March 5, 2009:
Chinese Internet users (over 250 million and growing rapidly) spend fifty percent more time on line than their American counterparts. Thus the governments eagerness to control what Chinese Internet users have access to. The Great Firewall of China (officially the "Golden Shield") is more about controlling what is said by Internet users inside China, than in controlling what they have access to outside China. Meanwhile, a senior official(Yu Bing) of the Golden Shield operation was arrested for taking over $5 million in bribes to help one anti-virus software company put a rival out of business. The rival fought back in the courts, and exposed the corruption within Golden Shield. There is apparently a lot more misbehavior going on inside Golden Shield. Corruption is common in the government, and big scandals inside Golden Shield only spur many Chinese Internet users to get around the censorship. Chinese geeks have long considered it an entertaining challenge to defeat the Golden Shield restrictions, and now the use of those tools are spreading to the wider Internet community.
The government is spending over a trillion dollars for economic stimulus and social welfare programs, in an attempt to fend off civil disorder in the face of widespread unemployment. The global recession has put over 20 million Chinese out of work, and the government fears growing anger by these men and women could create a revolution against the communist police state that has ruled the country for over 60 years. While most of the Chinese economy thrives on supplying markets inside China, some of the most profitable and high-tech businesses served the export market. Long term, the recession will help China, by forcing the government to pay more attention to non-export companies.
China is also increasing its defense spending 14.9 percent this year. That's down from the 17.9 percent jump last year. China claims that its defense spending is only 1.4 percent of GDP (compared to 4 percent for the U.S. and 1-2 percent for most other Western nations.) But China keeps a lot of defense spending off the official defense budget (a technique long favored by communist nations), and actual spending is more like 3-4 percent of GDP. Currently, the U.S. has a GDP of $13.8 trillion, Japan $4.4 trillion and China, $3.5 trillion.
China announced it is ready for more negotiations with Taiwan over military and political issues. Taiwan is suffering more (because it exports more) from the global recession, so this would be a good time for China to offer to talk.
March 1, 2009: After 14 months, a Chinese space probe that had been orbiting the moon, completed its mission by crashing into the moon, in order to expose subsurface material for later probes to examine. This mission was the first of four that are supposed to lead to a Chinese crew landing on the moon in the next decade. Like the U.S. moon landing four decades ago, this one is mainly a "feel good" measure meant to show that China has caught up with U.S. technology of the 1960s,
February 28, 2009: Under tremendous public pressure, the government enacted a new food safety law. The public will now expect more government and corporate officials to be prosecuted for polluting the food supply.
February 23, 2009: Tibet has been closed to foreign tourists, in anticipation of unrest next month (the 50th anniversary of a major uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.)
February 21, 2009: In eastern China, a chemical plant was shut when it was discovered that dumping of wastes by the plant had polluted water supplies for 1.5 million people. Water was cut off for five hours, to most of those people, as alternative sources were established. In earlier times (before the Internet and cell phone texting), this story would have never made the news, and the pollution problem would have been quietly (and more slowly) fixed. The public health problems would have been buried, along with the victims. No more. The government can no longer control information like it could in the old days. Bad news too often gets out and spreads. Cell phone texting have proved impossible to control. By comparison, the Internet is easy to control. That's important, because while cell phone texting is largely a "one to one" transmission, the Internet is "one to many", and gets a more detailed message out to more people more quickly. Usually the government Internet monitors will detect an unwanted message before it spreads too far. But the texting is relentless, spreading sensitive new, like chemical poisoning, news to more and more people. This is the sort of thing that weakens police state control to a dangerous degree. The modern police state survives by controlling the flow of information.
February 15, 2009: The Russian Coast Guard sank a Chinese coastal freighter, the New Star, after the ship left the Russian Pacific port of Nakhodka without permission. The New Star arrived in Nakhodka nearly three weeks ago, with a cargo of rice. But the firm that purchased the rice complained that the cargo was of low quality, and demanded a lower price. The Russian buyer went to local officials, and got the government to forbid the New Star from leaving until the matter was settled. Caught in the middle of this dispute between the Chinese rice broker and the Russian buyer, the Hong Kong owner of the New Star ordered the captain to leave port anyway. When the Russian Coast Guard was notified, they sent a patrol ship out to bring the New Star back. The Russian patrol boat caught up with the New Star, about 80 kilometers from Nakhodka, and ordered the Chinese ship to return to port. The Chinese ship refused, and eventually the Russians opened fire, causing the New Star to sink. While getting off the New Star, eight of the crew died when one of the two life rafts flipped over in rough seas. The other eight members of the crew were picked up by a Russian Coast Guard ship. China protested, but Russia said it was the fault of the New Stars captain and that was that.