million Chinese Internet users under control. This is not cheap and over ten billion dollars has been spent on Golden Shield so far. While the Great Firewall cannot stop someone expert at how the Internet works, it does greatly restrict the other 90 percent of Chinese Internet users. And it provides a lot of information about what is going on inside all that Internet traffic. Year by year the Golden Shield operators learned what worked (to monitor and control news and user activity) and what didn't. Not only can Golden Shield keep news from getting out of a part of China but it can greatly limit how much contradictory (to the government version) news gets into all of China. Most of those two million Internet censors are occupied with monitoring new material showing up, especially via Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and blocking anything that disputes the official government line.
The Golden Shield does not keep the truth out and many of those who know the most about what’s going on in China are getting out. For example thousands of the smartest people in the country still go off each year to attend graduate school in the West and do not return. Many of the graduate students from the 1970s and 80s have returned and many have founded hugely successful businesses. But now a third of China’s most successful businessmen (and some women) are moving their families and fortunes overseas. Many of these economic refugees are obtaining dual citizenship wherever they can. Many are sending their wives to give birth in the United States, so that some of their children will be United States citizens. These refugees already have moved over half a trillion dollars in assets out of China and at current rates that will double in the next three years. These wealthy refugees fear the pollution and corruption in China and are losing faith in the current government (a dictatorship run by the Chinese Communist Party) to set things right before the country collapses into another period of civil strife and economic collapse. There is little faith in the armed forces, who are seen as just another bunch of corrupt government bureaucrats. While the government says that everything is under control, the one group of non-government employees most likely to know what’s really going on are running for the exits. The government quietly tries to stem this exodus but fears doing so openly because of the risk that might trigger widespread panic. But many Chinese are noticing the gradual disappearance of the families that used to occupy the mansions and luxury apartments are gone, many of them for good or most of the time. This is not good for morale.
It’s not just Chinese who are afraid of what’s going on in China. Many foreign Internet security experts believe that China is the undisputed leader in global cyber warfare. Western governments now believe that China of sabotage and espionage on a massive scale. This involves defense and government networks as well as commercial organizations. Defending against these cyber attacks is increasingly a top priority for the most nations. Actually building defenses is far more difficult that officials realized only a few years ago.
Iran recently announced that it has equipped some of its helicopters with the Nasr 1 and Qader anti-ship missiles. Iran described both as Iranian made cruise missiles. In reality Nasr 1 is the Chinese C-704 anti-ship missile that is built under license in Iran. Qader is a variant on the Chinese C802A that Iran produces as the license built Noor. China is a major supplier of military technology to Iran and gets around international embargos by quietly licensing Iran to produce many Chinese weapons and then denying an accusations of violating international arms embargoes.
China is becoming a major player in the arms export market and recently passed France to be the number four exporter worldwide. This is all because of persistence, low price and decades of efforts to make Chinese weapons more reliable and effective. For example, after over a decade of effort China has finally found export customers for its diesel-electric submarines. Not just one, but several. In December 2013 China agreed to sell Bangladesh two Type 035G subs for $103 million each. China and Pakistan are still negotiating prices and terms for the sale of six Chinese Type 041 subs. The Type 035Gs are to be delivered within five years, indicating that these will be newly built. Back in the 1980s China sold some Type 33 subs to Egypt. While primitive by contemporary standards, the Egyptians were satisfied and these subs are still in service.
In Pakistan growing threats from China to cut off and withdraw investments if security for these operations is not improved has led to assigning soldiers to provide security for the largest Chinese companies. China supplies most of Pakistani weapons imports.
Meanwhile China has become less vocal about its claims on Indian territory recently but has not abandoned these assertions. Cooling down these tensions is a big relief to India, which has a defense budget one third that of China’s. India is also concerned because they import three times as many weapons as China and have simply been unable to produce weapons in anywhere near the quantity and quality of China.
March 17, 2014: China announced that background checks on the Chinese passengers on missing Malaysian airliner MH370 revealed that none had any terrorism connections. This was important because 64 percent of the 239 people on the missing flight were Chinese. MH370 has been missing since March 8th and it appears to be a deliberate and very professional hijacking. That is the assessment now because some of the many communications devices aboard could only be turned off from the cockpit and by someone expert in handling the aircraft systems. There was one comm device that the crew could not disable (a real-time engine monitoring system) and the pilots and hijackers may not have even known about it (because technically the device was not “working” on MH370 but actually was). This device sent a signal to satellite once an hour providing proof that the aircraft was still in the air and roughly where it was. The search for MH370 has the U.S., China and all the major military powers in the region to cooperating and that is a first. This has revealed some interesting details, such as the number (as many as ten) of spy satellites China repositioned to aid in the search. Because most of the passengers were Chinese finding the aircraft has become a major issue in China and an opportunity for the military to show that all the money spent on them has not been wasted.
March 16, 2014: China criticized the February UN report describing North Korean prison camps and UN requests for North Korean officials to be tried as war criminals because of the camps and related crimes. This Chinese opposition to the report means China will use its Security Council veto to block any action against North Korea. China is also trying to avoid revived criticism of recently closed Chinese camps. Back in 2008 the UN investigated and criticized the Chinese use of torture and prison camps, where millions of "disloyal" Chinese lived as slave labor. As much as China would like the world to think otherwise, China is still a brutal communist police state, with all the bloody baggage that goes with that.
On the plus side the UN pressure back then helped persuade China to shut down the camps. There were other reasons for that. Until the last few years most Chinese believed that those political prisoners who were sent to prison camps and just disappeared had something to do with the fact that there always seemed to be available organs for transplant in China. Desperate but wealthy foreigners who came to China to get their life-saving transplants noticed that there were a lot of military personnel working in the hospitals. The military is a major player in Chinese medical care, with a large network of hospitals for its millions of troops and their dependents. The military can also force prosecutors and police, in most cases, to go away. What would not go away was the details of the prison camp system getting to most Chinese via the Internet and cell phones. Internal pressure built to shut the camps down.
Starting in late 2013 China began releasing thousands of people sent to prison camps because of their political beliefs (which usually involved openly criticizing the corruption and incompetence of officials). For over 60 years anyone designated “enemies of the state” were sent to the camps for “reeducation”. The alternative was execution so people put up with it. The government used the camps for slave labor and since the 1990s have sent a lot more petty criminals to the camps as well. It was the use of the camps to threaten pro-reform (and anti-corruption) Chinese that made the elimination of the camps inevitable. The camps have become a symbol of government corruption and repression and eliminating them has boosted government popularity. The government did not officially eliminate the camps until late 2013 but had stopped sending people to them in early 2013.
In the west (Qinghai province) a Tibetan Buddhist monk burned himself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This was the first such death this year. Since 2009 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. Meanwhile China is backing Russian efforts to annex parts of Ukraine by unofficially invading (with special forces and mercenaries) and staging phony votes to join Russia. Neither China nor Russia would allow such a thing within their own borders but both defend each other using such tactics on neighbors.
March 14, 2014: In Taiwan an air force officer was arrested and charged with passing defense information to China in return for cash. Cases like this are becoming more common in both countries.
Elsewhere on Taiwan the first of class of twin hull WPC (High Efficiency Wave Piercing Catamaran) patrol ships was launched. This ship will enter service in 2015. These vessels are very fast and very heavily armed. The WPC type ships are under 1,000 tons, 60.4 meters (180 feet) long and have a top speed of 68 kilometers an hour. The crew of 41 operates several weapons systems, including eight anti-ship missiles (Hsiung-feng 2 and 3 models) a 76mm cannon, a 20mm anti-missile autocannon and four 12.7mm machine-guns. The Hsiung-feng 3 is described in Taiwan as a “carrier killer.”
March 12, 2014: For the first time a Japanese company announced that it would give Japanese employees working in China “pollution pay”. Such “hardship” or “hazardous duty” pay for working overseas is nothing new but for Japan to come right out and say that the bonuses are because of the health risk from working in highly polluted parts of China is considered very bad manners (at least by East Asian standards). Chinese anger over this announcement is increased by the realization that the Japanese are treating their people better than China is treating Chinese.
March 11, 2014: The UN released a report detailing the North Korea use of its embassies to coordinate illegal smuggling. It used to be drugs but now it is mostly weapons. North Korea is using the financial and transportations connections used to run drugs to now move weapons. This report was possible mainly because China cooperated. China has applied pressure on North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program and by crippling its arms smuggling network has made a major contribution. Until the last year much of the North Korean arms smuggling went via China, where cargoes could be sent for shipment as something else via any number of container ships that come through China. North Korea can still do this, but it has to rely on bribes and unreliable Chinese officials to carry it out. Apparently the North Koreans don’t trust that approach and have been seeking other countries in which to “launder” their shipments to prevent interception at sea. That is not working out well with a growing number of shipments being detected and taken down.
March 9, 2014: China repeated, publically, that it would not allow a war in North Korea. That apparently includes civil war, civil disorder (from a political collapse) or a North Korean attack on South Korea. An invasion by South Korea is highly unlikely but the other options are not and China wants to make sure North Korea (both leaders and all inhabitants) know this.
March 7, 2014: China was invited to watch. Since 1982 Thai and American troops have held a joint training exercise (Cobra Gold) each year. Usually the event are held in Thailand and over the years has come to include troops from other countries in the region. This year, for the first time China will participate. There were only 17 Chinese troops in attendance, but it’s a big deal because China’s neighbors would rather be training with Chinese troops than confronting them. Many believe the Chinese are just there to take notes on how more experienced and better regarded troops do what they do.
In Taiwan a court sentenced 13 military and government officials to jail terms (short ones, but still) for complicity in the death (from heat stroke) of a conscript soldier last year. This death became a huge media story and the government was forced to investigate and that revealed lots of bad behavior. As news of these convictions spreads through China people are encouraged to demand similar treatment for similar crimes in China.
March 5, 2014: The government announced that the defense budget would go up 12.2 percent (to $132 billion) in 2014. That’s the largest annual cash (over $14 billion) increase ever. Taiwan responded with alarm, but no plans to increase spending. Japan was a different story, with plans to spend more along with efforts to change the constitution to allow arms exports. China is also accusing Japan of secretly building nuclear weapons. China has been making noises about the 96 tons of plutonium Japan has. Japan has had lots of plutonium for decades because Japan reprocesses plutonium for use as power plant fuel. Japan considered eliminating all these power plants but recently decided not to. It’s long been an open secret in Japan that Japan could quickly build nuclear weapons. China fears Japan is thinking of doing that, or may have done it already. The only major military advantage China has over Japan is nukes.
The rapid increase in Chinese defense spending has discouraged Taiwan from trying to keep up. Since 2007 Taiwan spending has declined from three percent of GDP to 2.2 percent. What worries many Taiwanese even more is the growing number of senior Chinese officials who boast of how easy it would be for China to invade and conquer Taiwan. China has done this even though its defense spending has declined from over two percent of GDP to 1.4 percent. Because of rapid economic growth in the past two decades China now has a huge GDP and manufacturing abilities that far surpass those of Taiwan.
March 1, 2014: In the southwest (Kunming) about a dozen knife wielding attackers went after people in a crowded railroad station and killed 33 and wounded over 130. Four of the attackers were shot dead and one was captured. Police are seeking the others. The government blames Turkic Uighurs from the northwest. This is the second Uighur terror attack this year. The first one was in January. There are reasons for this terrorism. In northwestern China the local Uighurs are increasing angry over growing 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.