The Chinese Communist Party has gotten a lot more aggressive with its anti-corruption efforts this year. Increasingly senior officials (civilian and military) are being prosecuted, along with a growing number of corrupt businessmen who pay for favors from officials. The government is openly going after the state-owned companies. These have long been known to be inefficient and the source of much corruption within the government. Even more frightening is the move against groups of corrupt officials who looked out for each other. Now the government is openly going after these “self-protection associations” no matter how much political pull their members have (or thought they had). There are also calls for better screening of people promoted to senior posts and eventually expanding the anti-corruption screening down to the lowers levels of officialdom. The resistance to the anti-corruption efforts is diminishing as it becomes clear that few, if any, officials will be able to use favors or cash to escape the investigations. It is believed that there is an unofficial amnesty for those guilty of “light” (not so obvious) corruption who come clean, provide information about other corruption suspects and surrender assets obtained via corrupt acts can escape punishment. But there’s a lot of deal making here, because the corruption is so widespread.
Some senior generals and admirals are pointing out that if you dismissed all the corrupt officers (especially those who had bought promotions, a widespread practice) the military would be crippled for years until a new generation of senior commanders could learn how to do the job. Government officials make the same argument, but less persuasively as there are lots of capable and less corrupt people available to take over. The military is more specialized and the government has rushed modernization over the last few decades and that means many of the existing officers are still learning. Yet many senior officials see the military modernization effort as a long range one and that since it will be another decade or two before the Chinese military can realistically challenge the Americans, now is the time to clean out the corrupt officers and start training new, and much less corrupt and reliable ones.
Meanwhile China recently announced that the 2015 military budget will be 10.1 percent more than 2014. China expects less of all that money to be stolen in 2015 and is willing to sacrifice the careers of as many officers as necessary to achieve those reductions. China notes that neighboring countries are now increasing their military budgets (often to record levels). Especially worrisome are larger budgets in Japan and India. Yet the Chinese defense budget is now higher than all of its angry neighbors (that leaves out Russia) combined.
While average Chinese appreciate (and are often entertained) by this new, improved and more far-reaching anti-corruption campaign, they are also concerned about the growing government efforts to curb non-government charity or reform organizations. Actually the government has always been against any organized effort that does not have a government official in charge. A growing number of Chinese do not agree with that and this trend is what worries the government the most. Some reform-minded (or just reform-tolerant) Chinese leaders are calling for greater use of “consultative democracy” where the government would officially consult with and pay attention to ideas and desires of citizens. The government has long used opinion surveys and intelligence analysis of popular attitudes to guide their decision making but anything that smacks of “direct democracy” is still very unpopular with most senior officials.
Relations with Russia are growing a bit more tense. For example, Russia recently agreed to sell jet engines directly to Pakistan for the Chinese made JF-17 fighters Pakistan was importing and also building under license. China is still dependent on Russia for high-performance military jet engines. If the Chinese followed Russian practice they would insist that Pakistan buy the Russian engines from China, and China would up the price a bit so China made a profit on the deal. The Chinese do not forget slights like this and the Russians know it.
Although China has withheld some forms of aid to North Korea in an effort to halt the North Korean nuclear weapons program, economic aid has more than doubled, to nearly $7 billion a year since 2009. That’s nearly 20 percent of North Korean GDP and is what is keeping the North Korean economy functioning. Despite that stranglehold on their survival, North Korea continues to resist Chinese “requests” that they get rid of their nuclear weapons program. China could arrange a coup against the ruling Kim dynasty but that risks plunging North Korea into chaos, rebellion or civil war (or all three), which would require a Chinese invasion and occupation to sort out. For the moment China prefers to be prudent and patient.
March 8, 2015: China has declined to get involved in Yemen.
The Shia rebels there have declared themselves the legitimate rulers of Yemen, but they only control about a third of it. Shia militiamen occupy nearly half the country but in central Yemen the majority Sunnis are resisting with demonstrations and armed violence. The last elected leaders have set up a new capital in the southern port of Aden. There are now frequent attacks against Shia rebels in Baida, Marib, Ibb and Hadramout provinces. The Shia rebels are now trying to obtain aid, investment and diplomatic support from Russia and China, two countries that have long supported Iran, the primary supporter of the Yemeni rebels. China does a lot of business with Iran because of the oil and some export business to Iran. But Yemen has nothing of interest to China.
March 3, 2015: The Philippines has succumbed to Chinese threats and ordered a halt to oil exploration in the part of the Spratly Islands within the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) because China also claims that area and the UN is now arbitrating the dispute. China has already said it will not abide by any UN decision against it. In the last year or so China has rapidly gone from building platforms to bringing in dredging ships and piling up sand into new islands. Thus Hughes reef, which has had a 380 square meter (4,100 square feet) raised platform since 2004 has in the last six months built (via dredging) a 75,000 square meter (18 acre) island with an airstrip and buildings now under construction. Similar platform building and island creation is under way at other reefs (Johnson South, Gaven Reefs and Fiery Cross Reef) in the Spratlys. About 45 of the islands are currently occupied by small numbers of military personnel. China claims them all, but long occupied only 8 while Vietnam has occupied or marked 25, the Philippines 8, Malaysia 6, and Taiwan one. Now China is building platforms and new islands all over the Spratly chain giving it a legal (at least according to China) claim to all of the Spratly Islands. Japan recently offered to aid the Philippines and Vietnam in their effort to halt Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Japan, with the second (after China) largest navy in the region, offered to have their warships train with the Philippines and Vietnam navies to better coordinate military resistance to Chinese use of force. China refuses to acknowledge the possibility that anyone else has any valid claims on the South China Sea, which China now considers part of China, While not willing to go to war over the issue, China is willing to bully other nations away from territory the people in these countries (like the Philippines) have controlled, or at least used, for centuries. No one, especially the United States (the strongest naval power in the Pacific) has dared to confront the Chinese over these claims so the Chinese keep expanding their control and these newly created islands and their military garrisons are part of how China will win this campaign.
February 28, 2015: Colombian police found over a hundred tons of explosives and components for assembling cannon shells on a Chinese freighter that was stopping off on its way to Cuba. The cargo of weapons was not on the ship manifest and the ship was interned and the captain arrested until the issue could be sorted out.
February 27, 2015: In the south (Guangzhou) two or more men with knives attacked people in a crowded train station. Nine people were wounded before police intervened and shot dead one attacker and arrested another. One policeman was wounded and one or more other attackers may have gotten away. The attackers were Uighurs who were trying to get to the Middle East to join ISIL. This attack comes the day after local police raided a smugglers hideout in the city and arrested 40 Uighurs. Some of those 40 resisted the police with knives and one was shot dead. The attackers in the train station and the 40 arrested were in the process of being moved out of the country by smugglers. Most Uighurs live in the northwest (Xinjiang province) and last year 450 people died in the province due to Uighur resistance to the growing presence of ethnic (Han) Chinese. About a quarter of the 450 dead were Han, the rest Uighurs. The death toll was double what it was in 2013 and Uighur complain this is largely because of the more extensive and energetic police operations in Xinjiang against real or potential opposition to the growing economic domination of the region by Han. The nine million Uighurs in Xinjiang province 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 over a thousand have died in Xinjiang because of Uighur violence against Han rule. Thousands of Uighurs have been arrested and hundreds sentenced to prison, or death. Last year China convicted 712 people of “secessionist activities” and most of these were Uighurs, some of whom want an independent Uighur state in northwest China.
February 25, 2015: Afghanistan admitted that it had an arrangement with China whereby Afghanistan would seize and turn over to China any Chinese Moslems (especially Turkic Uighurs) found in Afghanistan. This recently led to a dozen Uighurs arrested in Afghanistan being sent back to China. In return China increases the diplomatic and economic pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting Islamic terrorists attacking Afghanistan. China is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan as well as the main source of modern weapons, so when China talks Pakistan must listen and at least pretend to act.
February 23, 2015: The Burmese government claims that Chinese mercenaries are working for the northern rebels. China says this is not so. In fact, many of the Burmese tribes have clans (or individual members) living on both sides of the border. Some from the Chinese braches of the rebels tribes might not only have entered Burma to fight for their kinsmen but are known to have gone to Burma to get a well-paying job in the thriving tribal drug businesses. Chinese are definitely involved with the smuggling of these drugs into China and arranging for distribution throughout China. Moreover in Burma it is Chinese investments (facilitated by corrupt Burmese officials and businessmen) that are the major cause of the current tribal unrest. China is hosting over 60,000 tribal refugees from the fighting and continuing to ignore the smuggling (of jade and other valuable commodities out and weapons in). One thing China does not ignore is the growing quantity of recreational drugs (opium, heroin, meth) coming out of the tribal territories of Burma and would love to see some more cooperation from the Burmese government in that department. Some Burmese officials say that drugs are the main reason for the current military offensive but their Chinese counterparts know it’s just more bad relations between the tribes and the rapacious ethnic Burmese from the south.
February 15, 2015: The Chinese foreign minister arrived in Iran to encourage the Iranians to work out a deal on nuclear weapons. China would prefer that Iran dropped its nuclear weapons program but is too polite to say so publicly.