China has responded to Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines going to court over South China Sea disputes. China came right out and said it would not recognize any “anti-Chinese” court decisions. There won’t a court decision until 2015 and a lot can happen in the South China Sea between now and then. Challenging such a decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that would cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that. Japan is a much bigger threat here because, as a major industrial power and trading nation Japan in better able to lead a call for international sanctions against Chinese aggression. Such sanctions are the one countermeasure China is least prepared to cope with. Sanctions on a major economic power like China are, however, extremely dangerous to the global economy. Think of it like nuclear warfare but without the big bangs. Think the 2008 worldwide recession but worse. Think risking a decade of rebuilding the largest economies on the planet because China was temporarily removed from the system. China might even threaten to use nukes if international sanctions hurt them economically, especially if the communist dictatorship there was facing overthrow by a population suddenly suffering massive unemployment and loss of newly acquired affluence. China has created a volatile situation by claiming all of the South China Sea and being taken to court over the issue shows that nukes are the not the only weapon of mass destruction.
China appears to be making its moves in the South China Sea with the understanding that the combined military power of the victims and their ally the United States is far superior to what China has now and will have a decade or two in the future. Moreover, China is in a vulnerable economic position at home just now with some potentially serious domestic problems (a property bubble, large-scale bank fraud, labor unrest and shortages plus growing anger over corruption) that are more essential to the survival of the communist rulers than the South China Sea.
It’s not just the South China Sea where China is being aggressive. China expects Burma and Cambodia to provide diplomatic support in “payment” for economic and military aid. As members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) these two nations have been able to block anti-Chinese moves proposed by all the other ASEAN members. Burma is not doing so well with that lately and Cambodia cannot do it alone. As a result China is losing control of ASEAN as that organization is now openly defying China. Founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the regional group has since then expanded to include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Most of these nations oppose China's violation of many members EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone, waters 380 kilometers from the coast) in the South China Sea. As anger within ASEAN against Chinese aggression becomes more widespread and intense nations note other reasons to be unhappy with China. There Burmese anger at Chinese business practices. China is also under growing pressure from ordinary Burmese who resent illegal Chinese logging in the heavily forested north. This is part of a decades’ long effort by China to take control, legally or otherwise, of natural resources in northern Burma. To further this effort China has been quietly interfering in internal disputes and backing several of the rebellious tribes up there.
China appears to have put their claims on large parts of India on hold for the moment and is offering to improve trade relations. This is mutually beneficial, but Indian military leaders note that China is not offering to back off on its territorial claims. This the military rivalry between the two nations remains. India's newly elected prime minister owes much of his popularity to his skill at economic development and some mutually beneficial trade deals with China would help him and India a lot.
In the South China Sea Vietnam and the Philippines are openly cooperating to oppose Chinese claims on nearly all the off-shore areas. Chinese propaganda now tries to depict Vietnam as the aggressor in the recent dispute over China setting up an offshore oil rig in waters (near the Paracel Islands) that international law recognizes as Vietnamese.
June 6, 2014: South Korea has agreed to give the Philippines a decommissioned Pohang class corvette. These ships were built in the 1980s and come in two variants. The first is an anti-ship version which has two Exocet anti-ship missiles, a 76mm gun, and a twin 30mm anti-aircraft gun. The second is an ASW version which has two 76mm guns, two triple 324mm (12.75 inch) torpedo tubes and two twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns. This ship is being decommissioned at the end of the year and it is unclear if it will come with weapons and electronics. South Korea recently gave the Philippines an old LST and 16 inflatable boats.
June 5, 2014: The U.S. released a study showing how Chinese annual military spending is 21 percent higher (at $145 billion) than the official Chinese data. The report detailed Chinese production of new ships, aircraft, missiles and electronic gear and how it can all be used to further Chinese goals in the South China Sea.
Chinese Internet censors were noticeably more active today in a major effort to keep any news of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre from the Chinese public. Any discussion of the savage crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989 has been banned since 1989 and has been successful at keeping most Chinese from knowing the details, or caring much about it. However many Chinese are aware that something happened. There are so many nasty aspects of Chinese history that Chinese are dimly aware of but not particularly curious about. In China there is a lot to forget and good reasons for doing so.
June 1, 2014: A recent survey to measure unhappiness in countries (using things like unemployment, high crime rates, economic growth rate, inflation, shortages, high prices, political strife and so on) ranked Venezuela as the most miserable country in the world while China came in at 82 (out of 89). The other nine nations at the top of the most miserable nations are Iran, Serbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Egypt, Spain, South Africa, Brazil and Greece. Japan is the least miserable (out of 89 nations ranked) followed by Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. The U.S. ranks 71st. Misery often leads to instability and an atmosphere where criminal activity flourishes. As long as China can keep its people from becoming miserable, all is well.
The government announced arrests and indictments of eight people responsible for a Uighur terrorist attack in Beijing last October. The government has also increased the items it will offer cash rewards for in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. The government is not just seeking information about Islamic terrorists but also tips on where illegal weapons and explosives might be found.
May 30, 2014: The U.S. is sending two Global Hawk UAVs to Japan where these high flying, long-endurance surveillance aircraft will monitor China and North Korea for the foreseeable future.
May 29, 2014: China will send a battalion of infantry to join the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan.
May 27, 2014: The Philippines announced increased coastal patrols in areas also claimed by China. This increases the risk of a confrontation with the growing number of Chinese fishing and coast guard ships out there but the Filipinos are not backing away from the Chinese intimidation.
May 26, 2014: Vietnam accuses China of ramming a Vietnamese fishing boat and sinking it in the South China Sea. The incident occurred near a Chinese oil rig that was placed off the Vietnamese coast on May 1st. This was illegal according to Vietnam and international law and so was the sinking of the Vietnamese boat. China blames it all on Vietnam.
May 25, 2014: China has been pressing Pakistan to do something about Chinese Islamic terrorists (Turkic Uighurs from northwest China) based in Pakistan and Pakistan appears to be acting on these complaints. It appears that the recent Pakistani air strikes and ground operations in the tribal territories are concentrating on these “bad Taliban” while the majority of the Islamic terrorists in the area are left alone.
Pakistan is still reluctant to admit it is the cause of so many regional Islamic terrorism problems but the neighbors are not being very understanding. China, who supplies a lot of Pakistan’s weapons and foreign investment, has told its troublesome neighbor to fix the situation or see China go from being a helpful to a hostile neighbor. The other neighbors have had a similar reaction, but given China’s place as Pakistan’s most important ally, Pakistan can no longer ignore the problem.
May 24, 2014: Off the Chinese coast (but in international air space) a Chinese Su-27 fighter flew dangerously close (within 50 meters) to a Japanese OP-3C surveillance aircraft. China accused Japan of trying to observe joint Chinese-Russian naval exercises. Japan pointed that this was legal and that China did it all the time.
May 23, 2014: China reacted rather vigorously to the recent U.S. indictments of five senior Chinese Army officers known to be running a specific army organization (Unit 61398) outside Shanghai. Unit 61398 has been tracked and identified as the source of thousands of hacker attacks on American corporations. These attacks resulted in the theft of billions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets and software. China has consistently denied any knowledge or participation in these attacks. The U.S. Department of Defense has long sought permission to go on the attack against Chinese hacking but involving the military struck many as dangerous against a potential foe as large and powerful as China. Lawsuits and sanctions, on the other hand, are a civil matter. Much less risk of military escalation. The Chinese are scrambling to cope with this unexpected form of counterattack. Sanctions, lawsuits and bad publicity are likely to follow. Currently China is calling the indictments a provocation and false accusations. Apparently a nerve has been hit.
May 22, 2014: In the northwest (Xinjiang) Uighur terrorists struck in the provincial capital. Islamic terrorists used vehicles and explosives to kill 31 and wound over a hundred at an outdoor market popular with Han Chinese. No one immediately took credit for this attack but China promptly accused the Islamic terror groups among the ethnic Turks (Uighurs) of Xinjiang. This is the fourth such attack in the last year and the national government is greatly embarrassed at its inability to halt the violence. These Uighurs are increasingly aggressive in attacking the growing Chinese presence among them. In Xinjiang province the local Uighurs are increasing angry over growing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers and intrusive Han government officials. Because of that many Uighurs continue to support anti-Han activity and this makes it possible for Islamic terrorists to survive and operate. Most Uighurs are found in Xinjiang province. There the nine million Uighurs are now less than half the population and most of the rest are Han Chinese. Chinese officials have been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security and tries to keep the unrest out of the news. The same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control.
China joined Russia in blocking a UN effort to have the ICC (International Criminal Court) investigate war crimes by the Syrian government against its own people. China and Russia thus continue a tradition of preventing prosecution of dictators who attack their own people.