Chinese media claim recent American actions make it clear that China is now dominant in East Asia and that its power is spreading worldwide. China is openly dismissive of the ability of foreign governments, especially the Americans, to defy Chinese demands. China is flaunting its power in places like Afghanistan where everyone is discovering that China has the final say over who does what there now that the Americans have withdrawn. This disrupts an
ancient rivalry between Persians and Indians over who gets what inside Afghanistan. The economic basis of that rivalry was control over portions of the Silk Road trade routes between China and points west. The Silk Road was replaced by more efficient European ships, and their firepower, six centuries ago. In the 21st century China is reviving the Silk Road as an overland and maritime network through nations friendly towards trade with and investments from China. Iran and India see this as a threat while Pakistan sees it as an economic lifeline as well as an obligation to do what China wants. In Afghanistan China is willing to do business with whoever can provide a safe environment for Chinese investments and trade. There are doubts that anyone can do that and China is waiting to see what Iran and Pakistan can do about it. India and Russia are also cautious about doing business in Afghanistan. Because of Pakistani control of the Taliban, India is now banned from Afghanistan but still has valuable trade relationships with Iran that Iran does not want to lose. China and India are currently archenemies of each other. Finally, there are the Afghan-based drug cartels that supply most of the heroin to the entire planet. While universally hated throughout the region, cartel money is a major source of income for the Taliban and the Pakistan military, which is currently running the government in Pakistan.
Iran is an example of how an outlaw state can survive with Chinese patronage. China can command Iran to do things that benefit China more than Iran but the Chinese have not called in that debt yet. They may have to because the new (since May) Iranian government has made it clear that it wants all sanctions lifted before any serious (and probably unsuccessful) negotiations over ending the Iranian nuclear weapons program can take place. China does not see Iranian nukes as a problem because Iran understands that China has no qualms about using extreme (even nuclear) violence against any threats from a nuclear armed Iran. China is telling Iran that China can be their best friend or worst enemy. So far Iran is playing nice towards China because that makes it easier to pressure European countries into lifting sanctions despite Iran continuing with its nuclear problem. The Americans are still a problem but are not beyond some creative deception and intimidation. China is leading the way there as well.
The Foreign Enemies Within
The Chinese government has also become obsessed with eliminating foreign cultural influences from China. This has been difficult because it includes many popular foreign entertainers, food, religion and customs in general. The current primary target is South Korean popular music, widely known as K-Pop and a dominating influence on the Chinese popular music market. One aspect of K-Pop that particularly offends the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) arbiters of what is acceptable is its influence on Chinese youth. The CCP believes it should decide what foreign customs and inventions are acceptable for its glorious New China and which are poisonous. This now includes K-Pop and its use of boy bands, full of cute young men that dance and sing in a way that creates fans world-wide. The CCP considers the boy band members sissies (calling them “sissy boys”) and the reason why so many Chinese young men are imitating the look and behavior of these K-Pop stars. The CCP ignores the fact that Sissy Boys are a part of Chinese history that was not given much publicity but did a lot of business with the upper class and acquired a number nicknames over the centuries, including the current slang term “sissy boy”.
The CCP is believed to be using all these headline worthy assaults on foreign culture to distract Chinese from growing economic problems.
Chinese consumers have not responded to calls for more consumer spending to help maintain economic growth. Too many Chinese do not believe the economy has really recovered from the covid19 recession, especially since entire cities are still being locked down to eliminate new outbreaks. Each of these brief halts in business activity ripples throughout the country, triggering a lot of unexpected shortages. The CCP propagandists may be ignoring this but most Chinese do not and are hoarding their resources, preferably nothing associated with the Chinese currency (the yuan).
Another bit of bad news to escape CCP news regulators was the growing number of yuan-denominated bonds that are rapidly losing their value because international credit rating agencies are lowering ratings on such bonds because the ability of the issuer to pay interest and eventually the face value of the bond is declining. Many large Chinese banks and financial institutions are going bankrupt because of all the bad debt, usually yuan-denominated, they are carrying. In many cases the government ordered that these questionable bonds be issued to hide massive corruption in the financial system. The government thought that with enough time they could fix things. Then came a real estate bubble that was much larger and dangerous than thought. At the same time the Americans began a trade war to force China to stop using illegal trade practices. Finally, there was the worldwide covid19 recession, which put more pressure on the fragile Chinese financial system. Chinese economic reports, especially the quarterly ones, are now awaited with dread rather than just anticipation. Bad news is taken for granted and the only question is how bad things get. This puts the sissy suppression campaign into context.
September 16, 2021: The Chinese official response to the news that the U.S. and Australia agreed to upgrade their mutual defense agreements was exceptionally vitriolic, like the often-mocked North Korean “stop threatening us” response to any news of neighbors, especially South Korea, improvising their defenses against North Korean attack. The new military alliance between America, Britain and Australia includes access to American nuclear sub tech that only Britain has been able to use to build their SSNs and SSBNs (ballistic missile armed nuclear subs). Britain developed and built their own nuclear weapons, and were the third nation to do so, in 1952. While Britain helped the American nuclear weapons program they were not interested in building their own until Russia tested their first nuke in 1949. Three years later Britain conducted its first nuclear test on an island off the Australian coast and conducted more tests at a site in central Australia that was similar to the American west where the first U.S. test took place in 1945. France carried out its first test in 1960 and China in 1965.
Now China is accusing the U.S. of enabling Australia to build nuclear weapons. Australia has never expressed interest in that but Australia is very concerned about its problems with France over the delays in delivering a non-nuclear version of the new French Barracuda class SSNs (nuclear powered attack sub). Australia recently cancelled that contract and turned to the U.S. about helping Australia build nuclear subs and yesterday the U.S. said it would, which meant Australia was gaining access to American military tech the only Britain enjoyed as part of its long “special relationship” with the United States. Britain has offered to assist the Australians with their SSN effort because Britain is close with Australia and has decades of experience working with the Americans on nuclear subs. The U.S. requires foreign customers for their military to obtain permission before selling anything with that tech to another country. This was no problem for Britain which has never offered nuclear weapons tech to export customers. China sees this upgrade in the already close military ties between Australia, Britain and the U.S. as a major upgrade to the growing alliance opposed to Chinese aggression and territorial claims against most of its neighbors.
China does not willingly publicize the fact that Australia has succeeded in defying Chinese efforts to compel obedience via its trade war with Australia. It was more than a loss, the successful Australian defiance was an example of how other nations could survive this kind of Chinese pressure. Australia found other markets for the coal exports that were long monopolized by China. The major advantage Australia has as a supplier of raw materials is that the Australians are more efficient and reliable than the alternatives. For example, China gets about 60 percent of its iron ore from Australia. Another potential major supplier, Brazil, has proved much less reliable, as well as much farther away. Even more risky are African suppliers. China has spent billions investing in the West African state of Guinea to develop the iron ore deposits found there. These will not replace all the Australian imports but will give China some ammunition in its campaign to force Australia to adopt pro-China policies and attitudes. So far, this effort has not turned out well for China. For example, a late 2020 effort to increase the economic pressure on Australia by refusing to accept coal they had ordered because of “quality” problems backfired. There were no quality problems but there is over half a billion dollars’ worth of Australian coal stuck on 57 ships waiting for either side to back down. When other buyers for the stranded Australian coal showed up, and China was unable to scare them off, the Chinese knew they were beaten. They would not admit it but at least lowered their media animosity towards Australia and increased the tonnage of iron ore bought from Australia because there is no other supplier so close and so capable of providing what the Chinese cannot afford to lose.
China is also angry at Australia for cracking down on Chinese espionage and influence operations inside Australia. Then there is the Australian criticism of, and active opposition to Chinese claims in the South China Sea. China is still Australia’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 30 percent of imports and exports. Australia still has a favorable trade balance with China as China bought far more (mainly raw materials) from Australia than the other way around. China accounted for 85 percent of the positive Australian trade balance and that has been going on for decades. This has made Australia immune to all the global economic recessions since the 1990s and given the Australian GDP and standard-of-living an unprecedented period of growth. Australia has found that this favorable situation came at a price. China expected Australia to do whatever China wanted. When Australia stuck with the United States over illegal Chinese trade practices, China decided to teach Australia a lesson about who was in charge in the West Pacific.
As a result, Australia and China engaged in a major power dispute. China tried using trade restrictions (reducing purchases from Australia) to coerce Australia. Even though China is the largest customer for Australian exports, this coercion was not well received in Australia. One response from Australia was to repeat its accusations that Chinese claims in the South China Sea are illegal. At the same time Australia acknowledges that China has militarized its bases in the South China Sea and that makes it riskier for foreign warships that carry out FONOPS (Freedom Of Navigation Operations) there. Australia has increased its military spending because of the growing threat of attack by China.
Australia is not alone when it comes to Chinese economic pressure. Most of China’s neighbors have had a taste of this and that played a role in the formation of a local coalition opposed to the Chinese efforts at domination. This is a problem for China because this coalition does have the military capability to block Chinese forces. That coalition includes the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea and several other local nations. Australian SSNs would greatly increase the risk of China suffering major economic damage if Chinese demands and threats act on similar threats to neighbors. For the moment it is a war of words and economic attacks and it’s up to China to escalate that to open warfare. That plan is being defied by unexpected defiance by South Korea, Japan and even Vietnam. Australia is the first of the local defiants to add nuclear capabilities to their military. South Korea and Japan make not secret of the fact they could do the same and do it quickly without any outside help;
September 9, 2021: The Chinese leader had a 90-minute call with his American counterpart and refused the offer of a face-to-face meeting to work out the growing list of disagreements. The Chinese leader has not left China since the covid19 lockdowns in early 2020. The Chinese leader did demand that the U.S. adopt a less strident attitude towards China. That meant less criticism of Chinese activities in the South China Sea and other territorial disputes. Chinese state-controlled media reported that the call, which was requested by the Americans, was evidence that China was now the dominant superpower and would act like one.
September 8, 2021: China threatened to send warships into U.S. territorial waters (within 22 kilometers of land) because an American destroyer conducted another FONOP (freedom of navigation operations) in the South China Sea today near an artificial island China insists is now part of China. On September 1st China declared that its March 2021 law on access to the South China Sea was now in effect. The new law mandates foreign ships must register with China and obtain a permit before they enter the South China Sea. Those who fail to register would be subject to unspecified punishment. With this law China is seeking to gain some official recognition of its claims which will make it easier for China to claim any violation is the equivalent of violating territorial waters, which is considered trespassing by international agreements and many nations open fire first before trying to find out if the interloper knows where they are.
China has already bullied many European nations into respecting the Chinese definition of territorial waters in the South China Sea and is seeking to gain control over a shipping lane that handles nearly $4 trillion worth trade per year. A recent example of European intimidation occurred in July when a British led carrier task force conducted a widely publicized FONOP in the South China Sea. This was less of a proper FONOP than advertised. None of the eight ships in the task force came within 22 kilometers of any of the Chinese islands (many of them artificial) built as military bases and declared sovereign Chinese territory, despite international treaties China agreed to and a 2016 international court ruling against China. In past FONOPS the American and other warships deliberately ignored the 22 kilometer “territorial waters” rule, much to the displeasure of China. The commander of the British task force apparently had unpublicized orders to limit the impact of the FONOP, which is meant to confirm international access and defy Chinese claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea and control over who enters these waters. The July FONOP was carried out by a carrier task force led by the new British carrier Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by seven other ships, including an American destroyer and frigates from the Netherlands, Britain and Singapore. There were also two other Singapore Navy ships (an amphibious assault vessel and an offshore patrol vessel. The carrier is also accompanied by a British SSN (Nuclear Attack sub) but the status of that vessel is rarely discussed because it is submerged nearly all the time.
China is also exercising control in places with no access to the ocean. Today the Russian national security advisor arrived in India to confer with his Indian counterpart and later announced that both countries agreed on the danger Taliban control of Afghanistan is to the region and called on Pakistan to halt its support for the Taliban and halt its support for other Islamic terrorist groups. Russia had tried to improve its relations with Pakistan but found China had a veto on who Pakistan could play with. China is better insulated from any Islamic terrorism the Taliban seek to export. China has also been more successful at keeping the Afghan heroin and opium out. Russia reacted in other ways to the new Afghan threat and announced joint military exercises between Russian forces and those of the three new nations Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that now border Afghanistan plus Kyrgyzstan, which borders China and Tajikistan. Russia has maintained close military, economic and diplomatic ties with the “stans” who are suffering from the Afghan drug cartels that used their countries as markets for the drugs as well as a smuggling route to other parts of Eurasia. Now more Islamic terrorists from Taliban Afghanistan will be added. Russia and the stans bordering Afghanistan also stand ready to support the armed opposition to the Taliban, just like before. That cooperation has apparently already begun, without any official announcements or consultation with China.
The Taliban need support from Pakistan and especially China. Pakistan has become an economic vassal of China and gains powerful support in the UN and against international criticism for supporting Islamic terrorism. China is offering the same arrangement to the Taliban government but most Taliban factions oppose being in the pay of the Chinese. Up until now China had accepted Pakistani assurances that Pakistan would continue to control the Taliban leadership after the Taliban replaced the elected government. China was aware of the Taliban disunity over Pakistani influence and Pakistan sent the head of ISI to Kabul to deal with how this was interfering with the formation of a Taliban government. ISI is military intelligence, that part of the Pakistan military directly responsible for supervising the influx of Afghan refugees in the 1980s, and came up with the idea for creating the Taliban. ISI was also in charge of telling the Americans what they wanted to hear to keep the billions in American military aid coming to Pakistan. This hustle took over a decade to start coming apart and for the last few years Pakistan became an official “supporter of international terrorism” and near bankruptcy because of overdependence on loans from international agencies, Arab oil states and China. All those sources have stopped lending because they believe Pakistan cannot repay those loans. Pakistan needs a clear win in Afghanistan and they are not getting it. The ISI plan has become a shaky house of cards but the new Taliban government was dominated by pro-Pakistan Taliban. The anti-Pakistan Taliban leaders were denied positions in the government they believed they were entitled to. That risks the anti-Taliban factions resuming their violence against Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. If that happens, Chinese investments are not going to happen.
September 1, 2021: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un now appears to be following advice from China, although China has not resumed all aid shipments, especially desperately needed food. Until recently
China regularly and often openly criticized Kim for not adopting economic and political policies that have worked in China. Kim is no longer denouncing or simply ignoring Chinese advice that would lead to a more open and free economy as well as a more rational spending policy. There are still disagreements over the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile program. China wants to avoid North Korea ending up like the Soviet Union and other East European communist governments three decades ago, especially since most of those former communist police states are now democracies and either members of NATO or working to get in. Kim Jong Un, like the rest of the Kim dynasty, wants North Korea to become self-sufficient and independent of any foreign powers, especially Japan and China. because that has long been important to Koreans in general, especially when it comes to “Big Brother” China. Covid19 and continued economic pressure from China and the United States may have done what was long considered impossible and turned North Korean leaders into more rational rulers. For North Korea to receive aid from China and remain in China’s good graces, Kim Jong Un must obey the Elder Brother, something South Korea refuses to do because of its much stronger economy, military and democracy. That is something that scares both China and North Korea.
August 29, 2021: In the United States (Alaska) four Chinese Navy ships were detected near some of the islands off the coast of Alaska. The Chinese vessels included a destroyer, a frigate, an AGI (intel collection) ship and a supply ship, mainly to refuel ships so far from China. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter (ocean-going ship) was sent to accompany the Chinese ships until they left the area, which they did the next day. Apparently, the Chinese ships never entered the American EEZ, which they were entitled to do according to maritime law.
August 26, 2021: Chinese efforts to gain control of the South China Sea have become increasingly aggressive, especially to the weaker nations they have claims in. For example, this year Chinese garrisons on artificial islands have been firing flares towards approaching Filipino warplanes or ships. It’s a symbolic gesture but another escalation towards eventually opening fire with real bullets. In the last few months, the online (Information War) and diplomatic aspect of the South China Sea conflict has become particularly heated and unscrupulous. China is usually the aggressor online and in news media while delivering a kinder and gentler message diplomatically. Recent remarks of senior Filipino officials demonstrate that the Philippine government is nearly unanimous in believing the Chinese assurance and promises cannot be trusted. While the Philippines admits it cannot stand up to China in a war, they can use Chinese tactics and disrupt Chinese military and civilian operations in the South China Sea. Other nations suffering from the Chinese aggression are similarly fed up and going Chinese on the Chinese.
Filipinos are also angry at other forms of Chinese deception and outright lies. For example, China promised large economic investments in the Philippines and more Filipinos being allowed to work in China. Both of these “gifts” and “investments” never arrived. The promised foreign worker angle backfired big time as the government allowed more Chinese to enter the Philippines and many were not the expected tourists or legal entrepreneurs, but gangsters who have become a growing problem. The most recent backfire was the Chinese-developed covid19 vaccine that was provided to the Philippines. This initially backfired when it was discovered that China was charging the Philippines much more than what customers in east Asia and Africa were paying. Moreover, the Chinese vaccine turned out to be much less effective than Western vaccines also available to the Philippines. Worse, all these negotiations and delays in Chinese deliveries have meant that the Philippines will be the last nation in the region to receive enough vaccine to suppress the covid19 threat. Recently China delivered large quantities of their vaccines at no cost.
The Philippines appears to get most of the unwanted Chinese attention in the South China Sea because the Philippines has the most to lose. In terms of land area, the 7,600 islands that comprise the Philippines amount to only 300,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) of land area. Compare this to China, with 9.6 million square kilometers of land. According to international law, the Philippines controls (via its EEZ or Exclusive Economic Zone) water areas covering 2.26 million square kilometers. By the same standards the Chinese EEZ waters comprises 877,000 square kilometers. The Philippines is also the weakest (in military terms) nation China is seizing territory from and their mutual defense treaty with the United States is not always adequate to deal with the Chinese tactics. Moreover, the American government can change readily every four years because of presidential elections. The current U.S. president is seen as less steadfast in dealing with China. So far that has not been the case, as the new American government has only been in power since January 2021. So far, the U.S. pledges to continue supporting resistance to Chinese South China Sea claims remain in place.
August 25, 2021:
Senior American military commanders now admit that the U.S. is woefully vulnerable to enemy (Chinese and Russian) electronic warfare weapons during wartime. Recent wargames, accurately representing these enemy capabilities, finally got enough attention from senior commanders to make a serious effort to deal with the problem. These wargames showed that China could shut down most American satellite and ground-based electronic communications and make American forces much more vulnerable than expected. This is not a new problem. For over two decades similar realistic wargames demonstrated this growing vulnerability but the senior military leadership did not respond effectively, or even admit there was a problem. There was, and it’s been around for over half a century. In the 21st century satellite surveillance and communications are crucial. China has taken the lead in developing methods for disrupting enemy access to these satellite resources and minimizing the damage done to Chinese satellite capabilities. The Chinese are also emulating the Cold War Russian forces and training to continue operating under conditions where communications and aerial/satellite surveillance is diminished or absent.
August 24, 2021: China continues to prop up the Burmese military government that overthrew a newly elected one on February 1st. Despite Chinese support and the resolve of the Burmese generals,
most Burmese acted the way they voted, despite the greater firepower and resources and, so far, resolve of the generals. The army has trashed the economy and put more and more Burmese out of work and without access to food, the Internet or the banking system. So far, the resistance continues. The generals have become more dependent on their business partners. China, who were also partners-in-crime with the generals, The Chinese connection may be the vital key to victory, or fatal flaw in the coup plan. It all depends on how much Burmese are willing to resist China. This is important in so many ways and the result of regional changes that have taken place over the last few centuries.
Six months after the coup, on August 1st the military declared themselves the provisional government. There were vague assurances of new elections but few voters believed the voting would be free and fair. China promptly recognized the provisional government and just called the generals “the government”. The Burmese military avoided civil war for decades after the 1962 coup and everyone seems to believe this will not work in the 21st century Now the Burmese have to see what, if any, military assistance they can obtain from foreign supporters of democracy.
The first thing the new military government did in February was assure China that Chinese assets would be protected. China promptly used their veto powers in the UN to block UN actions against the new military rulers of Burma. Within two weeks Russia also proclaimed support for the military government. The response of the military was not unexpected, because the civilian government knew that the Burmese generals maintained their connections in China.
The Burmese Army has long been at the center of most illegal economic activity. Some estimates indicate that at least $20 billion has been illegally moved out of Burma during the fifty years of military rule and much more stayed in the country. Almost all of that was military personnel or their gangster and commercial allies. Military families still control a lot of the economy and most of the wealthy families in Burma have a military connection. The illegal cash leaving amounted (on average) to about six percent of GDP. The military may have surrendered much of their political power in 2010, but they held onto their considerable personal wealth.
The Burmese military is comfortable with a cozy relationship with China and Russia but most Burmese are not. This has led to Chinese businesses being attacked since the coup and a few have been set on fire. The military was forced to assign more troops and hire some armed guards to protect the Chinese businesses.