China: Dealing With The Crouching Tiger And Hidden Dragon

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October 6, 2013: While China has the largest military in the region and is the most aggressive in using it, the devil is in the details. Most Chinese military personnel belong to the army. While much is made of Chinese efforts to upgrade their navy and air force, these two services are still inferior to the Japanese navy and air force. The Japanese have more modern and effective ships and their crews are far more proficient than their Chinese counterparts. Same thing with the Japanese Air Force. Moreover, the Japanese naval forces are themselves overshadowed by American warships assigned to the Western Pacific. In addition to the Japanese and American forces, the Chinese have to worry about the formidable Taiwanese air and naval forces as well those of South Korea. Technically, Russia is an ally, but the Russians keep most of their air and naval forces out of the Pacific and are inclined to continue their tradition of never having been at war with the United States. So, China has to be careful. Any confrontations with Japan at sea or in the air have to be handled carefully because China is still playing with a weak hand.

Chinese officials are becoming more open about the problems they have getting accurate economic information for such things like annual GDP and unemployment rates. Apparently, Chinese GDP has not been growing steadily at near ten percent a year for decades. Chinese officials do eventually (months or years later) get more accurate data and while Chinese GDP has actually been steadily growing over the last three decades, the annual growth has actually varied from 5-15 percent. Chinese official policy was to keep everyone calm by issuing less variable annual growth rates. In short, the official numbers were doctored. For more accurate and immediate indicators of economic activity Chinese and foreign economists and business leaders use things like electricity production, railroad traffic, and similar data that cannot be manipulated by local officials to make their city or province look more successful. Many financial experts inside and outside China fear that all this official manipulation of economic data (an ancient practice in China) is masking some serious economic problems that could go sideways at any time and cause a banking crises that would paralyze the economy for a while and cause political chaos. It’s very much a crouching tiger and hidden dragon. This is an ancient phrase warning that behind seeming success and talent lurks the possibility of imminent disaster. Chinese are ever mindful of these bits of ancient wisdom.

On the plus side, China recently received its first major order for its locally made air defense systems. Turkey agreed to pay over $3 billion for an air defense system using the Chinese FD-2000. This is the export version of the HQ-9, an anti-aircraft system that successfully shot down a ballistic missile in 2010. This capability is important for potential export customers and China let everyone know about it. The Turks got the message.

The HQ-9 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Patriot. While about 30 percent of Chinese long range antiaircraft systems are Russian S-300, 70 percent are the Chinese designed and manufactured HQ-9. China began introducing the HQ-9 12 years ago. It was a much less capable system back then. Over a decade of development was believed to have benefitted from data stolen from similar American and Russian systems. A version of the HQ-9 is deployed in ships as well. The radar apparently derived a lot of technology from that used in the Russian S-300 system. The HQ-9 missile has a max range of about 100 kilometers, weighs 1.3 tons, and has a passive (no broadcasting) seeker in the missile. The Patriot missile weighs a ton (for the 70 kilometer range version) and a third of a ton for the 20 kilometer range anti-missile only version. The S-300 missiles weigh 1.8 tons and have a range of 200 kilometers. Russia and the United States are still trying to figure out how to effectively deal with the growing Chinese use of stolen technology, especially for weapons systems that are exported and compete against the systems they are copied from. No one has a solution and China denies all accusations.

Neither the S-300 nor HQ-9 has been tested in combat. Earlier Russian designed air defense systems tended to perform poorly in combat. Even the Russian SA-6 missile systems that Egypt used in 1973, and  were initially a surprise to the Israelis, were soon countered and did not stop the Israelis from getting through. While the best sales technique is to push the products' track record, you have to do just the opposite with Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft missiles. Thus the Russians, and now the Chinese with their FD-2000, emphasize low price, impressive specifications, test results, and potential. This was apparently enough for Turkey.

The Chinese Army has formed a special medical unit (37 doctors from various specialties and 3 senior nurses) to develop and implement more effective techniques for delivering emergency medical care. This is seen as essential for both combat and disaster relief operations.

The government recently revealed the number of people involved in Internet censorship operations: 2 million. This operation is called Golden Shield (or “Great Firewall of China” in the West) and it’s a huge information control system that has been under construction for a decade. Before the new revelations, Golden Shield was believed to have at least 40,000 full time Ministry of Public Security employees dedicated to monitoring and censoring Internet use throughout the country. This was done using specialized hardware and software and lots of paid and volunteer censors. These “irregulars” were known to be numerous but it was difficult to get an accurate estimate. Now the government revealed that irregulars bring the total Internet censorship manpower up to 2 million. This is for keeping some 500 million Chinese Internet users under control.

Several billion dollars has been spent on Golden Shield so far. While the Great Firewall cannot stop someone expert at how the Internet works, it does greatly restrict the other 90 percent of Internet users. And it provides a lot of information about what is going on inside all that Internet traffic. Year by year the Golden Shield operators learned what worked (to control news) and what didn't. Not only can Golden Shield keep news from getting out of a part of China but it can greatly limit how much contradictory (to the government version) news gets into all of China. Most of those 2 million Internet censors are occupied with monitoring new material showing up, especially via Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and blocking anything that disputes the official government line.

In 2011 China created a new organization to handle Internet censorship. Called the State Internet Information Office, it consolidated all Internet censorship activity. This was done, in part, to halt the fragmentation of Internet censorship activity. This was happening because over a dozen government agencies engage in censorship (of films, TV, radio, newspapers, books, advertising, text books, and so on). Most of these agencies have expanded their efforts to include similar material that shows up on the Internet. This was leading to turf wars or Internet sites getting an okay from one censorship authority and a shutdown notice from another. This sort of activity is typical of government bureaucracies, no matter where they are.

China has also created more laws for “misbehavior” on the Internet. This means it is easier to prosecute anyone (in China) who says anything on the Internet the government does not like. Several successful Internet based commentators have been arrested recently because of the new rules. The Internet censors have tools to measure how popular Internet based commentators are and how many people they are reaching. Commentators on Weibo are particularly vulnerable, especially if they have a lot of followers. Twitter has long been banned inside China. Weibo is considered too popular to shut down but not immune from increased censorship efforts.

Meanwhile, Internet security companies outside China are discovering, documenting, and publicizing more and more Chinese hacker groups and the large campaigns these groups wage on the rest of the world. China denies everything.

October 3, 2013: Japan and the United States agreed to expand their military alliance. This means an American missile defense radar system would be built in Japan and the U.S. would station large (Reaper and Global Hawk) UAVs in Japan. The X Band radar the U.S. will install near Kyoto will give Japan anti-missile systems more warning that a missile is headed towards Japan. This is mostly directed at North Korea, which generally threatens Japan whenever South Korea is warned about where North Korea ballistic missiles might be aimed. The American UAVs would help Japan monitor offshore areas where Chinese warships are showing up with greater frequency.

September 28, 2013: In the west (Sichuan province) another Tibetan set himself on fire to protest Chinese occupation of Tibet and attempts to suppress Tibetan culture. Another Tibetan had done this two months ago. About 122 Tibetans have died this way since China put down a 2009 uprising in Tibet. Police have been offering a $7,700 reward for information about the group (if any) behind the growing number of immolations. The government fears another major uprising in Tibet and officially sees the unrest as the work of foreign agents, not popular discontent over Chinese oppression in Tibet.

September 26, 2013: Taiwan received the first of 12 refurbished P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. The 12 Taiwanese P-3s are being upgraded in the United States.

September 25, 2013: China executed a street vendor for killing 2 local officials in 2009. This was a popular case inside China, and the vendor was seen as a hero for fighting back against local officials who were harassing him and extorting money from him and many other businessmen throughout the country. This support delayed but did not prevent the execution. That caused an anti-government uproar on the Internet, fueled by Weibo commentators critical of the government actions. 

 

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