China: Much Worse, Much Closer


July 2, 2020: China has revived the border war over Pangong Lake, which is largely in Tibet and patrolled by a small Chinese naval force. This is the longest lake in Asia and part of the 134-kilometer long lake extends 45 kilometers into the Indian Ladakh region. China is using its usual “sneak and stay” tactics to slowly move the border into territory long occupied by India. The portion of the lakeshore in dispute has no native population. The only people who visit the area are soldiers from India or China.

Give this newly declared foreign threat, China has, since 2019, sent new Type928D Patrol Boats to guard the lake. This fast (70 kilometers an hour) boat is armed with an RWS (Remote Weapons System) using a 12.7mm machine-gun plus two or smaller (7.62mm) machine-guns that can be located elsewhere on the boat and operated by one of the ten sailors on board. There is also seating below deck for up to twenty troops. India has smaller boats patrolling its portion of the 4,200-meter high lake, except for the few months when the entire lake is frozen over.

In the last decade, China has been building roads into remote and formerly inaccessible (via vehicle) portions of the lake coastline. China has built some of these roads into areas claimed by India but not regularly patrolled because special mountain troops must be employed to get into these areas without coming in by boat or on foot over the ice.

India admits that the Chinese aggression along its northern border is active again and the Chinese are now actually taking control of Indian territory and apparently plan to continue doing so. Despite Indian nuclear weapons China believes it can get away with gradually gaining control over more than 100,000 square kilometers of Indian territory it claims. This will be done by grabbing a few square kilometers at a time without triggering a nuclear exchange. Fortune favors the bold, even in slow motion.

China and India have already fought a war, back in 1962. In a month of fighting (starting on 20 October) India lost 7,000 troops (57 percent prisoners, the rest dead or missing) compared to 722 Chinese dead. China declared a ceasefire that India accepted. China actually advanced in two areas, a thousand kilometers apart and ended up taking 43,000 square kilometers of Indian territory.

The source of the 1962 war and current border tension goes back a century and heated up when China resumed control over Tibet in the 1950s. From the end of the Chinese empire in 1912 up until 1949, Tibet had been independent. But when the communists took over China in 1949, they sought to reassert control over their "lost province" of Tibet. This began slowly, but once all of Tibet was under Chinese control in 1959, China had a border with India and there was immediately a disagreement about exactly where the border should be. That’s because, in 1914, the newly independent government of Tibet worked out a border (the McMahon line) with the British (who controlled India). China considers this border agreement illegal and wants 90,000 square kilometers back. India refused, especially since this would mean losing much of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India and some bits elsewhere there and all along the new northern border.

India, as a democracy with a free press, has a public discussion of Chinese tactics and possible Indian responses. China also tries to take advantage of Indian media freedom by buying favorable coverage in the Indian press. This is done via bribes, offers of investments or loans as well as economic concessions within China. Military strategy in China, since ancient times, has placed emphasis on having a powerful military but using it mainly as a threat and giving enemies an incentive to accept bribes and allow China to get what they want. Yet India has rarely been seen as an enemy of China. There is nothing valuable on their mutual border which for thousands of years has been along high mountains and thinly populated lowland jungles. Neither India nor China had any incentive to raise large armies to threaten each other.

Because of this background, the border disputes of the last 60 years are seen by Indians as inexplicable and by Chinese as overdue restitution for centuries of humiliations inflicted by Western invaders. India, ever since it emerged from centuries of British colonial rule in 1947, insisted that India and China shared a background of oppression by the West. China sees India as trying to perpetuate Western crimes against China. To most Chinese Indians look and sound like Westerners therefore India must be an enemy of China. India has come to accept that the Chinese are obsessed with making India pay for real or imagined wrongs inflicted by Western imperialists and see nothing wrong with using ancient Chinese imperialist methods to get their way. Suddenly British imperialism is not the worst thing that could ever happen to India. China is seeking to provide something much worse and much closer.

Pacific Partners Prepare

Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and a growing number of nations in the way of growing Chinese territorial claims are describing the Chinese threat in uncomfortable, for the Chinese, historical terms. The last time an Asian imperialist threat ravaged the region it was Japan playing the bad guy and the Chinese were major victims. This time China is the heavy, and is clearly described as such by independent media. Meanwhile, China, doing a convincing imitation of Imperial Japan, has the same controlled media and even a similar “thought police” (a real thing in wartime Japan). What bothers Chinese leaders the most is that a growing number of Chinese, despite the increasingly effective thought police and the social credit system, are also unhappy about being the 21st century version of the hated imperialist Japanese. While World War II Japan was able to crush internal dissent. Imperial China has had to struggle to make Chinese and the neighbors appreciate the benefits of Chinese domination. The Japanese were disappointed at how most Asians did not appreciate the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Chinese version is no easy sell either.

July 1, 2020: As of today, the Chinese military reserves are under the direct control of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and will be reorganized to support maintaining the ability of the CCP to control China. Previously the reserves had been under the control of regional and provincial leaders. This was a remnant of an earlier strategy in which Chinese military power was dispersed to make it easier to fight a guerilla war in the event of an invasion by Russia or the United States. That never happened and from the 1980s on China has sought to build a modern military along Western lines.

In the South China Sea, several Chinese destroyers began several days of well-publicized training exercises near the Paracel Islands.

June 30, 2020: Despite over a year of widespread public protests, China has violated the treaty it signed with Britain in 1997 at the end of the British lease on Hong Kong. In order to reassure the many pro-British Hong Kong residents and keep Hong Kong a major financial asset for China, the Chinese promised to maintain a “special status” for Hong Kong until 2047. Britain said that if China violated the agreement Britain would provide emigration opportunities to many Hong Kong residents. Britain has offered to accept up to three million Hong Kong residents, either in Britain or in other nations eager to accept well educated, English speaking migrants seeking to escape communist rule. Today China declared a new Hong Kong “security law” in force and that all Hong Kong residents are subject to the new law which allows the government to prosecute anyone for anything that offends China. That includes demonstrations in memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and other politically incorrect events in Chinese history.

June 29, 2020: In the southwest (Tibet border with India) Chinese troops have occupied about eight kilometers of Indian territory along the north coast of Pangong Lake. Chinese troops have erected large signs on the shoreline indicating the newly occupied area is now Chinese territory. China has moved another 20,000 troops, including light tanks and other armored vehicles to the Ladakh sector. Another 10,000 troops are kept about a thousand kilometers away, in Chinese lowland territory where altitude sickness is less of a problem. China has most of the high ground and that limits the number of combat capable troops it can bring to its side of the border.

June 25, 2020: Taiwan complains that Chinese aircraft are increasingly entering the Taiwanese ADIZ (air defense identification zone) without warning and forcing Taiwan to send up fighters to doublecheck. For over a decade China has been violating ADIZs of neighboring nations more and more frequently. In 2016 Taiwan announced that it would not recognize any Chinese attempts to enforce an ADIZ on portions of the South China Sea that have long been recognized as Taiwanese according to tradition and international treaties. In late 2013 China began expanding its own ADIZ into disputed areas of the South China Sea. With that China insisted that all military and commercial aircraft in these new ADIZs ask permission from China before entering. The U.S. and several local (and well-armed) nations responded by sending in military aircraft without telling China but warning their commercial aircraft operators to cooperate because it is considered impractical to provide military air cover for all the commercial traffic. China sees this as a victory, despite the obvious coalition intention to continue sending military aircraft through the ADIZ unannounced and despite whatever threats China makes. In response to that China has begun running combat air patrols through the ADIZ and apparently intends to try to intimidate some of the smaller nations who are defying them. The intimidation has failed so far largely because Taiwan refuses to back down and is openly telling China that the defiance will continue. South Korea and Japan both defined the ADIZ demands. Both these countries have powerful military forces and military ties to the U.S., as does Taiwan.

June 23, 2020: In northwest neighboring North Korea is going through the worst economic crises since the famine years of the 1990s. GDP is expected to shrink by at least seven percent in 2020. This is mainly because China is (most of the time) enforcing the economic sanctions and there have been additional problems caused by efforts to keep covid19 out of North Korea. Kim Jong Un continues to anger China by refusing to accept Chinese advice about following the Chinese example of economic reform. In effect that means adopting classic fascism; a relatively free economy ruled by a dictatorship. So far, the Kims and their cronies have been wary of the “Chinese Solution” even though it appears more and more likely to be the best way out of the economic mess North Korea created for itself.

June 20, 2020: Venezuela continues smuggling its heavy oil to China, if only because there are refineries in China and East Asia that can handle the heavy and “dirty” Venezuelan crude oil. Chinese companies have backed off on trying to evade the American economic sanctions on Venezuela. The problem is that the American sanction enforcers are good at detecting which foreign firms are violating sanctions. For large Chinese trading firms getting caught violating sanctions means the entire trading firm is subject to punishment. While large tradition firms are an efficient and profitable custom in East Asia they are more vulnerable to punishments inflicted for violating international laws. As a result of this the only oil getting from Venezuela to China is smuggled out on Venezuelan tankers and then transferred at sea off the Asian coast to a local tanker that will get the stuff sold to a suitable refiner. A lot of discounts are involved and Venezuela makes about half what they normally would. Meanwhile China is still owned tens of billions by Venezuela which can no longer repay that debt with oil because of the increased American sanctions (to pressure the Maduro dictatorship to allow the return of elections and democracy). Meanwhile, China has provided some useful help for Maduro. The most valuable service China has done for the socialist Venezuelan government (aside from some help rebuilding the collapsed oil industry) has been showing Venezuelans how to use police-state tech to better control an angry population. China has such tech and has agreed to export it to Venezuela and assist with the installation of its newly developed SCR (Social Credit Rating). This has been developed over the last decade in northwestern China (Xinjiang province) where extensive networks of vidcams and other forms of population monitoring have enabled more control over large populations. China already boasts that nationwide millions of people have been identified and punished because of their low SCR. A bad SCR makes it more difficult to get a good job, a bank loan, or a passport. SCR scores depend on what the government sees, hears, or reads via that growing network of sensors and informants. China was not able to provide a lot of the SCR surveillance and enforcement equipment to Venezuela before the increased sanctions made that impossible. But there is enough SCR gear in Venezuela to convince the local secret police that this is the way to go if you can afford it.

June 15, 2020: In the southwest (Tibet border with India) there was another clash between Indian and Chinese troops on the shores of Pangong Lake. A 1996 agreement has troops from both sides entering disputed areas without firearms or explosives. The Chinese have taken to sending in their troops armed with wooden clubs and iron bars. This led to a battle on a ridge overlooking the Galvan River today that left at least twenty dead on both sides. Total casualties (dead, wounded, prisoners) were at least fifty on each side. China failed to return all Indian prisoners right away and the Chinese commander would not explain why.

The Indian response was to move more of its new (SpyDer) Israeli and elderly S-125 and OSA-AK Russian made air defense systems into the area. SpyDer and OSA-AK are short-range (under 15 kilometers) while the S-125 can hit targets 30 kilometers away. The Chinese response was to drop any pretense about its intentions and claim ownership of the uninhabited (and largely uninhabitable) Galvan Valley adjacent to Pangong Lake. Since the early 1960s, when these border disputes began, China had never claimed Galvan Valley, now they do.

June 12, 2020: Chinese companies employing North Korean workers have a more favorable attitude towards North Korean illegals. China has a labor shortage, because of the three decades of “one child only” population control. The North Koreans work harder and cause fewer problems. Technically the North Korea workers are employees of the North Korean state, which takes most of their pay as “taxes and fees”. This relationship continues with most North Korean workers. In some cases, Chinese employers are finding North Korean workers who are willing to abandon North Korea by signing contracts with Chinese firms for higher pay, longer terms and no return to North Korea. The Chinese government doesn’t care and without Chinese intervention, North Korea cannot force these workers to return, especially if these workers have no family in North Korea, or don’t care what happens to their family. This is another example of China reminding North Korea who the “elder brother” is in their relationship and that elder brother continues to be displeased with how North Korea is mismanaging its economy and foreign affairs.

June 8, 2020: Filipino leaders continue using the old Cold War tactic of playing two superpowers (U.S. and China) off against each other. Most Filipinos trust the U.S. more than China. That means a fundamental shift in government policy and diplomacy against the Americans is impossible. Despite, or because of that, Filipino president Duterte says nice things about China while ignoring the continued military, economic and diplomatic support received from the United States. China understands this but keeps offering loans and investments to the Philippines to show their “gratitude” to Duterte. The Chinese hope to eventually win some goodwill inside the Philippines with all this. This has been the Chinese strategy throughout the region. While this approach does little to shift public opinion it does enable China to freely use their cash to buy as much support as they can. The more Chinese money that enters the country the more locals are found who are willing to be bought or at least rented. This includes politicians, academics, journalists and celebrities of all sorts. This works, up to a point.

Duterte got elected and remains popular because of his aggressive efforts to find and prosecute corrupt officials. Now he is finding more and more of the corruption was paid for by China. This strategy has gained some favorable press and more access to foreign countries. Longer term the prospects are not so good. These same tactics were used by Germany worldwide in the 1930s, especially once the Nazis were in power. There were short term gains that evaporated once the German armies began moving into neighboring countries. China hopes to avoid that by invading slowly and with considerable stealth. But, as the situation in the South China Sea and the Indian border demonstrate, subtlety and stealth will only get you so far. Another question Chinese economists are quietly posing to CCP (Chinese Communist Party) leaders is how will the government deal with a lot of foreign countries refusing to pay back the loans or simply seize Chinese assets. What is an ambitious new superpower to do?

June 6, 2020: In the Philippines ( Manila) police raided the third illegal clinic established in the city by Chinese gangsters to provide medical supplies for Chinese seeking testing or treatment for covid19. There are about 150,000 Chinese citizens in the Philippines, many of them illegally. Covid19 cases in the Philippines are concentrated in cities, especially the capital Manila, as are many of the illegal Chinese. So Chinese gangsters set up unregistered (and unregulated) covid19 clinics. Six of these clinics have been found and closed since April. Large quantities of scarce medical supplies were seized.

The illegal Chinese clinics are just another manifestation of the Chinese gangster problem that came with increased Chinese investment. In the last year over two thousand illegal aliens, most of them Chinese, have been arrested in the capital alone. Most of those arrested were participating in the growing Internet based criminal activities. After 2008 t he Philippines slowly became a hotspot for computer hacking groups, and for nearly a decade the computer crime gangs were able to survive by bribing the right officials. Only when the cybercrime involved Islamic terrorism did the bribes not work. In 2016 the government legalized online gambling operations. These were to be regulated and taxed. Filipinos were forbidden to use the new online gaming sites because popular opinion in the country was that the online gambling sites were addictive and sometimes rigged. There was also an effort to eliminate a lot of the bribery that often caused things like online gambling to become more of a problem than economic benefit. All this was complicated by new (since 2016) Chinese investment activity, which were part of the government effort to boost the economy. While the government was also at odds with China over the illegal South China Sea claims, the Chinese were using large investments to reduce the popular hostility to what was going in in the South China Sea. The Chinese investments came with the usual demands that more Chinese be allowed to work in the Philippines. In return more Filipinos would be allowed to work in China. In 2016 the Filipino police were ordered by the new president (Rodrigo Duterte) to aggressively go after corruption and criminal activity. This was soon applied to the online gambling business, which had quickly been dominated by Chinese gangs. In addition to corrupting legal online gaming operations, the new flood of Chinese gangsters led to the establishment of illegal online gaming operations. All this Chinese gangster activity led to more arrests and prosecutions. The Chinese government often cooperated because many of these gangsters moving to the Philippines because police pressure in China was more intense. In foreign countries, it was often possible to exploit the legal system and extradition treaties to avoid being sent back to China to face even more serious criminal charges. A growing number of recent Chinese arrests were the result of information provided by the American FBI, which had been investigating international computer and phone fraud and the hackers behind it. China has also provided information about Internet based criminals preying on individuals and businesses in China. In 2019 nearly two thousand illegal aliens were arrested in the Philippines, most of them Chinese. For all of 2018, only 500 illegal aliens were arrested. In 2019 nearly two million Chinese travelled to the Philippines, most of them tourists. Tourism has always been good for the economy but the growing number of Chinese tourists beings with it more Chinese gangsters looking for a safer place to work and skilled at corrupting local officials.

June 4, 2020: For India, the Chinese border has become an active confrontation zone again after several years of relative quiet. The increased activity is more theater than violence. “Quiet” is a relative term on this border because it still means over a hundred Chinese border incursions each year. Both countries have made an effort to make the border disputes better organized. As a result, in late 2018 China agreed to establish multiple hotlines along their mutual border and also between the defense ministries of China and India. This revived earlier efforts to establish a hotline. In 2016 China and India worked out and agreed to details of a hotline for commanders on both sides of 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 several thousand armed and unarmed confrontations over the last decade as one side or the other accuses “foreign troops” of crossing the LAC. The 2016 agreement fell apart when India went ahead, despite Chinese protests, and expanded its military ties with the United States while also undertaking massive improvements to military infrastructure near the border in the areas where Chinese troops were a growing presence and a constant threat. China had taken the lead improving roads and stabling more military bases close to the border. India was now catching up, having built over three dozen new roads to the more remote border area, New bases for ground troops and warplanes were built and training exercises now included tests of how well ground and air reinforcements could reach the contested border areas. China considered all this an act of aggression against them.

Northwest India (Ladakh State) is the current hot spot now because India is building roads to the border and threatening to take back the portion of Kashmir Pakistan illegally, according to the agreement that established the India-Pakistan border after the British left in 1947, seized from India. Pakistan signed that agreement but had second thoughts as it was being implemented. Pakistan urged Pakistani Pushtun tribes in the area to “liberate” Kashmir from the Hindus and managed to grab about half of the disputed area. This dispute has remained unresolved ever since and led to several wars between India and Pakistan. Pakistan always lost but India never sent troops into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The current Indian leader is openly questioning the wisdom of that policy. India controlling all of Kashmir is a major economic threat to China, which has invested over $10 billion to build a highway and rail line from China to the Pakistani coast and it goes through Pakistani occupied Kashmir. This link is part of the Chinese OBOR/BRI (belt and road project) which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road that for thousands of years was the main economic link between East Asia and the rest of Eurasia. In Pakistani portion is called CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic corridor) and is costing China over $62 billion. The Indian threats to the Kashmir road-rail link are minor compared to the problems China is having with Islamic terrorist and tribal violence against CPEC projects as well as the high levels of corruption in Pakistan which are also damaging CPEC projects. This is driving up costs while lowering quality and slowing progress. But China also claims ownership of much Indian territory so helping Pakistani keep what they have grabbed is considered something of professional courtesy.

China is also annoyed that India is now using Chinese tactics and threaten to take back disputed border areas. Since 1999, when India officially became a nuclear power, Chinese options on the contested borders were reduced. With both nations possessing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, China could no longer rely on overwhelming non-nuclear forces to push India out of contested areas. That was bad enough but now the Indians are threatening to go Chinese on the Chinese.

June 3, 2020: The Indian and Chinese generals commanding forces confronting each other on the China/Ladakh border agreed to meet on June 6th to try and arrange a halt to the Chinese aggression. When the Chinese agree to these meetings it usually means they are willing to ease up on their “push and occupy” strategy for taking disputed border territory from neighbors. Indian media can describe that as a “Chinese retreat” but it isn’t. China is simply willing to pause their operations for a while. In this case China was actually planning a major push against India.


Article Archive

China: Current 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close