China: This Is Only A Test

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March 11,2008: Three decades of rapid economic growth have enabled China to go from low-cost champion, to high-tech competitor. While a lot of the tech is stolen, the expertise of Chinese engineers and technicians was earned the hard way, by gaining experience at home or overseas. China can build an increasing number of complex military technologies. No surprise here, because China builds the most modern consumer technologies. For example, a new factory for large, flat screen televisions, uses technology and techniques stolen from South Korea (and being pursued by South Korean lawsuits). Russia is threatening non-legal retribution because of rampant Chinese copying of Russian military technology. Whatever works.

China's military buildup is not meant to equip the all their troops with the latest technology, but to develop the ability to build such stuff, and then train troops who can use it effectively. Except for ICBMs (to keep the United States under control), everything else is build in small quantities, for testing and, if need be, an attack on the much smaller Taiwanese armed forces. To this end, lots of ballistic missiles have been built, and over a thousand of them aimed at Taiwan. Sort of a non-nuclear version of the ICBMs that will soon be threatening the U.S. But two or three decades from now, China expects to have land, air and naval forces that can match the U.S. in quality, and exceed it in quantity.

March 5, 2008: The government announced a new round of reforms, aimed at eliminating corruption, inefficiency and unfairness. This sort of thing comes along every 5-10 years, and fails. But not completely. Some good things survive, and the government hopes it gets things cleaned up before the increasingly affluent Chinese tire of being ruled by a communist dictatorship.

March 1, 2008: China's birth rate has fallen (to 1.8 births per woman) beneath the replacement rate (2.1). As a result, the population will begin to decline (slowly) in the next decade or two. But the biggest problem is the growth of retirees, and the shrinking number of workers to support them. Proposals to allow more births run into arguments about limited resources. Moreover, as women become more affluent, they are less inclined to have lots of kids. Japan is way ahead in this population curve, and China does not want to join them. But no one has yet come up with an acceptable alternative. The impact of fewer births in urban areas over two decades ago, is showing up in growing shortages of skilled labor. The costs of manufacturing high tech gear is growing, forcing Chinese manufacturers to move more factories to nations with cheaper labor. The military is giving the troops a raise, especially the technicians. Otherwise, it can't recruit them, or keep them.

February 22, 2008: A Communications Ministry official was arrested and charged with spying for Taiwan. Such arrests happen with regularity in China and Taiwan, indicating the continuing espionage efforts by both countries. Much of this is about stealing business secrets, which China tends to consider as valuable as strictly military information. While human spies are still used a lot, most of the best stuff is coming from Internet based snooping. The United States Department of Defense recently admitted that it had lost a substantial amount of military data last year, to hackers apparently operating out of China.

 

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