Part of the recent willingness of the North Korean leaders to discuss denuclearization and peace is their growing fear of China. Historically China was always a threat to Korea but since the Korean War (1950-53) North Korea has depended on China for economic, diplomatic and military support. All that has faded because the North Korean leaders would not obey Chinese demands. North Korea sees itself in a situation similar to Vietnam, which has also had a historically hostile relationship with China. But now Vietnam is allied with the United States, South Korea, Japan and many other nations against Chinese aggression. China is aware of this North Korean attitude but China has always believed that it was better to be feared and obeyed than to be loved. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un has often indicated that he feared China more than South Korea or the Americans. China is now the main conduit for imports and exports. Essentials like food come mainly from China but so do smuggled goods (both the items the North Korean government wants and those it forbids). Currently, North Korea is trying to keep out news about the negotiations between North Korea and America (as well as South Korea). In North Korea, the government wants to control news about those negotiations and if too much truthful information gets in there is more unrest. Yet China has quite deliberately made it easier for smugglers on the Chinese side. North Korea has apparently discreetly raised the issue of China (as a threat) to South Korean and American officials.
Big Brother Is Busy
In the northwest Xinjiang province now has a reputation of being a large test site for new “Big Brother” (as in the anti-communist novel “1984”) technology. This is being done in the name of controlling Islamic terrorism (although there is very little of that in China, even in Moslem majority districts) and ethnic separatism (which is a real threat especially in Xinjiang and Tibet). On the other hand, the government has made enormous strides when it comes to reducing poverty in Xinjiang and Tibet but that tends to produce more affluent and educated separatists.
Meanwhile, local officials in Xinjiang have been praised by the national government for policies that resulted in no terrorism related deaths during 2017. That was the first full year that the current provincial government was in charge. The national officials have demanded that all local opposition to Chinese (Han) culture and control be eliminated. Local officials were given authority to try anything and that has resulted in severe hardship for the original occupants and rulers of this region; the Turkic Uighurs. Xinjiang has become a test area for whatever government monitoring and control measures local officials want to try and eventually widely implement throughout China. That is the reason for the sharp reduction in terrorism or separatist activity in Xinjiang. The most obvious examples have been the introduction of a lot more new technology for monitoring the population. This includes thousands of vidcams and a very effective facial recognition system. This is in addition to a growing list of methods used to collect data on the non-Han Chinese population, especially anything related to ethnic separatism or Islamic terrorism. This helps the government select those who will be sent to re-education camps (for a few weeks or six months or more.) There are currently over 100,000 Moslems (most of them Uighur, ethnic Turks who used to be the majority in Xinjiang) in the re-education camps. That is out of the nine million Uighurs in the province. Uighurs are a shrinking minority as more and more Han Chinese move in.
The re-education camps contain very few Han Chinese and apparently include even more “experiments” including the use of new drugs to induce uncooperative Uighurs to undergo an attitude adjustment. A new generation of security analysis software and hardware is replacing a lot of the older manpower intensive data collection methods. This is used to identify seemingly cooperative Uighurs, especially those working for the government, and send them to the camps for treatment.
The Big Brother methods that worked in Xinjiang are showing up in Tibet, even though Tibet was never as violent as Xinjiang. But many ethnic Tibetans are still separatists and China considers that dangerous and subversive thought that must be adjusted.
South China Sea
Filipino President Duterte is reviving the old Cold War tactic where a nation courted by two superpowers (in this case China and the U.S.) plays the superpowers off each other by demanding more and more aid, goodies and other concessions. While China isn’t backing away from occupying offshore areas (in the South China Sea) that belong to the Philippines, China is offering the Philippines all sorts of gifts. Duterte is gracefully accepting the gifts with no strings attached and insisting on negotiations for the “gifts” that may contain hidden costs. Duterte isn’t giving up any legal claims the Philippines has to South China Sea areas occupied or threatened by China. The Philippines isn’t giving up any allies it has in the confrontation with China. This includes the United States, which Duterte criticizes but does not cut ties with or refuse military assistance from. China is playing along, in part because there are no better options and, given the size of the Chinese economy, it isn’t all that expensive. The Americans go along as well, as it is China that is spending the most on this particular competition.
In April the American commander of U.S. naval forces in the western Pacific confirmed that China had built sufficient port and aircraft facilities on islands in the South China Sea to quickly station warships and combat aircraft at these new facilities and, in effect, declare that it controlled the South China Sea and dare anyone to oppose that control. Many of the islands are artificial, made by dredging up sand from nearby reefs and shallow waters. Seven reefs belonging to the Philippines have undergone this transformation and commercial satellite photos already show military aircraft and other equipment showing up on these artificial islands. Apparently, China has also installed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on some of these islands (Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef, all just west of the Philippines) in addition to EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment, including jammers as well are arriving on the new islands. China did not announce installing this military equipment but aerial and satellite photos show the equipment appearing during April, if not earlier. Since then some of these weapons have been moved or concealed and more stuff is coming in. Thanks to commercial photo satellites it is easy to keep track of what China is doing on the artificial islands they created in Filipino waters. Mischief Reef, which an international court agreed belonged to the Philippines, now has a Chinese military base and an airstrip that is regularly used by Chinese military aircraft. In addition, China has installed electronic surveillance and jamming equipment there in addition to air defense and anti-ship missiles. Filipino politicians, and most of the Filipino voters they represent are not happy about this.
Japan has taken advantage of this and formed a growing alliance to oppose China. Japan has been establishing links with Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries threatened by Chinese aggression. While China sees Japan as a fading economic and military power, Japan still has the second largest economy in the region, as well as more powerful allies than China. The Japanese military is still a formidable force, especially at sea. While memories of Japanese brutality throughout East Asia during World War II still survive the fear of similar treatment from China are turning Japan into a sought-after ally for most nations in the region.
This alliance is often informal and it nations as distant as India. Speaking of which India is trying to build anti-China alliances with Burma and Indonesia. Burma is willing to go through the motions but has to be careful because China is a major player in the Burmese economy and, like India, borders Burma. Indonesia is another matter and has been very aggressive towards Chinese efforts to seize control over maritime territory. India is offering to help Indonesia build a new naval base near the Straits of Malacca, the busiest maritime route in the world, with a daily transit rate of up to 200 ships.) Indonesia is one side of the straights and fears of Chinese expansion will eventually include the Straits of Malacca.
June 7, 2018: China and Japan put a naval and aerial hot line into operation. The new agreement makes it easier for Chinese and Japanese warships and military aircraft to communicate with each other. This would decrease the chance of unintended combat because of the growing number of incidents where ships and aircraft from both nations confront each other, often in disputed areas.
June 5, 2018: Two American B-52 bombers flew from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean through air space in the South China Sea that China now considers Chinese territory. The U.S. has been doing these B-52 “freedom of passage” flights since 2013. Back then China announced a new air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that overlapped South Korean, Philippine and Japanese air space. China demanded that any foreign military or commercial aircraft request permission before flying into this zone. South Korea and Japan protested while the United States promptly flew some B-52s into the zone without asking for Chinese permission. China protested and the United States ignored them. By 2015 the U.S. was sometimes apologizing to China for these “accidental” overflights but the apologies ceased by the end of 2016. The B-52 flights are usually training missions that the heavy bombers have been carrying out for decades. During those missions, the South China Sea is often flown over.
June 4, 2018: Taiwan began a five-day military exercise in which it practiced operations for defeating a Chinese attempt to take the island by force. The exercises included multiple tactics for defeating the Chinese on land, air and at sea. This included operations to defend airbases attacked by Chinese airborne troops or commandos. This year there has been a lot more Chinese military activity near Taiwan, including bombers circling the island and more visits by ELINT (Electronic intelligence) aircraft. Taiwan responded to all of these, usually by sending fighters aloft to accompany the Chinese aircraft. The Chinese activity is a form of protest against recent moves by Taiwan to improve its armed forces. Less obvious has been the great increase of Chinese hacking attacks against Taiwan. Partly in response to that, the military has banned Chinese made smart phones from its military bases.
June 1, 2018: Pakistan has ordered two more Type 54A frigates. These 4,000 ton ships have been in use since 2006 and have been very successful. Pakistan already has two on order and now will have four of them by 2021. This order makes 32 Type 54s on order or in service (mostly with the Chinese Navy).
May 31, 2018: The government announced that the only active Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, had achieved combat readiness along with its escort and support group. But Liaoning is only combat ready in day time. There is only one Chinese carrier jet fighter pilot qualified to land on a carrier at night and barely enough carrier pilots to fly a full complement (24) of J-15 fighters on the Liaoning. Chinese carrier aviation is making steady progress, just not as fast as Chinese Defense Ministry publicists describe.
May 30, 2018: The leaders of Japan and Vietnam agreed to more defense and maritime safety cooperation. These new accords also make it easier for the two countries to jointly oppose Chinese aggression.
May 26, 2018: Two American warships (destroyer and a cruiser) carried out the third American FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in the South China Sea for 2018. This one was near several of the Chinese occupied islands in the Paracels. These islands had long belonged to (and been occupied) by Vietnamese. China took the Paracels by force in the 1970s. In 2012 one of the Paracel islands (Woody Island) was declared the center of Sansha, a new Chinese municipality (city). Sansha is actually Woody Island and dozens of smaller bits of land (some of the shoals that are underwater all the time) in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south. In fact, the new "city" lays claim to two million square kilometers of open sea (57 percent of the South China Sea). This is part of a strategy based on the ancient principle that, when it comes to real estate, "possession is 9/10ths of the law." It's the law of the jungle, because all the claimants are armed and making it clear that, at some point down the road, force will be used to enforce claims. The Chinese say they have prior claim to most of the South China Sea and basically dares the rest of the world to try and stop them. The nations bordering the South China Sea, and the new city of Sansha, are creating alliances and trying to persuade the United States to lend some military, or at least diplomatic support to opposing an increasingly aggressive China. This was demonstrated by the reaction to this American FONOP and a similar one by Australian warships in April. In both cases Chinese warships challenged the foreign ships and demanded that they leave “Chinese territorial waters” (anything within 22 kilometers of the coast). The Australians refused and now the Americans have done the same. In response China has sent more weapons to these islands including having one of their H-6K long range bombers practice landing and taking off from some of the new airstrips built since 2012. The H-6K can be armed with nuclear cruise or anti-ship missiles. Other reactions to this FONOP included Britain and France announcing that they were going to conduct their own FONOPs as the United States and Australia have recently done.
May 23, 2018: The United States withdrew its invitation for China to attend the 2018 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) international military exercises. RIMPAC has been held since 1971 and is currently held every two years for nations that are dependent on freedom of the seas in the Pacific Ocean. During the Cold War (that ended in 1991) RIMPAC was about how to deal with the Russian threat. China was first invited to attend in 2014. RIMPAC is the largest international naval exercises held anywhere. There are usually twenty or more nations participating plus other invited to observe.
May 22, 2018: The government is again calling on Burma to keep the peace along its border with China. On the 12th an attack near the border left three Chinese dead in Burma and three rockets and many bullets landing on the Chinese side of the border. The government must make a suitable response because the Chinese UN veto is needed to help the government from getting punished by the UN over the Rohingya refugee issue. China is also pressuring the four Burmese tribal rebel groups of the Northern Alliance to join peace negotiations most other tribal rebels and the government are having. China can make it more difficult for the Northern Alliance to access China (for supplies, refuge or whatever). China has increased security on its Burma border in the wake of the recent violence.
May 19, 2018: Once more a Japanese Navy patrol aircraft photographed a stationary North Korean tanker tied up to a Chinese tanker off the Chinese coast and apparently transferring petroleum. Earlier in 2018, the Japanese detected (and photographed) the same North Korean tanker doing a similar transfer in the East China Sea. The UN has put sanctions on s growing number of cargo ships and tankers but these vessels can still do transfers at sea. This takes longer, is still illegal and is increasingly being witnessed (and photographed) by American, Japanese or South Korean patrol aircraft. China responded with new rules making it more difficult for Chinese companies to get away with the false paperwork, turning off the automatic ship tracking devices and other scams North Korea uses to illegally export items to China.
May 18, 2018: China has openly praised Pakistan for how well its security forces, especially the army, have kept thousands of Chinese working in Pakistan on major construction projects safe from Islamic terrorist attack. This public praise is also a warning that any loss of security for those Chinese and their massive buildings projects would result in China reducing its economic activity in Pakistan. China has done this before, in Afghanistan and Burma and thus this is no hollow threat. This is more important now that the United States has been cutting economic and military aid to Pakistan because Pakistan refuses to curb Islamic terrorist groups it controls. These Chinese interests are colliding with the growing international pressure on Pakistan to halt what it is doing to support Islamic terrorist activity in Afghanistan, India and elsewhere. The UN has been trying to address that issue and censure Pakistan but China has been blocking those efforts. This is becoming more difficult for China to do as the evidence against Pakistan (especially from former senior government and military officials in Pakistan) continues to accumulate. The current head of the Pakistani military, Qamar Javed Bajwa, has expressed an interest in moving away from this unofficial support for Islamic terrorism. Bajwa seems to recognize that he cannot run Pakistan (via another military government) and that the growing tensions with India are indeed dangerous. The Indians have nukes and a track record of defeating Pakistan every time the two nations get into a war. China has openly proclaimed that it is not a “military ally” of Pakistan so Bajwa realizes he actually is in a weak position that is liable to get worse and end very badly for Pakistan, Bajwa and the Pakistani military. China also openly urges Pakistan to make peace with India. As open to peace talks as Bajwa says he is he can’t even admit that he has imposed on himself a lot of difficult restrictions. He cannot admit that Pakistan is sponsoring Islamic terrorism anywhere. In private discussions with Chinese and American officials Bajwa is called out on the reality of the military still supporting Islamic terrorism. Bajwa can deny the accusations from the Americans but the Chinese cannot be lied to. The Chinese support Pakistani lies publicly but privately urge the Pakistanis to face reality before they trigger a nuclear war that would destroy a lot of valuable Chinese investments. To help this peace effort along the Chinese openly deny they are any kind of military ally of Pakistan.
May 17, 2018: China and Uganda announced a nuclear power deal. China will help Uganda build several nuclear power plants. Uganda has several uranium deposits and wants to use its own uranium to power the reactors.
May 16, 2018: Sudan accepted delivery of six Chinese FTC2000 jet trainer/light attack aircraft. FTC2000 is the export version of the JL-9 trainer used by Chinese forces.
May 11, 2018: Chinese military aircraft attempted to interfere with a Filipino effort to deliver supplies to a base it maintains on Second Thomas Reef which both countries claim. The supplies got through to the detachment of Filipino marines has been stationed there on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre) since 1999. The Filipino navy deliberately grounded the LST on Second Thomas Reef in 1999 to provide a place for this “observation team”. In 2013 Chinese patrol ships came within nine kilometers of the LST, which China insists is there illegally. The Philippines warned China that it would resist any attempts to use force against the grounded ship and while the Chinese still tries to interfere with supply ships, they have stayed away. In 2015 China protested the Filipino effort to make repairs on the LST. The Philippines protested the Chinese moves today but only after a two week delay because of disagreements within the Filipino government about how to deal with the situation. China is buying a lot of influence in the Philippines but at the same time, most Filipinos fear being “conquered” by an increasingly aggressive China. The Philippines also decided to proceed with upgrades to its other disputed islands in the Spratly Islands.
May 10, 2018: The Philippines is the leader when it comes to the portion of GDP coming from remittances (money earned by Filipinos overseas and sent home). Aware of that one of the “gifts” China has offered is to legalize about 200,000 Filipinos working illegally in China and allow another 300,000 legal workers in, the Philippines is eager to close this deal. China is suffering a labor shortage because of a declining birth rate (a side effect of prosperity) and is accepting more and more legal foreign workers.
May 9, 2018: The leaders of China, South Korea and Japan met in Japan to work out details of how all three would deal with the denuclearization of Korea and the ongoing peace talks with North Korea.
May 8, 2018: Officials from China and Burma met to work out a police cooperation agreement that would make easier to detect, monitor and disrupt criminal activity that is common to both countries. This is mainly about keeping drugs, especially meth, out of China and to reduce smuggling in general as well as the growing incidence of Internet related crime on both sides of the border. In return for Burmese cooperation, China will help Burma in the UN and other international organizations.
May 7, 2018: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again (for the second time in six weeks) visited China to meet with president Xi. The two met several times over two days to apparently prepare for the June 12 meeting between Kim Jong Un and the American president in Singapore. If nothing else the two meetings in China indicated that Kim Jong Un understands what he had to do and how to do it.