China: Money And Power And Military Might

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October 10, 2011: While some of China's neighbors (Vietnam, India and South Korea) are nervous about reforms in the Chinese Army, all the neighbors are alarmed at the increasing size and assertiveness of the Chinese Navy. While the navy contains only 11 percent of China's military personnel, it is the element of the armed forces most frequently encountered by foreigners. This is a recent development, for the Chinese navy, until the last decade, rarely left Chinese coastal waters. But now the Chinese fleet is frequently showing up off the coasts of neighbors, and visiting foreign ports. This isn't just about "showing the flag," it's mainly about asserting control over vital Chinese trade routes, and nearby underwater oil and gas fields. It's about money and power, and China is making it clear that both will be backed by armed force. China insists that their growing military power is purely defensive. But anxious neighbors see that as an attempt to defend Chinese claims on neighboring territory and resources.

Public demonstrations against corruption or government policies have increased in the last two decades from under 8,000 a year, to over 150,000 a year. Aggressive response to these demonstrations has backfired, as the Internet and cell phones quickly spread news, and images, of police brutality. As a result, the police are being more restrained, and the government is more willing to address the popular complaints. In a growing number of cases, the police have little choice, because the crowds are becoming larger, and more aggressive, than the police can handle. The most frequent causes of these demonstrations are land theft, police misconduct (like murdering someone in jail) or various forms of official corruption. Government response still varies greatly, largely because decisions on how to handle demonstrations is usually a local matter. The central government can intervene, but rarely does. That's because the central government does not have the resources to run the entire country. China has always depended on strong local governments, at the province level, to take care of things. But this is where the corruption is worst. More and more provincial officials are being prosecuted for corruption, but there are so many of them, and they tend to help each other out. In effect, China is at war with itself over the corruption and bad government, and everyone is losing.

In the last five years, the number of university graduates rose from 3.4 to 6.3 million. The armed forces want more of these graduates and are devoting more resources to recruiting recent grads. This often works, if only because the economy cannot give the growing number of grads the jobs they seek. The military presents itself as an opportunity, and an adventure as well. If nothing else, a new grad can spend a few years in the military, and with that resume enhancement, go find a good civilian job. The military is particularly eager to snag grads with technical skills.  

China complained to Thailand about security on their Burmese border. Over the weekend, two Chinese river cargo ships were seized, and 13 Chinese crewmen murdered. Burmese drug smugglers, who have long been active on this part of the Mekong River, are suspected. China has had problems with drug smuggling in this region (the "Golden Triangle") since the 18th century.

October 8, 2011: For the second time in three months, Japan has grounded its elderly F-15 jet fighter fleet over safety issues. This time, it's because an F-15 recently had an empty drop tank break away from the aircraft while on a training flight. Drop tanks carry additional fuel and are hung, like bombs and missiles. Japan is seeking a replacement for its F-15s, but the United States refused to make available their new F-22, and Japan is considering the less capable F-35. Japan feels hemmed in by China and Russia, both of whom are flying more reconnaissance sorties around the island nation.

October 7, 2011: In southwest China, two former Tibetan monks set themselves on fire to protest Chinese occupation of Tibet. That makes five men who have set themselves on fire in that county in the past two weeks. This area (Aba country in Sichuan province) has a large Tibetan population, and the government fears another outbreak of rioting by Tibetans there, as well as in neighboring Tibet (Xizang province).

October 1, 2011: The government increased the pensions, by up to 20 percent, for disabled soldiers and police, as well as families of those killed while on duty. Currently, the average such pension is about $400 a month. This increase is good for morale, and enhances the image of the military and government. The government is more and more dependent on the security forces, as public demonstrations against corruption and misrule increase.

September 27, 2011: China's wealthiest man, Wengen Liang, the head of the Sany Group, has been asked to join the Communist Party Central Committee. This group of 400 senior party officials selects the most senior government officials. Businessmen were first allowed join the Communist Party in 2002, and the party aggressively recruited them. While still dominated by professional politicians, the Central Committee is on its way to becoming a tool for an oligarchy. This is how power shifted in Europe, as hereditary feudal rulers were replaced by wealthy entrepreneurs, and eventually modern democracy.

September 24, 2011: Chinese censors stepped in and halted a Chinese blogger from continuing with his census of Chinese officials wearing luxury (very, very expensive) watches. The count was taken by simply enlarging photos of politicians and identifying the watch they were wearing. Many were wearing watches costing much more than the politician could afford on his official salary. Everyone, including the government censors, knew that this meant the official was taking bribes or engaged in some other form of corruption. The government believes that there will be less unrest if there is less publicity about the corruption.

 

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