China is having a bad year. Covid19 caused lots of damage to the economy and the actual number of Chinese killed by the virus is a still a well-kept secret. China did prevent the virus from spreading to many parts of the country, but this entailed lots of disruption to the economy and these unpredictable local disruptions continue. A growing number of doctors and medical researchers are fleeing China to escape the crackdown on anyone wishing to speak out on the nature of the virus and how the government handled the response.
The Americans continue their trade war in an effort to persuade China to halt its economic espionage program and years of IP (intellectual property) theft. China thought it could placate the Europeans and Asian trading partners but that did not work out as hoped. The Europeans joined the Americans in demanding reforms in their trading terms with China. This came as a shock because until recently China thought it could enlist Europe as an ally in opposing the U.S. trade war. The Europeans had a lot of disputes with the Americans but opposing decades of Chinese economic misbehavior turned out to be one thing the American and Europeans could agree on.
Today marks day 114 of the current clash in Indian Ladakh along the shore of Pangong Lake. In India and China recently agreed to halt their operations on the Indian border. Both sides declared victory but China was the actual winner because now a thousand square kilometers of additional Indian territory along Panglong Lake is under Chinese control. The Chinese SSSN (Shove, Stop, Stands Fast) tactics have once again prevailed, as they have many times in the recent past. China expressed no interest in retreating but was willing to negotiate. With the cold weather arriving India was in no position to refuse the Chinese offer. China believes they will prevail by repeating their SSSN and push Indian forces out of all the disputed areas along their common border. SSSN is slow and it would take decades to grab all the Indian territory claimed by China. As long as China maintains a stronger military than India and can keep more troops near the disputed border areas, India will not feel confident to defend forcefully and risking a large-scale battle on the border. While both nations have about the same population, the Chinese economy is nearly five times the size of India’s. This was no surprise to India, which has put great emphasis on economic growth since the 1990s. That has paid off, with GDP nearly doubling in the last decade from $1.7 trillion to the current $2.9 trillion. This made India the fifth largest economy, recently surpassing Britain and France. The rest of the top five are the U.S., China, Germany and Japan. Chinese GDP growth is slowing although in the last decade it more than doubled from $6.1 trillion to $14 trillion. But for once the annual Indian GDP growth has been faster than in China, where GDP growth rates have been declining over the last five years. Over three decades of spectacular economic growth in China resulted in the Chinese GDP becoming over fourteen times larger than it was in 1989. In that same period the U.S. GDP doubled. After World War II India had a larger GDP than China and never felt the same urgency as China to modernize and expand the economy. Actions have consequences and, in this case, it means China can push India around on their mutual border.
Another reason for this is that India is still haunted by the last battle between Indian and Chinese forces back
in 1962. In a month of fighting (starting on 20 October) India lost 7,000 troops (57 percent prisoners, the rest dead or missing) compared to 722 Chinese dead. China declared a ceasefire that India accepted. China actually advanced in two areas, a thousand kilometers apart and ended up taking 43,000 square kilometers of Indian territory.
The source of the 1962 war and current border disputes are a century old and heated up again when China resumed control over Tibet in the 1950s. From the end of the Chinese empire in 1912 up until 1949 Tibet had been independent. But when the communists took over China in 1949, they sought to reassert control over their "lost province" of Tibet. This began slowly, but once all of Tibet was under Chinese control in 1959, China had a border with India and there was immediately a disagreement about exactly where the border should be. That’s because, in 1914, the newly independent Tibet government worked out a border (the McMahon line) with the British (who controlled India). China considers this border agreement illegal and wants 90,000 square kilometers back. India refused, especially since this would mean losing much of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India and some bits elsewhere there and all along the new northern border.
India, as a democracy with a free press, has a public discussion of Chinese tactics and possible Indian responses. China also tries to take advantage of the India's media freedom by buying favorable coverage in the Indian press. This is done via bribes, offers of investments or loans as well as economic concessions within China. Military strategy in China, since ancient times, has placed emphasis on having a powerful military but using it mainly as a threat and giving enemies an incentive to accept bribes and allow China to get what they want. Yet India has rarely been seen as an enemy of China. There is nothing valuable on their mutual border which for thousands of years has been along high mountains and thinly populated lowland jungles. Neither India nor China had any incentive to raise large armies to threaten each other.
Because of this background, the border disputes of the last 60 years are seen by Indians as inexplicable and by Chinese as overdue restitution for centuries of humiliations inflicted by Western invaders. India, ever since it emerged from centuries of British colonial rule in 1947, insisted that India and China shared a background of oppression by the West. China sees India as trying to perpetuate Western crimes against China. To most Chinese Indians look and sound like Westerners, therefore India must be an enemy of China. India has come to accept that the Chinese are obsessed with making India pay for real or imagined wrongs inflicted by Western imperialists and see nothing wrong with using ancient Chinese imperialist methods to get their way. Suddenly British imperialism is not the worst thing that could ever happen to India. China is seeking to provide something much worse and much closer.
The latest phase of this ongoing campaign began earlier this year when China revived its border war with India over Pangong Lake, which is largely in Tibet and connected to Chinese claims on Kashmir territory. This is the longest lake in Asia and part of the 134-kilometer long lake extends 45 kilometers into the Indian Ladakh region. China is using its usual SSSN tactics to slowly move the border into territory long occupied by India. The portion of the lake shore in dispute has no native population. The only people who visit the area are soldiers from India or China.
Indian efforts to get China to negotiate a more permanent settlement of border disputes are not working. This is again demonstrated as India tries to get negotiations going over the new dispute on the shore of Pangong Lake. The Chinese will issue vague press releases but they will not negotiate a final settlement. Even when they negotiate a deal the Chinese tend to see these “permanent” agreements are temporary ceasefires.
Southern Shoving Zone
In the last two decades China has aggressively asserted its claimed ownership of most of the South China Sea. This claim was first made after World War II but not often acted on, except in the 1970s against Vietnam. In the last decade China has more aggressively asserted its claims om the South China Sea but has not opened fire on anyone they found “illegally operating in the South China Sea.” There has been some violence against Filipino fishing boats working within the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). China insists their claims supersede the Filipino EEZ. These incidents angered many Filipinos, and encouraged the Filipino government to keep up the hostile statements and military activities against the Chinese intruders.
In 2016 an international court declared the Chinese claims illegal. This was the result of a Filipino lawsuit. China ignored the ruling and has been protecting Chinese claims mainly through propaganda and intimidation. The Philippines admits that it has not got sufficient military forces to oppose China. The local coalition opposed to the Chinese claims does have the military capability to block Chinese forces. That coalition includes the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea and several other local nations. For the moment it is a war of words and it’s up to China to escalate that to open warfare. China has not opened fire since
1974 when they fought a naval battle with the South Vietnamese near the Paracel islands, and took control after sinking one of the four Vietnamese warships and chasing the others away. Since Vietnam was united in 1975 China has continued to claim areas within the Vietnamese EEZ and used intimidation to enforce those claims. China is willing to take it slow in the South China Sea. As long as their buildup there is not stopped, China is winning.
September 10, 2020: India and China announced that they had reached an agreement on a ceasefire on their border near Panglong Lake. The main motivation for this deal is the weather. Six months of freezing temperatures, lots of snow and the lake freezing over are underway. Both sides are maintaining troops in the disputed area and it requires a major effort just to keep those troops fed and warm up there.
September 8, 2020: In the southwest (Tibet border with India) Chinese troops once more advanced on Indian troops near Panglong Lake. This time there was no fistfight because Indian forces opened fire with a lot of assault rifles and machine-guns. The bullets went over the heads of the Chinese troops, who returned a similar barrage. The Chinese backed off. Lately both sides have concentrated on cold-weather shelters for the troops and stockpiling food, fuel and other supplies.
September 6, 2020: In the southeast (Jiangsu Province) officials running the city of Suzhou backed off on their plans to expand the SCR
(Social Credit Rating) to include constant information on what everyone was doing via a mandatory app in their smart phones. The government has been testing such an app in the northwest (Xinjiang province), where a form of martial law had been imposed to deal with protests and terror attacks by members of the Moslem Turkic minority there that until recently was the majority. The government was impressed with this degree of control and was seeking to implement it nationwide. Massive popular opposition to expanded SCR by the ten million residents of Suzhou was an unexpected and unpleasant surprise for national and provincial officials.
Since 2015 the government has forcibly instituted the SCR system in Xinjiang. There the government has installed an extensive network of vidcams and other forms of population monitoring and used that to develop and perfect methods to obtain more control over large populations. By 2019 the government boasted that nationwide millions of people have been identified and punished because of their low SCR. Punishments for a low SCR include more difficulty in getting a good job, a bank loan or a passport. SCR scores depend on what the government sees, hears or reads via that growing network of sensors and informants. The residents of Xinjiang province, both Turkic and Han Chinese, opposed the strict and unrelenting surveillance of the SCR system but could not protest because of the heavy police presence in the province to control ethnic violence and largely non-existent Islamic terrorists. The government was guilty of believing their own propaganda that an expanded and more intrusive SCR system would be welcomed, or at least tolerated, by most Chinese.
September 4, 2020: China launched an unmanned reusable “space plane” similar to the two American X-37Bs, which has been constantly in orbit since 2010. One is always on the ground but after a year or more in orbit an X-37B lands and the other one is launched again. The Chinese space landed two days after launch but no pictures or other details have been released yet.
September 1, 2020: American intelligence agencies believe China now has a larger (350 warships) fleet than the United States (293). The U.S. Navy still has a considerable edge in tonnage, manpower, firepower and experience. China plans to close all those gaps by mid-century.
August 29, 2020: In the southwest (Tibet border with India) both Chinese and Indian troops fired into the air. This was done while the troops were far apart but near the shore of Panglong Lake. Two days later there as a similar incident of gunfire by both sides.
August 28, 2020: North Korean trade (buying and selling) with China continues declining. In July the total trade was only $74 million. This was down 24 percent from June. This is caused by the continued border closures because of covid19. At its worst (March) trade was reduced to $19 million. Restrictions were gradually lifted and in June trade was almost $100 million but revived fear of virus infections led to tighter border control. Smuggling is also more difficult but still occurs. One of the most painful trade shortages is imports of refined petroleum products. These come from China and Russia and during the first six months of 2020 were only 17,000 tons, half what came in during the first six months of 2019.
August 27, 2020:
In the northwest, across the border in North Korea (Ryanggang Province) two cities (Samjiyon and Hyesan) ordered locked down until a woman who recently crossed the border from China was found and arrested. The woman in question used smugglers to get her into China back in 2017. That did not work out well as smugglers often try to turn young women like this into prostitutes or unwilling wives for local Chinese men. The woman saw going back to North Korea as her best option. It is illegal border crossers like this woman who have brought covid19 into North Korea before. Earlier line crossers who were later caught were tested for the virus and if they had it, they were killed.
August 11, 2020: Off the west coast a North Korea patrol boat opened fire on Chinese fishing boats that were operating illegally in North Korean waters. Three Chinese were killed. This was unusual because the patrol boat crews usually get a bribe from the Chinese to ignore the poaching. The death of three Chinese may be retaliation for a July incident where Chinese fishing boats rammed a North Korean coast guard patrol boat. China believes North Korea was responsible for killing several Chinese fishermen in June. The bodies were never found but their empty boat, with lots of blood stains on it, was later found drifting. The root cause of the increase violence is the North Korean coast guard men demanding larger bribes because so many other sources of bribes were not available because of the covid19 restrictions.
August 9, 2020: France hosted an international donor meeting to coordinate aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. The Arab Gulf states were invited, along with the United States, China and Russia. Iran was not invited. The International Support Group for Lebanon (United Nations, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, U.S., Britain, European Union and the Arab League) will be represented. This conference raised over $250 million for Lebanon. The explosion took place in an area controlled by Iran via its local affiliate Hezbollah.
August 7, 2020: Pakistan is publicizing a proposal that Pakistan, with the help of China, take control of all of Kashmir (unlikely) and create another direct land-link with China. That is unlikely unless China backed Pakistan wins a war to push India out of Kashmir. That might cause India to use its nuclear armed ballistic missiles against China. The geopolitics of all this is that Pakistan is the only military ally China has and most countries that border China have border disputes with China. Most of these disputes are dormant now, but as China has demonstrated in the South China Sea, northeastern and northwestern India, the claims are there for the exploiting.