The government agreed to ease most of its “zero-covid” shutdown policies. This is not just because of damaging economic impacts, but because more Chinese are defying the shutdowns and not just demonstrating, but sometimes rioting against CCP (Chinese Communist Party) misrule.
The zero-covid policies are seen as futile and counterproductive. The new strains of covid19 spread faster but are less lethal. Another problem is that most people who are infected with covid19 experience no symptoms but can still spread the virus. Chinese leader Xi Jinping believed that extended and strict shutdowns would eliminate covid19. The Chinese subjected to these harsh measures eventually realized that the shutdowns did not work because there were so many infected people throughout China that kept the virus in circulation. Chinese began to realize that the rest of the world had abandoned, or never used, shutdowns and were better off for it than Chinese subjected to long-term and severe shutdowns. Dealing with the resulting riots and protests is difficult because the riot police must wear restrictive and uncomfortable protective suits.
This has some Chinese leaders, especially supreme leader Xi, fearing a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that were finally put down with a massacre of the protesters. Thousands died and information about the event was suppressed in China. That did not eliminate any memory of Tiananmen. Like the covid virus, details of Tiananmen were still out there. Now that forbidden knowledge has merged with shutdown protests to produce a potentially explosive situation. Xi thought he had a deal with the Chinese population that involved all Chinese having economic freedom. To most Chinese that meant prosperity for them as well as low unemployment, inflation and poverty rates. The government retained political control and had little or no popular opposition to government decisions. Xi thought he could tinker with this agreement and recent nationwide protests revealed that he had misjudged the situation. Finding a workable way out of this mess appears to be difficult and Xi finds himself, personally, in a very difficult situation.
Another component of this crisis is that GDP growth has been declining not just because of covid19 shutdowns but because of bank failures and other economic failures that can be traced back to CCP misrule. The government has stopped announcing annual GDP growth rates and is now announcing it will make its best effort to keep economic growth going. Those efforts are concentrating on preventing a collapse of the financial system. Unofficially, the government expected 5.5 percent growth in 2022. Foreign economists estimate a more realistic 3.5 percent growth. This seems optimistic now because of damage done by all the covid shutdowns. A growing number of Chinese and foreign economists are questioning the reported size of the Chinese economy.
China’s economy was already slowing down when the current covid19 government shutdowns began in Shanghai and spread to over a hundred towns and cities. There seemed to be no end to this. There is also an unresolved real-estate bubble and more Chinese banks are suffering liquidity (cannot meet demands for withdrawals) problems. The economic damage done by all this led to a $5 trillion dollar stimulus program to alleviate suffering among workers and provide businesses with cash needed to keep operating. The actual decline in GDP growth is a state secret but is believed to be bad enough to create persistent GDP shrinkage and an official end to the decades of high GDP growth. China’s economy is, at $18 trillion (or less) a year, the second largest in the world. The Americans have economic problems but not to the extent China suffers from.
China has few foreign supporters and a growing number of nations that consider themselves enemies of China. This is because of aggressive, and often illegal, Chinese economic and military policies. China is not looking for foreign friends but for nations that will submit to Chinese power. Until the 21st Century China had only used these hostile attitudes on neighbors and some, like Korea, Japan and Vietnam, successfully resisted. A more economically and militarily powerful China is now using these imperious tactics worldwide and finding that foreign barbarians are troublesome to deal with. Part of this can be attributed to Chinese leaders exaggerating the foreign threat and the need for China to protect its now essential foreign trade forcefully. This can best be seen in the South China Sea and the Indian border.
Many more wealthy Chinese are obtaining foreign passports, which can be legally done if you bring sufficient investment money with you and useful skills. These passports have long been available but since the Chinese economy entered what seems to be a long-term decline and government restrictions on Chinese in general, more Chinese who can afford it are setting up a quick exit plan. This now involves moving as much cash and other assets overseas as possible.
To put all this seeming chaos into perspective, remember that the CCP, the economy or sundry natural catastrophes do not define China and that China has been remarkably adaptable in the last century as one seeming crisis after another was avoided or adapted to. Often several different solutions are underway at once, with the most effective on eventually dominating the others.
December 7, 2022: The government quickly listed more covid19 restrictions and declared that this applied nationwide.
December 6, 2022: The government has lifted some of the lockdown restrictions. The most important one is that residents of several cities no longer must have a recent negative covid19 test result before they can enter markets, transportation and many other facilities. The government reported that there had been 5,235 covid19 related deaths since February. The government claims that the deaths would have been as high as a million without the lockdown policy. Eventually more Chinese discovered that the rest of the world had a more realistic view of the threat, which even some Chinese virus experts agreed with. The government suppressed discussions of just how serious the new Omicron covid variant threat was and insisted that China would only be safe with a total lockdown in cities where it showed up.
December 3, 2022: China has expanded its efforts to investigate, threaten and otherwise persuade Chinese exiles to return home. China has been doing this on a small scale for over a decade. Recently it was discovered that China has established over a hundred overseas “police stations” in nations where they have embassies. In many countries China has negotiated security arrangements that allow for the establishment of these police stations. China kept quiet about how active these police operations were against Chinese expatriates.
November 29, 2022: China sees opportunities in the new Russia-Iran alliance. Because of the alliance Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan are nervous because they are, after Ukraine, according to Vladimir Putin, on the list of former Soviet territories that need to be reunited with Greater Russia. That would be difficult because these three states have growing economic ties with China, which has told Russia that the Ukraine War was counterproductive and bad for the Russian economy and armed forces. Putin refused to heed that advice from China and similar criticism from India. The Central Asian states oppose the war in Ukraine and agree with China and India. This provides more economic opportunities in Central Asia, where China was already displacing Russia as the major trading partner. The Central Asian nations have also seen an influx of many (hundreds of thousands) Russians fleeing the mobilization of men to fight in Ukraine and do it with little or no training, inadequate equipment and inept or absent unit leadership. These exiles brough billions of dollars with them, which they deposited in local banks. Much of that money was used to start new businesses in these former parts of the Soviet Union. The local economies prospered from these investments and some of the host nations predict significant GDP growth because. Many of these young and well-educated Russians seem ready to settle in their new countries, at least until Russia ends the war and the growing police state atmosphere. Finally, Russia needs to get out from under all those sanctions.
November 22, 2022: China is maintaining a relationship with the new Taliban IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government in Afghanistan. Most nations are staying away. With the recent permanent closure of the Czech embassy there are fifteen left in Kabul. This includes embassies for China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The EU (European Union) has a delegation in Kabul and Qatar hosts a few American diplomats who look after U.S. interests in Afghanistan. There are several other international organizations that maintain offices in Kabul to explore economic opportunities. IEA extends embassy-level protection to these delegations. No one has actually recognized the IEA as the legitimate government of Afghanistan but the IEA does control Kabul and has varying amounts of control throughout Afghanistan. The IEA would like China to invest in the many untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan.
November 18, 2022: Russia was dismayed to discover that China would not help out in any way with production problems during the war in Ukraine. This became obvious in October when Russia established the GCC (Government Coordination Council) to organize available resources to get the military what it needed. The GCC quickly discovered that a lot of what defense manufacturers were missing was components imported from the West. Most of these items were no longer available and the best alternative supplier, China, would not help because that would violate the sanctions on Russia and subject China to similar sanctions. China would sell Russia commercial equipment that could be used in Ukraine, like portable (walkie-talkie) radios, but these were no substitute for radios built for combat. Russia has produced some of those before the war but they performed poorly in Ukraine. Ukraine quickly put together a reliable, encrypted and high-speed communications network based on the American Starlink satellite network. This alarmed China, which had nothing like Starlink. China discussed with Russia ways to disrupt Starlink. So far, no workable method has been developed.
Russia made some effort to disrupt communication with and control of Starlink and Maxar (commercial photo) satellites. While these disruption efforts were theoretically possible, they did not work for long because the two American firms involved (SpaceX and Maxar) had ample technical resources and capabilities for countering EW (electronic warfare) attacks.
Physical attacks on satellites turned out to be a more theoretical than practical threat. This was especially the case with Starlink, which used thousands of small satellites to provide its services. Maxar uses hundreds rather than thousands of satellites but is also testing use of smaller satellites and more of them. This is a trend on satellite tech and Starlink was the first such large network to deploy and enter service. Russian and Chinese ASAT (anti-satellite) tech has not yet caught up.
Meanwhile Russia and China continue to experiment with ASAT. This often caused problems in orbital space. For example, a year ago the United States accused Russia of being the source of the orbital debris which passed so close to the ISS (International Space Station) that the seven personnel on board, including one Russian, got into their spacesuits and boarded their Soyuz capsules kept at the ISS for emergency return to earth in case the ISS was disabled, especially by an unexpected debris swarm. China now has its own space station in orbit and it has a permanent crew of three Chinese.
November 15, 2022: Russia’s self-destructive invasion of Ukraine meant China has lost a major economic and military partner. Russia was unique to China because the two countries have unresolved disputes over ownership of Russian territory near the Pacific coast. China found Russia a good source of petroleum and natural gas as well as many other raw materials. Ukraine-related sanctions included the loss of export sales in Europe. The best alternative customer is China, which makes China the major customer for these natural resources. This has led many existing Chinese trading partners in Europe and other parts of the world to reconsider their economic ties with China.
The Ukraine War demonstrated the importance of motivation and morale. The Taiwanese identify with the Ukrainians while the Chinese note that they, like Russia, are basically police state dictatorships while Ukraine and Taiwan are democracies that are highly motivated to innovate and fight to preserve their way of life. China would also suffer more from any economic problems an attack on Taiwan would lead to.
Taiwanese leaders are also watching the Ukraine War intently and have already made it clear they identify with the Ukrainians. That meant Taiwan again sought to establish diplomatic relations with Ukraine. Since the end of the Cold War Taiwan had been seeking to establish diplomatic and other relations with Ukraine. Until recently Ukraine tried to work with China. That did not work out and, when Russian invaded, China sided with Russia while Taiwan sent more and more economic and medical aid to Ukraine. Taiwan also obeyed economic sanctions against Russia, and sold Ukraine nearly a thousand specialized UAVs via a trade contact in Poland. Taiwan additionally offers aid to Ukraine for reconstruction once the war is over, including establishment of hospitals and much more.
Xi Jinping and his senior military Chinese leaders are watching the Russian and Ukrainian military performance during the current war with great interest and growing alarm. That’s because current Chinese armed forces are closer to what Russia is using than to Ukraine’s, which China would like to emulate. That would be difficult because of China’s politics and endemic corruption.
For most of this new century China’s leaders have complained about the state of their armed forces. The critics include many irate generals and admirals. Increasingly the complaints are published, so that everyone knows the problem is still seeking solutions. Initially these complaints were confined to private meetings, but so many people attend these meetings that details eventually get out to the general public. Since these leaks do not represent official policy, they do not get repeated in the Chinese media, and foreign media tends to ignore it as well. It’s more profitable for the foreign media to portray the Chinese military as scary.
November 14, 2022: South Korea is a frequent target for North Korea hackers, who often operate from China. There is a positive aspect to this. Earlier in the year South Korea became the first Asian nation to join NATO’s CCDCOE (Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence). South Korea has a lot of experience dealing with North Korean and Chinese hackers. These hacking operations have become an increasing threat to NATO nations. East Asian nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore, along with Australia and New Zealand, have been increasingly cooperative with NATO nations because they have a common enemy in China and its weaker sidekick Russia.
November 6, 2022: China alarmed Western governments by quietly hiring retired military pilots to help train Chinese pilots. The Chinese did this discreetly, using a South African firm that recruits retired pilots to work for the growing number of firms that provide various levels of training for military pilots. Many countries cannot afford the extensive training major nations, like the U.S. and larger NATO nations have long provided. Even those countries are now using some of these contractor-pilot operations to ease the load on their military pilot-training operations. China used the South African recruiting firm to find Western military pilots China could approach with lucrative offers to work directly with the Chinese air force to improve pilot abilities. China offered attractive pay, often over a quarter million dollars a year for the most experienced candidates. Many potential candidates turned down the offer and some mentioned it to pilots who were still on active duty and soon details of the Chinese recruiting reached senior air force leaders. This recruiting is not illegal, but when it was discovered that China was particularly interested in retired pilots with experience with the latest warplanes, especially the F-35, the legal Chinese recruiting morphed into another Chinese intelligence operation.
November 4, 2022: Pakistan asked for help and China and Saudi Arabia agreed to a $13 billion loan for a debt restructuring plan that will enable Pakistan to maintain essential services in the face of devastating floods and the continuing corruption and mismanagement of the Pakistan government. China and Saudi Arabia are among the largest holders of Pakistan debt and have the most to lose if the Pakistani economy collapses. Both China and Saudi Arabia have their own financial problems but not to the extent that Pakistan does.
November 2, 2022: China recently had to deal with some user dissatisfaction problems with the VT4 tanks China exports. Nigerian tank crews reported that in combat it took them 30 minutes to load and fire a 125mm shell. The problem turned out to be lack of training and poor maintenance. These two items have long been a problem for complex exports like tanks, artillery and warplanes. Some VT4 (also known as MBT3000) users reported problems that did not involve poor maintenance or poorly trained crews. China said it would fix it. The recent discovery of a major design flaw in all T-72 type tanks is another matter because it became obvious in Ukraine that the auto-loader Russian and Chinese tanks use makes these tanks more vulnerable to top-attack portable anti-tank weapons. China is now seeking a solution to that problem.
Export tanks are often less capable (and cheaper) versions of the ones China builds for its own forces. In some cases, the export models lack new features China considers secret and not for export. In most cases export models simply get less advanced and cheaper tech. Such was the case with the VT series of tanks. These are exported and not used by Chinese forces. The VT1 (also known as MBT2000) was the export version of the Chinese Type 90 tank, which was not accepted by the Chinese army. Instead, Chinese troops got the 54-ton Type 99, a superior T-72 variant that entered service in 2001, underwent a major upgrade (the 58-ton Type 99A) in 2011 and is still in production with over 1,200 in service so far. The Chinese have over 6,000 tanks, with 2,500 of them modern designs. The rest of them are based on the Russian T-54/55. China developed many variations on this 1950s design and built them under license as the Type 59. In addition to the Type 99 there are 1,500 of the earlier Type 96, which began as the Type 88 in the 1980s as China began to develop and build variations of the Russian T-72. The Type 96 and 99 are, like most current Russian tanks, further upgrades of the successful T-72 design. By adding better engines and other mechanical and electronic components, improved armored protection and 125mm main guns, the Chinese have managed to create a force of modern tanks superior to what the Russians have. China now has more modern tanks in service than Russia, which has had to put a lot of its most modern tanks in storage because it cannot afford to maintain and operate them.