China: Heads Are Rolling With Greater Frequency

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December 26, 2014:   The Japanese Navy noticed that another Chinese task force (a destroyer, two frigates and a supply ship) was circumnavigating Japan. This first time (ever) that happened was last year and Japan took it as a Chinese attempt at intimidation. Many Chinese are still bitter over some humiliating defeats Japan inflicted on the Chinese Navy in the late 19 th century and see their growing naval power as a form of revenge against the Japanese.

The many Chinese companies that sell (wholesale or retail) to Russia are complaining that the Ukraine related sanctions and plunging price of oil have killed exports to Russia. That’s because the Russian currency has lost nearly half its purchasing power (it takes a lot more rubles to buy dollars, which is the benchmark currency for international trade) in the last few months. Most Chinese are less concerned about cheaper oil, which makes most things cheaper for all Chinese. The sanctions and lower oil price also makes Russia more dependent on China, which also appeals to most Chinese.

The government has carried out another major crackdown on pornography (mainly on the Internet) and illegal gambling. In the last two months over 30,000 people have been arrested in this latest effort. In 2013 over 300 web sites were shut down along with at least 30,000 blogs and microblog accounts (Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, which is banned in China). While porn was the main target then the police also went after pirated material, unsanctioned online gaming and the politically incorrect. Operations like this serve to remind Chinese that they do live in a police state.

The government has announced an effort to replace nearly all foreign technology with Chinese tech by the end of the decade. This means Chinese software, computers, industrial gear, airliners and, of course, weapons are to replace all foreign equipment. China is well on its way to that goal already.

December 23, 2014: China is preparing to send the first 180 (of 700) peacekeepers to South Sudan to protect Chinese oil operations there. That is the main purpose of the peacekeepers although the official reasons may vary over time.

In the southwest (Sichuan province) a Tibetan Buddhist monk burned himself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This was the third such death in the last two weeks. Since 2009 at over 140 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.

December 21, 2014: On the Vietnamese border police, acting on a tip, intercepted a group of 22 Uighurs (Moslem Turks from the northwest) attempting to illegally enter Vietnam. One of the Uighurs attacked a policeman with a knife and was shot dead. The other 21 Uighurs were arrested. Uighurs are increasingly fleeing China and what they consider ethnic discrimination and generally bad treatment.

December 18, 2014: The government has punished over a thousand senior officials (usually with a demotion) for refusing a government order to have all family members living overseas return to China. As part of its anti-corruption drive China found that many corrupt officials tended to hide much of their stolen money overseas and often had members of their immediate family living overseas to keep an eye on these assets (and be safe from arrest). The government identified 3,000 senior officials with family living overseas and ordered all of them to bring their wives and/or children back to China. Most complied but a third did not and are now under more intense investigation for corruption. The government believes that since leaving the country became easier in 1978 over 4,000 corrupt officials have left the country taking over $50 billion with them.  

December 17, 2014: The Philippines announced that it was purchasing two frigates, two helicopters and three gunboats. Purchase contracts are to be signed in early 2015 but delivery of all these items is several years away. While miniscule compared to the Chinese naval expansion, the Filipino effort is meant to show China that the Philippines will not just roll over in the face of continued Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. What the Philippines needs is more powerful allies, like the United States and Japan to step up and back the Filipino efforts to halt Chinese moves.

December 16, 2014: India is accusing China of again violating a 2013 agreement that was supposed to halt the Chinese practice of sending troops across the LAC (Line of Actual Control) into Indian territory. Like the last incident in September, this one was in Ladakh. Today the intruding Chinese troops withdrew after three hours when Indian soldiers showed up. 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 found in the Indian States of Ladakh, Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal, and Arunachal. On the Chinese side it is mostly Tibet. China claims much territory that is now considered part of India. There have been hundreds of armed confrontations over the last few years as one side or the other accuses “foreign troops” of crossing the LAC. China will talk with India over the claims on Indian territory but refuses to back down. This is making India, which has a defense budget one third that of China’s, nervous. China often says the incursions are merely a misunderstanding, but in the GPS age this is not as convincing as it used to be.

December 15, 2014: China ignored the Permanent Court of Arbitration deadline for submitting a response to Filipino accusations about Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. This could result in a legal decision against China by 2015 even though China has indicated that it will not abide by any such ruling. Challenging such a decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that could cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that. Meanwhile China is threatening to use force to enforce its claims. China has several claims that are well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the disputed islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point.  Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Historically China has a weak claim because for centuries powerful Chinese empires ignored expansion into the South China Sea or any islands far from their shores. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate but is afraid that the world will call their bluff. The Philippines may be militarily weak, but in the Permanent Court of Arbitration the odds are more even and China has responded with an effort to simply ignore the court. In response to this Chinese resistance the Philippines has increased its efforts for form an anti-Chinese alliance. Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States are seen as the most likely members of such an alliance. The Philippines has made some progress in forming this alliance but so far the Chinese do not seem impressed or willing to back down.

China continues demanding that nine Chinese fishermen, arrested in May for poaching off the Filipino coast be released. China insists that these fishermen were in Chinese waters even though, according to international law the Chinese were closer to the Philippines and in Filipino waters. The Philippines imposed fines and other charges of $103,000 per poacher and insists that this be paid before the men are freed. So far China refuses to pay and the nine Chinese remain in prison.

In Taiwan a court sentenced a retired naval officer to 15 years in prison for spying for China.

December 10, 2014: In Hong Kong police cleared the last of the pro-democracy demonstrators away and shut down the last protestor camp in the city. For over ten weeks t he government used patience in dealing with its latest pro-democracy crises. On November 26th the police went in and used force to remove demonstrators from areas they had occupied for weeks. At first it seemed to work, but thousands of protestors soon returned. In the last week the removed demonstrators stayed away, although many pledged to eventually return to the streets if changes are not made. 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. Currently China controls who can be allowed to run for office in Hong Kong and directly appoints many officials. Government controlled media condemned the growing demonstrations 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. 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. Despite the growing calls within the senior Chinese leadership for “decisive action” (violent suppression) to eliminate the problem before it spreads outside of Hong Kong the Hong Kong officials remained patient and generally non-violent. The local government noted that many residents of Hong Kong were growing tired and frustrated at the months of disruptions caused by the demonstrations. To the government this was a sign that the protestors were losing popular support and would eventually lose so much support that the protests would dwindle and disappear. The police and local officials believed that time was on their side and the police were right, for the moment.

December 8, 2014: Nine Uighurs were sentenced to death for terror attacks earlier this year. This comes less than two weeks after the last Uighur terror attack. This took place in the northwest (Xinjiang) where Uighurs using knives and bombs left fifteen dead and 14 wounded. The police quickly responded by killing all eleven attackers before more damage could be done. This was the first major attack since September when another attack against a market place, two police stations and a store left over 40 dead, most of them attackers or civilians, along with four policemen. Most of the dead were Uighur but over a dozen appear to have been ethnic (Han) Chinese. Before that the last major attack was on July 28th which left over a hundred dead. After that one the government prosecuted and punished 17 local politicians and police commanders for not preventing the attack and not handling it well when it did occur. That has encouraged local officials to do better and the prompt response to the most recent attacks is the result. Most of this terrorist violence is taking place in Xinjiang. China accuses Islamic terror groups among the ethnic Turks (Uighurs) of Xinjiang for all these problems. The government is greatly embarrassed at its inability to halt the violence. Unhappy Uighurs are increasingly aggressive in attacking the growing Chinese presence among them. In Xinjiang province the local Uighurs are not responding well to 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. The government has 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. The same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control. Since 2011 several hundred have died in Xinjiang because of Uighur violence against Han rule. Thousands of Uighurs have been arrested and hundreds sentenced to prison, or death.

December 7, 2014: Some officials are openly calling for a crackdown on corruption (or the use of political influence) in the court system. Too many judges can be persuaded, or bribed, to let corrupt officials go free. This is a problem that has been around for a long time but is rarely mentioned. The government realizes that the corruption, especially among Communist Party (the only political party allowed) members threatens continued communist rule. Anti-corruption efforts have escalated in the last few years and now even very senior (among the top hundred leaders) officials are being prosecuted. Some say this is just another side effect of internal power struggles. Perhaps, but there is a need for senior heads to roll and those heads are rolling with greater frequency.

 

 

 

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