China: The First Spark Of Rebellion

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December 16, 2011: Growing public discontent over corruption and mismanagement in the government has led to growing unrest and more violent protests. Public demonstrations against corruption or government policies have increased in the last two decades from under 8,000 a year to over 180,000 a year. Attempts to hide this have backfired as the Internet and cell phones quickly spread news, and images, of police brutality. As a result the police are being more restrained and the government is more willing to address the popular complaints. In a growing number of cases the police have little choice because the crowds are becoming larger and more aggressive than the police can handle. The most frequent causes of these demonstrations are land theft, police misconduct (like murdering someone in jail), or various forms of official corruption. Government response still varies greatly, largely because decisions on how to handle demonstrations is usually a local matter. The central government can intervene but rarely does. That's because the central government does not have the resources to run the entire country. China has always depended on strong local governments at the province level and below to take care of things. But this is where the corruption is worst. More and more provincial officials are being prosecuted for corruption but there are so many of them and they tend to help each other out. In effect, China is at war with itself over the corruption and bad government and everyone is losing.

Another cause of growing unrest is uncontrolled air and water pollution. For example, the government is pressuring the United States to halt the use of an air quality monitor on the roof of the Beijing embassy and releasing the data hourly on the Internet. This began in 2008 before the Olympics that year as an aid for American tourists. The Chinese government only publishes data on sand storms that blow in (as they have for over 10,000 years) from the Gobi Desert. Pollution from coal burning vehicles and factories, and the thick smog the create, is simply called "fog" and officially ignored. The citizens of Beijing know better and pay close attention to the U.S. Embassy pollution reports. Increasingly, the pollution is ten times the legal limit in the West. This is no trivial matter as more people are getting sick from the pollution and dying. Despite government efforts to suppress this information the Internet provides ample sources for what is happening and how much worse it is going to get.

December 14, 2011: The government denied that it had any interest in establishing a naval base in the island nation of Seychelles. The Seychelles government had earlier asked for China to come in and establish a military base. It was hoped that this would help keep Somali pirates away. The presence of these pirates has hurt the local economy and any help was appreciated. This was not the first time help was sought from China. Seychelles has already sent about a hundred of its troops to China for training. A year ago a Chinese hospital ship visited and treated over a hundred people. Chinese warships going to, or from, Somalia have stopped for visits. But a base would be another matter and something India wants to avoid. The Seychelles is a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers off the African coast and 3,000 kilometers southwest of India. The Seychelles islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are largely defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. Three years ago Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles. India has provided assistance to the Seychelles, as has NATO, but it apparently has not been enough. The Chinese Navy will only use the Seychelles for resupply and shore leave and not build any base facilities. Two years ago several Chinese admirals had openly called for the establishment of overseas naval bases. They wanted at least one in the Persian Gulf area to support Chinese warships operating off Somalia. This was turned down by the Chinese government, which wants to expand its military power more slowly. Nevertheless, the government has told the navy to prepare for combat and a long-term struggle for control of the sea (especially contested areas in the South China Sea.)

December 13, 2011: Off the west coast of Korea South Korean Coast Guard boats caught a 66 ton Chinese fishing boat illegally operating in South Korean waters. When the boat was boarded one of the Chinese fishermen knifed a South Korea coastguardsman, killing him. Violent resistance by Chinese fisherman to South Korea Coast Guard patrols is not unusual. The illegal fishing usually takes place at night and sometimes large groups of Chinese fishing boats will operate together, the better to defeat discovery by a smaller number of South Korean Coast Guard patrol boats. By escaping back into Chinese waters the Chinese fishermen avoid getting arrested, having their catch seized, and paying an $86,000 fine to get free. The catches are much more lucrative in South Korean waters and the Chinese government refuses to do anything to discourage Chinese fishermen from poaching. There's no such problem in North Korea, where the local Coast Guard just open fire on poachers.

December 12, 2011: In the south months of demonstrations against government corruption in the coastal town of Wukan has led to the police and Communist Party officials being chased out. The spark for this was the death of a demonstrator, while being interrogated by police, two days ago. Wukan has, in effect, rebelled against its corrupt local government and police. The reasons were the same ones encountered all over the country, land being seized by corrupt officials to be sold at a huge profit. The police protect the corrupt officials and enforce their corrupt orders. The 20,000 people of Wukan have been demonstrating since September but nothing changed. Now, with the corrupt officials and police driven out Wukan is calling on the national government to do something about the corruption. Instead, the government has announced that the rebels of Wukan would be punished. For the moment the town is surrounded by thousands of riot police and no food is allowed in. The government is determined to put down this unrest quickly and without a lot of bloodshed (which would cause more unrest). Chinese officials are very conscious of history and historically, major government destroying rebellions have begun in the south in smaller towns. The government is often too slow to respond and is eventually overwhelmed. But most of Chinese history was before the Internet and that is an even larger worry.

December 10, 2011: China has sent 300 police to work with police from Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand to operate joint 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 play the Mekong are Chinese.

December 8, 2011:  Iran claims to have captured an American RQ-170 UAV and will share its secrets with China and Russia. This is in payment for Chinese and Russian support in the UN against efforts to impose more sanctions against Iran.

December 4, 2011: The new executive running a major Chinese TV network caused an uproar when he openly put down TV journalists for calling themselves journalists. No, the executive insisted, these people are propaganda workers and nothing more.

November 30, 2011: Bangladesh, despite receiving large quantities of Chinese weapons and military equipment, often at very low prices, announced that this would not make Bangladesh foreign policy more pro-Chinese. The possibility of this worries India, which sees greater and greater Chinese influence in neighboring Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, and Pakistan. There has been some of this. China and Burma recently signed a defense cooperation agreement and China is Burma's largest trading partner. A senior Chinese general recently visited Sri Lanka to discuss even more cooperation with China. Sri Lanka has received crucial military aid from China in the last decade, especially during the war with Tamil rebels (who received a lot of aid from Tamils in southern India). Closer to home China's growing military power is making the immediate neighbors (Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea) nervous. This has caused a regional arms race.

 

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