China: The Best Hope Of Reducing Corruption To Tolerable Levels

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November 16, 2014: China is changing its tactics in its dispute with Japan over ownership of the Senkaku Islands. In the past year the number of warships sent to “patrol” close to the islands (technically within Japanese territorial waters) has fallen by 70 percent while the number of Chinese fishing ships violating Japanese waters off  the Senkakus has more than doubled. This is part of an overall shift in Chinese policy. The use of extreme nationalism caused Japan to sharply cut its economic investments and involvement in China. Economic analysts warned the senior Chinese leaders that increased hostility towards Japan would have serious economic costs and that proved to be true. So Chinese leaders are trying to reverse the hate, and the economic harm to China. This will take time, but to Japanese it’s welcome. What this shift in strategy does not change is the underlying reasons why Chinese hate the Japanese. The cause of this the eighty years of humiliation inflicted on China until 1945. Before the late 19th century 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. After all, that’s what the Westerners were doing. Moreover by the end of the 19th century the Japanese believed they were the best hope for making East Asia competitive with the West. The bad blood between Japan and China over this period in their history 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 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, as do a growing number of Chinese.

The government is being forced to use patience in dealing with its latest pro-democracy crises in Hong Kong. The last major pro-democracy effort was in 1989 in Beijing and did not end well, in part because the government eventually called in the army and slaughtered thousands of people to clear the streets. While the memory of this use of force, and decades of subsequent suppression, kept the pro-democracy advocates quiet (but not completely silent) Hong Kong was a special case because for over a century Hong Kong was ruled by the British and was returned to Chinese control in 1999 to fulfil the treaty by which Britain controlled the city. The people in Hong Kong are Chinese, but they have different attitudes.  The government is angry and frustrated at their inability to suppress demands for more democracy in Hong Kong. The government has made it very clear that there will never be true democracy in Hong Kong but the locals refuse to stop agitating for just that. The current unrest began in June there was referendum on greater democracy for Hong Kong. Some 22 percent of registered Hong Kong voters cast electronic ballots (using their government ID) in the non-binding poll. Most people voted for more democracy.  Currently China controls who can be allowed to run for office in Hong Kong and directly appoints many officials. Government controlled media condemned the vote, but Hong Kong does have enough autonomy to get away with this sort of protest, and many others besides. As long as there is no violence the government tolerates it, for now. China does not want to endure the domestic and international backlash that would accompany a severe (anything from deadly violence to just sending large numbers of activists to jail and some “disappearances”) crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. For one thing, it would be bad for business. But more democracy would be bad for the communist government, which would lose power in a democracy. Most people in Hong Kong, and a growing number in the rest of China, believe that democracy should be given a chance. These Chinese have noted how so many Western ideas have benefitted China, often after some modifications to suit local needs. Why not democracy as well? After all, it works in Chinese countries like Taiwan and Singapore. To the Chinese government this is very dangerous thinking. Since June the pro-democracy activists have become more public with their protests and since late September there have been growing and persistent public demonstrations. There’s a growing call within the senior leadership for “decisive action” (violent suppression) to eliminate the problem before it spreads outside of Hong Kong. The government notes that many residents of Hong Kong are growing tired and frustrated at the months of disruptions caused by the demonstrations. To the government this is a sign that the protestors are losing popular support and will eventually lose so much support that the protests will dwindle and disappear.

November 15, 2014: The government admitted that the economy is suffering some problems and that the government is making changes to solve the problems and ensure that this sort of financial crises does not happen again. The government has been forced to admit there are problems, if only because some substantial and difficult to conceal things were happening. Thus in September it was announced that the government was providing $89.5 billion to the five largest banks in order to help stimulate economic growth. Corruption (especially over a trillion dollars in questionable loans by banks), foreign hostility towards growing Chinese territorial claims and foreign economic competition have been slowing down the Chinese economic growth. For nearly three decades China grew at a rate of 10 percent a year or more but since 2008 that rate has been falling. It is now headed towards a rate of under seven percent a year. People notice the growing number of closed factories and unsold homes. Housing prices have declined five months in a row. There has not been an increase in the unemployment rate but people notice that the labor shortage has abated and wages are not increasing as much as they used to. There is also the growing feeling that nothing the government has done since 2008 has been able to halt the slide. This has a growing number of Chinese worried. A lot of foreign economists are worried as well.

The army began a large scale military exercise today, the 64th anniversary of Chinese forces entering Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. The symbolism of all this was not lost on South Koreans, who note that the exercise was in Shenyang, where there is terrain similar to what is found in Korea. While only 20,000 troops were involved, it gave commanders good experience on what they would face if ordered into Korea. China is known to have war plans that involve military intervention if North Korea suffers a political collapse.

Noting the Ebola crises in Africa, where China is now the major foreign investor, the government has ordered the military to send military personnel to help. Meanwhile Chinese factories have rapidly increased production of protective gear, and other disposable medical equipment, for those treating Ebola patients.

November 14, 2014: China and Burma agreed to another $7.8 billion in economic deals, most of them involving Chinese money invested into Burmese projects. These new deals are an attempt to rescue some older projects that have been stalled. The problem here is that three decades of unprecedented economic growth in China has caused even more Chinese and their new wealth to find its way into northern Burma looking for profitable opportunities. In the last decade that has led to some major (multi-billion dollar), government backed investments in hydroelectric dams and mines. Those sorts of projects need legal protections, especially ownership of or legal access to lots of land. Each major project creates the need for hundreds of smaller enterprises and lots of economic growth in general. All these businesses want legal ownership or leases on land. Burmese entrepreneurs from down south are glad to oblige and bribe (or partner with) government officials and military commanders up north to “legally” steal tribal land. Eventually this leads to another tribal rebellion, but that’s simply a cost of doing business up north. But it has led to billions of dollars in projects being stalled because of tribal violence against the Chinese.

November 11, 2014: The annual Zhuhai Airshow opened with the public presentation of several “stealth” warplanes and military transports. These aircraft were known about for several years, but it’s always a big deal, at least for the mass media, when the Chinese go public with this stuff. In this case it was to show how China continues to make progress in matching Western military high-tech. Since 2011 China has been testing a second stealth fighter design. This one is called the J-31 “Falcon Eagle” (from an inscription on the tail), and while it looks like the American F-22, it’s also smaller than China’s other stealth fighter (the J-20, which has been around longer). The J-31 was the star of the Zhuhai Airshow this year. The J-31 was built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (which makes the J-11, the illegal Chinese copy of the Russian Su-27). The J-31 has some characteristics of the F-35 as well and appears to be something of an “F-35” to the earlier J-20s effort to match the American F-22. It’s also possible that the F-31 is a competing (with the J-20) design that is hustling to grab sales the J-20 thought it had all locked up. The J-31 flew for the first time in late 2012 and there were at least two prototypes available back then and the designer talked of the J-31 being able to operate off an aircraft carrier (like the U.S. F-35 and the Chinese J-15, a J-11 variant).  One advantage the J-31 has is two engines, compared to one for the F-35. This means the J-31 could carry more weapons, but this is less crucial with all the guided weapons available.  The J-31 is further evidence that China is determined to develop its own high tech military gear. While China is eager to develop advanced military technology locally, it recognizes that this takes time and more effort than nations new to this expect. Thus China is trying to avoid the mistakes Russia made in this area. That means having competing designs and developing necessary supporting industries is part of that. All this takes a lot of time and involves lots of little (and some major) failures. The Chinese are doing it right and are willing to wait until they get military tech that is truly world class.

November 5, 2014: China and Russia signed a series of agreements to cooperate more closely on military matters. This is another indication of Russia ending nearly a decade of feuding with China over Chinese theft of Russian military technology. In part this latest batch of agreements is also to firm up the alliance with China because of the growing list of economic sanctions on Russia by the West over Russian aggression in Ukraine (and other new states that used to be part of the Soviet Union). China is the only real (as in useful) ally Russia has in this conflict with the West.

November 4, 2014: In the southwest (Yunnan province) police have arrested 21 locals and accused them of taking part in popular protests against corrupt officials stealing land. This opposition led to at least nine deaths in the area so far. Public demonstrations against corruption or harmful government policies have increased since the 1990s from under 8,000 a year, to over 200,000 a year. Attempts to hide this have backfired, as the Internet and cell phones quickly spread news, and images, of police brutality. As a result, the police are being more restrained, and the government is more willing to address the popular complaints. In a growing number of cases, the police have little choice, because the crowds are becoming larger, and more aggressive than the police can handle. The most frequent causes of these demonstrations are land theft, police misconduct (like murdering someone in jail) or various forms of official corruption. Government response still varies greatly, largely because decisions on how to handle demonstrations is usually a local matter. The central government can intervene, but rarely does. That's because the central government does not have the resources to directly run the entire country. China has always depended on strong local governments, at the province level and below, to take care of things. But this is where the corruption is worst. More and more provincial officials are being prosecuted for corruption, but there are so many of them, and they tend to help each other out.

November 3, 2014: In southwest China (Sichuan province) a court sentenced three Tibetans to jail (for 2-3 years each) for aiding a fellow Tibetan who committed suicide by setting himself on fire. Since 2009 there have been over 130 of these suicides. They occur regularly in this area as a form of protest against Chinese persecution of the large local Tibetan population. The Tibetans support the Dali Lama (who supports Tibetan independence and is banned by the Chinese government). The government fears another outbreak of rioting by Tibetans there, as well as in neighboring Tibet (Xizang province).

November 1, 2014: China scored another minor naval victory over India as word got out that Sri Lanka (the large island-nation off the southern tip of India) had agreed to let another Chinese nuclear sub visit. On September 25th, for the second time in a month a Chinese submarine visited Sri Lanka. The sub was a nuclear powered Type 091 and it was the first time a Chinese nuclear sub had visited Sri Lanka. Earlier in September a diesel-electric Type 039 visited. In 2013 China agreed, as part of a $2.2 billion loan for economic projects, to provide training for troops in Sri Lanka. This deal will also include delivery of more military equipment. Sri Lanka, which has long had tense relations with India, has become the beneficiary of Chinese economic and military aid over the last decade and has become very friendly with the Chinese. Sri Lanka received crucial military aid from China during the war with Tamil rebels (who received a lot of aid from Tamils in southern India and were finally defeated in 2009). India can't become too friendly with Sri Lanka without causing political problems with its own Tamils (many of whom still support the defeated Tamil rebels of Sri Lanka, where Tamils have long been a troublesome minority.)  

October 31, 2014: A Chinese spacecraft returned after circling the moon and taking photos. This was the first round trip to the moon by a Chinese spacecraft. In late 2013 a Chinese spacecraft safely landed on the moon and the rover vehicle left the lander and began exploring. This sort of thing is a first for China and the source of much popular pride.

October 30, 2014: China called on Japan to stop sending fighters up to meet Chinese warplanes operating near Japanese air space. This follows revelation that in the last six months Chinese aircraft fell from first to second place as the most common threat Japanese air defense forces have to deal with. Now, again, it’s Russian aircraft that are most frequently triggering a response. From April to September this year Japanese aircraft went up over 531 times to confront intruders. Russian aircraft (often recon aircraft) coming too close to Japanese air space accounted for 61 percent of these incidents while Chinese intrusions (mostly warplanes) accounted for 39 percent. While 2013 was the first year Chinese intrusions exceeded Russian ones, this did not become a trend. But Chinese intrusions have become more common. This has been coming for several years. In 2011 nearly 43 percent of the sorties were for Chinese aircraft. That was nearly three times as many Chinese intrusions as in 2010. Meanwhile Russian intrusions have been declining. In 2011, Russia still accounted for 52 percent of the intrusions and now they are back on top again.

The government protested the Indian decision to build 54 more border security bases along the Chinese border in northeastern India (Arunachal Pradesh). China claims that it owns Arunachal Pradesh and is willing to negotiate an Indian surrender of this territory. India is not interested in that sort of negotiation. Alarmed at the more than 340 Chinese border violations so far this year, India is forming 12 new border police battalions, each with about a thousand personnel. These will be posted on the 3,500 kilometer long border with Chinese Tibet. In 2013 there were 411 of these Chinese border violations, following 426 in 2012 and 213 in 2011.  Indians living in areas near the Chinese border are becoming more vocal about growing Chinese aggressiveness in asserting its claims. Recently there have been ormal Chinese protests against India building roads near the Chinese border in northeastern India. This involves an area that new (2014) Chinese maps show Indian territory claimed by China as actually being part of China and within China’s borders. This is just another escalation in a long-running border dispute over who owns areas like Arunachal Pradesh.  In this part of northeast India there are few, if any, ethnic Chinese. The locals know that a Chinese takeover would mean drastic changes because the first thing China does in places like this is move in a lot of ethnic (Han) Chinese and marginalize the natives. This rarely ends well for the locals. While these Chinese claims have been on the books for decades, since 2000 China has become more vocal about it. That's one reason India has been rapidly increasing its defense spending. But since both nations have nuclear weapons, a major war over these border disputes is unlikely. Constant Chinese pressure is another matter. China is applying the same tactic in all its recently activated territorial claims. Constant pressure while avoiding anything that might trigger a war is seen by China as a slow but certain way to secure its claims.

October 28, 2014: Xu Caihou, formerly (from 2004 until 2012) the most senior political officer in the Chinese military confessed to taking bribes and otherwise abusing his senior position in the military for personal gain. This was doubly embarrassing for the government. That’s because Lu was a political officer, a job invented by the Russians during the Soviet period. The political officer is assigned to units from company size on up, and is second in command of the unit. The political officer is responsible for the political loyalty of all the officers and troops in the unit. He also acts as a (non-religious) chaplain, morale officer and publicist for the unit. These days, Chinese political officers rarely say much about communist doctrine, as few Chinese care for it. Political officers do serve as a source of grassroots information on what's going on with the troops, and the word is that corruption is a big issue with military personnel as well. The political officers report to the Communist Party, which still runs China, but is less communist and more interested in beneficial changes. Lu had become a member of the Military Commission which is the Communist Party organization that deals with setting policy for the military. Lu sold his vote and influence to the highest bidder and became rich. Now he is disgraced and the government is touting the prosecution of Lu as evidence that something is being done about corruption. Something is being done, but to most Chinese it is not enough. The government is going after the corrupt officials who were too corrupt and not discreet enough. That’s less than ten percent of the corrupt officials out there. Yet the impact of these prosecutions can be seen in the visible distress of many corrupt officials. It’s estimated that the suicide rate among government officials is 30 percent higher than the general population and this is largely due to the anti-corruption campaign.

October 23, 2014: At the end of a secret, four day meeting by the 360 most senior government (communist) officials a number of announcements were made. The government called for more “rule of law” to battle corruption and mismanagement by officials. But most Chinese see the problem more of officials abusing their power to “rule by law” and only enforcing laws that serve the interests of corrupt officials. At the same time some senior officials have pointed out that government corruption is an ancient and seemingly unsolvable problem that is not unique to China. That said, there is too much of it in China and public anger at all the corruption threatens the ability of the communists to stay in power. That sort of incentive is the best hope of reducing corruption to tolerable levels.

October 22, 2014: On the Indian border (Kashmir) Chinese troops entered Indian waters on Lake Pangong while nearby other Chinese troops advanced five kilometers into Indian territory before confronted by Indian troops. This was seen as yet another attempt to intimidate Indian troops guarding the border. India is also annoyed at reports that China has been training Pakistani troops along the Chinese border with the Pakistani portion of Kashmir.

 

 

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