China: There Will Be An Orderly Revolution

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November 29, 2011:  China cancelled, at the last minute, scheduled border negotiations with India. This was apparently in response to continued Indian support for the Dali Lama, the Tibetan religious leader who opposes Chinese occupation of Tibet. China uses old claims on Indian borderlands to try and control Indian diplomatic and defense policy. For example, China wants Indian warships to stay out of the South China Sea, while not interfering with Chinese naval operations in the Indian Ocean, and establishing more bases there. This aggressiveness is not just directed at India, but at all the neighbors. In response, most of China's neighbors are uniting to oppose Chinese attempts to expand political control.

Although China has angered many of its citizens by recently ordering TV networks to show fewer entertainment shows (sitcoms, dramas, reality), and more propaganda (in the form of pro-government news and documentaries), this was recently modified by an order for TV networks to show ads only at the beginning and end of a show, not during it. This sort of decision would be popular anywhere, unless you were buying or selling TV ads.

Chinese efforts to cool down their overheated economy, and deal with some of the extensive damage corruption has inflicted on the banking system, has also caused an economic slowdown. Like the West, China also has a real estate bubble, and property prices are collapsing. But in addition to bad real estate loans, banks have lots of other bad loans that are becoming a major problem. Overall domestic demand is down and export markets have still not recovered from their three year slump. The government has put off dealing with its bank problems, but believes that a dictatorship has all the tools needed to sort out this mess without triggering a major recession. At the moment, the economy is still growing, but each month the forecasts are lowered.

The economic problems are complicated by growing unrest among workers. Strikes are increasing, as are worker demonstrations and riots. China does little to protect workers from bad employers, and workplace deaths and injuries are much more common than in the West. Chinese workers have become aware of this, and want change, they want it now, and a growing number of them are willing to fight for it.

China's corruption is spreading overseas. Not just in terms of bribes paid to businessmen or government officials, but in the way Chinese use the Internet. It's not just the commercial and government sponsored hacking, but the use of fake posts on review and opinion message boards. The Chinese attitude seems to be that, if you are not family, a close friend or business associate (or someone that can arrest you or promptly retaliate), anything goes. Cheating, lying and stealing are all considered legitimate business tools. Foreigners have to learn, often at great expense, that the rules are different in China. Foreign governments are having a hard time comprehending the extent of all this, especially the scale of the Internet based theft of Western technology. But now the evidence is piling up, and so is the call for retribution.

Chinese officials have been open about their fear that the Arab Spring unrest could spread to China. This has caused more prosecutions of corrupt officials (although the most senior ones are still off limits) and even greater media coverage of these prosecutions. Government media comes right out and says that rebellion is not necessary because the Chinese Internet is monitored and officials always know what people are most upset about (except Internet censorship, which is immune from criticism).  Officially, China is enthusiastic about democracy, just not the application of it throughout China. The Communist Party considers itself democratic (because there is voting within the party for some jobs), and believes that Chinese want order and prosperity more than unrestrained democracy.

Part of the problem is Chinese misunderstanding of what Western democracy is. It is not about having everyone vote on everything. It's always been about the most economically active segments of a society having a say in how that society is run. Thus as education and prosperity became more widespread in the West, so did voting and participation in politics. The widespread prosperity has hit China, and has created hundreds of millions of people demanding access to deciding how the government should operate. While China has a different concept, and tradition of political unity and participation, the Western democracy concept has become very popular, and this has made the Communist Party leadership uneasy. A century ago, Communism was much more acceptable to Chinese reformers than Western democracy. Many Chinese leaders see this popular infatuation with democracy as another fad. But what if it isn't a fad?

While China has banned Twitter, it has tolerated a similar service (micro-blogs) which originate in China. The micro-bloggers can be arrested and micro-blogs shut down if they get out of control. The government is all about control, even when dealing with widespread unrest. Thus micro-blogs have grown, and now over 300 million Chinese are using these services.

November 26, 2011: China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to operate joint police patrols on the Mekong River (which flows through all four countries). There has been an increase in attacks on Mekong river shipping, sometimes involving corrupt soldiers or police. So the security personnel from all four countries will keep an eye on each other. A major problem these days is drug smuggling out of Burma. The drugs are valuable, illegal and very portable. China has had problems with drug smuggling out of this area since the 18th century. Moreover, most of the cargo ships that ply the Mekong are Chinese.

November 25, 2011: Another major food scandal and this time 113 people (including 17 government employees) were convicted of using a poisonous chemical to treat pork products. Pork is the most popular meat in China, and the pork business is huge and very competitive. So the temptation is always there to take illegal shortcuts, even if it gets consumers sick or killed.

November 24, 2011: China announced naval exercises, in international waters, before the end of the month. A decade ago, this sort of things was rare, now it is common.

November 23, 2011:  China has agreed to loan Venezuela $6 billion dollars, to get the increasingly autocratic government there over an economic rough patch.

November 22, 2011: China announced that a Strategy Planning Department had been established to support the high command of the military. While military strategic planning has long been customary in the West (where it was invented), China is still playing catch-up when it comes to things like logistics, and support functions in general. This includes things like strategic planning (what military operations are likely to occur in the future, and how can preparations and plans be made now to best deal with these contingencies.)

November 21, 2011: Chinese and Burmese officials announced continued military cooperation between the two countries. The two nations share a border, and both are police states (although Burma recently held elections, but enough military officers got elected to keep the old dictatorship in power.) China has no problem doing business with dictators and tyrants, and generally finds democracies the most troublesome to deal with.

November 17, 2011: The U.S. and Australia announced that 2,500 American marines would be based on the west coast of Australia. Chinese officials responded by reminding everyone that Australia was within range of Chinese ballistic missiles.

 

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