China has been energetically using nationalism and the promise of the restoration of lost imperial territories to distract the population from the corruption and mismanagement of government officials. This is an ancient political technique that depends on near-total control of information available to their populations. The Internet threatens that and this is a new risk for those planning to build and maintain an empire. That’s because empires are costly and inefficient. Britain realized that by the 1940s and this was the main reason they got rid of theirs so quickly after 1945 and why the United States never took advantage of its power to create one. But the allure of empire remains, sort of as the ultimate luxury a state can indulge. Again, the Internet spreads the bad news about the real cause and effect of empire. China tries to cope with this by concentrating on imperial ambitions (natural resource rights from the ownership of uninhabited rocks and reefs in the South China Sea and elsewhere off the coast) that have some practical appeal. However when empires involve conquered peoples the cost goes way up, as the Chinese are rediscovering in their northwest (Turks) and southwest (Tibetans). A growing number of Chinese are aware of these angles and are not happy about it. But China is still police states with state-controlled media. Holding anti-government opinions is dangerous, especially if you express these traitorous thoughts in public. That means even unauthorized protests against pollution can get prosecuted and convicted in China.
In furtherance of the imperial dreams China announced in late 2012 that beginning in 2013 it would start enforcing new rules that allowed Chinese naval patrols to escort or expel foreign ships from most of the South China Sea unless those ships have Chinese permission to be there. China did not start doing this right away. But over the last few months the Chinese have become more aggressive about enforcing this decree, without resorting to deadly forces. China is not using grey painted navy ships for this but rather white painted coast guard vessels. White paint and diagonal stripes on the hull is an internationally recognized way to identify coast guard ships. This is much less threatening than warships. China also calls in civilian vessels (owners of these privately owned Chinese ships understand that refusing to help is not an option) to get in the way of foreign ships the coast guard wants gone. Thus if foreign warships open fire to try and scare away these harassing vessels they become the bad guys.
The U.S. has been recently been more active in describing how far it would go in resisting Chinese attempts to take control of the South China Sea. The U.S. recently pointed out that the sanctions being used against Russia could also be used against China. A trade war with the United States is the last thing the Chinese government wants right now, because they are having lots of problems with their economy. But the Chinese have used the South China Sea claims as part of a propaganda campaign to distract Chinese from the looming economic crises at home and backing off is not really a good option either.
Meanwhile China has some serious domestic threats. Chinese efforts to fight growing air pollution by replacing coal fueled power plants with nuclear ones is running into problems with inadequate infrastructure, poorly designed reactors and public resistance. There are no good choices here. Pollution is becoming a big issue with most Chinese and last November the government ordered an inspection of 25,000 industrial operations and nine percent were found to be violating anti-pollution laws. The way things work in China, most Chinese believe the actual percentage of violators is two or three times higher.
Paying For The Best
Taiwan has finally found a solution to its military recruiting problem; increase pay and benefits until the number of volunteers you want show up. For a long time Taiwanese would not accept the fact that pay and benefits was a key motivator. Until 2013 Taiwan kept cutting the number of military personnel on active duty and had planned to reduce its military personnel from 215,000 to 170,000 within five years. But now it may be possible to keep strength over 200,000. In China the government has been receiving similar advice. This is a growing problem in China, which needs technically trained officers and NCOs to handle the increasingly complex weapons and equipment the armed forces are receiving.
This shortage of technical people could be seen during the recent search for missing flight MH370. Most of the passengers on that flight were Chinese so China made a major effort to join other nations in searching a huge area off the west coast of Australia. China sent over 24 ships and aircraft and hyped the size and implied prowess of this force, the largest Chinese naval force to operate this far from the mainland in modern times. The reality was disappointing. Chinese ships and analysts were responsible for several embarrassing errors and it was also apparent that Chinese logistical efforts would not have been able to sustain the force were it not for access to Australian ports. These problems were not reported inside China, but the leadership there knew the details and so did many outside China.
Aware of its shortcomings the navy is taking is slow and careful with its new aircraft carrier. After nearly two years of frequent trips to sea for training and testing, China’s first aircraft carrier (the Liaoning) has entered the shipyard for at least six months of maintenance and modifications. All this time at sea apparently produced a long list of things needing to be fixed, modified or replaced. Thus the long trip to the shipyard.
It was recently revealed that China began installing underwater passive sonar systems in its coastal waters back in 2011. This enables China to monitor submarines operating off its coasts and, presumably, in the South China Sea. South Korea did the same in 2011 when it announced that it was installing underwater submarine sensors off its coasts and this was apparently completed in 2013. The South Korean effort was in response to North Korea using a small submarine to torpedo a South Korea patrol ship in 2010. China simply wants to keep foreign warships as far away as possible, even if it means trying to force them out of international waters. This sort of thing is similar to the system of passive (they just listen) sonars the United States deployed on the sea bottom in key areas during the Cold War. SOSUS (SOund Surveillance System) consisted of several different networks and the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
In response to increased public pressure by the U.S. government to restrain North Korea the Chinese pointed out that North Korea has been openly disdainful of Chinese calls for restraint. North Korea has also abused and stolen from Chinese firms in North Korea and openly broken agreements with China. As discouraging as this response was, it was an open admission by China that North Korea was out of control and self-destructive to an extreme. The Chinese are not only concerned about what’s going on inside North Korea but what North Koreans are doing in China. North Korea has ordered its secret police agents allowed to operate in northeast China to be more energetic in finding and returning North Koreans who have escaped to China. The North Korean agents are supposed to collect information and let Chinese police make arrests (of illegal immigrants or North Koreans found to be involved in something illegal). This is how China justifies the hundreds of North Korea secret police working in China. But the North Korean agents have become more aggressive and China has warned the North Koreans to behave. Yet China does not want to expel the North Korean secret police because they do help control illegal activity among the ethnic Korean community (several million people, most of them Chinese citizens) in China.
For Sale To Anyone Who Can Pay
ome 85 percent of Syrian chemical weapons have been removed from the country
, they are apparently still being used and China is suspected as the supplier. Recently the
investigating allegations that Syria used chlorine gas against civilians. Chlorine was one of the original (World War I) chemical weapons but is also a common industrial chemical and was not counted as one of the chemical weapons Syria had to surrender for destruction this year. Worse, some of the chlorine gas containers (marked as containing chlorine gas used as a chemical weapon)
used recently in Syria
did not explode and had markings on them indicating they were manufactured by Chinese weapons producer Norinco. China is looking into this, but Norinco has long had a reputation of selling anything to anyone who could pay. Chlorine
is a widely used industrial chemical in China.
Not all Chinese military exports are so scary. For example two of the three North Korean UAVs found in South Korea over the last five months have been traced back to a Chinese manufacturer (Taiyuan Navigation Technology). These two models were identical to the SKY-09P UAV offered for sale in China. North Korea modified the SKY-09P with a new paint job (to make it harder to spot), a muffler (to make it less detectable) and installed a different camera. The SKY-09P was used via its robotic mode, where the SKY-09P flew to pre-programmed GPS coordinates, taking digital photos over selected areas. The SKY-09P is a 12 kg (26 pound) delta wing aircraft that is launched via a catapult and lands via a parachute. Endurance is 90 minutes and cruising speed is 90 kilometers an hour. In China such UAVs are popular with businesses and farmers as well as local police.
The Young Giant
By the end of 2013 China had over 3.5 million websites hosted within its borders and thus under the authority of the Chinese Internet censors (the Golden Shield organization and its two million employees). These 3.5 million websites used over 4.6 million domain names and were operated by over 2.8 million organizations (70 percent) and individuals (30 percent). There are over 620 million Internet users in China, about 43 percent of the population. In the U.S. its 81 percent, while Japan is 79 percent, Russia is 54 percent, India is 13 percent and Hong Kong (a semi-autonomous part of China) is 73 percent. The first Chinese web page went live on the Internet in 1994. Internet growth was slow at first in China but after the 1990s it rapidly accelerated. By 2004 there were 87 million Internet users and while that was only seven percent of the population, it was a very well off and well educated fraction of the population. Sixty percent of them were male, and 54 percent were 24 years old, or younger. Moreover, these Internet users were found throughout China, meaning that any information the government did not want distributed could now get past the censors and to the general population. The government had already begun investing heavily in software and hardware to control what Chinese Internet users could access. But these censorship techniques have not stopped stories that do the most damage. If there is an event that would embarrass the government, it got through to most Internet users, and this has increasingly caused the government to respond to the public will. Despite all the censorship, the number of web users has grown rapidly during the last decade.
April 29, 2014: Iran has cancelled a 2009 oil field development deal with the Chinese state owned oil company. This contract would have eventually been worth $2.5 billion to the Chinese. Both sides accused the other of failure to cooperate as the main reason for the termination. China remains Iran’s biggest oil-export customer since China is willing to defy the international sanctions against Iran. That was behind the 2009 contract, which was to replace Western oil companies that had to back off because of more sanctions.
April 26, 2014: Two Chinese Coast Guard ships again moved near the Senkaku Islands. This was the second such intrusion this month. The ships entered Japanese territorial waters (within 22 kilometers from shore), something that has been a regular occurrence this year. China claims ownership of the Senkanus even through Japan has occupied them for over a century.
April 24, 2014: The U.S. declared strong support for Japan in its dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands. The U.S. has also come out strongly in support of other pro-U.S. nations in the region. In response senior Chinese military officials declared that Chinese forces can quickly assemble and win any battle with anyone. Many, but not all, Chinese military officials know better. But the politicians want a Chinese military that is strong enough to back up the increasingly aggressive territorial claims China is making on its neighbors. Without American support most of these neighbors (especially Vietnam and the Philippines) would just back off. So China is trying to become scary enough to intimidate the Americans.
April 17, 2014: China has decided to appeal a recent (March 2014) WTO (World Trade Organization) ruling that China had violated trade rules with its 2010 restrictions on rare earth exports. Back in 2010 China tried to use its near-monopoly on the production of "rare earth" metals to jack up prices. The reaction from the rest of the world was vigorous and hostile. "Rare earths" are 18 different ores that are found in tiny quantities all over the world. Because that they are expensive to mine, many mining companies don't bother. But in the last century, more and more rare earths have been found to have useful applications in metallurgy, electronics and other areas. In the last few decades, China has extracted rare earths more cheaply than anyone else, and driven nearly all foreign rare earth mining operations out of business. But because of the new Chinese threat, other countries are reviving their rare earth mining operations, even if it requires government subsidies. In 2012 many of these nations asked the WTO to examine the situation and decide if China’s rare earths policies had violated WTO rules. The WTO concluded that China was guilty but China does not accept this assessment.
April 14, 2014: In the southwest (Guizhou province) police broke a major gang-run operation that was supplying illegal weapons in several provinces. Police seized over 10,000 firearms and over 120,000 illegal knives. These illegal weapons are increasingly being used to commit crimes. Growing affluence has resulted in more people who can afford to buy these weapons, often for self-defense.
April 12, 2014: North Korea denounced a recent South Korean proposal for eventual reunification via heavy South Korean economic investment in North Korea as well as the resumption of food and other humanitarian aid. Many northern leaders understand that the southern proposal could actually work, but would put the northern leaders out of a job and, according to UN war crimes investigators, on trial for “crimes against humanity.” It also bothered the northerners that China openly supported this proposal. South Korean officials would like to discuss amnesty for the North Korean leadership but the UN war crimes bureaucracy is pretty hostile to this sort of thing.
April 11, 2014: China announced it is investing $5 billion into the Russian Far East (areas bordering China and the Pacific Ocean). China is investing in infrastructure, to make it easier for Chinese businessmen to operate in this area. One aspect of this, the rapid growth of Chinese trade in the thinly populated Far East, is that it stirs Russian fears that Chinese businesses will take over the economy out there. The Chinese have done this before, over the centuries, with other neighbors. Chinese today are well aware of that and know that once you control the economy it’s a lot easier to annex the area to China.