China: Memories Are Made Of Unrest

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April 1, 2007: The government has launched a major anti-government propaganda effort, directed at itself. That is, there is lots of media activity urging government and Communist Party officials to ease up on the corruption, lest there be unpleasant consequences for everyone. Trying to arrest and prosecute corrupt officials has had limited success, because there are so many corrupt officials, and they will look out for each other.

March 28, 2007: Taiwan revealed a series of upgrades for its 120 Ching-Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter aircraft. These warplanes were designed and built in Taiwan during the 1980s and 90s, as a backup in case new American fighters were not available. The aircraft is sort of a "F-16 Lite." The upgrades include new radars and electronics, as well as new fuel capacity, to extend sortie time (in the air).

In the U.S., there was another espionage trial for a Chinese-American accused of spying for China. The defendant, an engineer, admitted he stole defense secrets, "to help China." The man, Chi Mak, was caught with much incriminating evidence. The U.S. is catching only a small fraction of Chinas many amateur spies, and information from inside China indicates that the Chinese espionage program is obtaining huge amounts of American military secrets, mainly details about technology.

March 27, 2007: For China, 2006 was officially "The Year of Africa." The government went all out of make a favorable impression on African governments and increase Chinese economic and diplomatic activity in Africa. To that end, about a billion dollars worth of debts, of African nations to the Chinese government, were forgiven. Last year, Chinese commercial and government organizations invested over $13 billion in Africa. This is less than one percent of China's GDP, but by African standards, it is huge. However, there is already some blowback. The Chinese are mainly after raw materials, especially oil. A lot of that $13 billion was bribes for local officials. As usual, the average African is getting screwed by these deals. For example, a lot of the investment was for infrastructure (roads, bridges, structures), and a lot of those deals stipulated the use of Chinese labor for most of the work. The Chinese pay such low wages that they could afford to fly in Chinese for many jobs. China is also flooding African markets with inexpensive goods. Both of these tactics are hurting local businesses, and causing unrest among African business owners and workers. As a result, it's become common for opposition parties in Africa to accuse China of "neo-colonial exploitation." The accusation fits, and the Chinese will pay for it down the road.

March 23, 2007: The government has offered to increase military cooperation with the United States, via joint exercises, officer exchanges and staff planning for future coordination. While these efforts have obvious espionage opportunities for both sides, they are more of an eye opener for American officers, because China is still a police state, and military matters are much more closely guarded than in the United States.

March 22, 2007: A man who published over 60 items, critical of government policy, on foreign web sites, was sentenced to six years in jail. The government regularly arrests and punishes people like this, as a way to terrorize others who might be tempted to speak out via the Internet. This has worked, forcing Chinese to criticize the government anonymously. The government also continues to arrest and imprison religious leaders, and followers, who do not comply with government regulations. China insists that religious organizations refrain from criticizing the government, and basically keep a low profile. Most comply. Those that don't, get persecuted.

March 21, 2007: Last year, there were over 130,000 cases of government officials stealing land, usually from rural farmers. That's a 17.3 percent increase over last year. Only 3,593 were punished for this, although in a about a third of the cases the theft victims saw their compensation increase, or the amount of land taken decreased. The corruption often goes right up to the provincial level. Since China is basically run by provincial officials, this makes it almost impossible for the victims to get any justice. That's why there are an increasing number of riots and anti-corruption demonstrations. All the central government can do is replace provincial officials (which is often a difficult political move, since only well connected guys get appointed to run provinces). However, last year, two of those punished were province level officials. The government makes a big deal about how bad, bad, bad corruption is. Lots of publicity is given to the prosecution of officials guilty of corruption. But the truth of the matter is that most of these land thieves get away with it. The government fears that the spread of this news via the Internet and cell phones will result in widespread unrest that the provincial and central governments will not be able to handle. So far, there are no signs of a widespread organization of pissed off farmers. But movements like that have arisen many times in the past, and most government officials not only know this aspect of Chinese history, but really fear a reoccurrence of it.

 

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