The Chinese Navy announced that its recent aggressive training operations in the South China Sea were only the beginning of an expanded training program. The navy plans to carry out more than 40 more large scale training exercises this year in the South China Sea and beyond. It also appears that China will, after decades of trying to build a reliable SSBN (nuclear submarine carrying ballistic missiles), finally send one of these boats on a patrol. The first Type 94 SSBN was launched in 2004 and officially entered service in 2010. But it was never, until now, considered ready for a combat patrol off North America. That might still be delayed, but a Type 94 has been seen undergoing sea trials and has been worked on at a ship yard for nearly a decade.
China has offered to help Russia rebuild its armed forces. This is mainly all about self-interest. China needs a strong ally and Russia needs help to become that kind of mighty ally. China really misses the old Soviet Union which, with China, created a powerful military alliance. Currently China is more of a superpower than Russia. Chinese GDP is more than three times Russia’s and China is spending more than three times as much on defense as Russia (which is trying to maintain defense spending at 2.8 percent of GDP). China has twice as many troops and most of them have better weapons. But the cost of fixing this appears to be more than the Russians can afford. China is offering to help by spending billions more on Russian weapons (despite the flagrant Chinese theft of Russian military tech). As distasteful as the situation is, the Russians really do need some help. While this offer might appear generous to some Russians, many of them fear that the rapidly growing Chinese economy is gradually making thinly populated eastern Russia (Siberia and the Far East) more Chinese than Russian. But while China is being aggressive about its historical claims on India and the South China Sea, it is very quiet about the even older claims on Russian territory on the Pacific.
Two of the most annoying things for the new Chinese middle class are the growing pollution (most of these newly affluent people live in urban areas) and censorship (especially on the Internet). The pollution you can complain about and more and more people are doing so and publicly. This puts local officials on the spot because many of the largest pollution sources are state owned companies or those that have bribed local officials to disregard pollution violations. While the government tolerates, and sometimes pays attention to, pollution protestors in the streets, that same activity on-line is met with increasing censorship efforts. The most annoying censorship is online and carried out by paid and volunteer censors at your company or in your neighborhood. This use of “local activists” to control discussions and inform on possible troublemakers (or worse, like spies or criminals) is an old Chinese custom and one that was highly refined by the 20th century communists (first the Russians, who passed it on to their Chinese comrades). The informer network suffered a lot of desertions and other damage during three decades of economic freedom. But the government has been diligent about rebuilding the informer and censor network online, where it’s easier for the busybodies to remain anonymous and safe from retribution.
The on-line informers are also useful for keeping an eye on foreign businesses. But another local custom, hackers with the protection of government patrons (and immunity from most prosecution) are constantly going after business secrets of these foreign enterprises (and sometimes their Chinese competitors). Hacking Chinese companies is more dangerous, as the victim might have a more powerful patron than the hacker.
Two more Tibetans (in Tibet and Gansu Province) burned themselves to death recently, to protest the Chinese occupation. In the last four years, over 110 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in protest but the world is not really paying attention. There was a major uprising in 2008, which was quickly and brutally put down. Areas where Tibetan resistance is most active are flooded with additional police and the Chinese troops stand ready to crush anymore insurrections. The sixty year old Chinese plan for cultural assimilation of the Tibetans proceeds. This is how the Chinese empire has expanded for thousands of years, and all around the periphery of China there are unassimilated groups, most of them too small to bother with. The Tibetans are numerous enough to target for cultural assimilation.
Over the last few years China has increased the extent of its intelligence and police state activities in Tibet and western China (Xinjiang province). There the Uighurs (ethnic Turks who were long the majority in Xinjiang) are under increasing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers and police, just as ethnic Tibetans are in Tibet. In both areas the locals continue to support anti-Han (ethnic Chinese) activity. Chinese officials have been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Tibetans and Uighurs.
The government tries hard to suppress the news of Uighur and Tibetan unrest. The government has been at this for a long time, constantly shutting down web sites that promote ethnic autonomy and the complaints of ethnic minorities. The government accuses ethnic activists of endangering state security.
Chinese displeasure at North Korea for a recent nuclear test and threats against South Korea has led to unprecedented sanctions. China is North Korea’s main supplier of oil and food and much of this stuff is free. That is not being halted, although some shipments are being delayed. What really hurts are the new restrictions on illegal (according to international sanctions) shipments of Chinese goods for the North Korea military and weapons (nuclear and ballistic missile) programs. The new restrictions are also directed at illegal North Korean exports (weapons, drugs, counterfeit currency) shipped out via China. All this is an attempt to quietly persuade the North Koreans to do what China wants (implement economic reforms and stop trying to drag China into another Korean War).
The U.S. has accused China of violating an international anti-nuclear proliferation ban by secretly agreeing to build a third nuclear power plant for Pakistan. China later admitted that the deal was made in February and so what.
April 1, 2013: Japan sent ships and aircraft out to confront three China ships that came too close to the disputed Senkaku Islands. The Chinese withdrew before the Japanese showed up.
March 29, 2013: The navy has spent over a week conducting training exercises in the South China Sea, involving one of their new amphibious ships. These included landing marines on small islands, which is just the sort of thing China threatens to do if anyone opposes their claims (to all the uninhabited islets and reefs in the South China Sea) and establishes more manned outposts there. China is making it clear how they will deal with such “intrusions.” One of these landing exercises took place 80 kilometers off the coast of Malaysia at James Shoal, which is 1,800 kilometers from mainland China and the most southernmost part of China’s South China Sea territorial claims.
March 25, 2013: Vietnam accused a Chinese warship of firing on a Vietnamese fishing boat in a disputed area of the South China Sea. China accused Vietnam of making it all up.
An editor for a prominent Chinese Communist Party publication (Deng Yuwen) revealed that he had been suspended for publicly criticizing continued Chinese support for North Korea. Deng wrote a February 27th article on that subject for a British publication. This sort of thing is allowed when the government wants divisive issues (within the ruling elite) to get some exposure and debate. But in this case the Foreign Ministry and their allies got very angry and Deng got slapped but not completely silenced. This indicates that the opposition to continued support for North Korea is still growing within the Chinese government. If nothing else, this serves to make North Korean leaders more anxious about continued Chinese support and more attentive to Chinese requests (that the Koreans tone down the warlike rhetoric).