A spokesman for the majority faction of the Afghan Taliban recently announced that they considered China a friend and that the Uighur Moslems from northwest China would no longer be allowed into Afghanistan once the Taliban took over. This Taliban faction has its headquarters in Pakistan and has enjoyed sanctuary there since 2002. About a third of the Afghan Taliban do not trust Pakistan or any of their friends. One of these dissident factions actively allied itself with Iran. There is a Pakistani Taliban that wants to replace the current Pakistani government and actively attacks Chinese projects in Pakistan.
In late June the Pakistani prime minister gave an interview on a U.S. news show and refused to condemn Chinese mistreatment of millions of Chinese Moslems. This is happening in a part of China, Xinjiang province, that borders Pakistan and Pakistani leaders have always refused to criticize China for something that Moslems everywhere are usually quick to protest, often violently. Chinese persecution, often fatal, of its Xinjiang Moslems has been going on for over a decade and criticism or protests from the Moslem world have been nearly non-existent. Since 2017 several million Xinjiang Moslems, most of them Uighur Turks, have spent time in re-education camps. There are only nine million Uighurs in the province and China has sent nearly all the adult (16 or older) males and many females to the camps for as long as needed to achieve “attitude adjustment.” Uighurs are a shrinking minority in the province and Han Chinese now comprise over half the population. The re-education camps contain very few Han Chinese.
Pakistan has long been very attentive to Chinese concerns about radicalized Uighurs establishing themselves in Pakistan near the 522-kilometer border Xinjiang has with Pakistan. In late 2015 Pakistan announced that all Uighur Islamic terrorists in Pakistan had been killed or driven from the country. In particular the primary Uighur Islamic terrorist organization, the ETIM (East Turkestan Independence Movement) was no longer operating in Pakistan. China is not so sure. Since 2007 China has been pressing Pakistan to do something about Chinese Islamic terrorists (Turkic Uighurs from Xinjiang province) based in Pakistan and Pakistan finally began making some serious moves on that problem in early 2014. There followed the June 2014 offensive in North Waziristan concentrating on the “bad Taliban” and their allies (like the Uighurs). Pakistan is still reluctant to admit it is the cause of so many regional Islamic terrorism problems but the neighbors are not being very understanding. China, who supplies a lot of Pakistan’s weapons and foreign investment, finally told its troublesome neighbor to fix the situation or see China go from being a helpful to a hostile neighbor. The other neighbors have had a similar reaction, but given China’s place as Pakistan’s most important ally, Pakistan could no longer ignore the problem. This policy has worked with other Moslem-majority nations who fear economic reprisals from China for any criticism of how China persecutes its Moslems.
China returns the favor. During the recent ten-day war between Hamas and Israel, Chinese defended Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group against Israel. China’s propaganda bureaucracy has, since 2018, actively encouraged anti-Semitism despite the fact that China has been a major investor in the Israeli economy, especially in high-tech firms. Chinese support for Hamas is seen as part of the Chinese effort to dampen Moslem criticism of what China has been doing to its own Moslems.
The Himalaya Front
India appears to have calmed down their reaction to border disputes in the northwest. In Kashmir the February ceasefire agreement with Pakistan continues to hold, mainly because the Pakistani military has other problems, like being classified and sanctioned as a supporter of international terrorism. The Pakistani military is also at war with Pakistani media, politicians and voters in general. The other border dispute with China in nearby Indian Ladakh State has been less amenable to negotiations. China has violated several ceasefire deals, usually blaming India for misunderstanding the ceasefire terms. There are far fewer casualties on the Chinese border because the Chinese prefer to continue using their gradualist approach, which is easier to carry out along a high-altitude border with few civilians present. Both India and China have been increasing the number of troops and airfields near the contested area.
The Arms Race Front
Global defense spending in 2020 increased 2.6 percent, to $1.96 trillion. This occurred despite the covid19 global recession. This is all about the growing military threat from China, Iran and North Korea. In 2019 spending was up 3.6 percent over the previous year. That was the largest one-year jump in a decade. Since 2010 defense spending has increased more than seven percent. Because of the global recession, 2020 spending as a percentage of global GDP increased, from 2.2 percent to 2.4 percent. This comes after a decade of decline, from 2.6 percent in 2010 to 2.2 percent in 2019.
Two nations, the United States and China, account for more than half of global defense spending. The U.S. is still in the lead, accounting for 39 percent of global defense spending while China accounts for 13 percent. Some major spenders did spend less in 2020, including Saudi Arabia (-10 percent), Turkey (-5), Iran (-3) and Pakistan (-2.8). These declines were caused by severe economic problems. Saudi Arabia has to devote more money to maintaining living standards since world oil prices fell sharply after 2013 and have not recovered to 2013 levels. Saudi Arabia is still the biggest spender in the region, spending $57.5 billion in 2020 compared to Israel ($21.7 billion), Turkey (17.7), Iran (15.8) and Pakistan (10.4).
July 12, 2021: In the South China Sea, an American destroyer conducted another FONOP (freedom of navigation operations), this time near the Paracel Islands. As usual China declared that the Americans were operating aggressively and illegally. This is the third American FONOP in the South China Sea for 2021. In 2020 the U.S. carried a record 13 FONOPS there. This was up from nine in 2019. Even more FONOPS were carried out in the South China Sea by other nations opposing the Chinese claims. In addition to more FONOPS, in mid-2020 the Americans took a stronger stand against Chinese aggression by declaring Chinese claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea as completely unlawful. This included the Chinese campaign of bullying other nations to gain exclusive control of these resources. In 2016 an international court ruled against China and stated that occupying uninhabitable rocks and building artificial islands did not confer an EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Ownership of “rocks” gets, at best, 22 kilometers of territorial waters from the edge of each rock rather than 360 kilometers for EEZ rights. Before this change the U.S. merely called for China to comply with the court ruling, something China said it would not do even before the court completed its deliberations. China claims it’s interpretation of international law and South China Sea supersedes whatever the rest of the world may think. The Americans observe accepted international law and continue to carry out aerial and naval FONOP with warships to assert the right of innocent passage. This annoyed the Chinese, who claimed most of the South China Sea was under Chinese control and no foreign ship or aircraft could enter without permission. China has been claiming areas long recognized as belonging to Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. That has caused all these nations, plus the United States, Japan and South Korea to form an alliance to halt Chinese aggression.
July 10, 2021: Two Chinese coast guard ships came into Japanese territorial waters (within 22 kilometers of one of the Senkaku Islands) and were confronted by two Japanese coast guard ships before the Chinese got near Japanese fishing boats that China insists are there illegally. China has been regularly sending coast guard ships to the Senkanus this year and the incident today is the 23rd for the year. remained while attempting to force two Japanese fishing boats out of what China claims are Chinese waters. Earlier in 2021 enacted a law authorizing their navy and coast guard to “protect” Chinese coastal waters off the Senkakus. Anticipating this, in early 2020 Japan established a military base on Miyako Island (between Senkaku Island and Okinawa). The Miyako and Senkaku islands are between Okinawa and Taiwan. All three of these island systems dominate the seas between Japan and Taiwan and China has been making claims to some of these islands, especially the Senkakus and indicating that all of these Japanese islands are actually Chinese. The new garrison on Miyako Island has 380 troops and is equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. Chinese naval ships have frequently entered Japanese territorial waters (within 22 kilometers of land) around the Senkaku islands and remained in Japanese waters for an hour or more. Miyako Island is 210 kilometers from the Senkakus and Japan plans to put garrisons on more of these small islands.
Since the new Chinese law was announced the number of these intrusions, which began in 2017, have nearly doubled. As of the end of 2020 there had been thirty of these incidents since 2017. As of today, there have been 53 and at the current rate the total for 2021 alone will be over fifty.
July 8, 2021: China ordered Christian churches to repeat and approve the importance of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) for China as explained in a recent speech by President-for-life Xi Jinping. This is part of the activities organized to observe the centennial of the CCP on July 1st. This order was delivered, in detail, at the annual meeting of the state-controlled China Christian Council, which exists to monitor and report any problems with Chinese Christians. For any religion to legally operate in China the CCP demands a lot of compliance and cooperation, especially foreign ones. Chinese Christians avoid harsh persecution by avoiding any actions that CCP might perceive as subversive.
For centuries Chinese governments have viewed religion as a constant threat. The persecution has not wiped out two local faiths; Buddhism and Falungong who continue to defy efforts at government control. To the CCP, this sets a dangerous example for other Chinese. Throughout Chinese history, governments have feared religious movements that could destroy an unpopular ruler.
Christianity, despite cooperating with the government, has been under attack for years. In 2014 there was yet another effort to keep growing religious zeal in check. This time China cracked down harder than ever on the celebration of Christmas. This included blocking much Google (including GMail) traffic. There was nothing really public about this crackdown, which is normal, just a lot of orders issued via state-run groups like the China Christian Council, to halt this and that. Throughout Chinese history, governments have been overthrown by religious movements that harnessed and directed mass discontent and the current rulers are well aware of this. Sometimes the targets of this persecution fight back. In January 2014 millions of Chinese Internet users were redirected to a site connected with banned (and much persecuted) religious group Falungong. Their users were shown how they could easily get around the heavy government censorship of the Internet. This was just another Falungong hack. Other nations have noticed and back in 2010 the U.S. government donated $1.5 million to an Internet freedom group GIFC (Global Internet Freedom Consortium), whose main function is producing software that enables Chinese Internet users to get around Chinese government censoring software. GIFC is one of several similar groups. But what really got the Chinese steamed and angry at the United States is that GIFC was supported and heavily staffed by members of Falungong. While Chinese are free to worship any way they want, the government picks religious leaders, and imposes discipline. The ongoing war against Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism is all about punishing disobedient religions. Both of these religions refuse to accept government control and are persecuted for it. But the persecution has not wiped out these two movements and this government officials believe sets a dangerous example for other Chinese.
Falungong has used hacking and Internet based efforts to embarrass the government and keeps getting away with it. Christians, who so far have not been as willing to fight back as Falungong, have been rapidly growing in numbers. Christianity has been in China for centuries and currently is about five percent of the population and Falungong is catching up.
In 2019 UN investigators reported that they found there was indeed massive punishment against Chinese for simply belonging to Falungong and not for doing anything illegal. The accusations of imprisonment, torture and murder for transplantable organs were also found to be credible. China has long had a policy of taking transplantable organs from executed criminals and selling them to the highest bidder. China has become the largest source for “grey market” transplantable organs and surgery teams able to do the procedure. China always denied such a thing existed but that reaction is normal.
Since the late 1990s the CCP has been seeking to suppress Falungong, a recent (1990s) movement that was all about living according to the principles of the ancient (2,500 years) Taoist philosophy. Taoism is recognized as one of the five faith systems allowed in China. Taoist is not an organized religion and Falungong isn’t a religion but a group that does actively spread the practice of ancient exercises used by Taoist practitioners. Falungong also pointed out that Taoism is not political and as such ignores government efforts to control it. When the CCP realized the impact Falungong was having on Chinese, it declared war on this native belief system. Despite the communist persecution the number of believers grew, from a few million in the 1990s to over 70 million, which is the same number of the CCP membership. While the CCP wants to control every aspect of Chinese life, Falungong only wants to be able to practice their religion openly. Since the late 1990s police have been seeking members and arresting them. Falungong has gone underground, and is still very much around. And so are thousands of police assigned to stamp out the organization. China expects religious groups to be very responsive to government wishes. Falungong refuses to submit, while Taoism involves living a healthy and moral life. Can’t get much more anti-communist than that.
July 6, 2021: Throughout China there were public events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). The party was hailed for helping win World War II, uniting China after the war and listing millions of Chinese from poverty to prosperity. The reality was different. The CCP created an army that sat out most of the fighting during World War II and made major gains at the end of the war when Russia finally (as per a treaty with the West) declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria, where the bulk of the Chinese ground forces were stationed. Russia quickly defeated this force, which Chinese troops were never able to defeat. Russia turned over captured Japanese weapons to the CCP forces and that enabled them to defeat the Chinese Nationalist Forces, which had been doing most of the fighting against the Japanese for over a decade and prevented Japanese forces from overrunning all of China. Once in power in 1949, the CCP was called on to repay its debt to Russia by sending over a million Chinese troops into North Korea to prevent the collapse of the communist government Russia had established there in 1949. In 1950 Russia ordered North Korea to invade South Korea, where the last American troops had left and Russia felt it would be an easy victory. It wasn’t and the UN authorized an international force, led by the Americans, to liberate Korea. Russia could not afford such a humiliation and told China to send in “volunteers” into Korea, where several hundred thousand died before the 1953 armistice. Among the dead were the sons of many senior CCP leaders.
With Korea out of the way the CCP turned to reforming the Chinese economy. This was done via the disastrous “Great Leap Forward” that left over 20 million Chinese dead from the resulting famine. In the early 1960s the CCP feared a popular revolution and to avoid that called on young Chinese to lead the cultural revolution against their elders and anyone suspected of harboring anti-CCP views. This paralyzed the economy and caused another famine. After a decade of this there was a coup within the CCP and the radicals jailed or executed. The new CCP leadership recognized that the Russian version of socialism, where the entire economy was owned and managed by the state, would not work. By the end of the 1970s, after killing off over 40 million Chinese, the CCP made some fundamental, and very successful decisions. Starting in the 1980s, the CCP set the economy free to finally get China through the Industrial Revolution, which most Western nations underwent in the 1800s. With little state interference the return to a market economy worked. As happened in the West, this led to explosive growth. The re-introduction of a market economy helped create the first large (several hundred million strong) Chinese middle class of well-educated engineers and other professionals. These are the people who were key to China quickly creating the second largest GDP in the world. The devil is in the details.
July 4, 2021: Covid19 is still a problem in China. While the late 2020 declaration that the virus was no longer hurting, there was rapid economic growth in the first three months of 2021. Since then, the economic growth has slowed as covid19 keeps breaking out in areas that have not received vaccines or enough of it.
China is also having problems with its financial system, which is increasingly crippled by the growing bad debt problem. Chinese debt is growing faster than that of every other major economy.
June 30, 2021: In the north (Gansu province) commercial satellite photos revealed what appears to be the construction of over a hundred missile silos. Many media pundits assumed these were for the new DF-14 ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) ignoring the fact that China had observed how the ICBM race between Russia and the United States had helped bankrupt Russia. China has deliberately avoided all the mistakes communist Russia made during the Cold War. The new silos are more likely for shorter range IRBMs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles) armed with non-nuclear warheads and aimed at local foes, like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and American bases. These three nations and the Americans have been developing new weapon systems that threaten the nearly two thousand shorter range non-nuclear Chinese ballistic missiles based near the coast, few of them in silos. Gansu province is far from the coast, making it easier to defend ballistic missiles, especially when these missiles are launched from below-ground silos.
In late 2017 China completed development and testing for its DF-41 ICBM, the first one that can reach all of the United States. Mass production and deployment of the DF-41 began in early 2018. The DF-41 are a needed replacement for the Cold War era DF-5s, which are liquid fueled and the considerable activity required to ready them for launch can be detected by spy satellites. The solid fuel DF-41s can be moved, erected, and launched from a special truck and railroad cars as well as silos. With a 15,000-kilometer range they can reach all of the United States and carry multiple warheads each with an explosive yield of at least 100 KT. The DF-41s appear similar to the American 36-ton Minuteman III (a 1960s design that has been much upgraded since then). By late 2015 China had developed an efficient rail-mobile version of the DF-41. To effectively use rail-car launched ICBMs you have to use a cold launch system. This involves igniting the rocket motor after the missile is ejected from its launch tube with a gas charge. This means the launcher is not damaged by the rocket motor blast and can be reused. In this case the test ensured that the missile tube launch system, originally designed for road vehicles, also worked on a rail car. Moreover, this test is a significant milestone for Chinese strategic arsenal because their biggest and most powerful nuclear missile can be launched from a rail mobile and is a very hard to find platform.
In late 2016 China moved some of their ICBM silos to the Russian border. The state-controlled Russian media insisted there was nothing to worry about because these silos were apparently intended for new missiles (the DF-41) which had a minimum range of 3,000 kilometers, which means they could not be used against targets in the Russian Far East. More astute Russians observed that China could not win a nuclear exchange with the U.S. but could against Russia. And China would not want to nuke the Far East, they want to take control and fill the place with Chinese. Those DF-41s are well placed to blast Russian nukes and ICBMs far to the west. For many Russians China is seen as the only real threat to Russia and any Chinese move out there is nervously discussed in the Russian media (to calm people down) and privately (to discuss what is really happening on the Pacific coast).
June 29, 2021: North Korea has decided to reorganize and expand its Strategic Forces (ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons) to cooperate with China if the United States and South Korea were to attack China. Such an attack would only take place if China triggered a war, and North Korea wanted China to know it was preparing to improve its ability to aid its “Elder Brother” against South Korean and American aggression. Details of this reorganization are not yet clear but the intent of the announcement was. North Korea wants to give China another reason to increase economic aid once North Korea is open to trade once more. When that will happen is still unclear as North Korea is still vulnerable to covid19 and that won’t change until the population can be vaccinated. North Korea is still opposed to using Chinese or Russian vaccines and Western nations are not offering their vaccines free-of-charge.
This shift in strategy is in response to the late May decision by the United States to lift all the remaining restrictions on the range of ballistic missiles that South Korea could develop and build as well as the size of their non-nuclear warheads. This enables South Korea to proceed with plans to develop missiles with ranges of up to 5,000 kilometers, providing South Korea with something to confront the similar Chinese missiles that have long been aimed at South Korea. The only restriction left is the one against South Korea developing nuclear weapons. These restrictions are an artifact of the Korean War (1950-53). In 1953 the fighting ended with an armistice, which is still in force. A permanent peace treaty would involve recognition by the UN and elimination of the outlaw status North Korea achieved by invading South Korea in 1950 and triggering a UN sponsored effort to push the North Koreans out. The U.S. troops are in South Korea as the last remnant of the multi-national force. The armistice gave the UN/U.S. authority to restrict South Korean weapons development, to prevent an arms race with North Korea.
The restrictions were popular in South Korea until 2010, when increased North Korean violence against the south resulted in a major shift of South Korean public opinion against North Korea and calls for lifting restrictions on what weapons South Korea could have. This has led to a lot of new South Korean weapons.
June 19, 2021: Commercial satellite and electronic surveillance of the South China Sea revealed that there were a hundred more ships, than the previous month, in Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) portions of the South China Sea, which Filipinos call the West Philippines Sea. Most of these additional ships were Chinese military or naval militia sent into the EEZs of other South China Sea nations EEZ to claim islands or reefs for China. The number of ships has grown from 129 to 238 in the last month. China can put over 600 ships, mostly naval militia (subsidized Chinese fishing trawlers called into active military service).
June 18, 2021: This month China made it illegal to defame or insult military personnel. China never needed such a law before because it has been a communist police state since 1949. Back then it meant all media was controlled by the state and media criticism of the military was virtually impossible. The Internet changed all that and the widespread availability of smartphones over the last decade have meant most military personnel worldwide now have one because it has become the most common way to access the Internet and the multitude of entertainment and communications services found there. This was especially true of social media like Facebook, Twitter and dozens more. Even police states found Internet-based communications impossible to censor or restrict. The military also had legitimate concerns about troops revealing military technology, plans and operations to the world and those currently at war with you.
The new Chinese laws are there mainly for Internet-based discussion of what is going on in the Chinese military, especially anything the government does not want discussed. The specific bit of bad news that triggered the creation of the new law was a popular Chinese blogger discussing what was really going on with Chinese troops on the India border and the official reports of troops wounded or killed being much higher than reported. Troops know better than to discuss such matters openly on the Internet.
China spends billions of dollars a year and employs over a million full and part-time personnel to censor what is said on the Chinese Internet. While this “Great Firewall Of China” is largely successful, it is seen as a challenge for many Chinese and that means the truth does get through via the Internet. It just takes longer in China. To deal with that China can now freely prosecute popular bloggers or social media commenters who stray from the party line.
June 17, 2021: China finally launched its Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, carrying three Chinese astronauts, to assemble the new Chinese space station, whose core components were launched into orbit. This Tianhe core module will eventually be a smaller (one fifth the weight) of the ISS (International Space Station). China is barred from the International Space Station because of fears that China would steal technology from the nations that do participate. The Chinese manned space program has been around since the 1990s.
In 2016 China launched another two men into space, for a five- day orbital mission. Using equipment bought from the Russians, and modified a bit, the Chinese were confident enough about the reliability of the gear to show the launch live to the nation. The first manned mission was in 2003 and involved only one astronaut orbiting the earth and returning safely. The manned space program is seen more as a propaganda effort, to make Chinese feel good about themselves. But some Chinese scientists say there is a practical reason to get men on the moon (to obtain rare materials like Helium 3).
In 2007 China launched its first space station module to test the effectiveness of its technology. There was a second technology test space station in 2015 and now the final result is being assembled. Meanwhile China has put remotely controlled “rovers” on the moon and mars.
June 16, 2021: At the UN India joined China, Russia and 33 other nations in abstaining when asked to back a non-binding resolution calling on the Burmese military to abandon its February 1st coup. China had lobbied hard to prevent a positive response to this resolution, by letting everyone know that anyone who backed this resolution could expect less cooperation in settling any current disputes with China. India was also admitting that the current Burmese military government was probably going to survive and India would have to deal with that for a long time, like it did with the previous Burmese military government which lasted from 1962 to 2010. Myanmar (Burma) is a neighbor of China and India and formerly part of the British colonial holdings in South Asia. The Burmese generals are seeking to maintain its close ties with China and Russia while it struggles to establish control of the country because this time, unlike 1962, the population is fighting back. China assured the Burmese generals that as long as Chinese economic interests in Burma were safeguarded China would continue to pay the military billions of dollars a year. Some of that money was already being paid to the military because the military owns a lot of the companies that have lucrative contracts with China. Other Chinese investments are supposed to pay the Burmese government. The military wants it all. China will continue to use its veto powers in the UN to block UN actions against the Burmese military. Even before the coup Burmese generals maintained their connections with China and that was the main reason China has sold $1.4 billion worth of military equipment to Burma since 2010. Russia sold $800 million worth. Together China and Russia accounted for over 90 percent Burmese spending on imports of military gear. In 2011 the Burmese generals were forced to end nearly half a century of military government and allow elections. Russia has indicated that its support, at least as an arms supplier, would continue if a civil war developed and the generals could still pay for Russian arms, in advance if necessary. The 2021 coup triggered an economic crisis and popular opposition that is moving towards civil war. Anti-government demonstrations continue despite troops and police being ordered to open fire. Some of the demonstrators are shooting back. So far nearly a thousand demonstrators have been killed by the security forces and ten times that number wounded or arrested. The Burmese military is comfortable with a cozy relationship with China and Russia but most Burmese are not.