China: Things That Are Not Discussed

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March 25, 2010: Eight months after ethnic violence took place in western China, 198 people have been prosecuted and convicted so far. At least 26 of the accused got the death penalty. The violence last July left at least 200 dead (and nearly 2,000 injured), most of them Han Chinese migrants attacked by the local Turkic (Uighur) rioters unhappy with growing Han domination. Before the police were able to shut down the unrest, Han mobs formed and began going after Uighurs. But most of the thousands of people arrested, and hundreds prosecuted, are Uighur. The government blames the violence on Islamic terrorists and separatists, not Uighurs unhappy with growing Han domination of areas long inhabited by Uighur majorities. China is very touchy about this issue, denying that it exists in western China, or in Tibet (where there has also been serious ethnic unrest, several times in the last half century).

Many of the Uighur and Tibetan complaints have to do with police corruption, which often takes the form of police being used by corrupt officials to steal land or other assets. In addition to that, police often demand bribes to avoid real or imagined crimes. The government has acknowledged that there is a problem with the cops, but have not been able to do anything meaningful to reform the two million strong police force. Too many cops are basically for hire, often to the highest bidder (local officials, businessmen or gangsters). The central government can only intervene in a few places, and the threat of that insures that the police put a priority on keeping the peace in their neighborhood. Thus police commanders were punished because of the Uighur and Tibetan unrest.

There's a lot of corruption remaining in the military as well. For over a decade, the government has worked to eliminate the worst of the theft and moonlighting. The most outrageous examples of this have been curbed. Thus military officers no longer use cash from the defense budget to set up weapons factories they run and profit from. Big chunks of procurement cash no longer disappear into the offshore bank accounts of generals and admirals. But there's still a lot of corruption. Much is still for sale, like promotions. Lower ranking officers and NCOs can still be found selling weapons and equipment that is reported "destroyed" or "missing." Commanders who are not doing so well, can pay to have reports of their performance upgraded. Senior government officials still have doubts about how effective the military would be in another war. It was noted, usually by journalists, that the army response to several recent national disasters (which usually employ troops for disaster relief) had problems. This is not supposed to be reported, but the journalists discuss it among themselves, and some of this knowledge gets onto the Internet and outside the country. People love to gossip, especially in a police state like China.

In response to the corruption, and uncertainly about how the military reform (and modernization) program is going, this year's defense budget only went up 7.5 percent. For over a decade, the annual increases were in the double digits. But another reason for the stall is the impact of the worldwide recession. While the Chinese economy continued to grow, the rate was less.

 

 

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