January 29, 2012: The number of Chinese Internet users grew by 12 percent last year to 513 million. As the largest national Internet on the planet China is trying to block out foreign news and activist sites and make the Chinese Internet largely separate from the rest of the world (except for trusted users). The government is also trying to control the flow of news between Chinese Internet users. The government has achieved partial success, which means the censors have failed. The most popular news is the stuff that makes the government look bad (usually for good reason). You can't stop the signal but the government keeps trying.
Another Tibetan Buddhist monk burned himself to death on the 9th, triggering more protests. The latest suicide occurred in southwest China where 16 Buddhist clergy have killed themselves in the last year to protest Chinese occupation of Tibet. The latest death occurred in Sichuan province, which has a large Tibetan population. The government deals quickly and violently with these outbreaks, both in Sichuan and in neighboring Tibet (Xizang province). The unrest continues, with over a hundred wounded at least five dead and many more arrested. Tibetans living outside Tibet are angry over government efforts to curb the practice of Buddhism (the religion of nearly all ethnic Tibetans). Inside Tibet, Tibetans are angry at the growing number of Han Chinese migrants and government efforts to suppress Tibetan culture. The government blames Tibetan unrest on outside agitators.
China is putting more maritime patrol aircraft into service and sending out patrols more frequently and farther out to sea. This causes diplomatic problems when Chinese patrol aircraft fly near disputed (especially with Japan) islands or Japanese airspace itself.
January 25, 2012: China has passed Japan to become the biggest importer of coal on the planet. China is also the largest producer of coal and the biggest user on the planet. Coal accounts for most of the air pollution that is becoming the cause of increasing popular discontent.
January 23, 2012: In China's Sichuan province ethnic Tibetans, demonstrating over Chinese oppression, were fired on by police. One demonstrator was killed and several wounded. The unrest has been going on since the 9th and police are not happy with their inability to halt it.
January 18, 2012: China has imposed new restrictions on the use of micro-blogs (which serve the same purpose as the banned-in-China Twitter network). Microblog users can no longer be anonymous or at least they cannot easily keep their real identity hidden. This new measure makes it easier for the secret police to hunt down and punish anyone who says something on a micro-blog that makes the government look bad (corruption, incompetence, and bad behavior in general).
January 15, 2012: In the south, the unprecedented uprising in the coastal town of Wukan has ended with one of the rebel leaders being made the local Communist Party head. The Communist Party is still the ultimate power in China, which is still a communist dictatorship. But the government allows, and encourages, business owners and entrepreneurs to join the party. While the party still has some true-believers in radical socialism the leadership is dominated by advocates of a market economy. When implemented three decades ago local party leaders quickly used their power to get rich themselves. But many party leaders, like those in Wukan, screwed too many of the locals. That led to lots of demonstrations and, last year, open rebellion. The national government eventually ordered provincial officials to side with the rebels against the corrupt local officials. This was a bold move but is also in line with the policy of bringing the most effective people into the party. For most of December the town of 20,000 was in open rebellion because of corrupt local officials (who also killed a popular protest leader). The national government apparently ordered provincial officials to be the good guys and quiet things down as quickly as possible with the least amount of mess (dead bodies and general destruction). While police surrounded the town and banned foreigners, especially journalists, from the area, news got out anyway. Internet access was cut off but there were still cell phones and people sneaking in and out. The government does not want stuff like this to spread because there have been hundreds of outbreaks similar (but not as extensive) to Wukan in the past year. Enough Wukans happening at the same time and in the same area could spark a wider rebellion. It's happened many times before in China's history and Chinese officials, especially at the national level, pay close attention to history. So the Wukan situation (and several others in the south) are being exploited by the national leadership as an opportunity to punish local officials and serve them up as examples to the many more local officials who do the same thing but more discreetly. The national officials would like to get rid of corruption but more discreet corruption is an acceptable alternative. The new Communist Party leader of Wukan will be watched to see how he deals with all the temptations that lead to corruption. The government has to be careful, though, with these anti-corruption people, as many of them are also pro-democracy. Elections would see the Communist Party lose a lot of power in China.
January 14, 2012: President Yin Jeou Ma won reelection in Taiwan. This is good news for China because Ma is leader of the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party). The KMT ran Taiwan as a one party dictatorship until the late 1980s, when free elections were allowed. At that point the native Taiwanese (who always outnumbered the KMT soldiers and civilians) gained control. The KMT became the main opposition party. In the last decade KMT regained power with new leaders who enthusiastically developed closer economic and cultural relations with China. This was popular because it brought more prosperity and fewer threats of violence from China. This was a bit unusual because the KMT was the loser in a long civil war with the communists and fled mainland China for Taiwan in 1947. Taiwanese are still split between those who want to maintain independence (mainly the Taiwanese who are native to Taiwan, not descended from the refugees the KMT brought to Taiwan in the late 1940s) and those who are willing to eventually become part of China. The government in China hopes to negotiate a union deal with the KMT, and Ma's reelection shows growing Taiwanese enthusiasm for that. But not just yet. More economic ties with China are popular but not being ruled by the unelected communist leaders of China.