It is very nearly a done deal as China abandons its current constitution to enable current leader president Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely, or at least as long as he can hang onto power. There is still the matter of getting various symbolic (but still official) groups to approve this and that is underway right now. All this has got a lot of Chinese business leaders and entrepreneurs worried. The 1980s reforms of Deng Xiaoping, to replace the “dictator for life” model pioneered by radical socialists Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler and Mao Zedong with a system that kept the one party radical socialist dictatorship in power but allowed a market economy and term limits on the national leader. This produced unprecedented economic growth and political stability for over three decades. Why change it now? That’s what worries the business community and overseas customers and investors. Xi Jinping feels the abandonment of term limits is necessary so that he can deal with the corruption that has always been a major weakness of Chinese culture and governments. Yet the return to one man rule for life brings with it other potential pitfalls. One is unexpected and often arbitrary changes in laws and a growing dependence on nationalism to maintain sufficient popular support. The nationalism is the most dangerous angle and it has already put China into conflict with the United States (over free access to the South China Sea which China now claims as sovereign territory) and with India over where the Tibet border should be. All Chinese neighbors are nervous about this revival of traditional imperialism. This predatory behavior has also been present during the rapid economic growth. The government tolerated, and even encouraged, theft of foreign technology and tolerating Chinese firms using corrupt practices to cheat foreign business partners. This not only bothers the aggrieved and threatened foreigners but successful Chinese entrepreneurs and businesses as well. A nationalist dictator is more likely to risk war (trade or otherwise) to maintain popular support, especially if the domestic problems have to do with economic problems. In the end it’s all about the economy. This is especially true now that so many (nearly half) of Chinese have had a taste of middle-class life (education and some access to a consumer economy). That is something that never happened before and Chinese leaders are unsure of what, if anything, they can do to prevent this new development from putting a permanent end of autocratic rule in China. This is a real threat because this has already happened in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
This switch from limits on Chinese leaders back to the more traditional dynastic “ruler for life” model was something of a surprise. Supreme leader Xi Jinping got another five year term in late 2017, allowing him ten years in office. This has been the custom since 1982 when it was decided that a “collective leadership” was a good idea and supreme leaders should be serve for only two five year terms (or just one if there were problems.) Since 1982 this has worked but Xi Jinping wants more and is getting it. This time he put ineligible (too old and more loyal to Xi than able to take his place) men in the Politburo Standing Committee from which the next leader is selected. Xi did not designate a preferred successor. And as “ruler for life” he no longer has any legitimate opposition to his power to do whatever he wants.
Another pattern noticed by foreigners (working from public records) is that “tigers” accused of corruption tend to be disproportionately people who had not supported current leader Xi Jinping in the past. Those who did and do support Xi Jinping for a long time and are caught up in a corruption investigation still tend to get punished, but in the form of quietly retiring and often allowed to keep much, if not all, of the wealth they stole. One area where this “friends of Xi Jinping” angle does not work so well is the military. The senior officers accused of corruption had fewer opportunities to support (or not) Xi Jinping, who came up through the civilian and CCP (Chinese Communist Party) bureaucracy. Corruption in the military has been an ancient tradition and there’s a lot more opportunities to steal now. Xi Jinping has made it his personal goal to break that tradition, or at least greatly erode the extent of corruption in the military and that means a lot of the accused “tigers” tend to be generals and admirals.
Xi Jinping has a solution that does not involve democracy but will succeed or fail on how effectively it imposed accountability and honesty on a CCP bureaucracy that is more concerned about getting rich any way they can. Xi Jinping, like Deng Xiaoping, is willing to tolerate some bad behavior if it produces a net benefit for China and its rulers. So far that has led to the prosecution of the more inept corrupt officials and at least encouraged local officials to do something about practices that lead to pollution, waste and abuse of power. Despite enormous efforts to censor the Internet bad news (of CCP misbehavior) still gets out and causes unrest.
Xi Jinping gained followers in the bureaucracy by demonstrating his appreciation of how important the loyalty (and effectiveness) of the military and national police was. Xi Jinping also pushed for greater emphasis on seeking new ways to use the Internet rather than just fear and seek to control it. Many Chinese admire the way the government has used Cyber Warfare and Internet based espionage to gain information (commercial, military and so on) that would otherwise be unavailable. To many Chinese, especially CCP members, this is admirable not criminal behavior.
Internet based crime is one thing, managing the economy is another matter. Many Chinese are aware that Japan was poised, in the popular imagination, to become a great power in the 1980s because its economic growth seemed unstoppable, until suddenly in the early 1990s it wasn’t. China is showing some of the same symptoms (falling birthrate, corruption and poor economic management) that ended the Japanese threat. The Japanese are still affluent but they have still not found a cure for their demographic problems. South Korea is suffering from a similar affliction as is Western Europe. The Chinese situation is worse because the CCP caused a lot of ecological and economic damage that would get fixed a lot sooner in a democracy. Xi Jinping is ignoring all that for the moment, but those problems, in the long run, will not ignore him.
China and India are threatening each other over who should do what in Maldive Islands just south of India. This conflict heated up at the end of 2017 when China and the Maldives signed an agreement that allowed China to build and operate a “Joint Ocean Observation Station”. This monitoring station would be built on an atoll that is the closest part of the Maldives to India. Opposition politicians in the Maldives claim China has already taken possession of sixteen small islands and that China has been investing heavily in the Maldives economy and influential politicians.
This agreement was apparently obtained by Chinese bribes and assurances that there would be more Chinese investments. Meanwhile the Maldives government is in chaos because elected officials and the Supreme Court judges disagree about who should actually be in charge. The tiny (248 square kilometers spread over 1,192 coral atolls spread over 90,000 square kilometers of water off the southern coast of India) nation has a mostly Moslem (98 percent) population of 430,000 plus 100,000 foreign workers (a third of them illegals). Most of the population is concentrated on about 15 percent of the islands. The per capita income is about $10,000 and most of it is based on tourism followed by fishing. Many young men have been attracted to Islamic terrorism but there is not much religious violence in the Maldives. While a democracy the religious parties and military have kept the government in turmoil by asserting decidedly non-democratic powers.
Over the last decade India has become alarmed at growing Chinese investment in neighboring countries (like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh). Chinese firms are more experienced and effective at arranging these foreign investments and India’s smaller neighbors feel more comfortable with investment from distant China rather than neighbor (and sometimes big bully) India. The Chinese economic investments often have military implications, like China building satellite ground stations in Sri Lanka, a major port in Pakistan and now an “Ocean Observation Station” in the Maldives.
China had earlier persuaded the Maldives to join its OBOR (One Belt, One Road) project. The Maldives would be part of the “maritime road” going from Chia, through the newly annexed South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean and sea routes to the Persian Gulf the Suez Canal and East Africa and beyond.
To emphasize the Indian fears over the last month at least eleven China Navy ships entered the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of the Maldives. This included a large amphibious ships carrying marines. These ships move past the Maldives but were headed elsewhere (mostly to or from the international piracy patrol off Somalia). Yet it is true that China is expanding its marine force from three to seven brigades and building additional amphibious ships to carry and land the marines a long distance from China.
Despite a tightly controlled mass media and local Internet, China has to respond to events that cannot be hidden. Two such items recently collided in the Chinese media and provoked a scary response. There has been a noticeable increase in Chinese warplane losses during training or regular operations. At first most Chinese attributed this to the traditional (and currently epic) corruption in the Chinese military. That corruption is played down in the mass media but the growing number of senior military officers accused and convicted of corruption is also big news. When senior Chinese leaders were asked about all the aircraft losses the Chinese president responded that the only way to develop world class combat pilots was to train hard, fly often and treat the losses as a cost of combat success. What this shows is how much China understands that the only way to achieve victory in the air is to adopt Western pilot training methods. China is doing this in a big way. China is already getting rid of its thousands of old Cold War era warplanes. These were copies of Russian designs and Chinese air force experts noted that no one ever won a war with these aircraft. Since the 1990s China has been acquiring Western-style designs (MiG-29, Su-27/30) from Russia and developing similar aircraft. But these aircraft are only effective if operated by highly trained and experienced pilots. So China has provided the large quantities of fuel and spare parts needed to keep their growing fleet of modern fighters in the air a lot. The number of modern (late or post-Cold War designs) aircraft has reached about 700, up from less than a hundred in the late 1990s. The older Russian type aircraft (like MiG-21s and MiG-23s) could not handle the large number of training flights that Western aircraft were built for. But the new MiG-29, Su-27/30 designs were and as more of those were available more pilots were spending more time in the air and there were more accidents.
And then there is the most dangerous problem of all. The 2017 international corruption ratings show the world that China is not making much progress dealing with corruption and is stuck in the middle (77 out of 180 nations compared with 79 out of 176 nations in 2016). Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (
usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9
) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones.
The current Chinese score is 41 (versus 40 in 2016) compared to 63 (61) for Taiwan, 40 (40) for India, 29 (29) for Russia, 54 (53) for South Korea, 17 (12) for North Korea, 35 (33) for Vietnam, 84 (84) for Singapore, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia, 38 (36) for Sri Lanka, 33 (36) for the Maldives, 34 (35) for the Philippines, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (26) for Bangladesh, 30 (29) for Iran, 15 (15) for Afghanistan, 30 (28) for Burma, 2 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 75 (74) for the United States, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 43 (45) for South Africa, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia and 28 (28) for Lebanon,. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. China’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 39.
China needs key minerals to keep its economy going. Many of those minerals are found in China and those that are not have become highly sought after by Chinese entrepreneurs. One of the most valuable of these foreign minerals is cobalt. In 2016 the world produced an estimated 123,000 tons of cobalt and 57 percent came from Congo. It is not just cobalt, Congo is also one of the world's top copper producers. Cobalt has many uses, but it is critical in the production of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the type used to power mobile digital devices and electric vehicles. Congo's cobalt royalty will rise from two percent to ten percent. China has been a major buyer of Congolese cobalt so that increase will hit Chinese manufacturers particularly hard. In the first nine months of 2017 China imported an estimated $1.2 billion worth of Congolese cobalt
Africa might be dangerous but some mineral rich areas are worse. Thus China takes the long view about investing in Afghanistan, and how to protect those investments. Since 2002 China has tried, without much success, to establish extractive industries (oil and copper) in Afghanistan. While these efforts have not succeeded yet China knows there is a lucrative (mainly to gangsters and Islamic terrorists) illegal mining industry that generates half a billion untaxed dollars a year. China would like to help Afghanistan change that. Nothing new there, China has helped before.
But Afghanistan was, for over a thousand years, a lucrative branch of the Silk Road between China and South Asia, the Middle East and points west. China is rebuilding that route via railroads in Central Asia, Pakistan and Southeast Asia and now roads (and eventually railroads) through Afghanistan as well. The key to success is security. If the route is not safe, commerce will not use, and support, the route. Afghanistan is a special case as it was always one of the most dangerous portions of the Silk Road. To deal with that China is making a unique investment that is likely to succeed and it is all about border security. In early 2018 China agreed to pay for an Afghan military base in northeast Afghanistan (Badakhshan province) on the border with Tajikistan. China would also pay for equipping and arming the Afghan border guards at the base, as well as their salaries. China would have someone there to ensure the money went where it was supposed to and to monitor the performance of the Afghan troops.
This base would provide more security for a road from Afghanistan, via Tajikistan that carries mostly Chinese truck traffic and a growing number of Islamic terrorists going in both directions. China is particularly concerned with Chinese Moslems (mainly Turkic Uighurs) travelling to Afghanistan to join Islamic terror groups, gain some experience and return to China. The most direct land route from Afghanistan to China is this road in Tajikistan that has been used for over a decade to move Chinese workers and equipment into Afghanistan. In 2016 the road also moved Chinese troops into Afghanistan for joint security patrols with Afghan forces. These patrols ended in late 2016 but apparently continued on the Tajik side of the border in a more limited fashion.
Earlier China was approached about building a direct route from China to Afghanistan via the short border the two countries share. But this is an odd border. It is reached through a long, narrow panhandle (the Wakhan Corridor), and the actual border with China is only 76 kilometers long. The actual passage between Afghanistan and China is the 4,923 meter (15,261 feet) high Wakhjir Pass.
The Wakhan Corridor area has never been very violent, and escaped most of the fighting that has torn apart Afghanistan since the 1970s. But China refused to open its border with Afghanistan, fearing complications with the mainly Moslem population on their side of the frontier. There are other problems with this border. There no roads through the pass, only trails. The pass is closed five months of the year by snow. For several more months the pass is closed intermittently by bad weather. The Wakhan Corridor itself was once part of the Silk Road, but only when weather allowed caravans through. The Chinese Wakhan Corridor border has been closed to traffic for over a century and China considers it too difficult and expensive to build a road or rail line through the Wakhan Corridor. The road via Tajikistan works because it is open all year and safe. Google Earth images have shown that China built a new road to the border area, along with additional guard posts after 2010. The Chinese road was only built to make it easier to move border guards, and their supplies, to the frontier.
March 8, 2018: While actual Chinese annual defense spending is over $200 billion the official defense budget is announced each year and for this year there is a difference. For the first time in four years defense spending is higher than GDP growth. That means an 8.1 percent hike to $174 billion. GDP growth this year is under 7 percent. For the previous three years China slowed the growth in its defense budget. For 2017 spending was up 7 percent versus 7.6 percent in 2016 and 10.1 percent in 2015. These annual Chinese increases peaked from 2005-2009, when they were 15-20 percent a year. Chinese defense spending for 2017 will be $145 billion, which is 1.3 percent of GDP, That’s about a third of what the U.S. spends (as a percentage of GDP). According to NATO reporting standards (which take into account the many different ways you can calculate military spending) China is believed to spend up to 50 percent more on the military than it admits. That would make 2018 military spending over $230 billion. China has had the second largest annual defense budget on the planet for over a decade now.
The earlier decrease in spending increases was a result of the international recession that began in 2008. China was hurt by this more than it likes to admit and has internal problems (corruption, inflation, pollution, labor shortages) that have hurt their economy. China is using its growing economy as its primary military power. Thus China keeps its forces relatively small for its population but quickly produces new generations of equipment and invests in training and actually using the equipment enough to make the troops competent with the new gear. The Chinese long-range plan is to have world-class military forces by 2035 and to be the dominant military power by 2050. In doing this China has already drastically reduced the size of its armed forces (a reduction of 300,000 in the army was completed this year) and is moving towards an all-volunteer force. That is proving more difficult because of the “one-child” policy adopted over three decades ago. That policy has recently been eased but the growing affluence of many Chinese has made the military less attractive as a career. That affluence and massive migration from farm to urban areas has resulted in a lot more young men physically and morally unfit for military service.
China is increasingly using its large foreign investments as weapons. Case in point is the tactic of loaning poor countries large amounts of money for huge development projects (like ports, roads and railroads). The loans are on terms that look attractive but eventually much be repaid. When the debtor nation runs into trouble making payments China offers to reduce the load in return for control (if not majority ownership) of the ports, railroad, airport or whatever. With control of these facilities China can probably run them more efficiently, and profitably. But control means it is easier for China to use the facility for military or espionage purposes. This is called DTD (Debt Trap Diplomacy) and has been a favorite Chinese tactic for over a thousand years by virtue of China having been, until a few centuries ago, the wealthiest empire on the planet. Nations currently vulnerable (they have large Chinese debts) to DTD are Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Venezuela and Tajikistan. Most nations are aware of the DTD trap but where there is a lot of corruption China can create a DTD situation anyway. Some of these DTD efforts go bad and cost China a lot of money, but on average DTD is a net gain for China as it gains military, economic and diplomatic advantages without having to fight.
March 7, 2018: In Tibet China is very publicly improving air defenses, using both additional jet fighters (adapted to operation from high altitude airbases) and SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems. This is a side effect of the increased infrastructure construction which has already added the first highway and high speed rail lines into and around Tibet. The next goal is building roads to all towns in the province, something that was never done before. Despite all that many Tibetans would rather not be part of China. In the southwest (Sichuan province) a Tibetan man burned himself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This makes 153 such protest deaths since 2009, after China had suppressed widespread unrest in Tibet. This is the first such death of 2018. There was a major uprising in 2008 which was quickly and brutally put down. Areas where Tibetan resistance is most active have since been flooded with additional police and the Chinese troops stand ready to crush anymore insurrections. The decades 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.
March 6, 2018: China has delayed, but not (yet) blocked an American proposal for the UN to blacklist 33 ships and 27 shipping companies for taking part in a new North Korean effort to get around economic sanctions. This may have something to do with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offering to personally meet with his American counterpart to try and negotiate a mutually agreeable deal that would shut down the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs while also dealing with the sanctions and North Korean economic problems in general. The Americans seem amenable to this meeting but caution that North Korea has been using “bait and switch” tactics for decades. In short North Korea is not considered a reliable negotiating partner. Meanwhile the U.S. unilaterally imposed these new sanctions on February 23rd. China protested that. Most of the ships are North Korean and many of the others are believed to be secretly controlled by North Korea while pretending to belong to another country. Chinese efforts to block these new sanctions may have something to do with the fact that all the efforts to impose economic sanctions on North Korea has led to China providing more data about its trade with North Korea. That in turn has enabled economists and intelligence analysts to obtain a more comprehensive and accurate of the North Korean economy. What this shows is that despite the growing effectiveness of economic sanctions on North Korea (especially with China participating more fully) North Korea is finding ways to get around the restrictions. It appears that corruption in China has played a large part in economic relations with North Korea and are now the corrupt practices are being used more heavily as so many legitimate trade opportunities are unavailable. The major suspect here is the continuing “arrangement” between China and North Korea that allows thousands of North Korean Cyber Warriors (hackers and support staff) to operate in China. In return China gets a cut of the proceeds (the North Korean hackers are excellent at stealing cash or secrets) as well as a certain amount of mercenary hacking for China by the North Koreans. This arrangement has long been known to exist but China has always denied it. That defense is no longer working and if enough details of these corrupt connections get out Chinese credibility takes a major hit.
March 5, 2018: Because China has enforced most of the economic sanctions North Korea has seen the value of imports from China fall to an eight year low.
March 4, 2018: Taiwan is concerned about new financial incentives China is offering for individuals and businesses in Taiwan that operate in China. This sort of thing has become increasingly common since the 1990s and China admits that this is part of a program to make more Taiwanese hostile to eventual reunification with China. At the moment the majority of Taiwanese are very much in favor of continued independence.
March 3, 2018: The leaders of India and Vietnam met in Vietnam and signed several agreements that enable the two countries to more closely cooperate in opposing Chinese expansion plans.
March 2, 2018: The new J-20 stealth fighter officially entered service in early 2017 but production is stalled because of problems with the engines and the stealth tech. The aircraft has been used for testing and pilot training but now some are going to be used operationally. Oddly enough the similar Russian Su-57 (with similar problems) has also recently been sent to a combat zone (Syria) where two of these aircraft will get airborne and, well it’s not clear what it will do. It was noted that Israel recently activated its first F-35 squadron. The F-35 is also a stealth fighter. Japan has also received some F-35s and that may be why J-20s may be active near Japanese air space.
March 1, 2018: The Pakistani military was pleased to see that a recent ranking of national military power put Pakistan in 13th place. More important is that Pakistani ally China was ranked third and India fourth. But Indian ally America was in first place and Israel 11th. The alliance with China has its problems because growing Chinese economic investment has become unpopular with more and more Pakistanis. A growing portion of the Pakistani security forces are dedicated to the safety of these Chinese investments and the thousands of Chinese who are in Pakistan to supervise these investments. Pakistanis also note that the heavy security in the newly expanded (by China) port of Gwadar, near the Iranian border, is not attracting many non-Chinese foreign firms willing to operate in Gwadar because of the heavy security presence and very real threats to foreigners. Compared t0 Karachi, 533 kilometers to the east in Sindh province, there is a more ominous atmosphere in Gwadar, and a sense that the Chinese are in charge. The Chinese don’t mind but other foreign firms do. Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan and much better equipped to handle foreign trade and security for everyone. Meanwhile terrorism related deaths continue to decline. In the first two months of 2017 there were 320 terror related deaths in Pakistan while in the first two months of 2018 there were only 89. But the threat is still there and in Gwadar (and Baluchistan in general) foreigners in general and Chinese in particular are targets for all manner of separatist and Islamic terror groups.
February 28, 2018: In the northwest (Xinjiang province) the government is now using predictive analysis on the huge amounts of data being collected on everyone living there. This includes thousands of vidcams and a very effective facial recognition system. This is in addition to a growing list of methods used to collect data on the non-Han Chinese population, especially anything related to ethnic separatism or Islamic terrorism. This helps the government select those who will be sent to re-education camps (for a few weeks or six months or more.) There are currently over 100,000 Moslems (most of them Uighur, ethnic Turks who used to be the majority in Xinjiang) in the re-education camps. That is out of the nine million Uighurs in the province. Uighurs are a shrinking minority as more and more Han Chinese move in. Even some Uighur converts to Christianity (about a hundred) have been sent to re-education camps, but very few Han Chinese. The new predictive analysis system will replace a lot of the manpower intensive data collection methods. Xinjiang is being used as a test site for new “Big Brother” (as in the anti-communist novel “1984”) technology. This is being done in the name of controlling Islamic terrorism (although there is very little of that in China, even in Moslem majority districts) and ethnic separatism (which is a real threat especially in Xinjiang and Tibet). On the other hand the government has made enormous strides when it comes to reducing poverty in Xinjiang and Tibet but that tends to produce more affluent and educated separatists.
China is also using all this Big Brother tech to aid in efforts to reduce corruption. This technique uses “big data” (huge quantities of data from numerous sources) and much improved software and powerful computers to find useful patterns. While that will increase the number of corruption prosecutions (now over 1.5 million a year) it will also enable the government to concentrate on corruption cases that do the most damage to the reputation of the government. At the same time it will be possible to use evidence of corruption to control more affluent or powerful (as in senior government officials). Chinese are keen students of history and recognize that corruption is been widespread in Chinese government for thousands of years. It is, in effect, part of the culture. So the government wants to reduce the destructive impact of corruption while controlling and using what remains to control the population and maintain order and discipline within the government. It’s like Santa Claus and his “naughty or nice” list but with more creativity about how to deal with the naughty.
February 27, 2018: Japan launched another surveillance satellite into orbit. This one will keep an eye on North Korea and China. Japan has been building and launching its own satellites, using Japanese rockets, for over a decade. So far Japan has launched seven surveillance satellites. Three of them use cameras and four use radar.
February 26, 2018: The government reported that oil and petroleum product exports to North Korea in January were basically zero. The only exception was a small quantity of aviation fuel to sustain what little commercial aviation activity still occurs in North Korea. This is the fourth month in a row for the oil export ban. Overall trade with North Korea was down 52 percent in January compared to 2017. It was down 82 percent in December.
February 24, 2018: The government is angry (or, rather angrier) at INTERPOL for canceling an arrest warrant (“red notice”) for Chinese native (and German citizen since 2006) Dolkun Isa. China had accused Isa of being an Islamic terrorist but never provided the required (for a red notice) proof. Isa is a Uighur, executive chairman of the WUC (World Uighur Congress) that is based in Germany and was formed in 2004 by consolidating several existing Uighur groups. Isa has been in Germany since 1996 and became head of WUC in late 2017. That put him on the Chinese hit list. INTERPOL is losing patience with trying to use international police organizations to harass people whose only crime is to somehow annoy the Chinese government. WUC organizes protests in Germany against Chinese persecution of Uighurs in China and around the world.
February 23, 2018: The Philippines and China are negotiating a compromise that will enable Chinese firms to explore for oil in off shore waters that international law (and a recent decision by an international court) recognize as Filipino. China disagrees but is willing to work out a compromise as long as only Chinese firms do the exploration and then operation of any oil production facilities needed. While China considers its growing number of South China Sea islands demilitarized that is not entirely true and Chinese generals are openly calling for permission to “officially” install anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile systems on the islands. This would trigger more confrontations with other nations that have large navies and also depend on unimpeded access to the South China Sea for their overseas trade. While the Philippines cannot handle Chinese aggression in the South China Sea alone a coalition of major naval powers could and that is where this is headed and what China wants to avoid.
February 20, 2018: For the second time this month a Japanese Navy patrol aircraft photographed a stationary North Korean tanker tied up to a Chinese tanker off the Chinese coast and apparently transferring petroleum. The same North Korean tanker had been spotted (and photographed) by the Japanese in January doing a similar in the East China Sea. The UN has put sanctions on s growing number of cargo ships and tankers but these vessels can still do transfers at sea. This takes longer, is still illegal and is increasingly being witnessed (and photographed) by American, Japanese or South Korean patrol aircraft. China responded with new rules making it more difficult for Chinese companies to get away with the false paperwork, turning off the automatic ship tracking devices and other scams North Korea uses to illegally export items to China. In addition China is calling for more sanctions on dual use items that are still legal for North Korea to import from China. A list of items was provided by China and included gas masks used by firefighters (that could also be used by soldiers), flight simulators for civilian aircraft that could easily be adapted to military aircraft and air scrubbers for underwater operations (ship repairs, offshore oil wells) that could also be used in submarines. The items in the Chinese list are all available from Chinese manufacturers.
February 17, 2018: Last November there was a jail break in southern Thailand near Malaysia border. Twenty Chinese Uighurs who had been arrested for illegally entering Thailand escaped from a migrant detention center near the Malaysian border. Within a week six were recaptured, one of them across the border in Malaysia. China demanded that the six recaptured Uighurs be returned to China but the escaped Uighurs all denied they were Chinese and popular opinion in Thailand (especially the Moslem south) is against automatically sending illegal migrants in Thailand back to China. Few of these Uighurs migrants have had anything to do with Islamic terrorism and ignoring that when China demands automatic expulsion back to China of Uighurs is seen as Thailand surrendering to Chinese bullying. That sort of thing is very unpopular. Nevertheless there have been some Uighur involvement in Islamic terrorism.
But now China is pressuring Malaysia (a Moslem majority country) to return eleven of these Uighurs that Malaysian police arrested. Both Malaysia and Thailand have agreements with China to extradite criminal suspects but the problem here is the eleven Uighurs are apparently not criminals in China, although they broke local laws by illegally entering Thailand and then Malaysia. In the last few years the military government in Thailand has been quick to return Uighurs who made it to Thailand (usually on their way to Malaysia). While the Thai generals are not Moslem and dependent on China the Malaysian politicians are Moslem and rather more hostile to Chinese demands. This stalemate remain unresolved as China pressures Malaysia and Malaysia insists there is no pressure.
February 14, 2018: The Philippines banned all foreign research ships from the Philippines Rise area off its east coast. This comes after it was revealed that Chinese “Ocean Minerals Association” had been exploring the area in detail and “in passing, using Chinese government Hydrographic research vessels. Because of that the Philippines changed its policy on allowing foreign research vessels to study the Benham Rise, 250 kilometers off the east coast of the Philippines. In 2012 the UN agreed that the resource rich Benham Rise was indeed part of the Philippines coastal waters and the name was then changed to the Philippines Rise. This is basically an underwater volcano that did not turn into an island. It is a large (250 kilometers square) plateau that is in an area where most of the water is 5,000 meters deep. But the rise is mostly 3,000 meters high and a “peak” rises out of that plateau and reaches to within 50 meters of the surface. The rise is a rich fishing area but also may have underwater oil and gas deposits. China has never made a claim on the Benham/Philippines Rise but that could change if the payoff were large enough. China had asked permission to send a research ship to study the area and at first the Philippines agreed. But the public reaction was hostile to that, given the Chinese aggression off the west coast in the South China Sea. So the Philippines withdrew that permission and banned any foreign research vessels from studying the Philippines Rise unless they received specific permission. Foreign fishing vessels are banned from the Philippines Rise as well.
February 13, 2018: The United States has improved joint defense cooperation with Thailand in the last year. This cooperation had diminished after the 2014 coup but this year the U.S., alarmed at the growing presence of Chinese military influence in Thailand (and unease among most Thai military leaders over the Chinese efforts) improved ties with the Thai military. A tangible example of that was the arrival of 6,800 American troops (twice as many as 2017) for the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise. This year 29 nations will send troops to participate or observe. Since 1982 Thai and American troops have held Cobra Gold each year. Usually the event are held in Thailand and over the years has come to include troops from other countries in the region. In 2014 Cobra Gold included Chinese troops for the first time. China was invited to watch. There were only 17 Chinese troops in attendance, but it was a big deal because China’s neighbors would rather be training with Chinese troops than confronting them. Many believe the Chinese are just there to take notes on how more experienced and better regarded troops do what they do. Two months after the 2014 Cobra Gold exercise the Thai military staged their coup.
February 12, 2018: Iraq released video of its Chinese CH-4 UAVs, which are similar to the American Predator. Iraqi received its first CH-4Bs in 2015 and since then they have carried out nearly 300 airstrikes but spend most of their air time carrying out surveillance. The CH-4s use a Chinese version of Hellfire.
February 10, 2018: North Korea responded to the Chinese enforcement of sanctions by banning most Chinese consumer products, even of items (like condoms) that North Korea has not been able to manufacture. For the security forces this was another opportunity to make money by sizing “illegal” Chinese products or obtaining bribes from those selling the stuff. Good times for the wrong people.
February 7, 2018: China launched its ninth Dongdiao class Type 815 AGI (Auxiliary General Intelligence, or electronic reconnaissance) ship. This was significant in several ways, most obviously because China has built six of these ships in the last four years and now has nine of them in service or preparing for service. With this many modern AGI ships China is suddenly able to collect information worldwide and on a sustained basis. In less than a decade China has gone from nowhere to everywhere in offshore intelligence collection.
February 6, 2018: In Vietnam the navy put two more (of six) 1,900 ton Gepard class frigates into service. The first two arrived in 2011. This largely completes a major arms deal negotiated in 2009 by which Vietnam agreed to purchase six Kilo class submarines, for $300 million each, four (later six) Gepard class frigates, over a dozen patrol boats and 36 Su-30MK2 jet fighters (for over $46 million each). In effect, Russia was supplying the weapons to modernize Vietnam's armed forces. Until Vietnam enacted market economy reforms over the previous two decades, the country was broke. But that has changed, and Russia offered attractive prices. This annoyed China, which considers Vietnam part of southern China. But despite centuries of military efforts, the Chinese could never keep Vietnam under control. Now Russia is arming this wayward part of the motherland. China has not made open claims on Vietnam for over a century, but the animosity, and memories, are still there.