century by European innovations in ship building and management of sea routes that presented a safer and cheaper way to move goods worldwide. Moreover, until the late 20
century Chinese leaders never encouraged (and often banned) foreign trade. For most of Chinese history the leaders believed China had all it needed (largely true) and considered all non-Chinese and their products as inferior. The big change now is that China needs international trade and Obor is the Chinese plan to control as much of it as possible. This is essential for a prosperous economy because without that the communists are in big trouble. Obor means China owning or otherwise controlling as many of the new roads, railways, ports, pipelines and sea routes as possible. China is investing nearly $200 billion in Obor construction. This includes land routes through Central Asia to Europe and the Middle East, another through the Himalaya Mountains to the Indian Ocean (soon to be under new management if China has its way) and new land connections into Southeast Asia. The key to China’s new sea routes is asserting ownership of the South China Sea.
China has a grand strategic plan and it’s no secret. For the last few years Chinese officials have been describing their economic and military expansion plan as Obor (One Belt, One Road). A new PR campaign for Obor describes it as a revival of the ancient “Silk Road” but that’s not accurate as the ancient Silk Road was only partially run by the Chinese. Most of it was operated by other major powers (Iranian, Indian and Arabs) and was largely put out of business after the 16
Another feature of Obor is that it offers business relationships that are more acceptable (than Western ones) to most of the nations Obor is investing in. The Chinese can, as they like to put it, be more flexible and respectful of local customs. In other words the Chinese don’t see bribes and corruption as a defect but an opportunity. This is great for the foreign political and business leaders but less so with most of the others and this is causing problems. Africans and Asians living near many Chinese foreign operations complain that China is the major investor in illegal extraction of raw materials and keeping local gangsters and corrupt politicians in business. The Chinese also violate local labor laws with impunity and often hire their own armed security personnel who will shoot to kill if threatened by angry workers or local residents. Keeping local tyrants in power serves Chinese interests when it comes to things like establishing new military bases or preventing other nations from doing so. Corrupt locals also make it easier to carry out espionage operations (locally or in nearby areas). Helping to keep unelected leaders in power also serves to maintain the legitimacy of the current Chinese government which is basically a communist police state and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) wants to keep it that way. All this is nothing new. For example once China got its seat in the UN back (from Taiwan) in 1971 it has been notorious for encouraging and using corrupt practices in the UN. Many nations play along and as China became wealthier they were willing and able to buy whatever they needed inside the UN. The latest example of this is how Chinese pressure has caused the UN to withdraw investigators (responding to local complaints of serious crimes) looking too closely at Chinese owned operations in Africa.
China and Pakistan are heavily publicizing the revival of the Silk Road. In Pakistan the city of Peshawar, on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, was a major gateway of the ancient Silk Road between China and the Middle East. But that version of the road went through the pass and into Afghanistan. The new Silk Road is not just Obor, in Pakistan it is officially called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is a complex piece of work. In 2013 China agreed to spend $18 billion to build a road from Gwadar and into northwest China. This will require drilling long tunnels through the Himalayan Mountains on the border (in Pakistani controlled Kashmir.) The road and a natural gas pipeline are part of the $46 billion CPEC project. This will make it much easier and cheaper to move people, data (via fiber optic cables) and goods between China and Pakistan. China also gets a 40 year lease on much of the port facilities at Gwadar, which India fears will serve as a base for Chinese warships. This is how China would like all of Obor to be but the rest of the world does not always cooperate.
Ever since the North Korean economic collapse in the 1990s (and a famine that killed over five percent of the population) China has been trying to avoid a collapse of the North Korean government, something that suddenly became a possibility in the 1990s. It was between 1989 and 1991 that all the communist governments of East Europe suddenly (at least to believers in communism) collapsed, including the Soviet Union in 1991. That led to the disintegration of the Russian empire and an end to four decades of generous economic aid to North Korea (and Cuba). Both these long-time Soviet clients were never the same after 1991 but North Korea is a major concern for China.
For over 500 years Koreans have tried to establish and sustain a “united Korea.” But with aggressive and powerful neighbors like China, Japan and, for the last few centuries Russia, it has been a struggle. There have been a few periods when all of modern Korea, and sometimes a bit more, were ruled by Korean aristocrats. The Koreans have proved to be tough and persistent despite their stronger and sort tempered neighbors constantly coming in and destroying Korean unity. The last unified Korea state lasted 13 years and disappeared in 1910 in the aftermath of a war between Japan and Russia which Japan won. Japanese rule was harsh and lasted until 1945 when Korea was again divided because Russia would not comply with a post-World War II agreement to remove the Japanese occupation forces and then leave. The United States did so but the Russians refused and created the current North Korean police state and equipped it lavishly with modern weapons with orders to invade and take over South Korea in 1950. The UN responded with uncharacteristic unity and resolve and authorized an international force to deal with the situation. Russia then persuaded the newly established communist government of China to invade and rescue the North Koreans from certain defeat three months after the initial invasion. Russia was technically not involved because Russia and the U.S. were the only ones with nuclear weapons and Russia knew it would come out second best in any nuclear war with the Americans because the Russian nuclear arsenal was more propaganda than reality. The secret deal Russia used to end the fighting involved assurances that they would continue financing a North Korean communist government and compensate communist China for its sacrifices in North Korea (where over half a million Chinese died). The Russian assurances ended with the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991.
Russia (as the Soviet Union) faithfully kept promises to North Korea but China felt it had been played by Russia and the two countries almost went to war with each other in the 1970s. China still considers Russia a longer-term problem (China has ancient claims on most of what is now the Russian Far East) but sees another mess in Korea as a more immediate problem. If the North Korean government collapses China takes it as a given that they will have to go in and maintain North Korea in order to avoid another united Korea with democracy and powerful allies in the West. While this is something most Koreans would prefer it is something China is willing to go to war over to prevent, or at least make some serious moves in that direction.
The new Korean threat to China goes beyond a united Korea. Even divided Korea has become a threat. The aggressive and heavily armed North Korea now openly threatens China. This is especially real if North Korea has nukes and ballistic missiles to deliver them. North Korea shows no signs of halting its efforts to develop a reliable nuclear weapon and a reliable ballistic missile to carry it. This, North Korea leaders believe, will solve their economic and political problems. So far in 2017 there have been eight ballistic missiles tests and preparations for another underground nuclear test. In 2016 there were 24 ballistic missiles tests and two nuclear tests. The first nuclear test occurred in 2013 and despite the fact that the test was not a complete success, the nuclear bomb program continued and the sixth nuclear test up there seems imminent.
For China South Korea is also a military threat, given it has more modern armed forces and defense industries that are even more advanced than anything China has. South Korea also has Western allies and recently installed an American THAAD anti-missile system that is there to protect South Korea from North Korean attack but has also proven to be a threat to China because THAAD can diminish Chinese missile effectiveness as well and gives South Korea a powerful radar system that enables the South Koreans to more carefully monitor aerial activity in North Korea and adjacent areas. Chinese public opinion generally supports the government, especially when it comes to North Korea, which is seen as ungrateful for the Chinese sacrifices to keep it going.
The Religious Threat
In the northwest Xinjiang province the government announced more new laws intended to curb separatist attitudes among the Moslems who dominate this region. The new rules mandate that all Moslem children (those under age 16) have their names changed if local government officials determine that the name is “too Moslem.” That would include names like Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, Medina or Arafat. Children receive their national ID cards at age 16 and must now have “non-threatening” name. The government is also collecting DNA samples from all non-Han residents of Xinjiang.
The government has also been watching local (non-Han) members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and expelling those found to be Moslems. Technically, CCP members are not allowed to belong to any traditional religion (communism is not considered one despite the similarities) but enforcement is generally lax unless you belong to a group that is considered anti-Chinese. Islam qualifies although Christians are increasingly considered guilty of dangerous (to CCP rule) thoughts.
There is a growing list of things (like Islam and the Internet) that disturbs the communist government in China. The scariest trend is the increasing number of Communist Party members who are secretly (or openly) becoming religious and believers in capitalism. That is a trend among Chinese in general. Even religions (like Islam, Christianity and Falun Gong) that are increasingly persecuted, continue to grow. Communist true believers are still recovering from the 2001 decision to allow businessmen to become Communist Party members. Now, to see party members attending religious services and celebrating alternatives to socialism is, if nothing else, bad for morale at the highest levels of the party. But the CCP adapts to survive and earlier in 2017 that meant prohibiting the use of Islamic veils (that conceal the face) in public as well as “excessive” beards and other items worn or carried by conservative Moslems. There was no definition of what excessive was. It was also illegal to refuse to watch state run TV or listen to radio. Many conservative Moslems have TVs and radios but only use them for religious material. Individual towns and cities in Xinjiang have already enacted bans like this but now it is province-wide. This new Xinjiang provincial law basically bans practices seen as purely Islamic. In early April police began searching the homes of some Moslems, looking for the now forbidden items. That now includes anything that points to a CCP member being a Moslem.
The Taiwan Threat
Despite the obvious improvement in Chinese military capabilities compared to Taiwan, the Taiwanese have become more determined to maintain their independence. Taiwanese understand what the Chinese are doing now because it is considered an ancient and proven Chinese strategy of wearing down a weaker opponent and avoiding a risky battle or war while still getting your way. Until about a decade ago many Taiwanese were willing to consider union with China but the more Taiwanese became familiar with what is really going on in China, and especially Hong Kong, the more Taiwanese backed away from union with China. Hong Kong rejoined China in 1999 and after a few good years it has been downhill ever since. As Taiwan became less receptive to reunification China made threats and showed its displeasure in other ways, like discouraging Chinese tourists from visiting Taiwan. So far in 2017 year Chinese tourism has been down 50 percent (to about 150,000 a month). Many Taiwanese are fine with this because lots of Chinese tourists meant a lot of ill-mannered Chinese treating Taiwanese like inferiors. Compared to other tourists from Asia the Chinese were cheap and hard to deal with.
It was not supposed to work out like that. After 2008 China began making it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan and soon millions were doing so each year. Many Taiwanese saw this as another ploy to take over their island nation one way (economically) or another (militarily). In response to that Taiwan has been expanding and upgrading its armed forces. This annoys the Chinese leaders who are seen (by Chinese able to get around the Internet censors) as all talk and little more. To make matters worse Taiwan has publicly offered to assist China is moving to democracy. That is a popular idea with many Chinese, but the CCP leadership of China was not amused.
The Philippines Reconsiders
Chinese efforts to buy the cooperation of the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute have failed as Filipinos realized that there was little gain in the long run by giving in to Chinese demands. Although China became the largest trading partner with the Philippines this year most Filipinos did the math and realized the Chinese dictatorship could turn that around without warning. It now seemed that the Americans were a better long-term ally because the Americans have no old territorial claims in the neighborhood, are a democracy and have a long history of good behavior. All the other major Filipino trading partners (Singapore and South Korea) are also democracies. Moreover the Americans are the only Filipino “treaty ally” that is obliged to aid the Philippines if the islands are again attacked (as they were by the Japanese in 1941.) Meanwhile China is displeased with the increasingly frequent visits of American warships to the Philippines (for leave and maintenance) and the South China Seas (to challenge Chinese claims.) So far China has not been violent but with more and more Chinese warships, warplanes and troops showing up in the South China Sea there appears to be increased risk of someone opening fire. There are a growing number of “offenders” for the Chinese to shoot at. In addition to ships from the nearest countries (mainly Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan) there are the more powerful allies of these countries (mainly Japan and the United States). Now the Philippines is daring China to make an aggressive move at a time when China is busy with several similar situations from Africa to Korea and the Japanese islands.
June 11, 2017: Anti-corruption investigators have found yet another province (Outer Mongolia) where there has been widespread falsification data provincial officials are supposed to collect and pass on to the national government. This makes the third such province where this practice has been documented. Earlier Jilin and Liaoning provinces were found to be issuing fake data. In January the governor of Liaoning province admitted, in the state controlled media, that provincial officials had falsified economic data between 2011 and 2014. This was not news, as anti-corruption officials had publicized this during a 2014 investigation. What this official statement did indicate was that it is now safer to discuss the problem of falsified data in public and on the Internet. Bad news like this coming out of heavily industrialized Liaoning province is a big deal because the province has a population of 44 million and a GDP of about half a trillion dollars a year. Liaoning has long been portrayed as one of the most corrupt provinces and the only one that officially suffered a decline in GDP in 2016. There is more, as Liaoning borders North Korea, an area where corruption and false data are the norm.
Even more damaging are the very wealthy (billionaires) Chinese who are accused of corruption and flee the country. More of these exiled tycoons are going public with details of how they were forced to operate by corrupt CCP officials. These confessions are in part an effort to persuade the country they took refuge in to refuse Chinese demands that the “corrupt businessmen” be extradited to China for prosecution and punishment. This has slowed down the extradition process a great deal.
June 8, 2017: In the South China Sea two American B-1B bombers (based in Guam) flew through air space over the South China Sea that China claimed was Chinese but that the rest of the world does not recognize. China complained to the United States and was ignored. Meanwhile satellite photos reveal to the world that China is building military installations on newly created (by dredging sand onto reefs) islands.
In southwest Pakistan ISIL revealed that they had kidnapped the Chinese couple that was taken on May 24th. The two Chinese were then murdered for being non-Moslem. Pakistan later found that the two were actually Christian missionaries who entered Pakistan without revealing their intentions. The killers were actually from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, a Sunni Islamic terror group that had been around for a while and regularly carried out terror attacks against Pakistani Shia. Iran has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on these groups. That crackdown was more of an emergency once it became apparent that that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami recently joined ISIL, a group that has had a difficult time establishing itself in Pakistan (and an even harder time in India and Bangladesh). Pakistan had assured China that the thousands of Chinese coming to Pakistan to build roads, a new port and other improvements, would be protected. As embarrassing as this incident was, the two victims were not part of the construction effort and China did not make a lot of it. Pakistan tracked down the group responsible and appears to have killed or captured most of them. Pakistan also said it would work more closely with China to improve the visa process for Chinese wishing to enter Pakistan.
June 4, 2017: In the southwest, on the Indian border, two Chinese army helicopters flew across the border into India (Uttarakhand State) and remained for about five minutes before flying back to China. India protested and China said it wasn’t intentional and was no big deal. The Indians disagreed, largely because China has been sending troops across the border with increasing frequency. The border is actually called the LAC (Line of Actual Control). Also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line the LAC 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.
June 2, 2017: The UN approved new sanctions on North Korea which included sanctions against organizations and individuals connected with ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. China will apparently go along with these new sanctions.
May 31, 2017: Wang Baoan, the head of the National Statistics Bureau was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution was mainly about with crimes committed earlier (1994-2016), mostly before he became Bureau chief in 2015. Wang Baoan, a career bureaucrat, became a very wealthy man (over $22 million in all) by accepting bribes and other favors. Most worrisome was his last post, running the scandal plagued National Statistics Bureau, which is believed to knowingly distribute falsified economic data for decades.
May 27, 2017: North Korea once more quietly annoyed China as they declared its locally developed KN-06 air defense system had passed its final test and was entering mass production. First displayed publicly in a 2010 parade KN-06 is believed to be an attempt to clone the Chinese FT-2000 (which is a clone of the Russian S300). China may have quietly provided some data on KN-06 recently along with other intel on the capabilities of North Korean air defenses. It appears that no one has actually seen any successful tests of the KN-06 system or if they have they are keeping quiet about it. In terms of technical and manufacturing resources it is highly unlikely that North Korea has successfully cloned the FT-2000 and even if they had all the tech given to them (along with equipment samples) North Korea has demonstrated no capability to manufacture it in any quantity. The recent North Korean KN-06 announcements are seen (by South Koreans and Chinese) as a response to recent South Korean comments describing and disparaging the capabilities of North Korean air defenses. This was a side effect of South Korea recently starting production of its new KM-SAM (Iron Hawk) surface-to-air missile systems. The first batteries will enter service in 2018. KM-SAM is what North Korea implied they had with KN-06 but KM-SAM is real, developed and manufactured in South Korea and has numerous successful tests to its credit. News like this spreads quickly to North Korea these days and North Korea will often respond with some bizarre (t0 knowledgeable outsiders) claim that is mainly intended for the shrinking number of North Koreans who support their government.
May 26, 2017: Over the South China Sea an American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft encountered two Chinese J10 fighters. All this was in international air space but the Chinese fighters proceeded to fly dangerously close. The Chinese ignored the protest, as they did for a similar incident in the East China Sea last week where an American reconnaissance aircraft collecting air samples (to check radiation levels) was threatened. Chinese warplanes increasingly intercept aircraft like the P-3C and attempt to force the American aircraft to change course.
May 25, 2017: Another American warship (the destroyer USS Dewey) carried out a FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in the South China Sea and came closer than 22 kilometers to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Chinese media reported it differently and insisted that two Chinese warships forced the USS Dewey to leave the areas. In reality China did what it usually does and did not oppose the American destroyer. These exercises are meant to affirm that many of the Chinese claims to the entire South China Sea are invalid and that the right to free passage through China’s EEZ is assured.
May 24, 2017: In southwest Pakistan a Chinese couple was kidnapped near Quetta, the provincial capital. The two were operating a Chinese cultural center and learning how to speak the local language (Urdu). Local Islamic terrorists saw the two as Christian missionaries operating in an area full of groups that go after non-Moslems or Moslems considered heretics (usually everyone who is not Sunni). It was later revealed that the two were there to do missionary work.
May 20, 2017: President Duterte says China threatened war if the Philippines went ahead with plans to drill for oil in offshore areas that international law recognizes as Filipino but that China claims actually belongs to them. Duterte openly criticizes other nations for not confronting China. All the South China Sea nations facing territorial losses because of Chinese claims have backed down. He points out that even the United States is unwilling to go up against China. Meanwhile the Chinese are openly moving more weapons to bases in the South China Sea as well as their main naval base in southern China (Hainan Island). When pressed a few Chinese officials would admit that in recent talks between Duterte and Chinese leaders it was mentioned that war was a possibility if other nations sought to take possession of Chinese territory. In other words (that non-Chinese can understand). Back off or die. Duterte later said he may have exaggerated a bit.
May 19, 2017: In the west (Qinghai province) a Tibetan Buddhist monk burned himself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This makes 150 such protest deaths since 2009, after China had suppressed widespread unrest in Tibet. There was a major uprising in 2008 which was quickly and brutally put down. Areas where Tibetan resistance is most active have since been flooded with additional police and the Chinese troops stand ready to crush anymore insurrections. The decades 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.
May 16, 2017: China has agreed to provide financing, special equipment, materials and skills to work with Pakistan to modernize 1,600 kilometers of the main Pakistani north-south rail line.
May 15, 2017: the JF-17B, a two-seat version of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17, made its first flight. The B version is built to be either an advanced trainer or, when equipped with a few million dollars’ worth of additional sensors and upgraded fire control electronics, an advanced fighter-bomber. The B version is also an effort to generate more export sales, the lack of which threatens the entire program. Since the JF-17A entered service in 2007 Pakistan has been aggressively seeking customers for its new jet fighter. By 2017 there were only 90 JF-17s built, all of them for Pakistan. There are orders from Burma for 16 and Nigeria for three but these two sales are more about diplomacy (and bribes) than military necessity.
May 13, 2017: Chinese government controlled mass media featured stories about new combat UAVs and ballistic missiles with an emphasis on being able to destroy large enemy warships and evade defenses. That means the main target is the U.S. Navy. This media effort included mention of a jet powered UAV similar to the American Sea Avenger and a DF-26 ballistic missile that can find and hit large warships over a thousand kilometers away. Neither of these systems is known to work, even though the carrier-killer ballistic missile has been under development for over a decade. This sort of media offensive is usually aimed at American efforts to dispute Chinese claims in the South China Sea. But this time it’s mainly about American naval forces headed for Korea and the implied threat to North Korea and its nuclear program. It’s also about the South Korea anti-missile systems, which the new Chinese systems were described being able to defeat. China is sending a message to the new South Korean president who took power today. Since 2010 (when North Korea actually attacked South Korea but tried to deny it) South Korean leaders have been less willing to follow the Chinese lead on North Korea and demanded that North Korea back off on its nuclear and other military threats to South Korea. China prefers both Koreas do what China wants and for South Korea this means no anti-ballistic missile systems. The new South Korean leader is believed to be less hardline and has agreed to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss the North Korean threat, and whatever else China is concerned about.