China: Big Brother Gets Annoyed


August 16, 2009: U.S. counter-espionage efforts are catching, and prosecuting, more Chinese spies, and finding that the amount of technology stolen in the last few decades has been massive, and a primary reason for high Chinese economic growth. China has saved over a hundred billion dollars in basic research and product development with this espionage campaign, and continues to deny everything, even as the court convictions pile up. Last year, Russia convinced China to sign a treaty halting the theft of Russian military technology. But China may have done this mainly because they have shifted their attention to Western stuff, which is more advanced.

While China has backed off from its order for computer manufacturers to install monitoring software ("Green Dam") in all PCs it ships to Chinese buyers, it is still aggressively censoring what Chinese can access via the Internet. The latest ban is on video games that promote the "gangster lifestyle," drug use, bad language, gambling, rape, vandalism and theft. The government believes playing these games (like the Grand Theft Auto series) leads to bad (especially anti-government) behavior. China is also censoring some of the violent elements (turning piles of bones into sandbags in World of Warcraft) out of games that are allowed to continue. The ban will probably do more political damage than the games, for research in many countries has shown that there is little impact on  player behavior because of these games. But the games are very popular and addictive, and cutting players off from them makes people angry.  Meanwhile, many private, and a few government groups, in the West are developing free software that will enable news and messages to get past the Internet censors in countries like China.

The Chinese government is apparently encouraged by its experience with security cameras, which it has been installing, in increasing numbers, since 2003. Nearly three million have been installed so far, which is about one camera for every 470 citizens. The nation with the highest concentration of cameras, Britain, has 4.2 million installed (one for every 14 people). China has a much denser concentration in some cities. Beijing has a camera for every 45 people. China is expanding the installation of cameras into the countryside, particularly key transportation sites (road junctions, train stations.)

The Chinese government has ordered university research centers to look into the causes of recent ethnic uprisings in Tibet and the Turkic northwest. There are dozens of other, smaller, ethnic minorities in China, and some of these have displayed signs of possible violence. So the government is looking for new ideas on how to deal with this problem.

August 11, 2009: China began a large scale military exercise, quickly moving 50,000 mechanized and air force troops several thousand kilometers, and deploying them for combat. This is not the way the Chinese military usually operates. Traditionally, local forces take care of any problems, and it can take weeks to bring in additional forces from another of the seven military regions the nation is divided into. But now the Chinese are moving into the late 20th century in terms of military mobility. This is a major improvement.

August 5, 2009: In a month since the outbreak of ethnic violence in western China, police have arrested about 2,000 people, while another 2,000 were killed (about 200) or injured. Arrests continue, mostly of local Uighurs (Turkic Moslems), who are angry about the growing migration of Han (ethnic Chinese) people.

August 2, 2009: Pneumonic plague broke out in northwest China, with several dozen cases, and a few deaths. This is the same disease that killed over a quarter of Europe's population in the 14th century. Before that, it did similar damage across Eurasia, all the way to China and Southeast Asia. Plague (usually the bubonic version, caught from insect bites, rather than the more rare pneumonic form, spread by sneezing) is no longer the big killer it once was. That's mainly because of better public health, and particularly because of the development of antibiotics in the 1940s. Plague, unlike most mass killers, is not caused by a virus, but by a bacteria.

But at the same time British researchers were developing penicillin, the Japanese Army, in the form of Unit 731 in northern China, was trying to turn plague into a weapon. This proved impossible to do. The Japanese dropped bombs filled with fleas (the normal carriers of Bubonic Plague) on Chinese villages, and the result was often no plague cases at all.

Plague still survives, in animal populations, all over the world. But in the last century, there have been only about 100-150 cases a year, usually in remote areas, and only about ten percent of them resulted in deaths. The last big outbreak in the United States was in Los Angeles in 1924, when there were 38 cases, most of them fatal. There are still periodic outbreaks in the American West, where people encounter plague infected animals in remote areas. But medical personnel in those areas know the symptoms, and quickly administer antibiotics. Thus there are few deaths.

China, however, is one of the places where there are still outbreaks in densely populated areas. The pneumonic form of plague is particularly contagious, and could cause thousands of deaths, and general panic, if it ever got into a city. So these rural outbreaks are dealt with promptly, with police setting up roadblocks and isolating the area, and medical teams flooding the area to follow up on a media blitz letting everyone know what symptoms to look for, and who to call. These measures have greatly reduced plague deaths in western China over the last half century. The recent incident in China was over within ten days.




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