China: Buy Any Means Necessary

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October 22, 2020: Once more China is threatening Taiwan with invasion. More forces (ballistic missiles, aircraft, ships and troops) are being moved to the coastal areas facing Taiwan. Any invasion has to deal with Taiwan Strait, a 300-kilometer-wide water barrier between China and Taiwan. China will not risk war with Taiwan unless an attack is a near sure thing.

Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait understand the ancient Chinese practice of weakening political, military or commercial opponent with bribes instead of battles. The ancient Chinese military sage Sun Tsu was a big fan of this tactic. So are the current rulers of China and Taiwan. The Chinese government does not believe an attempt to take Taiwan by force would be prudent. There are many examples of this in Chinese history, both ancient and current. In the last 70 years China has been reminded several times how costly, and risky going to war is.

The Korean War included China because Russia (Josef Stalin) insisted. At that point Russia was an essential military, economic and political ally of China. Despite many misgivings, China complied, sending over two million troops went to North Korea between 1950-53. About a third of these soldiers were casualties. About ten percent of the Chinese troops were killed and other 20 percent were wounded or disabled by disease, accidents or exposure. Chinese troops often froze to death during their first Winter in North Korea. Disease was a problem, especially during the first year. Russia provided over 70,000 military specialists and technical advisors as well large quantities of material support. But only about one percent of the Russians involved were casualties. Since the 1950s Chinese have regarded their participation in the Korean War as a mistake. There was no victory. Over 200,000 Chinese died, including the sons of many prominent leaders. In return China got two Koreas to deal with. The one bordering China is a dysfunctional police state run by a local dynasty that cannot be trusted. Then there is South Korea, a prosperous democracy that, in contrast to North Korea, is a profitable trading partner of China. North Korea is a bottomless pit for Chinese money and an unrelenting headache for Chinese diplomats and leaders.

In 1969 there was a bloody but undeclared border war with Russia that lasted seven months. Russia mobilized a force of about 600,000 well-armed and equipped troops. In contrast China countered with about 800,000 less well-equipped soldiers. There were a few skirmishes, causing about 500 casualties (40 percent fatal). Russia won these skirmishes and sought to make peace. China was still paralyzed by the “Cultural Revolution” that began in 1966 and was soon out-of-control. The Chinese radicals were disgraced and lost power to a more pragmatic leadership that tuned away from Russia and towards the West and more economic freedom. In 1969 the fighting with Russian forces also reminded China of the old saying, “don’t get into a war you can’t win.”

Five years later China fought a war they could and did win. South Vietnam was asserting control over some offshore islands that both countries claimed. China mustered a superior naval force and defeated South Vietnamese forces, who no longer had much military or other support from the United States. A year later North Vietnam again tried to take South Vietnam by force. That had been attempted in 1972 but American air support caused the invasion to fail. In 1975 there was no American support while the North Vietnamese had even more help from China. Within months Vietnam was united as a communist police state.

Chinas and Vietnam then got into series of disputes that led to the 1979 Chinese invasion of Vietnam. China crossed the border and was confronted by Vietnamese troops with a lot more combat experience. China took heavy losses and responded by declaring victory and retreating. Loses on both sides were about the same but China was outfought and humiliated. China could have pushed on, taken losses equaling those in Korea, and ending up with another North Korea on its southern border. Don’t get into a war you can’t afford to win.

China has another military problem which the Taiwanese are well aware of; corruption. From the beginning (1948) the communist Chinese government was cracking down on corruption. After some initial success, the corruption returned. That was one reason for the 1966-69 Cultural Revolution., Corruption won. This was bad news for any Chinese plans to build a world-class military. Not for military reasons, but to forestall a rebellion against Communist Party rule. Over the last two decades opinion surveys and reports from the security services indicate a major irritant for the Chinese people is the growing corruption among Communist Party officials who dominate the government bureaucracy. This is nothing new and over thousands of years Chinese realized that you cannot eliminate corruption, but you can try to minimize the most dangerous side-effects, like a hollowed-out military that looks great but cannot win at endeavors like a sudden attack on Taiwan. Chinese analysts, discussing this in public forums (mass media, professional journals and so on) conclude that one should honor the ancient advice of Sun Tsu by convincingly threatening war but not actually fighting unless there is no choice. That means using your forces to defend China but not to start a war you can’t win.

Economic war is another matter. This can be won. And at much less risk to China. This is what Chinese leaders are boasting about now. China used its police state powers and traditional discipline to contain the covid19 virus in a way few other nations, especially in the West, have been able to do. As a result, China suffered far less economically from covid19 than the rest of the world. A year after covid19 first appeared, China has suffered fewer deaths per capita and much less economic disruption. While this cannot be verified, the low losses in Taiwan and South Korea can be. China, claiming three deaths per million, admits it was not as effective as Taiwan (0.3 deaths per million) but did better than South Korea (9 deaths per million. The world average is over a hundred deaths per million. Reports from China indicate that Chinese covid19 deaths were higher than reported. Even with that most Chinese were confident enough to go back to work, and to large public gatherings like mass transit or movie theaters. To maintain this covid19 advantage China still sharply restricts Chinese from travelling outside the country and quickly quarantines any areas where more covid19 appears.

Exploiting Corruption

China sees corruption outside China as a major opportunity. Chinse diplomats and entrepreneurs bribe widely and frequently wherever they can get away with it. This has paid large dividends. China got the China UN seat away from Taiwan in 1971 and within a decade was infamous within the UN for how adept the they were at buying or renting everyone they could make use of. By the 1990s, after the collapse of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, China had managed to purchase, at bargain prices, many former Soviet-controlled UN officials. Now China controls many major UN organizations, like WHO (World Health Organization) as well as a growing number of standard-setting organizations and even international courts.

Belt Blues

In the last two decades China has become a major investor in Africa, building roads and other infrastructure as well as exporting inexpensive industrial and consumer goods. China has become a major buyer of African natural resources. By 2015 over a million Chinese had gone to Africa to work on BRI (Belt And Road Initiative) projects or to start their own businesses. Some of these new operations were not legal. This was not unexpected as the Chinese have been displacing Arabs as the main facilitators of illegal activities (mining, logging, poaching, smuggling and so on) in Africa since the 1990s.

China has been causing serious economic and political problems in the countries the Chinese have been allowed to freely operate in. Put simply, if a country allows Chinese investment on a large (multi-billion dollar) scale, the deal usually involves allowing China to bring its own workforce and permitting those workers to establish their own Chinese settlements and then stay when the project is over. This sort of thing results in the Chinese establishing a permanent economic presence and control over a growing percentage of the local economy. This often begins when China floods weak local economies with inexpensive goods. Both of these tactics hurt local firms and cause unrest among African business owners and workers. As a result, it's become common for opposition parties in Africa to accuse China of "neo-colonial exploitation." The accusation fits, and the Chinese have been feeling the backlash during the last few years. Chinese banks have a growing problem with bad loans, often for projects the government demanded the banks lend money to. That has led to fewer loans for BRI projects or commercial investments in China. African countries are demanding better terms for Chinese construction and greater use of local workers.

Russia and Central Asian nations see the same tactics being used on them and demand restrictions on these practices. A growing number of countries are turning down billions in Chinese investments because the Chinese would not limit the use of Chinese labor doing the work. China is now more willing to negotiate because a growing number of nations are willing to do without Chinese investment if the terms include an influx of Chinese workers, many of whom want to stay for good.

The “overseas Chinese” have been a presence in Asia for centuries. But until now the Chinese government was never much concerned with them. China was never, until the late 20th century, a major international trading power. Now China is investing heavily in Africa and South America. This includes financing the migration of more Chinese to settle in foreign lands, where they are expected to never forget where they came from. For those who do, when the motherland calls, the Chinese government will remind the unwilling that they still have kin or other links back in China and how shameful would it be if this lack of cooperation became known.

October 19, 2020: The United States sanctioned six more Chinese companies and two individuals for smuggling banned items between China and Iran. Such sanctions cause problems for the Chinese firms, who are now hampered in their other international dealings.

October 4, 2020: India is accusing China of tolerating an Indian tribal rebel group ( Ulfa-I) in Yunnan province. While China has tolerated some Burmese Wa State rebel activities in China (Guangxi province), those are mostly of a commercial nature. Burmese rebels buy a lot of weapons and other stuff in China and ship (or smuggle) it into Burma. Guangxi does not border India, Yunnan does and China has claims on large portions of India that border Yunnan.

October 2, 2020: Without any publicity in the state-controlled media, the Chinese Navy because the largest in the world, at least by the number of warships in service. Currently the Chinese fleet have in active service two aircraft carriers, 75 subs, including seven SSBNs (nuclear ballistic missile subs), eight SSNs (nuclear attack subs) and 60 SSK (non-nuclear attack subs). There are 300 surface warships including 50 destroyers, 49 frigates, 71 corvettes, 109 missile boats, 94 small ASW (anti-submarine warfare) ships and 17 gunboats. There are 75 amphibious ships including (in order of size) two LHDs, eight LPDs, 32 LSTs and 33 LSMs. There are 287 support ships including 36 mine clearing vessels, 19 oilers (for refueling ships far from a base), 30 coastal oilers, 27 fleet supply ships (for resupply at sea), six troop transports and a lot of harbor, training and medical support ships as well as intelligence collection ships, hospital ships and submarine rescue ships. The Chinese navy has also made arrangements with the operators of over fifty civilian cargo ships and ferries to make their vessels quickly available in the event of a major emergency.

All the above comes to 743 active ships with over sixty percent combat ships and the rest support vessels. That support force is the true mark of a major high-seas fleet. China is not just building a lot of new ships quickly it is also sending them on unprecedented long voyages. This has been going on for a decade. There are so many Chinese naval firsts now because for most of China’s history there was an attitude that there was really nothing useful beyond Chinese borders. Some ships were built for trade, but not on a large scale and never with a powerful navy to protect them. Then China began liberalizing and modernizing its economy in the 1980s and that led to lots of exports and even more imports of raw materials and items that China did not make. That justified a larger, sea going, navy. China’s economic interests are now, for the first time, worldwide and so is its navy. As any naval historian can tell you, a navy becomes a serious force by keeping its ships at sea a lot. That’s how Britain won and maintained global naval dominance from the 18th through the early 20th century. That was how the United States took over that role by the mid-20th century and that is what may happen with China sometime in the 21st century.

September 30, 2020: In the neighboring Russia (Siberia) another veteran Russian scientist, Alexander Lukanin, has been arrested and accused of spying for China. After retiring from his job in Russia Lukanin accepted a research post at a Chinese university. Russia accuses Lukanin of supplying his new Chinese employers with classified Russian military technology.

September 28, 2020: North Korea is believed to have smuggled in between half a million and 1.6 million barrels of oil from Russia and China during the first five months of 2020. Most of it is done by transferring the oil at sea.

September 25, 2020: At the UN China and Russia blocked the release of a UN report detailing violations of the UN embargo on shipping military supplies to Libya. Russia has long been a major supplier of weapons and other equipment to pro-Russia factions in Libya.

September 23, 2020: President Duterte of the Philippines gave a speech for the UN general assembly in which he asked for the UN to back him up in pressuring China to abide by a 2016 international court ruling that China was illegally trying to take control of the South China Sea. Days later Duterte said he had discussed the matter with the Chinese leader and both agreed to put the court ruling aside for the moment while China would continue being a major investor in the Filipino economy.

 

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