China: The BFF You Can Depend On

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May 30, 2011: Inner Mongolia (the Chinese province, which is next to Mongolia the country) has experienced growing unrest in the last week. The trigger was a Chinese Army truck hitting and killing a Mongolian man. But the cause was centuries of tension between Chinese and Mongolians. This is not as serious as similar ethnic uprisings in Tibet and the northwest, because Mongolians are a minority (about 20 percent) in Inner Mongolia. The reason this chunk of Mongolia is a Chinese province is because the borderlands between China and Mongolia have been fought over for thousands of years. Eventually, the more numerous Chinese won, and soon outnumbered the original Mongol occupants. The remaining Mongols still resent this. In this part of the world, ancient hatreds persist. The government has sent more police into the areas of unrest, apparently with orders to round up the usual suspects and keep things from getting out-of-control.

Central China is suffering its worst drought in over fifty years. This means more food will have to be imported, and the government will have to provide some economic aid to all the farmers and river fishermen who are being impoverished by several years of poor harvests and water shortages.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il recently spent a week visiting businesses and shops (particularly malls) in northern China. Kim does not like to travel, and only does so when absolutely necessary. This visit was apparently part of the Chinese campaign to convince Kim that economic reforms, similar to those begun in China three decades ago, are the cure for North Korea's economic (and political) problems. This visit is a good sign, as Kim is apparently collecting ammo to use against the old-school communists back home, who oppose any loosening of government control over the economy. China and North Korea have already agreed to undertake two joint, and quite large, economic projects (a manufacturing complex near the border, and many new roads, and upgrades to existing ones, near and across the border.)

China has agreed (after being asked by the Pakistani government) to undertake development of the underused Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is located near the Iranian border. The Chinese would also build a naval base, that would be used by Pakistani and Chinese warships and aircraft. This is part of a Pakistani effort to increase military cooperation with China, to replace current reliance on the United States. But China is not willing to supply as much free stuff. Chinese military aid comes with a lot more strings attached. For example, while China recently pledged to speed up delivery of fifty JF-17 jets (an F-16 knock off that Pakistan helped, largely with cash, to develop), it also expects to be paid. The U.S. gives Pakistan F-16s. China, however, has pledged to be Pakistan's BFF (best friend forever.)  China has long supported Pakistan as part of an effort to keep India distracted, and weakened. China and India have some serious border disputes, most of which involve China claiming ownership of Indian territory.

May 28, 2011:  Vietnam accused China of ordering several of its marine surveillance ships to harass a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the disputed Spratly islands. The Chinese ships cut cables let out by the Vietnamese ship, then actually got close enough to bump into the oil exploration vessel. The damage was light, but the message was unmistakable. China is trying to get the other Spratly claimants (Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan) to back off, but that has not worked so far.

May 27, 2011:  The Chinese military has announced the establishment of  a special Cyber War unit, called the Blue Team, to help Chinese computer users, especially businesses and government organizations, better protect their PCs and networks from attack. The Blue Team will emphasize education and the distribution of network protection software, as well as establishing national standards for network security. China has always been more vulnerable to attack via the Internet, because so many of its PCs use stolen software (especially Microsoft operating systems), which does not get all the security software and services provided to legal copies. In addition, most Chinese are new to PCs, at least more so than in the West, and have less experience in general. The Blue Team will strive to overcome these disadvantages.

May 26, 2011: In southern Jiangxi province, an unemployed man, angered at the illegal demolition of his home by corrupt property developers, set off three bombs in government offices. Two people died (including the bomber) and six were wounded. There is growing anger among people suffering from the widespread corruption, and violence like this is more common. The national government is eager to suppress the corruption, but it does not have the means to do so. The relationship between the national and provincial (and country) government is rather feudal. The national government can come down on only a fraction of the many corrupt provincial and county officials at any time. The national government is simply outnumbered, and the majority of corrupt officials just try to stay out of the news, so they can go on stealing.

May 20, 2011:  ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) declared a code of conduct for the four ASEAN members and China, who are all disputing ownership of island in the South China Sea. This move is meant to persuade China to behave in the Spratlys. ASEAN was established in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, and later expanded to include Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. All the ASEAN nations have some disputes with China, and are attempting to gain some negotiating leverage with joint efforts like this. China agreed, in 2002 , to cooperate with ASEAN over the Spratly dispute, but that was apparently all for show.

China prefers to pick off its enemies one at a time. For example, China has been talking to the Philippines about dividing up the Spratly islands between the two of them, and freezing out Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Three years ago, China tried to negotiate a similar deal with Vietnam, but it didn't work out.  China, Vietnam and the Philippines all have oil exploration ships studying the waters off the disputed islets, and tensions are rising.

May 18, 2011:  A senior Chinese general has stated that, despite all the nationalistic rhetoric and propaganda inside China (that portrays the U.S. as an inevitable opponent in some future war), China has no intention of confronting the U.S. militarily. Aside from the fact that both nations have nuclear weapons (although none of the Chinese ones can reach the U.S. at the moment), American forces are better equipped and more experienced. Chinese military leaders, understandably, do not want to go to war under these conditions. So this statement by a high-ranking, professional Chinese soldier is not surprising. But wars are usually started by less well-informed politicians, who believe the nationalistic and anti-American propaganda. That's happened before.

 

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