In the last few weeks, the Chinese media has been uncharacteristically active in protesting naval exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. These training operations have been going on for decades, but since the 1990s China has been building up its naval forces. So the recent media campaign is a way of saying that Chinese naval power is strong enough to confront and intimidate naval forces of other nations. Normally this means neighbors, but in this case, it mainly means the United States, whose fleet contains about half the naval power on the planet. The Chinese media campaign, while alarming to foreigners, was mainly for domestic consumption, proclaiming that the Chinese navy is now a power to be reckoned with. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but China is telling its people that the time is now because it makes the government look good, and the people less angry at corruption and bureaucratic bungling.
China has found it to be much more important to control the spread of news about that thousands of anti-government demonstrations and riots that take place each year. Many corrupt Communist Party officials are still walking free, living like very wealthy men and seemingly unconcerned about being prosecuted and punished. This angers many Chinese, but as long as news of these guys can be kept quiet, another revolution is averted.
To the surprise of most men, the government quietly stopped blocking access to most overseas pornography web sites. This occurred, without any announcement, two months ago. It's believed that the government is experimenting, seeing if porn access will have any impact on anti-government activities on the Internet. The government attempts to curb access to pornography has been very unpopular, at least with most Chinese men. The main goal of government Internet censorship is political, not moral, and many Chinese were always perplexed with the government obsession with preventing access to porn.
Along the North Korea border, Chinese police are noting a sharp increase in North Korea military personnel coming across. The few that are caught speak of sharp cuts in their food supplies, and many senior army and political officials stockpiling supplies and sending their families to China, or even more distant safe-havens.
July 20, 2010: China renewed Google's license to operate in China, and quietly backed down in their dispute over censorship. China said it won, but it didn't. It got some cosmetic changes to the Chinese Google web page, but uncensored access to the Internet is still available. While many government officials insisted that Google either restore censorship or be shut down, more powerful officials heeded warnings that this would hurt the economy and research efforts.
July 19, 2010: China's Cyber War operation came out of the shadows, sort of. The military announced that they had established their first Cyber War center. It's location was not given, and the military insisted that the purpose of this effort was defensive, despite all the evidence that China has been aggressively going after data in other countries for years. But China does have enormous Internet defense problems, as Chinese networks and PCs are not as well protected from intrusion as are those in the West.
July 15, 2010: As a concession to Chinese protests, the U.S. and South Korea moved this year's joint naval exercises from the west coast (opposite China) to the east coast (opposite Japan). The Chinese kept complaining, but this move makes the U.S. and South Korea appear more diplomatic. China's growing aggressiveness in naval matters reflects the crucial role ocean commerce has in the Chinese economy. This is a recent development. For all of previous Chinese history, water borne trade, and naval power, was not a factor. Now it is. At the same time, China has been very quiet about Russians military exercises along the Chinese border. These are held every two years, and are largely concerned with potential military threats in eastern Russia. The exercises began June 29th and ended July 9th, with over 20,000 troops involved. No one comes right out and says it, but the main military threat out there is China. However, Russia and China are allies these days, and Chinese officers were invited to observe Russian plans to deal with Chinese military aggression along their common border. Everyone smiled.
July 14, 2010: China and the Persian Gulf state of Qatar have signed an agreement to increase military cooperation between the two nations. Qatar, like many of the small Arab states facing Iran across the Gulf, seek powerful foreign allies for defensive purposes. China is friendly with Iran, and seeks more trading and naval basing opportunities in the Persian Gulf. So this deal makes everyone happy, except Iran.
July 9, 2010: China reacted angrily to recently released Japanese government studies indicating Chinese defense spending is much higher than the official numbers. China claims that its defense spending is only 1.4 percent of GDP (compared to 4 percent for the U.S. and 1-2 percent for most other Western nations.) But China keeps a lot of defense spending off the official defense budget (a technique long favored by communist nations), and actual spending is more like 3-4 percent of GDP. Currently, the U.S. has a GDP of $14.6 trillion, Japan $4.9 trillion and China, $4.3 trillion. At present, Japan spends about one percent of its GDP on the defense budget. This results in China spending twice as much money as Japan, on defense. But if Japan spent two percent of GDP on defense, that Chinese spending advantage would disappear. Japan's relative lack of defense spending still has not prevented it from turning out what is arguably the best navy and air force in the region, one that outclasses even China. There is growing pressure in Japan to increase defense spending.