While the rest of the world is mesmerized by Chinese military threats the Chinese leadership is focused on dealing with the internal threats. The national leadership considers internal economic problems the ones most likely to trigger another round of civil war and thus the biggest security threat to China. Historically, anger over unemployment and bad treatment by government and non-government officials has always been the primary cause of civil wars and large-scale rebellions. The Chinese Communist Party considers their 1970s decision to allow a market economy the main reason China did not suffer the same fate as the Russian East European communist governments did between 1989 and 1991. But that decision remains a work in progress and only works if the economy continues to provide enough jobs to prevent large-scale unemployment. Jobs alone are not enough. Increasingly prosperous Chinese are less tolerant of corruption and abuse by government officials or their employers. The government is relieved that the economy remains robust enough to provide work for nearly all the million or so new job seekers showing up each month. But over half these new workers just graduated from college and will not settle for just any job. The young workers in general have lots to be angry about and that is why there have been more public demonstrations calling for labor unions, less corruption, less pollution and reforms that no previous Chinese government has had to deal with. For the government the scariest form of unrest is the labor strike, which is illegal in China. Yet in there are now nearly a hundred of these week compared to only about fifty a week during 2015, which was nearly twice as many as in 2014. Workers want more money, safety and job security. Despite forbidding independent (of government control) labor unions Chinese workers have been creative in finding ways around that restriction to organize opposition. The government admits that there are over two million official labor disputes a year and that is increasing as well. China does have legal labor unions but these are government controlled and meant to keep workers in line and prevent strikes (unless the government wants them). None of the angry workers wants to risk jail by openly participating in what the government could call “illegal union activities.” So there have been more and more “spontaneous” and “leaderless” work stoppages and walkouts. In some cases workers will threaten management, without using a representative or “workers’ committee” to deliver the threat. All this is of great concern to the government. After all, China is still, in theory and practice, a communist police state. So it is embarrassing and scary when all that power proves incapable to keeping workers in line, quiet and on the job. The workers use cell phones and the Internet in creative ways, getting around government electronic surveillance. This provides workers with a safe way to communicate, maintain morale, and organize more labor actions. There are often repercussions anyway. Strike leaders will be sought more aggressively and punished. Efforts to block use of cell phones and the internet to support such forbidden activities (strikes) will accelerate. But despite all this additional effort the state security agencies still tend to come up empty. The workers are winning and becoming bolder and the government fears that this sort of thing will keep spreading.
Ungrateful North Korea
During the first week of June senior Chinese and North Korean officials met to try and improve diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries. Since March China has been enforcing all the UN trade sanctions against North Korea and promises more pain if North Korean rulers do not become more cooperative. The impact of China enforcing the sanctions was immediately felt by North Korean industry, especially factories producing military goods (like ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons). North Korea is desperate and North Korean leaders are willing to do almost anything to mend relations with China. At the June meetings North Korean officials were told, privately, that all would be well if North Korea got rid of its nuclear weapons and its nuclear weapons development program. South Korea found out about this because China asked for help from the south in the form of agreeing to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” South Korea could easily develop nukes but has been dissuaded from doing so by American assurances that U.S. nuclear weapons were defending South Korea and that all the neighbors (especially North Korea, China and Russia) knew this. Although American tactical nukes (for use by missiles, artillery and bombers) have been illegally (according to the 1953 ceasefire agreement that ended the Korean War) stored in South Korea since the late 1950s, these are mostly gone now. North Korea has not yet responded to this demand. Meanwhile Chinese enforcement of the sanctions is being felt by everyone in North Korea. North Korea has long relied on China for key metals and components for their missiles and nukes. North Korea now finds it cannot bribe Chinese border guard to let contraband in mainly because North Korea is so unpopular in China that Chinese border guards are instead searching North Korean trucks and railroad cars with greater intensity. In part that’s because if contraband is found the legal cargo and vehicle can be seized as well. That earns the guards a bonus.
South China Sea
The United States recently told China that any efforts to build an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal and install a military base would be resisted with more than diplomatic protests. China has more to worry about than the American military intervention in the South China Sea. The big fear is that this could escalate into a wider scale protest that could do some serious damage to the Chinese economy. Right now China is awaiting a decision from the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding Filipino accusations that China is acting illegally with its claims in the South China Sea. The court is supposed to make a ruling this month. Britain and other Western nations have already announced their belief that the Court of Arbitration ruling would be binding and they would enforce any penalties levied. China cannot ignore that the way it is trying to ignore the court deliberations. The Philippines, America, Australia, Japan and South Korea all openly oppose the Chinese claims. Other nations in the area (Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and India) held back for a while but are now also in open opposition. China is now offering to hold regular talks with the Philippines over these disputes. The Philippines refuses because it does not consider the situation a dispute but rather a case of unwarranted Chinese aggression.
June 8, 2016: Japan warned China to stay away from the Senkaku islands. This came in response to a Chinese warship, for the first time, entering waters around the Senkaku islands the day before. The Chinese frigate moved away after about an hour. In the past Chinese coast guard ships and patrol aircraft have come too close and in response to that in April Japan announced the creation of a new naval task force to patrol and defend the Senkaku Islands. This force consists of ten new 1,500 patrol ships and two older vessels carrying helicopters. China has been increasingly aggressive about sending coast guard and navy ships into waters around the Senkaku Islands that both China and Japan claim. These are actually islets, which are 167 kilometers northeast of Taiwan, 360 kilometers from China and 360 kilometers southeast of Japan’s Okinawa Islands and have a total area of 6.3 square kilometers. Taiwan also claims the Senkakus, which were discovered by Chinese fishermen in the 16th century, and taken over by Japan in 1879. They are valuable now because of the 380 kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) nations can claim (via an international treaty) in their coastal waters. This includes fishing and possible underwater oil and gas fields. Technically parts of the Senkakus fall within the EEZs of China and Taiwan as well as Japan. But Japan has controlled the Senkakus for over a century and says it will use force to retain possession.
June 7, 2016: In Central Africa (Mali) a Chinese army peacekeeper was killed when his base was hit by mortar shells fired by Islamic terrorists. There are fewer than 30 Chinese peacekeepers in Mali, all there to provide support, not fight. That is changing. In April a Chinese infantry battalion arrived in East Africa (South Sudan) for peacekeeping duty. This was the first Chinese combat unit committed to the UN South Sudan peacekeeping force. China has sent military engineer units to South Sudan but avoided calling them combat engineers. The engineers were ostensibly assigned to support missions (improving roads and other infrastructure). The infantry unit will be assigned missions like protecting civilians and conducting patrols. China has been economically active in Sudan since the late 1990s. Mali is a different story and it was only in 2014 that Mali signed a number of economic aid and trade deals with China totaling $11 billion. Most of this is for building or upgrading two rail lines from landlocked Mali to the coasts of neighboring Guinea and Senegal. This brought a lot more Chinese to Mali and three Chinese businessmen were killed in southern Mali during a late 2015 attack on a hotel.
June 6, 2016: Taiwan announced that it would not recognize any Chinese attempts to enforce an ADIZ (air defense identification zone) on portions of the South China Sea that have long been recognized as Taiwanese according to tradition and international treaties. In late 2013 China began expanding its own ADIZ into disputed areas of the South China Sea. With that China insisted that all military and commercial aircraft in these new ADIZs ask permission from China before entering. The U.S. and several local (and well-armed) nations responded by sending in military aircraft without telling China, but warning their commercial aircraft operators to cooperate because it is considered impractical to provide military air cover for all the commercial traffic. China sees this as a victory, despite the obvious coalition intention to continue sending military aircraft through the ADIZ unannounced and despite whatever threats China makes. In response to that China has begun running combat air patrols through the ADIZ and apparently intends to try to intimidate some of the smaller nations who are defying them. The intimidation has failed so far largely because Taiwan refuses to back down and is openly telling China that the defiance will continue. South Korea and Japan both defined the ADIZ demands. Both these countries have powerful military forces and military ties to the U.S., as does Taiwan.
June 2, 2016: Japan announced that it had taken its anti-missile missile units off high alert because the government no longer believed another North Korean ballistic missile test was imminent. When the anti-missile forces are on alert they have permission to shoot down any North Korea ballistic missile that seems is headed for Japan. That includes North Korean tests of long range missiles that must pass over Japanese or Russian territory. Russia is a valued ally and refuses to allow tests to pass over. Japan was never asked and now threatens to shoot down such overflights no matter what retaliation threats North Korea makes.
May 30, 2016: In southeastern Pakistan (Karachi) a Chinese engineer was wounded by an Islamic terrorist roadside bomb. His driver and a nearby civilian were also wounded. Pakistan has repeatedly promised China that it would protect the thousands of additional Chinese coming to help with the $47 billion Chinese investment in a new port, roads, railroads and other infrastructure that Pakistan desperately needs. Pakistan has formed a new security force (with 15,000 personnel) dedicated to protecting the Chinese in Pakistan.
An Indonesian frigate intercepted a Chinese fishing ship off the Indonesian coast and ordered it to halt and be taken into custody for illegal fishing. The Chinese ship tried to get away but stopped when the frigate opened fire. The Chinese ship was seized and its eight man crew arrested. Indonesia tends to destroy foreign fishing boats caught poaching and jailing their crews. In the past China has escorted Chinese fishing boats that were illegally fishing near Indonesia and several times used the threat of force to prevent the arrest of the Chinese fishing boat. This time Indonesia sent out a major warship to make the arrest. There were no Chinese warships in the area. China justifies their armed intervention because the Chinese trawlers were in “traditional Chinese fishing grounds.”
May 17, 2016: Two Chinese jet fighters threatened a U.S. Navy EP-3 maritime patrol aircraft flying in international air space near southern China. One of the Chinese fighters flew very close (30 meters) before both jets departed. Since the late 1990s China has been trying to keep American recon aircraft away from their coast to prevent these aircraft from detecting and recording activity by Chinese air defense systems and other military electronics. Carefully analyzing these systems from a distance (international waters are anything at least 22 kilometers from the coast) reveals vulnerabilities that U.S. could exploit in wartime. This is doubly troubling to the Chinese because the Americans are known to share this kind of information with their allies, especially Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
Thailand wants to buy some modern tanks from China and wants to do it in a hurry. Thailand currently has a military government, but that won’t last. As is usually the custom during periods of military rule in Thailand a lot of new military equipment is ordered. While the next civilian government can cancel some of these orders they usually cannot get them all. This is because the military knows to order stuff that can be delivered (and paid for) quickly. The Russians and Chinese can deliver fast enough for this and the prices are low. Thus the army has ordered 28 MBT-3000 tanks from China. These are export models of the Type 98/99 tanks, the most modern China has. Even so, the Type 98/99 is basically an improved Russian T-62 that sells for about $5.4 million each. If the army is satisfied with the MBT-3000 it wants to buy as many as 150.