China: Peace With Taiwan

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June 5,2008: Four weeks after the Sichuan earthquake, the military aftereffects are growing, while aftershocks persist. About seven percent of the armed forces (nearly 140,000 troops) were sent to help out. Over 50,000 reservists were also put to work. The troops dug into the debris and pulled over a quarter million people out. Military medics and field hospitals treated over 300,000 injured people. Troops have moved nearly 700,000 people to camps, or just out of the devastated zone. The military repaired nearly 5,000 kilometers of roads, as well as dozens of bridges and built some temporary ones. It was the military that opened up the devastated area for supply convoys. Hundreds of lakes created by landslides into rivers, are being drained by military engineers. Over a thousand reservoirs are being checked by troops for damage, and emergency repairs made, or supervised, by military engineers. Epidemic diseases were controlled by the presence of the large number of military medical personnel.

The quake appears to have killed over 80,000, injured nearly 400,000, and left five million homeless. The after effects are quite different from the last major quake (in 1976), that killed 250,000. Today there is a lot more new construction and industrial facilities that were wrecked. There were over a hundred buildings containing radioactive materials (which is common in many medical and industrial facilities.) Soldiers went and collected most of this stuff. Same with many industrial plants containing large quantities of dangerous (to people and the environment) chemicals. There were dozens of defense plants in the quake region, and their interruption of production for key systems, like the J-10 fighters and several missile models.

While the government got high marks for deploying the troops for disaster relief, it got a black eye for the 10,000 school children who died when schools collapsed because of shoddy construction. Government officials made money from this, and now parents, and the public at large, are calling for justice. The government is calling for patience, and hoping it will all go away. The Internet is preventing that, and the main-stream media, despite censorship, has run with some of this as well. There will be long term political impact from this, mainly because the government cannot stamp out discussion on the Internet.

The newly elected president of Taiwan has made peace with China. Taiwan will play down its independence (without giving it up), while China will pull back military forces poised for an invasion of the island China considers a "wayward province." The military buildup (of troops, ships, aircraft and missiles) has been going on for a decade. The new Taiwanese president got elected because he promised to improve relations with China, which has become a major target for Taiwanese investment, and a major market. China, for its part, does not want the "Taiwan Issue" to get out of hand, as nationalistic fervor gets stoked on the Internet, where the government has a hard time controlling it. So pulling back the troops gives the Internet based patriots less to work with.

Three decades of economic freedom created abilities the Chinese didn't know they had, until the earthquake disaster was upon them. For example, ham-radio hobbyists have proliferated over this period, as affluence, and less government regulation, allowed the creation of thousands of skilled radio operators in the quake region. These were the first to establish communication after the quake, because the government and military communications were largely wrecked. Many companies in the region had disaster plans, and these firms took care of their neighbors as soon as they had taken care of their own. The proliferation of construction firms, because of more than two decades of construction boom, made available earth moving equipment in the area, along with skilled operators.

The military brought in nearly 200 helicopters, mostly Russian designed Mi-17s, to help out (especially for moving the injured to hospitals). These performed well, with only one of them going down, apparently because of mechanical failure. The army promptly sent over 4,000 troops into the fog shrouded hills to search for the downed chopper.

 

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