China is concerned about the erratic behavior of North Korea but officially insists that there is little it can do except criticize North Korea and urge the North Koreans to back off on their nuclear weapons development. In reality, there is much China could do to get the attention of the North Koreans but that would involve the possibility of making North Korean leaders more erratic and aggressive. Cutting economic (oil and natural gas) and food aid as well as halting unofficial aid to illegal North Korea exports (drugs, counterfeit currency, weapons) would hurt North Korea badly and might cause a collapse of the North Korean government. That is something China wants to avoid because it would force China to confront South Korea and the West over Chinese plans to occupy North Korea in such a situation. China would call this peacekeeping but the rest of the world would call it an annexation. This could get very nasty. Another option is to back pro-Chinese North Korean officials in a coup to install a more obedient (to China) government. This is risky, as the North Korean leaders have been aware of this threat for over a decade and have regularly purged the ruling bureaucracy of anyone believed to be pro-China. A failed coup would be, well, messy. According to China there are no good options other than keeping quiet and hoping for the best.
Taiwan has introduced the first of several 2,000 ton coast guard ships to patrol contested areas like the Diaoyu Islands. In response China is building even more patrol ships than all of its neighbors (most of whom have similar disputes) combined. The Chinese strategy seems to be using patrols of military, coast guard, and even civilian vessels to harass the patrols of other nations. This makes headlines now but will eventually become background noise and no longer worthy of media coverage.
China has become the fifth largest exporter of weapons in the world, displacing Britain. China accounts for five percent of the world’s weapons exports compared to 30 percent for the United States and 26 percent for Russia. China used to be the world’s major weapons importer but has been displaced by India, which imports 12 percent of international weapons exports, compared to six percent for China.
China is increasing its defense spending by 10.7 percent this year, to $117 billion. These annual increases peaked from 2005-2009, when they were 15-20 percent a year. Chinese defense spending is 1.6 percent of GDP, about a third of what the U.S. spends (as a percentage of GDP). According to NATO reporting standards (which take into account the many different ways you can calculate military spending) China is believed to spend about 50 percent more on the military than it admits. That would make this year’s military spending $175 billion. The decrease in spending increases over the last few years is a result of the international recession that began in 2008. China was hurt by this more than it likes to admit and has internal problems (corruption, inflation, pollution, labor shortages) that have hurt their economy.
All that money spent on defense seems to have made Chinese leaders nervous about how loyal their troops are. Since the founding of the communist government in China the troops have sworn their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) not the country of China. Chinese leaders see the troops moving away from blind obedience to the CCP and thinking of themselves more as Chinese patriots. This is incorrect thought and the Chinese leadership has been openly demanding that Chinese military personnel remember their oath to ensure that the CCP remains in control of China.
China announced that it is going to become politically correct (internationally) and reduce its carbon emissions. What China is actually doing is imposing emission restrictions on industry in an attempt to reduce the growing air pollution. The smog and polluted air has reached unprecedented and very dangerous levels. The government is taking a lot of very public criticism for the dirty air. While wealthy party officials can afford expensive air filtration systems for their homes and offices, most party members cannot, and even the senior officials have to get out from time-to-time and there they get a taste of how bad the air is.
March 18, 2013: The government criticized American efforts to increase its anti-ballistic missile defenses in Alaska. Over a dozen additional missiles are being sent to Alaska. These missile defenses not only stop North Korean missiles but Chinese ones as well. So, out of self-interest, China criticizes this missile defense program. In general China opposes all missile-defense systems, mainly because China has few long range missiles and has built some two thousand short range ballistic missiles for tactical use against military targets in neighboring countries.
March 17, 2013: Chinese Navy officials have unofficially admitted that during two recent incidents, Chinese warships did indeed turn on their fire control (used to aim guns and missiles) radars and point it at nearby Japanese ships or aircraft. This is a violation of the unofficial “rules of the sea” for warships in peacetime and a violation of Chinese Navy regulations. The Chinese officers involved in these two incidents were not punished, so officially China insists that nothing happened.
March 16, 2013: Taiwan will produce fifty of its new cruise missiles over the next year. This is in response to the 1,600 ballistic missiles China has aimed at Taiwan.
March 15, 2013: A British TV news reporter, broadcasting live from Tiananmen Square, was arrested live (as the signal was going back to the UK) by Chinese police. The cameraman was not bothered and the British journalist was seen being led away. The reason for this action turned out to be the reporter mentioning (very briefly) the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, something which Chinese censors always jumps on. Apparently the Sky News satellite feed was being monitored and the Chinese censors ordered the police to arrest (and hold for a few hours) the reporter as a reminder of where he was and what kind of behavior would not be tolerated.
March 10, 2013: An agreement was reached with India to cease the practice of sending troops to follow each other’s infantry patrols along the LAC (Line of Actual Control). This is also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line and 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. China claims much territory that is now considered part of India. The practice of monitoring each other’s patrols has led to hundreds of armed confrontations over the last few years as one side or the other accuses “foreign troops” of crossing the LAC. China has become less vocal about its claims on Indian territory recently but has not abandoned these claims. This is a big relief to India, which has a defense budget one third that of China’s.
Taiwan has received the first two upgraded E-2K AWACs aircraft. Two more are on the way, which will give Taiwan six of these early warning and air control aircraft.
March 9, 2013: The Japanese Navy has ordered its ships to stay as far away from Chinese warships as possible, to avoid conflicts. At sea one ship can see another visually out to about 28 kilometers. Radar allows detection at longer range. Chinese warships have become increasingly aggressive, coming to within a few kilometers of Japanese ships and sometimes turning on their weapons control radars, which Japanese ships can detect. Japan will continue to shadow Chinese warships that come close to Japanese territorial waters (disputed or otherwise) but will try to avoid confrontations.
March 4, 2013: Some Chinese civilian maritime surveillance and survey ships are carrying helicopters and using them to carry out what other nations call “military patrols” over disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea.