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China’s Military – Growing Assertiveness

Introduction

People’s Liberation Army

People’s Liberation Army

Over the last two decades, China has been steadily modernizing its military. This push to modernize reflects China’s desire to have military power commensurate with its growing economic and political status. It also reflects the fact that, from the Chinese perspective, the international realm gives rise to as many strategic uncertainties for China as a rising China does for other nations. In particular, many in China view the US as a strategic rival who wants to prevent China from becoming an equal leader on the global stage. The US’s “pivot to Asia” is viewed by many Chinese as example of the US’s containment effort. China is also unsettled by the US’s efforts to provide US allies and friendly states with weapons systems aimed to counter China’s growing military capability, and by the US’s continued arm sales to Taiwan.

Additionally, China considers Japan’s growing nationalism and Japan’s efforts to overhaul its military and security policies as a mounting threat. Its current alliances with North Korea and Russia notwithstanding, China views North Korea as a politically unstable nuclear power on its border, and Russia as a strategic competitor as well as an ally. China is also engaged in territorial disputes with Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan in the South and East China Seas and with India on its western border. Additionally, China considers Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang to be its sovereign territory, and will fight their any move toward independence.

Other objectives of its military modernization program include improving China’s ability to fight piracy, to protect its shipping lanes and its access to energy and resources abroad, to help ensure the security of its international assets and to safeguard its growing numbers of citizens working and living overseas. From the Chinese perspective, protecting its economic trade and investments is critical to achieving Xi Jinping’s China dream – “achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. Indeed, China’s 2015 Military Strategy Document states: “the Dream is to make the country strong. Making the Chinese military strong is part of the Chinese Dream. Without a strong military, a country can be neither safe nor strong.” China sees the global trends toward “multi-polarity and economic globalization intensifying” which it believes will increase “international competition for the redistribution of power, rights and interests”. China sees a strong military as a competitive advantage as it vies for influence in this changing global landscape.

China continues to emphasize its military modernization is defensive in nature. China states that it will strike militarily only if it has been attacked first. Overall, China tries to play a long game when working to achieve its political, economic and military objectives. For example, while it will quell unrest in Xinjiang by force when necessary, ideally China hopes to overcome Uyghur opposition to Chinese rule through economic development and continued cultural integration. Similarly, before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea issues a ruling on Sino-Phillippines territorial disputes in the South China Sea – despite China refusing to participate in the arbitration – China is trying to maximize its facts in the water through the building of islands on contested reefs. By playing this long game in its strategic, multifaceted way, China is working to create a position of power so advantageous that it can accomplish its goals without ever having to use force. That said, China says that a first strike against the country need be military. China has stated that political, economic and strategic attacks could justify Chinese military action even if it means that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fires the first weapon.

Levels of Military Spending

China’s J-10 airforce jet

China’s J-10 airforce jet

According to the well-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s annual defense spending has grown from approximately $33 billion in 2000 to $130 billion in 2011 compared to the US’s $690 billion in 2011. As a percentage of total GDP, China’s annual military expenditure has remained fairly constant at 2.1% while the US has grown its military spending from 3% to 4.8% of GDP from 2000 to 2011. Applying these percentages to 2014 GDP figures, it is estimated that China spent approximately $217 billion on its military compared to the US’s $836 billion. At current trends, some project China to become the world’s largest military spender between 2025 and 2035.

In fact, SIPRI believes that China’s actual defense spending could be as much as 50% higher than Beijing states since China keeps many of its defense expenditures off book or accounts for them at below market costs.  Indeed, according to Transparency International, China has one of the least transparent military budgets in the world.  Items that may be omitted from its official defense numbers include military research and development, paramilitary expenses, weapons purchased from abroad, expenses for strategic and nuclear forces, subsidies given to state owned industries engaged in defense manufacturing, contributions from regional and local governments, spending on the military-relevant part of China’s space program and PLA-driven fund raising.

People’s Liberation Army (PLA)

PLA fighting the Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War

PLA fighting the Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was officially founded on August 1st 1927, more than two decades before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China that it now defends. It was founded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as they fought to win control of the country. The PLA is an umbrella organization overseeing the PLA’s Army (PLAA), the PLA Navy (PLAN), the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF). The PLA is unorthodox in that does not actually answer to the State, but to the Chinese Communist Party itself.  Thus, whereas the President of the United States is always Commander-in-Chief of the military, it is theoretically possible – although unlikely as long as the Communists remain in power – for the President of the PRC to not command the military. This makes the Head of the Central Military Commission (CMC) both important and powerful. Currently, Xi Jinping is both President of China and Head of the CMC and there has not been a discrepancy between the two posts since Jiang Zemin held onto the post of Head of the CMC for a year after handing the presidency over Hu Jintao. Chinese 2015 Military Strategy Document reaffirms the Chinese Communist Party’s absolute control of the military, “China’s armed forces will unswervingly adhere to the principle of the Communist Party of China’s absolute leadership” and “will work to build themselves into the People’s military that follows the CCP’s commands.”

Chinese Military Goals and Strategies

Map of China and its Neighbors

Map of China and its Neighbors

China believes that increased military power will give it the respect and power commensurate with its growing economic and political clout, will deter rivals from threatening its sovereign territory and national interests, and will allow it to influence international affairs in its favor. In the short term, China considers that its most immediate military threats are likely to occur along its periphery or in its near seas, and much of its recent military investment has been made with these threats in mind. Termed by China as “Local Wars under Conditions of Informatization” China sees any military conflict arising from these regional threats to be limited in scope and duration, and to be typified by the pursuit of political goals through relatively constrained use of rapid force. From a Chinese perspective, ideally these short conflicts will result in a quick return to the negotiating table with China in dominant position. In these “informatized” wars, China expects that the effective use of advanced computer systems, information technology and communication networks to provide China with key operational advantages.

Informatization for China has many facets. Of highest priority is its Computer Network Defense (CND) which it monitors vigilantly even in peacetime. In the event of war, China intends to quickly establish information operations (IO) dominance including controlling the electromagnetic spectrum which would allow it to suppress or deceive enemy electronic equipment. China’s electromagnetic warfare (EW) strategies focus on controlling radar, radio, optical, infrared, and microwave frequencies as well as disrupting adversarial computer and information systems. If necessary, China will use IO warfare preemptively, particularly when confronting information-dependent adversaries such as United States.

As part of this strategy, China foresees calling on millions of civilian Chinese programmers to work with the Chinese military to disrupt enemy technologies. The Chinese military also envisions that Chinese civilians will provide logistical and other support during war. This strategy of mobilizing all Chinese citizens in the case of conflict was reaffirmed in China’s 2015 Military Strategy Document “bring into full play the concept of the People’s war, and persist in employing it as an ace weapon to triumph over the enemy”.

China views improving its anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities as integral to its Local Wars strategy. A2/AD capabilities are intended to thwart third party intervention – particularly by the United States – into its territory or what it considers to be its spheres of influence which increasingly include the water and land within the South China, Yellow and East China Seas. These capabilities will also be key to preventing the US and other allies coming to Taiwan’s assistance if it moves toward independence.

Other military objectives include an improved ability to protect it economic shipping lanes and its rapidly growing number of citizens working abroad, to offer humanitarian assistance during times of natural and other disasters, and to project greater military authority in the Asia Pacific region and in regions further afield.

Cyberwarefare

Map of China and its Neighbors

Map of China and its Neighbors

Cyberwarfare is a major aspect of China’s informatization strategy. Since 2008, all major Chinese military exercises have had significant cyber information operations components which are both offensive and defensive in nature. Additionally, China runs an on-going cyber warfare program to steal intellectual property, trade secrets and technology from defense contractors, government agencies and research institutions valued at billions of dollars annually. The US government in particular has estimated that 90% of cyberespionage against the United States originates in China.

In 2013, the US computer security firm Mandiant noted that Chinese hackers breached US energy and other critical infrastructure, leaving in place software tools that could be activated to destroy infrastructure components. Mandiant also detailed methodical data theft from at least 141 US organizations over seven years; Mandiant tracked this theft back to a Chinese military unit code named 61398 which is staffed by a large cohort of proficient English speakers with advanced computer security and networking skills. Most of the Chinese targets were US companies operating in aerospace, satellites and telecommunications, public administration, information technology and scientific research fields or in industries identified as strategically important under its Five Year Plans. Unit 61398 also attacked a dozen smaller US local, state and federal government agencies as well as international governmental agencies. On average, the hackers operating within breached computer system for about a year stealing pricing documents, negotiation strategies, manufacturing processes, clinical trial results, technology blueprints and other proprietary information.

China is also the leading suspect in a June 5, 2015 hacking of the US Office of Personnel Management in which over 20 million employees, retirees, contractors and job applicants had their personal data compromised.

Space

Launch of China’s Long March Rocket

Launch of China’s Long March Rocket

China considers the ability to utilize space and to deny adversaries access to space as key to effectively implementing its Local Wars, A2/AD and other military strategies. To this effect, China is procuring a range of technologies to advance China’s space and counter space capabilities. China has developed and continues to develop imaging and remote sensing satellites with dual military and commercial missions, and currently has approximately 100 satellites in orbit. China controls satellites programmed in communications, navigation, Earth resources, weather, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Even the more commercially oriented satellites can assist the military by delivering situational awareness of foreign forces, critical infrastructure, and political targets. China also has demonstrated direct ascent kinetic kill anti-satellite capability to low Earth orbit. In 2007, for instance, China shot down a defunct weather satellite. Developing dual purpose satellites through commercial platforms has enabled China to access foreign technology through commercial means which it then uses to advance its military defense systems.

China believes that having high proficiency in counter space activities is critical to its being able to establish dominance in informatized warfare as satellites are significant to the communications, navigation and reconnaissance on modern day battlefields. By being able to take out enemy satellites, China aims to “blind and deafen its enemies” and to impede their ability to effectively use their precision guided weapons. As part of this effort, China is investing in a multidimensional program to advance its ability to limit or prevent the use of hostile space-based assets by developing jammers and directed energy weapons for direct ascent anti-satellite weapons used against China. Technologies advanced under China’s manned and lunar programs as well as technologies developed to detect and track space debris have significantly improved China’s ability to track and identify satellites, a prerequisite for ascent anti-satellite weapons attack. China is also continuing its development of the Long March 5 rocket, a next-generation heavy lift launch system designed to carry a load of up to 25,000 kg to low Earth orbits and 14,000 kg to geostationary transfer orbit. The first Long March 5 rocket is expected to be tested in 2016.

As part of China’s space effort, China is developing an independent human spaceflight program, and has a stated goal to construct a 60 ton space station. China’s growing space capabilities provide it with advanced skills which improve all aspects of conventional and nuclear targeting, ground air sea operations, precision conventional strike capacity and missile defense.

The PLA Army (PLAA) and the Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin Disputes

Map of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin

Map of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin

Owing to its 9000 mile temperate coastline with many good natural harbors, China is both a land and sea power. For millennia, however, China’s greatest military threat came from the land, particularly from the northern steppes with its fierce Mongol hordes. The large size of the PLAA compared to China’s other service branches reflects this historic land orientation. The PLAA has approximately 70% of total PLA servicemen under its command or 1.6 million ground force personnel, roughly 400,000 of whom are based in the three Chinese Military Regions opposite Taiwan. This personnel is organized into 18 Armies, with 15 infantry division and 16 brigades. The PLAA has an estimated 7000 and 8000 artillery pieces.

Since the 1980s, China has gradually decreased the size of its army while concurrently developing modern capabilities and systems.  In particular, the PLAA is investing in heavy armor, long-range strike artillery, increased-range air defense weapons, and attack and transport helicopters. Its battle tanks, armored infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and air defense weaponry have all enjoyed significant upgrades in the last decades. Today, for instance, approximately 45% of its armored infantry fighting vehicle and armored personnel carriers are modern, 31% of its main battle tanks are third-generation, and 15% of all the artillery is self-propelled compared with 0%, 0.1%, and 9% respectively in 2000.

The PLAA has focused on its armored fleet to improve its ability to move forces quickly within China and to its borders. In the Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin areas, for instance, China is currently in dispute with India over ten separate territories at the Western End of the Tibetan Plateau, although several of the pieces of land are tiny. The two most significant areas of dispute are the 60,000 km² Arunachal Pradesh located in what India and most of the rest of the world consider to be the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and the 37,000 km² Chinese administered Aksai Chin located to the west of Nepal, but claimed by India to be part of Kashmir. China and India have skirmished over these territories in 1962, 1967 and 1987. In 2009, China tried to prevent a $2.9 billion loan to India from the Asian Development Bank arguing that part of the funds would be employed to develop water projects in Arunachal Pradesh.

As well as aiding in border defense, improved military transport allows China to effectively quell domestic unrest particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and to have the army assist during natural disasters as it did in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN)

Chinese Naval Ship

Chinese Naval Ship

Since 1990, PLAN has undergone significant modernization and expansion. As China reaffirmed in its 2015 Military Strategy Document, its “traditional mentality that land outweighs the sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be placed on managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” Going forward, it can be expected that China will project hard power abroad primarily by means of its navy and its missile systems.

Today China has the largest naval force in Asia. In 2013, PLAN employed an estimated 255,000 sailors, soldiers, pilots and logistical personnel. Its fleet includes approximately 65 submarines, one aircraft carrier, 14 guided missile destroyers, 62 frigates, 211 patrol and coastal combatants, 238 amphibious boats and 205 logistics and support ships broken into three fleets: North, East and South fleets. PLAN also has an array of increasingly sophisticated aircraft from bombers and fighters to helicopters and transport aircraft. Over the next decades, China’s navy will continue to grow in both numbers and technological capability. Additionally, more of its fleet and fleet technology will be Chinese-built. For instance, the first Chinese-built aircraft carrier is slated to go to sea near 2020. Its current aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine in 1998.

Similarly, China is stepping up the production of its submarines, one of PLAN’s core strengths. Indeed, some predict that China’s submarine force could grow larger than that of the US within 15 years. As part of this submarine expansion program, China is upgrading missile systems and quieting technologies. It JIN-class sub, for instance, now carries ballistic missiles with an estimated range of more than 4000 nautical miles, giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. Future submarines will have guided missile attack competence, giving China a submarine-based land-attack capability. Since 1990, China has brought to water six new classes of indigenously built destroyers and four new classes of frigates. These new ships have more up-to-date hull designs, propulsion systems, sensors, weapons and electronics.

China is also rapidly expanding its small combatants such as its JIANGDAO-class corvettes – the first six of which entered service in 2012; China is expected to build 20 to 30 corvettes in total. In 2004, China also introduced its Houbei-class wave-piercing, stealth catamaran missile patrol boats. Both these boats improve China’s operational ability in coastal and near waters. Being able to successfully engage in high intensity conflicts within the South China, East China and Yellow Seas remains China’s highest priority. As part of this effort, China is developing unmanned underwater vehicles and is continuing to upgrade its inventory of an estimated 50,000 naval mines.

Working in conjunction with PLAN, China operates other paramilitary maritime law enforcement agencies including the China Marine Surveillance, The Fisheries Law Enforcement, the China Coast Guard, the Maritime Safety Administration, and the Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau.

People’s Liberation Army’s Naval Strategy and the Nine First and Second Island Chains

Map of First and Second Island Chains

Map of First and Second Island Chains

In 1982, the architect of China’s modern naval strategy, Chinese Admiral Liu Huaqing, set as a goal for China to control the first island chain by 2010, the second island 2020, and for China to curtail US naval dominance in the Pacific and Indian Oceans between 2020 and 2040. An analysis of current Chinese military expansion, rhetoric and activities reveals that China is making strong efforts to implement this maritime strategy. Specifically, China is stepping up its efforts to exert control within the first island chain. The first island chain is defined as the chain of islands extending out from the East Asian continental mainland coast. In its broadest definition, the first island chain encompasses the Bering, Okhotsk, Japan, Yellow, East China and South China Seas including the Aleutian and Kuril Islands, parts of the Japanese Archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the northern Philippines and Borneo ending at the Malay Peninsula.

By demarcating the first and second island chains, PLAN hopes to engage foreign navies in waters as far as possible from China in order to defend its territory and its territorial waters. Other naval military goals include traditional missions such as protecting and evacuating Chinese nationals in foreign countries, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, protecting sea trade from terrorism, maritime piracy and foreign interdiction, prohibiting foreign surveillance and reconnaissance activities near its coast and conducting independent and joint naval sea exercises. China is also using PLAN as a force to discourage Taiwan independence and to defend what it considers to be its land, fish, oil and gas rights in the East and South China Seas.

China also wants to regulate military activities in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). An EEZ is the sea zone extending 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coast over which it has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources. While the US and most other nations do not regard it as unlawful to be active in foreign EEZs, China maintains that it is unlawful for a foreign navy to penetrate China’s EEZ despite its activities to the contrary. Indeed on several occasions in 2001, 2002 and twice in 2009, Chinese aircraft confronted US Naval ships as they conducted ocean surveillance operations in the South China Sea. China is also creating coastal economic belts and marine economic zones within the first island chain area and is engaging in marine research and development.

The second island chain is a series of island groups that is generally defined to run north to south from the Kuril Islands, through the Japanese archipelago, the Bonin Islands, the Marianas Islands and Palou to the Indonesian archipelago. Over time, China hopes to extend its first island goals into this larger geographic sphere. China’s assertion into the second island chain is made difficult due to the strong presence of the US and its allies including Japan and South Korea who not only have their own significant military forces, but also provide air, naval, logistic and supply bases to the US Additionally, the US Navy dominates in the La Perouse, Tsugaru and Tsushima Straits, allowing it to move quickly to the Korean peninsula and to defend Guam, its main air and naval base in the Western Pacific.

To date, China’s sea experience beyond the second island chain has centered on its counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden where it keeps an on-going, three ship naval presence to defend Chinese mercantile ships from pirate attacks. This is China’s first sustained naval operation outside of Asia. China has also begun to engage in some naval activities in the EEZs of other nations, particularly around Guam and Hawaii. China is also making long-distance deployments a more constant part of its naval training cycle. In 2012, for instance, it sent naval tasks groups beyond the first island chain seven times. Limited logistical support hampers China’s ability to operate its navy more widely. In the coming years, China will work with its allies to create welcoming logistical ports in the Indian Ocean and farther afield. An example would be its assistance in helping Pakistan to construct the deep water port Gwadar. China would also like to develop the capability to project power across the globe for sustained, high-intensity operations similar to those that the United Kingdom engaged in when retaking the Falkland Islands in early 1980. China would also like to displace US influence in littoral and more distant waters.

The Nine Dashed Line and China’s Territorial Disputes within the South China Sea

China’s Nine-Dashed Line

China’s Nine-Dashed Line

Within the first island chain, China has drawn the nine-dashed line by which it asserts that the majority of the South China Sea falls within its traditional maritime boundary line despite the boundary being more than a thousand miles from China’s mainland in several instances. Since November 2012, China has added a map with this line into all its passports in order to reinforce the validity of its nine-dashed claim, and makes increasing reference to the area in its government documents. Not only are islands, reefs and banks within the nine dashed line contested by many neighbouring countries, but there are also competing claims on the area’s fishing, oil and gas resources.  Moreover, the South China Sea is a vital shipping lane for North East Asia. 80% of oil shipped to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan travels through South China Sea waters.

Within the East and South China Seas, China claims sovereignty to many islands also claimed by its neighbours. For instance, the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea are also claimed by Vietnam. The Spratly Islands, wholly claimed by China, are partly claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Vietnam, with Indonesia also claiming maritime rights in the area without actually staking a claim to any territory. Additionally, there are disputes with the over the Macclesfield Bank, and the Philippines and Taiwan over the Scarborough Shoal. The Macclesfield Bank, also known as the Zhongsha Qundao, is a completely submerged chain of reefs that does not qualify as territory under international law since it cannot be inhabited by human beings. The Scarborough Shoal, known in Chinese as the Nanyan Dao, is a group of small islets or rocks and thus subject to international jurisdiction. One motivation for China to claim these islands is that it will allow it to expand its EEZ throughout the area.

Disputed Territory in the East China Sea within the First Island Chain

Map of the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands

Map of the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands

In the East China Sea, the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are also claimed by Japan and Taiwan. At stake in these contested areas vast amounts of natural gas and oil beneath the sea beds as well as rich fishing resources. The East China Sea alone, for instance, is believed to hold approximately 7 trillion ft.³ of natural gas and up to 100 billion barrels of oil. Japan has suggested that the East China Sea be divided into separate EEZ with a line equidistant from each country allowing each to share the offshore oil and gas deposits. Instead, China claims an extended continental shelf reaching almost to Okinawa, giving it effectively exclusive rights to almost all the East China Sea oil and gas. In an effort to create a precedent for its claim and in part to intimidate, China has increased its naval, paramilitary and its joint naval/air force training activities in the sea/air area surrounding Japan.

PLA Air Force (PLAAF)

Chinese Airforce Jet

Chinese Airforce Jet

The PLAAF is in control of China’s territorial air security. It currently commands 398,000 officers and men divided between its seven military area commands in Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. The PLAAF is composed of aviation, ground air defense, radar, airborne and electronic countermeasures arms. As of 2013, it commands approximately 1700 Fighters, 600 Bombers/Attack and 475 transport aircraft. While China increasingly flies modern fourth-generation and early fifth generation aircraft, about 68% of Chinese air fleet are still second and third generation aircraft or upgraded models of these aircraft.

That said, in 2013 China was considered to have over 500 modern fourth generation aircraft, outnumbering most air forces in the Asia-Pacific region. China’s fourth-generation fighters include the J-10, J-11, Su-27, Su-30, JH-7, J-15, J-20 and J-31 aircraft. China is also developing its fifth generation fighter force, slated to take flight around 2020. These new fighters will have significant maneuverability, stealth, internal weapons bays, modern avionics and sensors that offer better situational awareness for network-centric combat theaters, radars with high-level targeting capabilities and protection against electronic countermeasures, and integrated electronic warfare systems with advanced communication and GPS navigation functions.

As it modernizes, the PLAAF is emphasizing the development of new generation aircraft which will be effective in its Local Wars strategy and which can support the other PLA branches along the entire periphery of China and increasingly in the East, Yellow and South China Seas. China is also upgrading it H-6 bomber fleet to achieve greater range and to be armed with long-range cruise missiles. China is also developing a large aircraft likely to be called the Y-20 which will work in conjunction with its smaller fleet of strategic airlift aircraft.

China’s commercial and military aviation industries work together to advance China’s overall aeronautics standards, and share technology and systems. China’s military aviation has benefited from business partnerships with Western aviation and aerospace firms where technology shared for commercial purposes has then been employed to improve China’s military aircraft.

China is also building a state-of-the-art national integrated air defense system.  The air defense system is multidimensional, employing weapon systems, radar and C4ISR- Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance – platforms to counter multiple types of aircraft at various ranges and altitudes. A further goal of the air defense system is to protect China from precision strike ballistic and cruise missiles, particularly those fired from long distances. China is also upgrading its early warning, command and communication networks, and it is improving its long distance airstrike capabilities.

Drones

Chinese Drone

Chinese Drone

China is also developing unmanned aerial vehicles or drones which currently seem to be largely founded upon reverse engineering of foreign technologies. Research indicates that China plans to build as many as 40,000 land- and sea-based unmanned systems between 2014 in 2023. By way of comparison, the Pentagon only operates approximately 7000 aerial drones. In 2013 alone, the Chinese unveiled four drone models – the Xianglong, Yilong, Sky Saber, and Lijian.  The Pentagon believes that the Yilong, Sky Saber, and Lijian are all precision-strike weapons, and the Lijian drone has some stealth capability.  To date, most of China’s drone fleet has been employed in surveillance of China’s domestic population. For instance, China has been flying drones in Xinjiang in order to counter unrest in the province.

In June 2015, China released pictures of its new Divine Eagle, one of the world’s largest twin fuselage drones. Influenced by the Russian designs – there’s speculation that China stole critical design features from Russia – the Divine Eagle is a high-altitude, long-endurance multi-mission platform with both long-range surveillance as well as strike capabilities with some stealth capability. It is reported to carry multiple Active Electronically Scanned Array radars as well as Airborne Moving Target Indicators that are designed to track airborne targets such as enemy fighters and cruise missiles. This large drone platform is ultimately expected to act as an effective satellites to aid in the targeting of missiles and other tactical platforms well beyond the first island chain. When fully operational, it will be harder for the United States and its allies to operate undetected close to Chinese shores.

China has also been progressing its ability to electronically jam US drone flights, especially those flying over the South and East China Seas which are conducting surveillance on China’s island construction and other activities in disputed waters and territories.

PLA Missile Forces – the Second Artillery Force (PLASAF)

Map of range of Chinese Missiles

Map of range of Chinese Missiles

China’s Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) controls China’s nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles. The PLASAF runs missile bases, training bases, specialized support units, academic and research institutions. It has approximately 100,000 men under its command. China has one of the largest, most diverse and rapidly growing missile development programs in the world. It is currently estimated that the PLASAF has command over approximately 1000-2000 short-range ballistic missiles, 50-75 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 75-100 medium range ballistic missiles, 5-20 intermediate range ballistic missiles, 200-500 ground launched cruise missiles. In 2015, it was also confirmed that China now has nuclear missile technology with multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) – or the capability to place multiple warheads on a single missile and deliver the individual warheads to separate targets.

The development of China’s missile force has been impressively quick. Even just ten years back, China had a very limited ability to attack targets within or beyond the first island chain. China has modernized its missile force under a strategy of dual deterrence and dual operations. The basic idea behind dual deterrence and dual operations is that both conventional and nuclear missile capabilities will most effectively deter China’s adversaries from starting a war and defend China during wartime. Today, the SAF has the ability to credibly deter adversaries at intercontinental ranges; its DF-3, B-6 and LACM missiles, for instance, can strike targets 3300 km away. It has been a priority for China to extend its strike warfare further from its borders. Other objectives of the PLASAF program include effecting A2/AD operations, and deterring any move by Taiwan toward independence. Indeed, China has an estimated 1100 short range ballistic missiles currently targeted at Taiwan.

China is also developing a missile defense system involving the use of kinetic energy intercept at exo-atmospheric altitudes as well as intercepts of ballistic missiles and other aerospace vehicles within the upper atmosphere. China has already demonstrated an ability to intercept ballistic missiles at midcourse using ground-based missiles. To protect its missile systems, China has developed a 5000 km long network to mitigate the risk that its missile network could be materially weakened by a preemptive strike. For each missile launcher, China also has a large inventory of reserve missiles to ensure its ability to engage in sustained conflict if China were to come under attack.

Nuclear Weapons

An early Chinese nuclear bomb

An early Chinese nuclear bomb

China launched its nuclear weapons program in 1955 and detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1964. China is in a unique geo-strategic situation in that it shares land borders with four nuclear powers – Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan – and faces the consideration that of the other four nuclear powers, three – the US, France and the UK – all have the ability to reach China with their nuclear weapons. China therefore believes that the maintenance of a nuclear arsenal is of existential importance. It also believes that its risk of being attacked by nuclear weapons declines significantly if an adversary’s initial nuclear strike does not eliminate China’s ability to retaliate. China therefore values secrecy over transparency in regards to its nuclear program.

It is estimated that China has approximately 130-195 deployed nuclear-capable weapons ready to be deployed on a variety of short- and long-range ballistic land- and sub-based missiles systems, although some US experts believe that China is hiding a much larger nuclear arsenal. Improving the range and numbers of its submarine-launched nuclear arsenal is a priority. In total, China’s has a nuclear inventory of approximately 250- 300 nuclear weapons. Additionally, it is also believed that China has a stockpile of about 16 tons of highly enriched uranium and 2 tons of plutonium. China also operates reprocessing spent plutonium fuel plants. These facilities isolate plutonium that is created from the reactor from spent fuel. China also runs an experimental fast breeder reactor and has been is considering purchasing two further fast reactors from Russia. If so compelled, China may be able to use plutonium created in these facilities for military use.

China has conducted 45 nuclear tests. In the 1990s, China accelerated the pace of its nuclear testing in order to complete a series of tests on smaller warhead designs before becoming a signatory of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty created to prevent all nuclear explosions in all environments for both military and civilian purposes. China is also a signatory to the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. In 2002, China ratified the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol IAEA which allows the IAEA to conduct extended inspections of nuclear facilities to verify records maintained by State authorities on the whereabouts of nuclear material under their control, to check IAEA-installed instruments and surveillance equipment, and to confirm physical inventories of nuclear material. China also has a “no first use” policy and a policy to not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

China’s Reserve Forces, Militia and Paramilitary Forces

Ministry of State Security

Ministry of State Security

In addition to the PLA’s armed forces, China also has approximately 510,000 military Reserve Forces, and an estimated 8 million Militia Members. Reserve officers are recruited from China’s pools of retired servicemen, civil officials, cadre of the people’s armed forces department, cadre of militia and civilian technicians. The Reserve Forces are designed to buttress regular PLA units during times of conflict in areas such as logistics and information warfare. The PLA Militia Forces are under the command of local military district governments, and are dedicated to logistics and technical support, air defense, internal security and stability, counterterrorism, disaster relief and emergency rescue. Each year, approximately 90,000 militia guard the country’s bridges, tunnels and railway, 200,000 join in military-police-civilian defense patrols, 900,000 in emergency response, rescue and relief operation following major natural disasters, and nearly 2,000,000 help to maintain social order in rural and urban areas. Increasingly the militia is being organized into specialized technical units including anti-aircraft artillery, ground artillery, missile, communication, engineering, anti-chemical, reconnaissance and information units. Other units are being developed to serve separately the Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery Force. The Militia is trained to help during natural and other emergencies and to maintain domestic stability. Most Militia hold regular jobs as well as being Militia members.

China’s other security and paramilitary forces include the Ministry of State Security which engages in foreign and domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence collection, and the Ministry of Public Security which is responsible for internal security and oversees the 1.9 million police personnel which in turn provide domestic patrol, traffic control, detective investigations, anti-riot and anti-terrorism services. China’s 660,000 strong People’s Armed Police Force acts as an internal security force, operates as a rapid response force for public emergencies, guards critical infrastructure and resources including gold mines, hydroelectric projects and transportation facilities, combats terrorism and supports national economic development. The People’s Armed Police Force is divided between the Internal Security Forces and the Border Defense Force including the Coast Guard, the China Marine Survey Agency, the Maritime Safety Administration and Fisheries Enforcement.

Upgrading all PLA force

Training Chinese troops

Training Chinese troops

As it reduces the overall troop numbers, China is increasingly recruiting personnel with higher levels of education. The PLA gives bonuses of up to $3500 to college graduates who volunteer for the Armed Forces and tuition allowances to college student deferring university education for PLA service. In 2009, for instance, the PLA recruited 100,000 college graduates. The PLA also grants civilians with particular technical skills NCO rank when they join up. It also supports veterans seeking advanced degrees and provides them with advanced employment opportunities and exemptions from postgraduate entrance exams.  China’s 2015 Military Strategy Document China is also placing more emphasis on training it forces in military theory- “to bring it into place a system of advanced military theory commensurate with the requirements of future wars.”

As part of its training, the 2015 Military Strategy Document reaffirms that all forces in the PLA “always treat ideological and political building as the first priority” so that the PLA will carry forward “the Core Socialist Values, cultivate the Core Values of Contemporary Revolutionary Service Personnel” and will uphold “the Communist Party of China absolute leadership over the military” and “the Armed Forces will resolutely follow the commands of the CPC Central committee at all times and under all conditions.”

Military Alliances and Cooperation

Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

China’s 2015 Military Strategy Document states that it is China’s objective to “actively expanded military and security cooperation, deepen its military relations with major powers, neighboring countries and other developing countries, and promote the establishment of the regional framework for security and cooperation.” China participates in a myriad of military alliances, multilateral dialogue and cooperation mechanism such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting plus, ASEAN Regional Forum, Shangri-La Dialogue, Jakarta International Defense Dialogue, in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium.

Arguably China’s most important current military relationship is with Russia. The US rebalance to Asia and Russia’s involvement in Crimea and Ukraine – sanctioned by the West -have led to an improved relationship between China and Russia. President Xi Jinping’s made his first official state visit to Moscow in 2013 while Putin made his first foreign trip to China after re-assuming the Russian presidency in 2012.  Concurrently, the two countries signed agreements on cooperation in military exchanges, technology, energy and trade. China and Russia also ratified the 2013-2016 implementation guidelines of the China-Russia Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation. Additionally, in July 2013, Russia and China’s Navies staged their largest ever joint naval drill, the Joint Sea – 2013 exercises, and the two countries are also conducting anti-terrorism drills together. Bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to reach $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2020, driven in part by a 2013 $270 billion deal in which Russia will double its oil exports to China.

China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) comprised of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The key objective of the SCO is enhanced regional security focused on combating the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism and separatism; in the case of separatism, the SCO cooperates to ensure that “color revolutions” do not threaten the stability of the region. Annual joint practice operations in various fields of conflict have increased to include a total of more than 5000 participants from all six member states. The majority of these participants come from the China and Russia; closer military and strategic ties between these two states is one of the most significant outcomes of the SCO’s development. In 2015, for instance, China and Russia conducted joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean.

The promotion of closer economic ties is also an objective of the SCO.  China has proposed, for instance, that the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – a trading blocking comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia – connect with China’s rapidly developing Silk Road Economic Belt – a series of economic initiatives that follow the Old Silk Roads across Eurasia and South Asia. China sees closer economic ties including everything from the increased trade of oil to the expansion of transportation, infrastructure and cultural ties across the region.

Importantly, the SCO is expanding its members to include two of its three observers – India and Pakistan; the third observer Iran is not currently eligible due to international sanctions, although this may change if the Iranian nuclear deal is ratified. Pakistan believes membership in the SCO will provide it with enhanced tools to combat extremism within its borders, will enhance its international prestige, will potentially help improve its relations with India and may help it resolve its dispute with India over Kashmir.  India sees the SCO as a mechanism to improve its relations with Pakistan as well as Russia, China and the countries in Central Asia. From China’s perspective, expanding SCO membership increases the prestige of an organization in which it has a leading position.

Since 2001, when China first became involved in UN backed peacekeeping operations (PKOs), it has rapidly increased its level of commitment. At the beginning of 2012, China had more than 1800 troops involved in PKOs, slightly down from a high of 2100 in 2008, but still more than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. In 2014, China had over 3000 Chinese soldiers serving with the UN.

Future Trends

Chinese soldiers

Chinese soldiers

China’s 2015 Military Strategy Document sees the world becoming increasingly multi-polar and globally interconnected with “historic changes in the balance of power, global governance structure, Asia-Pacific geostrategic landscape.” It sees increased international competition “in the economic, scientific and technological and military fields” and “for the redistribution of power, rights and interests”. Against this changing landscape, it is China’s goal to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation … by 2049 when the People’s Republic of China marks its centenary”. China sees its military buildup as key to allowing China to benefit from this shifting landscape and as key to reclaiming its positioning as a global world leader.

Given this, it can be expected that China’s military build-up will continue apace. Indeed, it is China’s goal to develop a world-class military in all branches over the coming decades. Thus, as its economic growth rate natural slows from historic blistering rates, it is possible that China’s military spending as a percentage of GDP may increase above its 2% level.

In terms of emphasis, China will continue to prioritize space and other technologies that will give it an edge in “informatized” warfare; China views technology as key to offsetting its deficits in military strength and experience. Continued naval and missile build-up will be prioritize; it sees these arms as being particularly critical to diminishing US military hegemony. Specifically, its paramilitary naval forces are expected to increase by 25% over the next decade; China sees its paramilitary as a way to assert its near seas claims in way that is less confrontational than if the same actions were taken by its navy.  China will also prioritize the development of air force and drone stealth technology as part of its A2/AD strategy. China will also invest heavily in underground facilities to safeguard all branches of its military.

Such upgrades on technology will continue to reduce the need for raw manpower – in line with most modern militaries around the world. To this end, Xi Jinping announced a further reduction in troop numbers of 300,000 during his speech in China’s large military parade on September 3rd 2015. Though significant, this will still leave the PLA as the largest military force in the world.

China will continue to use non-military tools to achieve its objectives.  These include everything from increasing its international media presence to pushing ahead with its build-up of land masses on atolls in the South China Sea to continuing its massive lending, investment and aid programs.

Going forward, China will also place increased emphasis on the quality of its military training with more emphasis being placed on training in difficult weather, terrain and electromagnetic conditions. China will also continue to improve troop skills with its new technologies and weaponry. China will also engage in more joint training between its military branches. Prior to 2000, joint training across branches was very infrequent. China will also continue to participate in joint training organizations with its allies.

Overtime, China will also increasingly develop its own indigenous military equipment and weapons systems so that it can limit its dependence on foreign weapons systems, particularly those of Russia. It will also work to expand its global port and base access so that it can project its forces farther from its shores.

As China develops indigenous weapons, it can be expected that its military exports will continue to grow. From 2009 to 2013, Chinese arms exports totaled approximately $14 billion. To date, these weapons have been less sophisticated than Western and Russian exports. Pakistan is China’s largest arms customer; the two countries also co-develop weapons system such as the JF-17 fighter aircraft and the F-22P frigate. China uses its weapons sales as part of a multi-pronged strategy to promote trade, access natural resources and expand its global influence. From its customers point of view, Chinese arms come with fewer political strings attached which appeals to those who might otherwise have little access to Western weaponry.

China can also be expected to more aggressively assert its claims over contested territory and resources in its near seas, actions which come in conflict with its assertion of a peaceful rise. Interfering with resupply missions to the Philippine outpost on the Thomas Shoal and the deployment of oil rigs to what Vietnam considers its EEZ are recent examples of this greater assertion.

Zhang Xun with the warlord Puyi 1917 (zhangxun) http://visualisingchina.net/#hpc-gr02-067

Modern Chinese History I: The Republic of China 1911-1925


Introduction

The Qing Imperial Monarchy was ultimately toppled by a decentralized revolution. Once it had been overthrown, it proved hard to find a new governmental structure that was satisfactory to all the regional economic and political interests which had worked to depose the Manchus. All agreed that China should be unified, that foreign imperialism must be halted and that China should reclaim control over its economic assets. However, revolutionaries wanted to achieve these goals through the wholesale restructure of government and society while conservatives wanted a new political and societal structure that preserved the influence they had acquired during the Qing Dynasty.

Delegations during signing of the Treaty of Versailles

The first decade of the Republic of China passed without it being able to install an effective central government. As regional warlords became more powerful and as China became disillusioned with the West following the Versailles Treaty’s transfer of Germany’s concessions in China to Japan, many educated Chinese increasingly feared that their country would be sliced up.

In response, intellectuals renewed their search through every kind of political organizational theory, including Marxist Socialism, in the hope of finding the best governmental structure for China. The disadvantages of using Confucianism as the organizational basis of China’s social fabric were debated and Western scientific knowledge was sought in order to advance China’s modernization. Many began to argue for the use of vernacular Chinese in writing and education in order to improve the accessibility of information. By 1921, the Chinese Communist Party had been founded in Shanghai with 53 members. Its founding corresponded with a rise of urban labor activism and of a merchant class that was increasingly nationalistic. The immediate period after the 1911 Revolution also saw greater independence for China’s border regions.

Yuan Shikai, the Kuomintang, the Second Revolution, Failed Dynastic Restoration

General Yuan Shikai, President of the Republic of China

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty was deposed.  On 12th February 1912, the Republic of China was founded. For his help in overthrowing the dynasty, Sun Yat-sen agreed that Yuan Shikai would become the first president of the new Republic. Meanwhile, Sun Yat-sen and his followers founded the Kuomintang (KMT) or the Nationalist Party, also referred to as the Guomindang. The KMT was a loyal opposition party designed to compete in electoral politics with Yuan Shikai and his followers. During the first assembly elections held in December 1912, the KMT won approximately 43% of the vote. Yuan Shikai was not pleased with these electoral results, nor with the KMT’s constant criticism of his policies.

The KMT was particularly censorious of Yuan’s management of national finances. By 1913, ineffective taxation meant that the government was running an approximately 13 million yuan monthly deficit. National cash flow was further hampered by foreign control over many of China’s economic assets. The foreign-controlled Imperial Maritime Customs, for instance, directly deposited China’s custom revenue in foreign banks which was then used to pay the interest on China’s rapidly accumulating foreign debt. Even salt taxes were under foreign supervision. Yet, instead of addressing tax and revenue collection directly, Yuan organized an additional loan of £25 million from a five-power foreign banking consortium. Yuan felt the loan necessary to give him the resources he needed to defend his power. Sun Yat-sen and his followers argued that the loan would further increase foreign control over China’s economy.

Song Jiaoren

In 1913 Song Jiaoren, the KMT campaign manager and a potential-prime minister, was assassinated, probably on the orders of Yuan Shikai. The KMT responded to the murder by calling for Yuan Shikai’s resignation. When he refused, they launched what has been called the Second Revolution. Yuan Shikai crushed the revolt easily, forcing Sun Yat-sen to flee to Japan. Yuan’s quick victory against the KMT fuelled his already growing dreams of grandeur.   While Yuan supported a strong, modern, industrialized Chinese state, he now envisioned that this state would be ruled by a dynasty with himself as emperor.

Despite Yuan’s imperial ambitions, he launched many modern reforms designed to strengthen the country. Specifically, he strived to develop an independent judiciary believing that an effective, impartial court would be China’s best method to terminate foreign extraterritoriality. He also centralized the national currency and, in agriculture, he enhanced productivity through improved irrigation and more efficient distribution of agricultural products to regional markets. Significant progress was also made in eradicating opium use during this time. Yuan advocated free compulsory primary school education. He also partially reformed the penal system, improving sanitation, work facilities, and prisoner education.

Foreign powers observed changing events in China closely. Their main priority was to protect their Chinese investments. These totaled almost $788 million in 1912 and reached $1.61 billion by 1914. They also wished to safeguard their nationals in the event of any recurrence of a Boxer-like, anti-foreign outbreak.

South Manchuria Railway

To obtain foreign support for his imperial ambitions, Yuan signed agreements with Russia and Britain giving them special privileges in Outer Mongolia and Tibet respectively. Yuan also agreed to the bulk of Japan’s infamous Twenty-One Demands presented to China by the Japanese ambassador in January 1915. The Twenty-One Demands effectively allowed Japan to take significant jurisdiction over Shandong, South Manchuria, Eastern Mongolia and China’s coastline. It also gave Japan the right to extract revenue from railway and mining concessions and placed in joint Sino-Japanese administration the huge Han-Ye-Ping iron and coal works in central China. Yuan’s American advisor, Frank Goodwin, contended that China might be better suited to a constitutional monarchy than it was to a republic, and thus also did not object to Yuan’s move to assume imperial power.

Zhang Xun, Qing-loyalist who attempted to restore Emperor Puyi

With foreign support in place, Yuan’s monarchical movement went public. In December 1915, Yuan accepted “petitions” by provisional representatives which asked that he become emperor. His reign, to be called Hong Xian, or the Glorious Constitution, was to start on 1st January 1916. Yet he badly misread the Chinese public. The Chinese were particularly angry about Yuan’s signing of the humiliating Twenty-One Demands. On 23 December 1915, an ultimatum was delivered to Yuan to stand down or face civil war. Thwarted, Yuan Shikai died in June 1916 of kidney failure, leaving a power vacuum and no national consensus about how China should move forward politically.

Warlord General Zhang Xun, a zealous supporter of the Qing imperial family, led his army into Beijing in mid-June 1917 to restore the abdicated Qing Emperor Puyi, now a boy of 11. His efforts were foiled by rival generals, and once-again the emperor was deposed. Instead of being punished, it was decided that Puyi was to be given a modern Western education under European tutors. General Zhang’s failed insurrection destroyed the pretense that China’s central government had any significant power. Instead, power devolved to the provinces into the hands of warlords.

Warlordism 1916-1927

Chinese Warlord-era General Wu Peifu on Time Cover

During the Warlord Era, a nominal government continued to claim authority in Beijing, but its power was almost entirely restricted to the capital and to relations with foreigners. In actuality, the political structure of China was completely fragmented.  Generals and regional landlords vied with each other for power and formed constantly shifting alliances in a manner reminiscent of the Warring States Period.

The nature of the warlords was as varied as the provinces over which they ruled. Some were ruthless despots and thugs while others were educated and worked to instill in their men their own ideas of morality. Some subjugated whole provinces, financing their armies through local taxes gathered by their own officials. Others ruled only a few towns, raising money from theft. Some warlords supported the Republic, preferring that their territory be reintegrated into a valid constitutional state. A number choose to work with foreign powers, whether they were the British in Shanghai, the Japanese in Manchuria or the French in the southwest. Some grew opium in order to generate revenues.

World War I and the May 4th Movement

Japanese Troops in Manchuria

When World War I broke out, to strengthen its claims on Chinese territories, Japan entered into a series of secret treaties with Britain, Russia, the United States and the acting Chinese government. The February 1917 Anglo-Japanese agreement required Britain to support Japanese claims in Shandong, and agreed that Germany’s Pacific possessions north of the equator were to go to Japan while those in the south could be claimed by Britain. The February 1917 Russo-Japanese agreement acknowledged Japan’s Twenty-One Demands and Russia’s territorial gains in Outer Mongolia. The November 1917 American-Japanese Lansing-Ishii Agreement concluded that: “geographical propinquity created special relations between nations”. In other words the US recognized that Japan, by virtue of its geography, had a special position in China. Finally, in a September 1918 secret pact, the Beijing government gave Japan right to build two railways in Shandong and to station its troops there as it deemed necessary in exchange for ¥20 million.

Although there was no historical precedent of China engaging in global events far from its shores, China entered World War I on the side of the Allies in 1917. China believed that if it fought to defeat Germany, then it would be able to reclaim Germany’s Chinese concessions. While China could not offer the Allies combat troops, it could provide manpower which would free up French and British males to go to the front. By 1918, an estimated 96,000 Chinese were laboring in France Ultimately, 2000 Chinese workers died in France and a further 543 lost their lives at sea.

Chinese Labour Corps load sacks of oats at Boulogne during World War I

After World War I ended, the Chinese delegation went to the Versailles peace negotiations believing they would benefit from the principles of democracy and self-determination which Woodrow Wilson espoused. Specifically, they hoped to recover Shandong and to abolish the so-called ‘Unequal Treaties’, under which foreign powers maintained privileged statuses in China. Instead, they were informed that the peace conference would deal only with those problems arising from the conclusion of the war. Only Shandong, therefore, qualified to be discussed. Moreover, the secret treaties that Japan had concluded, including the secret pact with the acting Beijing’s government, meant that China’s claims to Shandong had been effectively forfeited.

Beijing students protesting the Treaty of Versailles on May 4, 1919

The inability of China to achieve any of their objectives, despite having fought with the Allies, humiliated and angered China. Its sting felt all the more sharp as it came on top of the disgrace of Japan’s Twenty-One Demands. In protest, on May 4th  1919, 3000 students from 13 universities began to peacefully march through Beijing. They handed out leaflets written in Chinese vernacular which explained how the loss of Shandong was equivalent to the end of China’s territorial integrity. They called on all Chinese to protest. The march turned violent at the house of Cao Rulin, the Minister of Communications. Cao had backed the pro-Japanese Anfu group and was considered by many of the protestors to be one of China’s worst traitors. Inside, although Cao was absent, the students found Zhang Zongxiang the Chinese ambassador to Japan. They severely beat Zhang and set Cao’s house on fire. Thirty-two students were arrested, but they were set free three days later.

Zhang Zongxiang

Further protests erupted throughout China. The student protests generated nation-wide sympathy. In Shanghai alone, as many as 60,000 workers staged some form of work stoppage in solidarity. These strikes marked a new development in Chinese history. Thereafter, protesters frequently made good use of strikes to fight injustice, despite the risks of unemployment, beatings and even death. The series of demonstrations, strikes and boycotts that followed became known as the May 4th Movement, and it is said by many to mark the beginning of modern Chinese nationalism. Today, May 4th continues to be marked as an important commemoration with the date carrying huge political significance. The immediate result of the students’ actions was that the Chinese delegation left France without signing the Versailles Treaty.

Intellectual Awakening

Yan Fu translated Darwin’s works into Chinese

The failure of the Republic, the rise of the warlords, the betrayal of Versailles and the increasing encroachment of imperial powers into Chinese territory heightened a Chinese fear present since the time of the Opium Wars:  that China was at risk of being dismembered. This fear caused Chinese intellectuals and leaders to search for tools and philosophies that would allow China to become a modern, unified nation free from imperialism. Many continued to try to adapt western philosophies and science to the Chinese situation.

In 1896, for instance, Yan Fu  translated into Chinese the writings of Huxley and Spencer which applied Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theories to human society: just as animals struggle for survival, Huxley and Spencer argued that people – and eventually their societies – also struggle, with the weak becoming prey to the strong. To prevent extinction, Yan argued that China and the Han Chinese people must evolve new strength. Early twentieth century Chinese thinkers applied the idea of strength broadly. Indeed, in his 1917 essay, A Study of Physical Education, Mao Zedong criticized the Chinese’s traditional aversion to physical exercise, arguing that physical prowess strengthened a people’s determination as well as making them more effective combatants.

Confucianism and traditionalism were also attacked. With the exception of friend-friend, the remaining four relationships of Confucianism – ruler-ruled, father-son, elder brother-younger brother, and husband-wife – were hierarchical in nature. Many intellectuals argued that this rigid social structure prevented China from modernizing as it encouraged subservience and discouraged independent thinking. It also completely subjugated women. In a series of 1919 articles Mao advocated the importance of granting women greater rights, arguing that empowered women would allow China to face the world with the full strength of its 400 million people.

Young Mao Zedong in 1919 advocated women’s rights and physical exercise

Increasingly, these views were expressed in magazines and publications such as the New Tide, The Weekly Critic and The New Youth. These magazines helped expand the intellectual debate both geographically and throughout society.  Often their articles were written in a simple vernacular style that could be understood by those with little education.

Debate about China’s national language began soon after the Republic was founded. By 1913 it was agreed that Mandarin would be the national language. Pronunciation was standardized and phonetic symbols were introduced to represent this pronunciation. By 1917 intellectuals began to argue that this standardized Mandarin should be written in a vernacular which was closely aligned to spoken language as opposed to the difficult classical language of Confucian scholars.

Other Chinese intellectuals lost faith in the West after Versailles and found it difficult to accept the West as both teacher and oppressor. Intellectuals such as Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu began studying Marxist socialism and the Bolshevik Revolution. Socialism was appealing because it offered a way to reject both the constraints of Chinese tradition and Western domination. It also represented a goal as yet unrealized in Western Europe and America. Its success in China would put China ideologically ahead of the capitalist states.

The Russian Revolution also brought home to many educated Chinese that the outside world was changing in radical ways. Seeing these changes caused many Chinese intellectuals to believe in China’s own ability for radical change. The intellectual and psychological appeal of Marxism was further strengthened in 1919 by the Soviet readiness to renounce the old Tsarist special rights and privileges in China. Even though the Soviets later backtracked from some aspects of their offer – specifically with regard to returning Chinese railways without compensation – the Chinese remained appreciative of their gesture, particularly in contrast to Western and Japanese imperialist policies.

Pictured in Red Square in 1919, Soviet revolutionary leaders inspired Chinese thinkers

Increasingly debates within China centered on the relative advantages of gradual social reforms versus rapid radical change. In contrast to radical thinkers advocating a complete overthrow of Chinese societal norms, pragmatists such as Hu Shu argued for steady change in Chinese society that would be driven by scientific and methodical solutions to specific practical problems. This pragmatic, evolutionary method was partially adapted by the KMT. Communists, on the other hand, agreed with thinkers such as John Dewey who visited China from 1919 to 1921. Dewey argued that China’s 1911 Revolution was failing because it was externally imposed and did not alter the ideas of life – governed by Confucianism – which really controlled society. Chinese communists interpreted this to mean that China required a complete overhaul of Chinese society and industry.

Yet, regardless of their approach, most Chinese thinkers of the era recognized the need to adapt foreign ideas creatively to the Chinese experience. This was especially true for the Marxists. Li Dazhao argued, for instance, that China was being subjugated by foreign imperialists that exploited the Chinese people just as capitalists exploited workers in more developed countries. In China, it was often the imperialists who owned the means of production and took the workers’ surplus value. Perhaps most critically, if Marxism was to be applied to China, somehow the central role Marxist theory gave to the urban proletariat in revolution would have to evolve. China was a country of peasants despite its growing number of urban workers.

As Li, and his colleagues grappled with how to adapt Marxism to China, he encouraged his students to work in the Chinese countryside around Peking. By the early 1920s, under Li’s guidance, Peking University students had founded the Mass Education Speech Corps and were traveling to villages. Those students learned first hand about the desperation and the poverty of the Chinese countryside. This poverty was often further aggravated by droughts and floods bringing famine and plague.

The Birth of  the Chinese Communist Party 1921 – Li Dazhao and Mao Zedong

Li Dazhao, one of China’s first Marxists

Increasingly, the National University in Beijing became a hotbed of radicalism. As early as 1918 Li Dazhao, then a librarian, had declared himself a Marxist. He founded the New Tide Society followed by the Marxist Research Society which eventually became the Society for the Study of Socialism in December 1919. By March 1920 the various Marxist groups in Beijing united to form the Beijing Society for the study of Marxism. Li’s library assistant was Mao Zedong. Born to a wealthy farmer in Shaoshan, Hunan, Mao took up a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook early in life after having been profoundly influenced by events such as the May 4th Movement. He too was an early adopter of Marxism-Leninism.

In April 1920, Russian Gregory Voitinsky met with Li and other radical academics and students. In Shanghai he held meetings with Chen Duxiu, an extremist from the May 4th  generation. It was during these meetings that it was decided to create the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The first secret Congress of the CCP took place on July 23, 1921 on the premises of a girls’ school in Shanghai, but was eventually relocated to a boat on the South Lake near Jiaxing in Zhejiang province for greater secrecy. 13 delegates attended representing the 53 members of the local Chinese communist groups in existence. Mao Zedong was said to be among these delegates, though this has been questioned by some academics. Early CCP objectives included the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, the rule of the proletariat and an alliance with the Third International, the Comintern. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, the Comintern’s goal was to foster world communist revolution. Additionally, the CCP planned to establish more labor unions, publish magazines and exploit other avenues to organize and educate the working class. During the Second Congress in July 1922, it was decided that the CCP would create a temporary alliance with the KMT led by Sun Yat-sen in order to advance its revolutionary objectives.

Li Dazhao meeting with Russian Voitinsky

However, while the early Congresses were able to agree overall objectives for the fledgling Communist Party, the means to achieve these objectives continued to be debated. In Shanghai, Chen subscribed to the general European Marxist view that industrial workers were the key to revolution. In Beijing, Li continued to argue that as the peasantry constituted more than 90% of the population and as agriculture was still the basis of the national economy, the peasants must lead the Chinese Communist revolution. This argument strongly influenced the thinking of Mao Zedong. After Li was executed on the orders of a Beijing-based warlord in 1927, it was Mao who carried on the push to make the peasant central to the Chinese Communist Revolution, putting his mentor’s ideas eventually into practice.

The Rise of the Chinese Workers Movement

Early railway car factory in northern China

At the same time that Marxist ideas were beginning to be seriously explored in China, China was seeing the emergence of a politically-conscious merchant class and urban labor force numbering between two and three million by 1919. Western and Japanese imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had spurred urbanization and industrialization in northeast China and the Treaty Ports. This industrialization was driven by the coupling of foreign capital with abundant, cheap labor. When the World War I erupted, Europeans powers recalled all nationals from China, allowing a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs and managers to fill their void. This gave the new Chinese entrepreneurs invaluable business experience and allowed them to make large fortunes. Japan, too, competed to take advantage of the European absence.

Working conditions in these factories were often horrific. Conflict between workers and managers grew progressively more frequent.  Indeed, by the 1920s, there was already a history of trade labor unions and strikes as was seen during the May 4th protests. As CCP power grew, it would increasingly exploit this labor movement to its advantage.

Nanjing Road, Shanghai in the 1920s

A pinnacle of this labor protest occurred on May 30th 1925. The crisis started when Chinese workers, angry at being locked out of a Japanese-owned Shanghai textile mill during a strike, broke into the factory and damaged machinery. Japanese guards reacted by firing into the crowd, killing one worker. His death ignited public anger, student demonstrations, further strikes and arrests. On the 30th May thousands of workers and students gathered at the Nanjing Road Police Station, insisting on the release of six arrested Chinese students and protesting against foreign imperialism.  As the numbers of protesters increased and as they began to chant “kill the foreigners”, the commanding British inspector ordered the group to disband and then fired before the protestors could obey, killing 11 and wounding 20.

Chinese anger over the slaughter spread nationally. At least 28 other cities held rallies in solidarity with the May 30th  victims and a general strike was called in Shanghai. Foreign powers brought in troops to protect their international settlements. The tension from the May 30th incident was escalated in June when a major strike was launched in Hong Kong targeting the British. During a strike rally, British troops shot at protestors, killing 52 Chinese and wounding 100. Chinese fury boiled over and the strike in Hong Kong – which eventually lasted 16 months – was coupled by a boycott of British goods. Not until December, when the British police inspector and his lieutenants were fired and when an indemnity of 75,000 Chinese dollars was paid to the deceased families did public outrage quiet.

Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang

Map of the People’s Republic of Mongolia

Although Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang were explicitly stated in the provisional constitution of March 1912 to be included in the territory of the Republic of China, this was never realized in actuality. The Qing’s collapse allowed local political forces to make a bid for independence from China. This aspect of Chinese history is keenly contested as are the border regions themselves. The CCP argues that these territories have always remained under Chinese control, with the exception of Outer Mongolia which has been recognized as an independent country since 1945 (Inner Mongolia has remained as part of China). In contrast, many Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs believe that the degree of independence experienced in the years following the Qing’s fall set a precedent which should allow them to negotiate more independence now.

After the 1911 Revolution Inner Mongolia slipped into the hands of local warlords while Outer Mongolia sought help from Czarist Russia in their bid to create an independent state. Chinese control over Outer Mongolia had always been less direct than it had been in Inner Mongolia. After having defended their independence against the Chinese, Mongolia became a People’s Republic in 1924, closely tied economically and militarily to the USSR. Of all the frontier regions, Outer Mongolia was the only one to achieve independence from Chinese control, and this was because of its alliance with the Soviet Union.

Palace of the Old King of Tibet taken in 1905

By the mid-19th century Manchu and Chinese influence in Tibet was more symbolic than real. The Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906 effectively repudiated Tibet’s efforts to remain independent by reaffirming China’s suzerainty over Tibet. When news of the 1911 Revolution reached Tibet, Tibetans rose against the Chinese, forcing the remaining Chinese out of the country. By January 1913 the exiled Dali Llama returned to Tibet and insisted that he was now Tibet’s sole spiritual and temporal authority. This separation lasted until 1951 when Chinese troops again invaded the region. This period of separation has been one factor fueling current aspirations for Tibetan independence.

Yang Zengxin, Chinese governor of Xinjiang 1911-1928

Xinjiang was formally annexed into the Chinese Empire as a province in 1884. Yang Zengxin became the governor of Xinjiang from 1911 until he was assassinated in 1928. Largely he retained the framework of civil administration that had been used by the Qing Imperial Court to rule its most distant subjects. He succeeded in keeping the region reasonably free from civil strife by isolating it from the turmoil of China proper. Yang’s replacement lacked his authority. Under his control, strains between the Chinese and the native Uyghur rose. In 1931 a local uprising against the Chinese authorities shifted power into the hands of the local warlords. Thereafter, Xinjiang was to remain separate from China and politically unstable throughout Chinese Republican era.

What happened next

Young Chiang Kai-shek

Despite having only 53 members in 1921, CCP membership consistently expanded through 1928 by giving voice to the plight of the working class and peasants. That said, during this time the KMT continued to enjoy greater prestige and numbers. Yet, despite their widely differing objectives, both the communists and the KMT agreed that China should be reunited under one government and that the foreign imperialism must end. With these objectives in mind, the two parties joined forces to retake the provinces from the warlords during the 1924 Northern Expedition.

Yet as communist power and membership grew during the Northern Campaign, KMT’s new leader, Chiang Kai-shek, felt increasingly threatened. In 1927 Chiang launched a coup against the communists in Shanghai. Driven out of the cities, the communists reorganized in rural areas. It was during this time that Mao Zedong, among others, began arguing that the Chinese peasants were to be the key to social change in China. Meanwhile, Chang Kai-shek’s KMT advanced northward. Under his leadership, China was finally re-taken from the warlords in 1928.

 

 

Whampao Military Academy inspection (wma)

Modern Chinese History II: Kuomintang and Communists – An Uneasy Alliance 1921-28

 

Introduction

Troops fighting during the Northern Expedition

Despite having only 53 members in 1921,  the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) membership consistently expanded through 1928 by giving voice to workers and peasants. That said, during this time Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang Party (KMT), also referred to as the Guomindang or Nationalist Party, continued to enjoy greater prestige and numbers. Despite their widely differing objectives and conflicting aims, both the fledging communists and the stronger KMT agreed that China must be reunited under one government and that foreign imperialism must end. With these common objectives in mind, the two parties joined forces to retake the fragmented provinces from the warlords during the 1924 Northern Expedition.

Yet as communist power and membership grew during the Northern Campaign, KMT’s new leader, Chiang Kai-shek, felt increasingly threatened. In 1927 Chiang launched a coup against the communists in Shanghai. From then forward, he became consumed with wiping out the communists often at the expense of defending China itself.

Driven out of the cities after the coup, the communists reorganized in rural areas. A series of devastating floods and droughts throughout the 1920s made the countryside ripe for communist influence, as did the harsh rural working conditions that most peasants experienced. It was during this time that Mao Zedong, among others, began arguing that the Chinese peasants were to be the key to social change in China. Meanwhile, Chang Kai-shek’s KMT advanced northward. Under his leadership, China was finally re-taken from the warlords in 1928.

Sun Yat-sen and the Rebirth of the KMT

Article in which Sun Yat-sen first put forward his Three People’s Principles

Sun Yat-sen had escaped to Japan after the failed 1913 Second Revolution. By 1918, Sun returned to Shanghai where he began to reorganize his revolutionary political movement on a national basis. Sun laid out a three-stage revolutionary plan for China: first, China would be conquered militarily; second, a period of political tutelage would ensue, overseen by a benign dictatorship whose job would be to prepare China for democracy; third, China would establish a constitutional government. In 1921 Sun Yat-sen launched a military expedition which was the forerunner to the 1924 Northern Expedition against the warlords. The military expedition failed during conflict with the warlords of the southern provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. In 1923 Sun struck again and this time was able to re-establish his power in Guangzhou under a nationalist military government.

By 1922, Sun restructured his party in order to improve both unity and discipline. The new KMT Party – now called the Chinese Revolutionary Party – was structured on a political platform based on Sun’s “Three People’s Principles”- of national self-determination, people’s rights, and people’s livelihood. The revised organization also gave Sun control of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA).

The KMT, Soviet support and Chinese Communist Party Alliance

Early Chinese Communist Party leaders Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, Bo Gu

While Sun had been restructuring the KMT, he had also been watching the rise of the CCP which was rapidly developing close ties to labor and agrarian organizations. In the spring of 1921, the Dutch Comintern agent H. Maring met with Sun. Maring left impressed with Sun’s ideas of revolution and nationalism. Maring was soon arguing to the Soviet Comintern that the CCP should expand their influence initially through the KMT instead of trying to make a go of it completely independently. As reunifying China was a goal shared by both the CCP and the KMT, Maring argued that  the CCP should first join with the KMT to achieve reunification. The CCP could then proceed with its next objectives: the eradication of foreign imperialism, the organization of the urban proletariat for socialist revolution and the elimination of worker and peasant exploitation.

For his part, Sun was willing to accept the Communists for several reasons. Idealistically, he believed all Chinese, including Communists, should be given a chance to participate in his national revolution. Practically, he saw advantage in exploiting CCP labor and agrarian ties. He also thought accepting CCP members might give him access to Soviet aid; such assistance had not been forthcoming from the West. Furthermore, he realistically feared that independent growth of the CCP under Soviet aegis might undermine KMT authority. It might therefore be better to assimilate them within the KMT before they grew too strong.

Sun Yat-sen

Early CCP leadership only reluctantly agreed to the Soviet’s proposal. They feared KMT influence would corrupt their worker and peasant members. Eventually it was agreed that members of the CCP would join the KMT as individuals rather than as a group. This way they could also would retain their CCP membership. The CCP’s hidden plan was to eventually assume control of the KMT and then “squeeze out the rightists like lemons”.

In 1923 Sun sent his protégé, Chang Kai-shek, to Moscow to meet further with Soviet leaders. Chang Kai-shek was impressed both by the organization of the Soviet military and by the discipline of the Soviet Communist Party. Chiang encouraged Sun to employ some Soviet organizational methods to strengthen the effectiveness of the KMT. To this effect the Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, was set to Guangzhou to advise the new KMT Central Executive Committee. While there, Borodin encouraged Sun to adopt a more radical agenda. He argued that workers and peasants would flock to the KMT if it promoted an eight hour workday, a fair minimum wage, and the redistribution of landholders’ holdings to the impoverished peasantry. Sun demurred as he felt that he could not risk alienating key industrial and financial allies by supporting such bold social initiatives.

Chiang Kai-shek

During January 1924 the first Congress of the reconstructed KMT was held. Sun’s stature and prestige were decisive factors in holding the CCP and KMT parties together, despite their often conflicting ambitions. Even today Sun remains revered in both parties.

USSR support for the new KMT was evidenced by a congratulatory telegram sent by the Soviet ambassador, Karakhan. Motivation underlying Soviet support was two-pronged. Not only did the USSR believe that the KMT would be useful to their goal of spreading revolution worldwide, but they also believed that building Chinese strength, regardless of the means, would help safeguard its borders.

In Asia Russia’s most significant threat was Japan, a staunchly anti-communist country. Japan had already routed Russia during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. Japan was now becoming a dominant force in Manchuria, on Russia’s southern frontier. It was thus in Russia’s interest for China to be strong enough to balance against Japan’s rise. As the CCP had only 300 members in 1923, CCP’s alliance with the KMT would help Russia to more quickly expand its influence in China.

The Washington Conference

John Hay oversaw adoption of the 1905 Open Door Policy in China

These domestic political developments took place against the backdrop of two international conferences. The Washington Conference, held between November 1921 and February 1922, was attended by the nine powers which had interest in the Far East and the Pacific: the US, Italy, Great Britain, France, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and China. A key American objective was to undercut the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Americans viewed the Alliance as contrary to their Open Door Policy which allowed all nations to have equal access to commercial and diplomatic relations, particularly with China. The Americans succeeded in getting the 1921 Four Power Treaty – signed by the United States, Britain, France and Japan – to replaced the Alliance. The new treaty stated that the four powers would resolve conflicts within their Pacific areas of influence by mutual agreement and not by force.

Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General, Chinese Maritime Customs 1863-1908

For their part, the Chinese delegation entered the Conference requesting participants to honor Chinese territorial integrity and political independence, to stop signing treaties between themselves which impacted on China, to respect China’s neutrality in future wars, to eliminate any foreign limitations imposed on its political, jurisdictional and administrative freedoms and to review foreign special rights and concessions in China. The proposal was sympathetically supported by the American and Europeans. In response the Nine Power Treaty was signed, which was to theoretically secure China’s territorial integrity and to restore Chinese sovereignty over parts of the eastern province of Shangdong.

Yet the Treaty lacked any enforcement provision, nor did it invalidate existing foreign privileges. To the ceaseless humiliation of the Chinese, foreigners continued to have significant control over Chinese Maritime Customs, the Salt Revenue and the Postal Service. The Chinese were also taxed without representation in the Shanghai International Settlement. Japan still controlled the Southern Manchurian Railway and used it to advance their objectives within Manchuria while the British dominated South China trade with Hong Kong.

That said, China concluded a 1922 treaty in which Japan agreed to return Jiaozhou and its surrounding region to China within six months, withdraw troops from the area and transfer the Qingdao-Jinan railway to China in exchange for 53 million gold marks. Great Britain also agreed to give up its British Weihai (also known as Weihaiwei) concession on the northern Shandong coast.

Congress of the Toilers of the Far East

The Congress of the Toilers of the Far East was held in Moscow in early 1922 as the USSR alternative to the Washington Conference from which it had been excluded. The Congress argued that the Four Power Treaty was just another means by which Western and Japanese imperialists planned to expand their power outside their own countries. It called for an indissoluble union of the workers of the Far East under the flag of the Communist International (Comintern). It was attended by representatives from China, Korea, Japan and Mongolia who all gave accounts of the conditions in their respective countries.

The First United Front 1923-1927 and the Huangpu (Whampo) Military Academy

Cadet dormitory, Whampoa Military Academy

The 1923-1927 First United Front marked the first period of cooperation between the CCP and the KMT. This included an interlude of preparation and training needed by both CCP and KMT members in order to ready them to launch what would be called the Northern Expedition, during which the CCP and KMT would fight together to retake China from the Chinese warlords.

Founded in 1924, the Whampo Military Academy was created to train the leadership of the United Revolutionary Army. Fresh from Moscow where he had been studying Soviet military methods and trying to attain obtain Soviet arms, Chiang Kai-shek was placed at the head of the new Academy. The Academy initially received 3000 applications and accepted 500, with a further 400 soon after.

Zhou Enlai in National Revolutionary Army uniform 1924

Selection criteria for admission were both physical and ideological. The cadets were to be given a thorough indoctrination in the goals of Chinese nationalism, KMT political philosophy and the Sun’s Three People’s Principles. The graduated officers were to form the nucleus of the National Revolutionary Army. Many of the KMT officers who trained at the Academy during this time became fiercely loyal to Chiang Kai-shek.

CCP members who were also KMT members were also eligible to apply. About 80 of the first 500 cohort were communists including Zhou Enlai who would eventually become the Premier of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. Indeed, just as it was for the KMT, the Academy proved to be an ideal platform to recruit and train future CCP elite.

Northern Expedition

Funeral of Sun Yat-sen

On March 12, 1925 Sun Yat-sen died from liver cancer. Chiang Kai-shek rushed into the vacuum, quickly working to take control of both the KMT and the NRA. In what has been called the Zhongshan Incident, Chiang seized the Zhongshan gunboat as it sailed into Guangzhou  on March 20th and arrested its CCP Captain. Chiang also arrested many CCP political leaders and their Russian communist advisors. He also disarmed the CCP-controlled Workers Guard Militia. He then took full control of the Whampo Military Academy and consolidated his own power in the KMT.

Going forward,Chiang issued a series of decrees designed to strengthen KMT leadership under his rule: no CCP members could head KMT or government bureaus; no CCP criticism of Sun’s Three People’s Principles would be tolerated; no KMT members could become members of the CCP; the Soviet Comintern was to communicate its orders to the KMT as well as the CCP; and names of CCP members were to be relayed to the KMT Executive Committee. He also made the KMT leadership swear an oath of loyalty to Sun’s Three People’s Principles, in effect cementing the Northern Expedition as a continuation of the vision of Sun Yat-sen.

Borodin and Chiang Kai-shek at the Whampoa Military Academy 1924

Russian representative Borodin encouraged the CCP to accept these terms because Lenin’s death in 1924 had initiated a power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin could not afford to look bad because the CCP and his Soviet advisors had been evicted from the KMT. The strategic policies the two Russian rivals were advocating for the burgeoning Chinese revolution were central to each man’s jockeying as he fought for power within the Russian Soviet bureaucratic arena.

Having consolidated his power over the KMT, in 1924 Chiang Kai-shek pushed ahead with Sun’s Northern Expedition. The Northern Expedition’s aim was to retake China from the warlords and to unify the country under KMT leadership. The Northern Expedition was initially fought along three lines: a western route to the city of Changsha in Hunan; a middle route along the Gan River into Jiangxi; and an eastern route into Fujian. The NRA formed alliances with amenable warlords as they fought north, absorbing their militias when possible. Smaller groups of primarily CCP members worked ahead of the army, organizing peasant and urban worker strikes to create disruption and chaos in areas into which the NRA advanced. Thousands of laborers were also organized to move military supplies over the large areas where rail, road and river made mechanized shipment impossible.

Warlord coalitions 1925

The NRA met light resistance as it moved north. This was partially because northern warlords, despite their superior forces, were too preoccupied fighting themselves to coordinate an attack against the NRA. Growing peasant and workers movements also significantly aided the NRA’s advance, as too did the defection to their side of naval units which blocked enemy retreat along the eastern prong of the NRA’s attack. By mid-December 1926, the nationalists had conquered Guangdong, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi and Fujian, and had negotiated control over Guangxi and Guizhou. This gave them effective control over territory inhabited by over 170 million people.

On January 11, 1927 Chiang Kai-shek traveled from his Nanchang base to Wuhan to meet the Western NRA arm. Disagreement had broken out between different NRA factions about the best way to continue the northern advance. The troops most closely associated with Chiang Kai-shek had fought along the eastern seaboard of the country while the branch of the army making its base in Wuhan was more heavily influenced by the more leftward leaning commissars and politicians. Chiang wanted to drive to Nanjing – which symbolized the short-lived republican government under Sun Yat-sen – and Shanghai – the industrial and economic heartland of China. In contrast, the more left-leaning Wuhan-based KMT leaders agreed with Soviet agent Borodin that the NRA should march northward toward Manchuria to take Beijing. Ultimately, Chiang won the debate. Chiang not only controlled more troops than the Wuhan NRA arm, but Stalin also insisted that CCP leaders in China must continue to cooperate with Chiang and the KMT.

National Revolutionary Army troops, Northern Expedition

As the NRA progressed northward during the first phase of the Northern Expedition, the relationship between the Communist and non-Communist members of the KMT remained fraught. Conflicting KMT and CCP orders often led to friction between the two groups. Also, although the CCP and the KMT shared the short term goal of uniting the country, it was clear from the beginning that each group had its own agenda while pursuing this goal. Chiang continued to exploit communist organizational skills and local knowledge to foment unrest in advance of the NRA while remaining deeply suspicious of growing communist influence. Similarly, many members of the CCP were still discontented about allying with the KMT despite Comintern directives. That said, their alliance and the Northern Expedition provided the communists with an unparalleled opportunity to organize and recruit new members for both the party and its affiliated trade unions.

Indeed during this time, due in large part to communist efforts, an All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU or Zhonghua Quanguo Zonggonghui) was formed which was to coordinate worker actions throughout China. ACFTU remains China’s sole legal trade union today and is the world’s largest with more than 130 million members. By late 1926 73 unions were listed under its umbrella. The ACFTU not only helped the NRA advance, but within NRA-controlled areas, new trade unions were often quickly formed under its umbrella and urban residents were radicalized. For instance, in advance of Chiang’s February 1927 march toward Shanghai, Shanghai labor leaders and ACFTU organizers called a general strike which brought Shanghai to a halt for two days. The strike was eventually disrupted by warlord forces that ultimately killed 20 strikers and arrested 300 strike leaders. Yet Shanghai worker morale remained high and a second major strike was planned for when Chiang Kai-shek marched into the city.

Shanghai at the time of the Northern Expedition

Shanghai factory owners and financiers, however, risked heavy losses if the waves of strikes continued. Some of these leaders had links to underground organizations such as the Green and Red Gangs. At the end of 1926 the head of the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce met with Chiang Kai-shek in Nanchang to offer the NRA the Chamber’s financial support. Chiang also met with Huang, the patriarch of the Qing Bang, (the Green Gang, a notorious criminal group) who reportedly offered his services to break up labor unions and attack insubordinate workers in return for freedom to expand his opium, prostitution, gambling and labor racketeering businesses. There is no record of Chiang Kai-shek’s response, but subsequent events suggest that Chiang had struck some sort of bargain.

Song Meiling

While in Nanjing, Chiang also met with Song Ailing, the oldest daughter of the late Shanghai tycoon Charlie Song, sister of Sun Yat-sen’s widow Song Qingling and wife of H.H. Hong. Both the Songs and the Hongs were Christian and thoroughly Westernized. Song Ailing told Chiang Kai-shek that he was at risk of being ousted by the left unless he secured the support of the Shanghai business world which her family could deliver. In return, she asked Chiang to appoint T.V. Soong and H.H. Hong as finance and prime ministers and to marry her youngest sister Song Meiling. Song Ailing was maneuvering her family into a position of significant influence over the KMT army and government. Chiang Kai-shek was keen as he found the idea of entering the Soong-Song-Sun circle alluring. One stumbling block to the plan, however, was that he was already married. Discarding his first wife, Chiang eventually married Song Meiling on December 31, 1927.

Foreigners in Shanghai, who had links with Chinese industrialists and financiers, were also getting nervous about worker agitation and the NRA advance. They feared both financial loss and for their own physical safety if fighting were to break out in the city. Increasingly, they amassed troops and police in Shanghai, and by the time Chiang Kai-shek entered the city, 42 foreign warships were at anchor in Shanghai’s port, backed by an additional 129 warships in other Chinese waters.

The Shanghai Coup also called the White Terror or the Shanghai Massacre

The NRA marched into Shanghai on the 22 March 22, 1927 without having to fire a shot. This lack of resistance was in large part due to another massive general strike and series of demonstrations that were called in support of the NRA and in support of the Workers’ Government that Shanghai workers believed would soon be established. Stalin told the CCP to cooperate with Chiang Kai-shek in Shanghai. Chiang Kai-shek issued strict orders to the labor unions, the communists and the NRA to leave foreigners and their property untouched. Once inside the city, Chiang Kai-shek issued reassuring statements to the foreign community. He also praised the unions for their contribution to the NRA’s success in taking Shanghai.

Roundup of Communists during the Shanghai Coup

Yet, at the same time, Chiang Kai-shek was making plans to purge the Communists from the KMT. Having taken Shanghai, he now felt that he was strong enough to decimate their movement and to abandon the United Front. Indeed, Chiang Kai-shek felt that if he failed to act at this juncture, he risked losing control over both the Northern Expedition and over the type of country China would become once it was fully unified.

On April 12, 1927 a bugle call from Chiang Kai-shek’s headquarters was sounded, followed by a loud siren emitted from a gunboat anchored in the river. This signaled the start of the Communist purge. Wearing blue clothes and white armbands, armed members of the Shanghai’s Green Gang attacked the offices of trade unions affiliated with the communists. Li Dazhao, China’s leading Marxist theorist, was executed during the purge along with hundreds of pro-labor and communist supporters. Zhou Enlai narrowly escaped. The ACFTU was paralyzed by unclear orders – including inadequate directions sent by Stalin – and thus put up a weak defense. When Shanghai workers and students held a rally protesting against Green Gang and the KMT’s action the following day, they were fired on by KMT forces.

Pro-Communist citizen executed during the Shanghai Coup

Although the ACFTU and the CCP organizations remained in existence after the purge, their links with the local community had been severed and their influence had been all but eliminated. The CCP alliance with the KMT nominally continued until 15 July when the CCP members of the KMT were ordered to renounce their Communist Party membership. At that point the Communist Party withdrew from the alliance.

In the wake of Chiang Kai-shek’s success, Trotsky faulted Stalin’s flawed leadership in China, arguing that he had contravened the fundamental Leninist principle that any alliance with bourgeois elements, no matter how temporary, was permitted only if the communists maintained organizational independence and freedom of action. To vindicate his China policy, Stalin issued an order encouraging the communists to raise a separate army and to transform Wuhan into a communist regime. The order was unrealistic. Instead, under widespread attack, the communists retreated from Wuhan. Borodin fled China for Russia via Mongolia in July 1927.

After the Shanghai Coup, Chiang Kai-shek resumed the Northern Expedition

Yet in an ironic twist that Stalin could well appreciate, in the months after the Shanghai coup, Chiang Kai-shek launched a reign of extortion against the financiers, industrialists and the wealthy of the city. The purpose of Chiang Kai-shek shake down was to raise the millions of yuan he needed to finance the rest of the Northern Expedition. Chiang Kai-shek demanded, for example, that the chairman of the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce provide him with a multi-million yuan loan. When he refused, Chiang Kai-shek confiscated his property and drove him into exile. Wealthy businessman were browbeaten into purchasing a combined total of 30 million yuan of short-term government bonds, with larger businesses being required to buy as many as 500,000 yuan or more.

Kidnapping was rife. Children of rich residents were arrested as counterrevolutionaries and released only upon receipt of donations to the KMT. Green Gang agents facilitated KMT extortion. Through KMT’s newly created Opium Suppression Bureau, for instance, the KMT and the Green Gang divided profits from the sale of the drug and from the registration of known addicts. The appointment in January 1928 of his new brother-in-law T.V. Soong to run the government finances finally freed Chiang Kai-shek to continue the Northern Expedition as T.V. Soong took responsibility for guaranteeing that Chiang Kai-shek would receive the approximately 1.6 million yuan he needed every five days in order to finance his expedition. Chiang resumed the Northern Expedition in February 1928. By January 1929, the greater part of China was united under KMT leadership.

Rural China in the 1920s

Women in rice fields 1920

For centuries, peasant uprisings had overthrown Chinese dynasties. Once again in the 20th century, it was eventually the peasants who would decide play an important role in determining who would rule China. Despite the expanding industrialization that China had been experiencing since the late 19th century and the growing urban movement, in 1928 approximately 75% of the roughly 450 million Chinese citizens tilled the soil. Life for the average Chinese peasant varied greatly, depending on the quality of soil that he worked and whether or not he owned the land. Land was more fertile and therefore life was better in the southern rice paddies than it was in the poorer soils of the west and north. Yet for all farmers, life was incredibly difficult. Almost all farming was done by hand and by beast. Produce that wasn’t consumed by the farmer was sold in village and regional markets along with handmade handicrafts, tools and processed foods.

Social and ritual life was hugely conservative and was based on both Confucian traditions and those of the local Buddhist or Daoist temples. Other societies or social organizations were organized between women, within villages or within regional areas. During the Warlord Era, some villages formed self-defense organizations such as the Red, White and Yellow Spears which were active mainly in the northern Chinese plains. Eventually, the CCP would try to recruit the Red Spears and other such secret societies as allies in their fight against the KMT.

Rural China also frequently suffered drought and flood. This was particularly true throughout the 1920s. In 1920 and 1921, for instance, a severe drought in northern China brought famine. The famine not only killed approximately half a half million people but it also destroyed the regional economy. Like many of the droughts that have plagued China even up to the present day, the effects of little rain were exacerbated by overpopulation and by soil erosion due to extensive logging and overgrazing of livestock. In 1923 further drought and flooding caused the deaths of an additional 100,000 people. In 1925 another devastating drought killed almost 3 million people in the Sichuan area. In 1926 the Yangtze and Gan rivers flooded. In From 1928 to 1930 drought and famine devastated the whole of northern China affecting more than 20 million people. This ruinous plague of drought and famine throughout the 1920s left much of rural China in crisis. Eventually, the communists were able to exploit this crisis by promising the Chinese peasant a better, more prosperous and fairer way of life.

Flooding in China was frequent during the 1920s

Early on, key Chinese Marxists theorists such as Li Dazhao and Peng Pai recognized the need to adapt Russian Marxism to Chinese reality. In other words, there could be no communist revolution without engaging the peasants as they represented the majority of the Chinese population. In the early 1920s, Peng Pai created a system of peasant associations in Guangdong province which campaigned against high rents, rural social injustice and landlord abuse, demonstrating to early CCP activists that an alliance between peasants and communists was possible. Mao Zedong, who had studied under Li Dazhao, travelled through his native Hunan in 1927 and his experiences there helped shape his belief that, for China, the peasants would be the key to the Communist communist revolution. From then on, he became a strong advocate of shifting Chinese Communist  strategy from a focus on organizing the urban worker to mobilizing the poor and discontent farmers.

What Happened Next

The period between 1927 and 1937 is often referred to as the Nanjing Decade. The new KMT Nanjing-based government was recognized by the international community, most of southern China, and a large part of northern China, although it did not control Manchuria nor did it have perfect control over many former warlords. Chiang Kai-shek tried to consolidate his power by eliminating warlord rivals. As a result, by 1929, civil strife once again broke out as warlords maneuvered to retain influence. Dealing with this power struggle meant that the much needed and long promised social reforms were slow in coming. For most Chinese life improved little. This created discontent that the Communists would eventually exploit.

Japanese invading Manchuria

The CCP in the meantime regrouped in rural southern Jiangxi. There they experimented with social policies that were to prove the forerunners of their ultimate governing practices. Repeated KMT attacks eventually forced the CCP on the epic retreat now known as the Long March.

As a backdrop to the KMT-CCP struggle was Japan’s increasing expansion into Manchuria and northern China. It was Chiang Kai-shek’s strategy to placate the Japanese while focusing on Communist eradication. However, rival KMT leaders finally forced Chiang to abandon war against the Communists and to fight growing Japanese aggression which culminated in Japan’s full-scale invasion of the China in 1937.

 

General Wedemeyer portrait (Albert_C._Wedemeyer)

Modern Chinese History V: The Chinese Civil War 1945-49


Introduction

Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb

On August 6 and August 9 the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By August 14 the Japanese surrendered, bringing to an abrupt end the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War and WWII into which the Sino-Japanese War had been subsumed.  The Kuomintang (KMT) – also called the Nationalist Party – led by Chiang Kai-Shek was exhausted by the war effort. Inflation, poor management, harsh conscription policies and battle fatigue had also seriously civilian support for his regime.

In contrast, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came out of the war stronger than before. After having been almost wiped out by the Long March in 1935, the communists in Yan’an led by Mao Zedong now controlled 1 million square kilometers of land populated by nearly 100 million people. The CCP also had almost a million party members and a million Red Army soldiers. As importantly, the communists had developed a reputation for honesty, for showing real concern for the Chinese people and for efficient governance.

General Wedemeyer, commander-in-chief of the American forces in the China-Burma-India theatre, warned Washington in 1945 that if peace came swiftly to China, there would be extensive disorder as the KMT had no national reconstruction plan. Moreover, Wedemeyer told Washington KMT authority would continue to be seriously challenged by growing communist strength, by a disillusioned populace, by chronic economic mismanagement and by continued alliances with self-interested warlords.

The communists had significantly increased CCP membership and support by the end of the war

After WWII ended, the US tried to shore up KMT strength by air-lifting KMT troops into position to accept Japanese surrender to prevent the CCP from taking command in as many areas as possible. The US also continued to provide Chiang Kai-Shek’s government with military and financial aid. US envoys such as General George Marshall also worked to negotiate a power-sharing truce between the KMT and Communists in the form of a democratic-oriented government with an elective assembly. Yet, as Marshall mediated to create real power sharing between the various Chinese political parties, China moved closer to all-out Civil War. By January 1947, the US disbanded its mediation liaisons and withdrew from involvement in China, much to the shock of Chiang Kai-shek who believed that the US would never abandon its country to communism. Chiang Kai-shek failed to believe that the US would be willing to replace China with Japan as the keystone of its East Asian policy.

In the early stages of the Civil War, the KMT seemed to have all the advantages. Not only did it out number the communists 2 ½-1 in terms of men and equipment, but it was also receiving military and financial support from the US. An early string of KMT victories between July and December 1946 seemed to bear this belief out. Indeed, in March 1947 the GMD captured the Communist wartime base in Yan’an. However, abuse of power, crushing inflation, and poor military strategy soon turned the KMT advantage.

By mid-1947, the KMT military machine began to founder, while the Communist army continued to expand in numbers. Chiang Kai-shek’s initial string of victories soon turned to losses. Between September 1948 and January 1949 the KMT lost 1.5 million men to death, injury, desertion and surrender.  Faced with such overwhelming troop losses, the KMT defence collapsed in mid-1949. On October 1, 1949 Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile what remained of the KMT government retreated to Taiwan, taking with them huge quantities of dynastic art and most of the nation’s supply of gold and silver.

The End of the Sino-Japanese War

Americans airlifting troops in China

After the Japanese defeat, the US supported Chiang Kai-shek by airlifting close to a half million of Chiang Kai-shek’s troops to key cities in order to accept Japanese surrender in advance of the Communists. It also placed 50,000 American marines in the key ports and communication centers to await the arrival KMT troops. The scale of the surrender was immense and took months. Over 1.25 million Japanese soldiers, 900,000 and 1.75 million Japanese civilians had to be disarmed and transported from the country.

For its part, the CCP ordered its troops to seize as many Japanese-occupied towns, cities and communication centers as possible, receiving their surrender and their military supplies. Communists efforts were not supported by the Americans and were strongly opposed by the KMT. Indeed, often the Japanese were instructed to continue to fight the CCP until the KMT could move into position. In Manchuria, Chiang Kai-shek asked Stalin to hold the province until the KMT could assume control. Yet, the CCP were well positioned geographically in the north, especially for Manchuria. Not only was Manchuria relatively close to their northern Shaanxi base, but it also had an active underground communist movement that rapidly resurfaced. Despite being ravaged by years of fighting, Manchuria remained a good prize. It was rich in resources, and had a developed industrial base, large cities, good food stores and a hilly and forested topography that would allow protection for communist guerrilla forces.

Chinese communist troops head north to Manchuria

On August 11, 1945, CCP leader Lin Biao led a 100,000 man army along the Beijing-Mukden Railway into Manchuria. They joined up with 150,000 People’s Self-Defense fighters organized by the re-surfacing Manchurian communists. Many of the People’s Self-Defense fighters were either native Manchurian or Koreans who had fled during the Japanese invasion of their country. In the weeks after the Japanese surrender, the CCP extended their territory from 116 to 175 counties. The communists fighters also successfully secured the industrial city of Harbin with a population of almost 800,000 people, giving it its first urban base since the Northern Expedition.

Their efforts were helped by the Soviets who – when not busy stripping Manchuria of food, gold and equipment – allowed the communists to take hold of large arms and ammunition stores. Yet the Soviets did not set up the CCP to takeover Manchuria. Instead, Stalin insisted that the communists negotiate with the KMT to form a coalition government. Despite Stalin’s ideological proclamations of international communist revolutions, Stalin’s real-politic objective was to keep China weak so it could be used as a platform to expand Russian influence in East Asia.

KMT troops significantly outnumbered the Red Army at the start of the war

Despite CCP success in Manchuria, overall the KMT was better positioned by the time the dust settled after the Japanese surrender. The government had retaken control of almost all important cities in communication centers in central, east and southern China. The KMT had a men and materials superiority of 2 ½ – 1, the support of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, as well as the backing of the US – the most powerful country in the world. Because of what he believed to be his overwhelming advantages and because Chiang was confident he could now destroy the communists once and for all, Chiang made the ill-fated decision to send almost a half million troops of his best troops to Manchuria despite American advice that he should first consolidate his control south of the Great Wall.

Communists in Manchuria

Minakai Dept. store of Hsinking Manchukuo

The communists put high taxes on luxury goods such as those sold in the Minakai Department store located in Hsingking, the Japanese capital of Manchukuo

The CCP’s control of industrial city of Harbin marked the first time since the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 that the Communists had a large base in an urban environment. Their experiences there were to prove important once the Civil War began to expand communist power southward. To facilitate the task of urban government, the CCP divided the city into six districts which were further divided into 58 street governments each overseeing a population of approximately 14,000 citizens. Once in control, the CCP launched registration campaigns, arrested thieves and other “destructive elements”, organized citizens into self-policing organizations, and employed urban workers to assist the PLA in transporting goods and wounded soldiers from the various fronts.

The CCP also worked conscientiously to restore order to the economy. They kept prices low for fuel, grain and cooking oil, but instituted more punitive taxes for tobacco, cosmetics and luxury goods. They also taxed businesses. Additionally, they launched a so-called Voluntary Contribution Campaign; using mass media, public meetings and coercion, the CCP succeeded in raising an additional 200 million yuan to fund its fighting. Once again, CCP economic and government policies contrasted sharply with KMT practices in Manchuria.

The KMT formed alliances with hated Japanese collaborators or had their cronies displace local officials. The new KMT leaders would then often use their new posts for self-enrichment. Rocketing military expenses and economic mismanagement again forced the KMT to print money, fuelling inflation, despite the KMT’s efforts to isolate Manchuria from China’s national surging inflation by introducing its own Manchurian currency.

KMT’s failure to meet Governing Challenges After the War

KMT in-fighting over the return of property confiscated by the Japanese such as the Manchurian Coal Company hurt economic recovery

Despite American assistance at the beginning of the war, the KMT quickly started to fritter away their authority. To begin with, the KMT were militarily, financially and spiritually exhausted. This exhaustion gave them little bandwidth to tackle the corruption and economic mismanagement that had plagued the party throughout its time in power. They also undermined their popular support by forming alliances with dodgy warlords, including many known Japanese collaborators. Even when anti-Japanese collaborator regulations were implemented in September 1946, loopholes allowed many to escape punishment and receive appointments, much to the outrage of the Chinese public. Abuse of power and scandal became widespread, often relating to the return of property confiscated by the Japanese during their Chinese occupation. Disputes forced factories and business premises to remain closed longer than had been promised, throwing people out of work and further weakening local economies already ravaged by war and inflation. Unemployment rose. A reduction in defense spending and some demobilization increased unemployment figures further.

Equally corrosive was Chiang Kai-shek’s poor management of the national currency and the money supply. During the war, exchange rates and even currency varied by region. Many of the Japanese-puppet regimes had issued their own money. After the war, currency speculation became rife.

Excessive KMT printing of money led to economic chaos and high inflation

Making matters worse was the persistent budget deficit. This meant that the KMT were constantly short of money. The knee-jerk response to this shortage was to print banknotes which resulted in catastrophic inflation. Wholesale prices, for instance, increased 30% per month from 1945-1948. Anyone on the fixed salary was hit hard. Soaring inflation destroyed the livelihood of hundreds of millions of Chinese. Industrial workers, for instance, had their purchasing power sharply eroded. They began to strike in protest, encouraged by underground Communists who again began to infiltrate workers’ unions. The KMT tried hard to negotiate with workers in order to avoid more conflict, offering, for instance, wage rates based on 1936 pay scales which were then multiplied by a current cost of living index; this, in turn, displeased employers who felt that the higher wages eroded Chinese competitiveness.

When the new wage scheme proved ineffective, the KMT instituted price and wage ceilings, setting prices for rice, flour, cotton, cloth, fuel, salt, sugar and edible oil and locking wages into the January 1947 cost of living index. These controls had some effect through March 1947, but hoarding, inadequate enforcement and distribution problems eventually caused inflation to return. By May 1947, the price and wage ceilings were abandoned. Even a July 1947 American plan to distribute food and fuel at low prices through the Central Bank of China did little to halt inflation’s rise. In a last-ditch and ultimately unsuccessful attempt, the KMT issued ration cards for staple foods to urban citizens.

Facing an increasingly serious crisis which was quickly wearing away their power base, in July 1948 Chiang Kai-shek and his financial advisor T.V. Soong decided to introduce a gold yuan, abandoning its current currency. Soong and his other financial advisors warned Chiang Kai-shek that the currency would not hold unless the deficit was dramatically reduced, which in turn would mean that military spending would have to be cut. They had also hoped to support the new currency with loans from the US which they were unable to secure after Truman was re-elected in 1948.

Demoralized KMT troops had little desire to fight their own countrymen

In order to increase confidence in the gold yuan, the KMT committed to printing a maximum of 2 billion yuan worth of notes. To support the currency further, wage and price increases were banned as were strikes and demonstrations. Sales taxes were increased to raise more revenue. All gold and silver bullion held by Chinese citizens were to be turned over to the banks (although many were reluctant to comply.) Yet, despite the KMT’s efforts, the gold yuan also failed. By October 1948 inflation returned, along with shortages of food, goods and medical supplies. Barter began to flourish in the absence of functioning monetary system.

KMT soldiers too were battle-weary. Patriotism and the ever-growing prospect of victory gave the KMT troops the energy they needed to fight to the end of the Sino-Japanese war. Relieved, proud, the often-gang pressed troops now wanted to return home for a much looked-for rest. They had no desire to launch into a Civil War to fight against their own people. They especially had no desire to be sent to Manchuria where the local population and the terrain was unfriendly and unfamiliar.

Failed Marshall Mission

Ambassador Hurley encouraged a reluctant Mao to negotiate with the KMT 1945

Despite the KMT’s economic and military challenges, Chiang Kai-shek proceeded with plans to destroy the communists once and for all while the Americans worked actively to create a KMT-CCP power-sharing truce that would avoid civil war and that would install some form of a democratic-oriented government which shared power through an elective assembly. In August 1945, Ambassador Hurley accompanied a reluctant Mao Zedong from Yan’an to Chongqing to negotiate with Chiang Kai-shek. Despite the KMT’s apparent strength, Mao Zedong was confident that the CCP would eventually control a large area north of lower Yangtze and Huai Rivers, yet he also believed that securing the territory would take time.

Given that he was outnumbered both in men and arms, Mao adopted a flexible and constructive negotiating position during the talks in order to buy the communists time. These initial talks lasted until October 10 and resulted in the publication of what seemed to be a collaborative set of tenets including the need for: political democracy, freedom of religion, speech, assembly, publication and person, an integrated military, and equal legal status for all political parties. A People’s Congress or National Assembly was to be called.

Yet undermining these public agreements was the fact that Chiang Kai-shek intended to a reassert KMT control over the entire country where, at the very least, Mao and the communists intended to hold on to the territory currently under its control. Given this, much of their promises were to prove empty including the agreement to integrate their military forces. While the CCP did pull their troops out of southern China, they consolidated their hold over their territories in the north. In November 1945, the KMT attacked the CCP in the north. Zhou Enlai, who had remained in Chongqing to continue negotiations, returned to Yan’an and Ambassador Hurley unexpectedly resigned.

Mao Zedong and U.S. General George Marshall in China, 1946

Truman sent General George Marshall to negotiate a power sharing arrangement between the CCP and the KMT

Still earnest in his desire to lead China onto a peaceful and democratic course, Truman sent General George Marshall as his envoy in December 1945. Marshall achieved a cease fire in January 1946, and got Chiang Kai-shek to agree to convene the People’s Congress as had been agreed during the August-October 1945 talks. Thirty-eight delegates, representing all of Chinese various political parties, assembled in Nanjing between January 11 and January 21 where they appeared to reach accord on the framework of a constitutional government, of a unified military command and of a national assembly. Yet despite these accords, military clashes between the KMT and the CCP recommenced.

Buoyed by a string of military victories, in July 1946 Chiang Kai-shek convened his own National Assembly in open disregard to the original agreement that no such Assembly should be called until all political parties first formed a coalition government. The CCP and the Democratic League boycotted the illegal assembly in protest. In a move reminiscent of Yuan Shikai’s efforts to take control of the National Assembly in 1914, Chiang Kai-shek proceeded without multi-party support, drafting a constitution that would cement his control of power.

Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek toast each other 1946

In June 1946, General Marshall again got the KMT and the CCP to call a halt to their fighting – particularly heavy in Manchuria – and to return to the negotiating table. He pressed both sides to reopen the railways which were a key to the country’s distribution system. Yet, even as these discussions were occurring, the KMT was organizing a second assault on CCP positions in Manchuria to be launched in July. The CCP, in turn, were hardening their position. They refused joint military leadership, declined to give up any territory that they controlled and refused to have dictated to them which policies they could implement within the territory that they governed.  The CCP were also increasingly suspicious of American intentions. In their base areas, they began to voice anti-American propaganda about how the Imperial Americans were once again interfering in Chinese politics. In July 1946, the communists attacked an American supply convoy, killing four American Marines and wounding a dozen others.

In the face of renewed fighting, President Truman told General Marshall that the Americans would not support China if it dissolved into Civil War. He also re-articulated this in an August 10, 1946 letter to Chiang Kai-shek. Truman warned Chiang that if his positions did not become more flexible, American support would end. He encouraged Chiang to “outflank” the CCP through economic and social reforms instead of trying to crush them militarily. Yet, the KMT had always drawn its power from urban centers and from their business elite. It still paid little attentions to agrarian problems and remained largely unsympathetic to the peasants’ plight even though the peasants represented the overwhelming majority of the Chinese citizens. Chiang thus failed to recognize the revolutionary potential of the peasant masses. He never made any efforts to organize them for himself or to neutralize them with land and social reforms. Instead, for the most part, he continued policies that forced them into submission when the need arose, without ever considering what was making peasants revolt in the first place.

Chinese Peasants became radicalized due to KMT neglect of their conditions

Chiang Kai-shek also believed that the United States would never let China fall to the communists.  It was true that the United States wanted to establish a new balance of power in the Pacific and East Asia in which it could play a dominant role. Such a policy required a strong alliance with either China or Japan. That said, the US’s first priority was to rebuild Europe. Because of this, it wished to achieve its East Asian goals as inexpensively as possible. As China began to spiral into Civil War, the US began to look to Japan as a better and cheaper option on which to build its East Asian strategy.

By January 1947 Truman reached the conclusion that the KMT and the CCP were determined to fight it out. Truman had no intention of embroiling US troops in a Chinese civil conflict. US mediators were recalled. When Truman stole the election from Dewey in 1948, it was the nail that sealed the end of significant US engagement in China. The KMT had carefully cultivated relations with the Republican Dewey who had said that, if elected, he would extend massive aid to the Chinese. Truman showed no such inclination. After his election, he twice turned down KMT requests for aid in November and December 1948.

Land and other Reforms in Communist-held Areas

The CCP began implementing land redistribution in the territory under its control

While American-led negotiations were occurring through 1947, the communist leaders moved from a land reform policy based on rent reductions and graduated taxes to a more aggressive policy of land redistribution and the eradication of tenancy in the areas that they controlled.  The CCP were particularly active in launching this land reform policy in its original war-time base of Shaanxi, northern Jiangsu, and parts of Hebei and Shandong. The Communists efforts were most successful in areas ravaged by Japan’s Three All Policy as well as those provinces destroyed when Chiang Kai-shek broke the dikes of the Yellow River. In these areas, the Communist message of a new, fairer social order resonated with peasants mired in poverty. Also, years of fighting had weakened the peasants’ traditional social loyalties such as those to their lineage and religious associations. Often now, their villages and provinces were commanded by appointed officials whom the villagers considered nothing more than bullies and bandits.

Mass peasant engagement and violence became elemental to the land reform process. Mass meetings were used to unleash the anger of peasants against their wealthy landlords. These landlords were then subjected to public humiliation, beatings and even death while the peasants confiscated their land and often their food and wealth. Some of these land redistributions were temporarily reversed when KMT troops recaptured territory. In these instances of restored power, the KMT and landlords retaliated harshly.

The Battle for the Nation Intensifies

Communist troops in the Battle of Siping

With land and other reforms in communist controlled areas now set in motion, Lin Biao began to transform the PLA into a conventional fighting force, moving away from the guerrilla tactics that had been the communist modus operandi up until now. On May 1, 1946 the CCP renamed the Eight Route Army and the New Fourth Army the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (“PLA”). Lin Biao employed his new methods successfully by repulsing a KMT attack on Harbin. Then, in November 1946 he crossed the frozen Sungari River and attacked KMT troops in their winter base. Lin Biao continued to strike across the river throughout their early months of 1947, and then in May 1947, he launched a massive attack on the railway junction of Siping with 400,000 troops.

Defeated by the KMT who were backed by air power, Lin reorganized his forces and then surrounded and isolated several key Nationalist-held Manchurian cities by cutting off rail access which was a major line of supply. The KMT’s fighting spirit eroded. In particular, KMT troops were demotivated by the disparity between their poor pay and that of the officers’ who often used their positions for self-enrichment. KMT troops in Manchuria were quickly adopting a siege mentality, digging in behind defensive lines instead of trying to proactively attack the CCP whose troops were buoyed by many native Manchurians who felt they were fighting for their homeland. This effectively allowed the CCP complete control of the Manchurian countryside. By May 1948, the position of Chiang Kai-shek’s troops in Manchuria was turning increasingly desperate. This was all the more important because Chiang had concentrated many of his best troops there, without having first consolidating military and civil control of the South. The KMT strongholds of Changchun and Mukden could now only be supplied by air.

KMT soldiers with straw shoes – poor equipment and corrupt KMT military leaders led to high desertion rates toward the end of the Civil War

Yet Chiang Kai-shek had too much invested in Manchuria to listen to his military advisors who proposed that he pull back behind the Great Wall in order to regroup his forces. Louyang was captured by the Communist in April 1948, cutting Xi’an off from the East. Subsequent CCP victories in Shandong isolated 100,000 KMT troops in Jinan. Under a separate assault in March 1948, the Communist led by Peng Dehuai recaptured their wartime base of Yan’an which had been taken by Chiang Kai-shek in March 1947.

At the city of Kaifeng on the Yellow River – which protected the key railway junction of Kaifeng – the communists pitted 200,000  season troops against about 300,000 KMT fighters. The CCP succeeded in holding Kaifeng for a week before being forced to retreat. Yet the victory cost the KMT lost 90,000 men. By October 1948, the city of Jinan fell to the CCP due in part to KMT troop desertion and to communist underground activity. This meant that Chiang Kai-shek now lost its last base in Shandong. Also in October 1948, Lin Biao succeeded in capturing both Mukden and Changchun, thus causing the desertion, surrender or elimination 400,000 of Chiang Kai-shek’s best troops.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Leadership Challenged

Student protests

Chiang Kai-shek had been re-elected president in the spring 1948 by the National Assembly which had been boycotted by the CCP and the Democratic League. Yet continued economic, civil and military mismanagement was eroding his popularity. His support suffered further when in July 1948 government forces killed 14 and wounded over 100 students who had fled fighting in Manchuria and who were now living as refugees in Beijing. The students were shot when marching to protest their inadequate subsistence allowance which often forced them to beg in order to eat. On January 21, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek resigned as president, although he remained head of the Kuomintang Political Party. Chiang Kai-shek was replaced with Li Zongren.

The Final Communist Push

Peasants carting supply for communists

Having lost Shangdong, the KMT tried to regroup to defend northern China, or if that failed, the center of the country. In late 1948, Zhu De, Commander-in-Chief of all CCP forces, launched a successful 600,000 troop assault on the railway junction of Xuzhou against an equal number of KMT soldiers. In the 65 day battle that followed, the communists showed new skill with conventional warfare by outwitting the KMT generals who suffered from conflicting commands from Chiang Kai-shek and from heavy troop desertions. Deng Xiaoping orchestrated the communists’ logistical support by mobilizing 2 million peasants over four different provinces. Over the same period, Lin Biao captured Tianjin in January 1949. He then moved on to Beijing, convincing the KMT general to surrender. The KMT had lost the north of China.

The capture of so many large northern cities threw the communists into urban government as never before. Mao Zedong recognized this in March 1949 when he gave a report stating that the focus of communist efforts would begin to shift from the countryside into the cities while the PLA moved southward on its conquest of the country. In practical terms, their experience in Harbin was to prove invaluable. So was their initial decision to disrupt as little as possible the property and livelihoods of the people in the cities that they captured. To this effect, Chinese businesses were protected, urban property did not change hands, and factories were guarded from looting.

People’s Liberation Army enters Beijing

The PLA continued to maintain strict discipline in all the areas into which it moved. A people’s currency- the renminbi – soon replaced the KMT yuan. To try to prevent monetary chaos, only a short window was provided in which the yuan could be exchanged for the renminbi. Thereafter, any exchange in gold, silver or foreign currency was prohibited. Additionally, labor unions were not allowed to strike. Refugees were fed and repatriated when possible. Educational institutions continued to teach. Stockpiles of food were used by the government to stabilize food prices during times of shortage.

The KMT plan for a Final Retreat

Taipei Branch of the Bureau of Monopoly, was occupied by angry crowd Tawain 1947

Taipei Bureau of Monopoly occupied by angry crowd Taiwan 1947

By early 1949 the KMT was making contingency plans in the event of the once unthinkable- that communists could win control of the country. In 1945 China had reclaimed Taiwan from the Japanese who had ruled the island as a colony since 1895. When the KMT reinstalled a Chinese government in Japan after the war, the same patterns of KMT corruption and disregard continued. The KMT quickly alienated the local population. Taiwanese discontent came to a head in 1947 when Chinese troops fired into a group of Taiwanese gathered to protest the shooting of a woman selling cigarettes in contravention to a government monopoly. Over the following weeks, the KMT continued to treat the situation heavy-handedly by arresting and executing thousands of Taiwanese intellectuals and civilian leaders. It eventually imposed Martial Law in order to control the population.

Li Zongren

By January 1949, the KMT began transporting to Taiwan thousands of crates of Qing Dynasty archives as well as a huge collection of China’s dynastic art taken from the Imperial Palace collection. Chiang Kai-shek also began to steadily build up on the island a force of over 300,000 soldiers personally loyal to him.

Li Zongren, the new KMT president, tried to prevent this final retreat by getting Mao Zedong to compromise on his conditions for KMT surrender. These conditions included provisions such as a complete reform of the land tenure system and the reorganization of KMT armies under communist command that were completely unacceptable to the KMT. By April 1949, the Communists gave President Li an ultimatum to accede to their conditions within five days or the communists would attack anew.

Nanjing fell on April 23 without resistance. Hangzhou and Wuhan were lost shortly thereafter. Shanghai was taken in May 1949. Xi’an, Lanzhou and Changsha were taken by August 1949. By September the KMT had lost Xinjiang, Suiyuan and Ningxia. By October the KMT surrendered Canton and Xiamen – the last port from which to retreat to Taiwan. By November 1949 Chiang Kai-shek’s wartime base of Chongqing was claimed as communist territory.

The People’s  Republic of China

 1949

Mao Zedong founding People’s Republic of China October 1, 1949

Anticipating victory Mao Zedong convened a Political Consultative Conference in Beijing in late September 1949. The conference was dominated by the CCP while also including representatives from 14 other political parties. At a subsequent ceremony on October 1, 1949, standing atop the main entrance of the Ming and Qing Imperial Palace, Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

China, Rare Earths and Technological Edge

Introduction

By Jurii (http://images-of-elements.com/praseodymium.php) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Praseodymium, one of the light rare earth elements

A sign at the entrance of China’s Baotou, Inner Mongolia Pioneering Rare Earth Hi-Tech Zone quotes Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 claim: “There is oil in the Middle East, but there is rare earth in China.” The rare earth elements (REE) are a group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements occurring in the Earth’s crust that are becoming increasingly integral to the production of products ranging from smart phones and LED light bulbs to wind turbines and cruise missiles. Since the 1980s, REE mining and processing has increasingly moved to China. Due to factors such as cheaper labor and less stringent environmental regulations, China has been able to produce the elements at two-thirds the cost of non-Chinese producers. As a result, it now produces over 90% of the world’s REEs. China has also been moving from a supplier of unfinished REEs to a manufacturer of high-end REE products and it believes that mastering high-end REE technology will not only help ensure its safety given REE’s many defense applications, but could also allow it to leapfrog the US and other countries in the production, for instance, of green technologies.

China’s monopoly of REEs came to a head in 2008 when it began restricting the amount of unfinished REEs that it exported while increasing REE export taxes and removing REE VAT rebates. International concern was further increased in 2010 when China was believed to have implemented an unofficial REE export embargo against Japan for two months and the US and the EU for two weeks. A 2012 WTO complaint filed against China by the US, the EU and Japan claimed that the effect of these policies has meant that non-Chinese producers of REE products pay 31% more for their REEs than their Chinese competitors. The US, the EU and Japan also say that Chinese practices are placing pressure on foreign manufacturers to relocate their operations to China in order to minimize the impacts of rising costs and shrinking supplies, as China does not restrict or tax the export of REEs in manufactured products. China counters that its policies are necessary to improve the real environmental degradation that its lax standards have caused and to conserve its finite REE resources.

Rare Earth Elements and the History of their Development

The REEs are a group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements including the 15 lanthanides as well as scandium and yttrium. Scandium and yttrium are grouped with the rare earths as they share similar chemical and physical properties. Despite their name, the REEs– with the exception of the radioactive promethium which is currently synthesized in labs – are quite abundant in the Earth’s crust, although their crustal abundance varies significantly from place to place. The “rare” earth name comes instead from the rarity of the minerals from which they were originally derived. It also comes from the fact that the elements are rarely found in concentrations that are viable to mine.

The REEs are broadly divided into light rare earth elements (LREE) – lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, and samarium (atomic numbers 57-62 on the periodic table)  and heavy rare earth elements (HREE) – gadolinium,  promethium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium (atomic numbers 64-71). Scandium (atomic number 21) and yttrium (atomic number 39) are usually grouped with the LREEs. This division is somewhat random; sometimes the REEs are divided between light, middle and heavy. LREEs are more abundant than HREEs.

Although approximately 200 minerals are known to contain REEs, most REEs are mined from the minerals bastnaesite, monazite and xenotime. While these minerals usually contain the full range of the elements, either LREEs or HREEs tend to dominate one mineral or the other. For instance, bastnaesite, the most commercially productive source for REEs, tends to house a high percentage of LREEs and a small percentage of HREEs. Monazite, the second most common mineral used as a rare earth ore, also contains more LREEs than HREEs, although it typically has a higher concentration of HREEs than bastnaesite.  Xenotime, the third most important rare earth element ore, holds the highest ratios of HREEs. HREEs can also be found concentrated in some soils, absorbed in the form of ions. Bastnaesite, monazite and xenotime all contain traces of the radioactive elements thorium, although the amount varies between the minerals and between ore deposits. The presence of the radioactive element makes REE mining and waste management more difficult.

The first discovery of rare earth materials was made in the late 1800s in Sweden. Given that rare earths occur together and share similar chemical properties, it was a further 150 years until all the rare earth elements were isolated and identified. The last rare earth element to be discovered was the radioactive promethium which was found as a result of nuclear fission research carried out during World War II. In nature, promethium can only be found in trace amounts as it is highly unstable and has a half-life of 17.7 years.

Production of Rare Earth Elements

The periodic table

Until 1948, the majority of rare earths were produced in India and Brazil, followed by South Africa in the 1950s, and the Mountain Pass Mine in California from the 1960s to the 1980s. Since the 1980s, REE mining and processing, and the production of many REE products has moved to China. Between 1990 and 2000, for instance, China increased its REE production from 16,000 to 73,000 metric tons while non-Chinese producers saw their output decline from 44,000 tons to 16,000 tons. In 2009, China produced 129,000 tons while the output from all other countries dropped to 3,000 tons.

China now dominates the REE industry because it can produce REEs and REE products less expensively and with more purity than its competition. Its low cost production is the result of many factors including inexpensive labor, lower environmental standards and a REE industry which has historically been poorly regulated. It is estimated that China’s lower environmental standards have enabled it to produce rare earths at roughly a third the price of its international competitors. China has also made significant investments in REE mining and processing techniques which are now paying off in greater efficiencies. China also mines the majority of their REE as a by-product of their iron ore and other mineral mining, which also reduces their cost basis.

Where Global Rare Earth Resources are Found

The U.S. Geographical Society estimated that in 2008 China held approximately 57.7% of the world REE reserve, the Commonwealth of Independent States (which includes Russia and many former members of the Soviet Union) 13.6%, the US 9.1%, Australia 3.8%, Brazil 0.05%, India 0.84%, Malaysia 0.02% and other countries 14.9%. Additionally, the British journal Nature Geoscience reported scientists led by Yasuhiro Kato of the University of Tokyo, have found huge deposits of REEs in sea mud at 78 locations in international waters east and west of Hawaii, and east of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Japanese scientists have also identified REEs off island of Minamitorishima, an isolated Japanese coral atoll in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

In China, REEs have been found in 21 of China’s provinces and Autonomous Regions: Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Zhejiang. In general, China’s REE reserves are distributed in a light north, heavy south pattern. An estimated 75% to 90% of China’s REE output is in LREEs; 50% to -60% of its LREEs comes from its Banyan Obo mine in Inner Mongolia, and another 25% to 30% comes from mines in Sichuan Province. China’s remaining output is HREEs sourced primarily from its ion-adsorption clays located in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi.Southern China’s ion-adsorption clays are currently one of the most important concentrations of heavy HREEs in the world. Importantly, these clays have extremely low levels of radioactive elements.

Mining and Processing of Rare Earth Elements

Most REEs are mined either by digging in open pits or in underground mines. The ore is then crushed, heated and treated with various chemicals in order to separate first the bastnaesite, monazite and xenotime, and then to separate the REE from the bastnaesite, monazite and xenotime. In order to ensure a high market value, REE needs to be of high purity. This is a difficult process because REEs share such similar chemical properties. Each REE has its own unique extraction steps and refinement processes, and often these elements need to be reprocessed in order to achieve the ideal purity. Once separated, the REEs are in the form of oxides which are then made into metals. It takes an average of 10 days to go from mining to the production of rare earth oxides. China currently leads the world in REE separation processing technology.  Chinese companies can produce REEs of 99.9999% purity compared with French companies at 99.99% purity and Japanese at 99.9% purity.

Outside of China, companies in the US, France, Russia and Japan can complete some of the refining steps, but only China has the industrial capacity to complete the entire REE refinement process for all the elements. Mining companies such as US Molycorp and Australian Lynas which extract REEs outside of China currently find it necessary for technological and economical  reasons to ship their minerals to China for processing despite their respective efforts to move further down the REE processing chain.

Separating REE from bastnaesite, monazite and xenotime is more difficult than separating REE from the ion-adsorption soils. In Southern China, most of its REEs are found in clay deposits. Not only is it easier to separate REEs from the clay compared with the hard minerals, but it is also usually easier to access the clays in the first place. The ion-adsorption clays are near the crust’s surface, and generally require little drilling or blasting to remove. China’s Jiangxi South Rare Earth Hi-Tech Company has reduced the costs of the clay processing further by pioneering in-situ mining. This method involves drilling holes directly in the clay deposits, pumping in ammonium sulphate or salt-based solutions which remove 90% of the REE from the clay and then collecting the resulting liquid from pipes drilled in at lower levels. The liquid is then pumped into tanks where it is treated with further chemicals, filtered and roasted to produce rare earth oxides.

Uses of Rare Earths Elements

Rare earths are essential in the production of X-ray machines

REEs are essential to many products that are fundamental to our modern life. REEs can be found in products as diverse as TVs, plasma screen technologies, microwave filters, ear phones, self-cleaning ovens, flint lighters and computer memories. Because REEs are extremely effective in absorbing ultraviolet light, REEs are used in glass bottles, sunglasses, and camera lenses. Because they allow for the development of powerful permanent magnets – which differ from electrical magnets in that they produce their own magnetic field – REEs create improved magnetic performance in smaller sizes. They are, thus, important in miniaturization technology, and are a key reason why laptops, cell phones and smart pads are becoming increasingly lighter and smaller.

Permanent neodymium-iron-boron magnets are also fundamental to many green technologies, especially wind turbines. Their superior magnetic strength means that they increase the amount of electricity that a wind turbine can produce. REE magnets also have the advantage that they retain more magnetism when heated. These qualities make them ideally suited for the production of hybrid cars. The Toyota Prius, for instance, contains 1 kg of neodymium in each of its electric motors. REE magnets also improve the energy efficiency of many appliances and cooling systems. REE magnets have been shown to reduce the power consumption of air conditioning systems by as much as 50%, and have led to the development of more environmentally friendly refrigeration methods. Energy efficient lighting such as the fluorescent lamp and LEDs are also big users of REEs.

REEs are also employed in other green technology applications. For instance, REEs are essential to the automotive catalytic converter whose job it is to convert pollutants in engine exhaust gases into non-toxic compounds. They also used in oil refineries to process heavy crude oil into lighter gas, jet fuel and petrol. They are also proving essential to the development of solid oxide fuel cells – a low-pollution technology which electrochemically generates electricity at high efficiencies – and other fuel cells which are being developed as power generators for zero emissions electric vehicles.

Besides, the green technology industry, REEs are also found in a wide range of industrial applications. For instance, REEs are employed in many aspects of nuclear energy production because of their ability to absorb neutrons while remaining stable at high temperatures. They are also found in ceramics, glass coloring and in the colors displayed on TV, computer and hand-held screens. They help paint pigment deflect ultraviolet light which makes them less likely to fade. Most finished glass products, such as mirrors, have been shined by REE concentrates and oxides. REEs are also a critical component in the creation of super-alloys or super-metals which are a class of heat resistant alloys used in the aerospace and power industries, particularly in gas turbine engines. REEs are also elemental to the technology that allows for the solid state storage of hydrogen.

REEs are also found in many medical technologies including x-rays and PET scan detectors. REEs not only improve the performance of MRI machines, but they also enable the physical internal scanning space of the machines to be wider, which serves to reduce feelings of claustrophobia for sick patients. Medical lasers produced with REEs are used in the cosmetic industry to remove pigmentation and scarring on skin, as well as in many other surgical procedures. There are also increasingly used in dentistry to remove tooth decay.

REES are crucial for the defense industry. They can be found in disk drive motors installed in aircraft, tanks, and command and control centers, and in radar systems and in reactive armor. They are key to the production of precision guided munitions, helping to guide the direction of the missile once it is launched. They are fundamental to lasers employed in enemy mine detection equipment, underwater mines and other countermeasure weapons systems. REEs are also found in components used in military communication networks including satellite, radar and sonar. They are also used in optical equipment and speakers.

In 2011, the US Geological Society estimated that the global use of rare earths broke down as follows: catalysts 47%, metallurgical applications and alloys 24%, glass polishing and ceramics 15%, permanent magnets 9%, computer monitors 19%, radar, television and x-ray machines 5%.

Environmental Consequences of Rare Earth Mining

The manufacture of REEs poses significant environmental hazards because of the large amounts of chemicals used in processing and because the processing waste often contains toxic gases and traces of the radioactive thorium. In northern China’s Bayan Obo  (Baiyun Ebo) mine in Inner Mongolia, for instance, REEs are mined and then transported 120km south to Baotou to be processed. Dozens of new factories have been built around Baotou’s processing facilities in what has been called Baotou’s Pioneering Rare Earth Hi-Tech Development Zone. A coal-fuelled power station supplies electricity to Baotou’s large and growing industrial complex.

The Yellow River

The Chinese Society of Rare Earths estimated that for every ton of rare earth oxide it produces in Baotou, China generates up to 12,000m³ of waste gas containing dust concentrates, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, and about 2000 tons of mine tailings. Tailings are the ground materials left over once the REEs have been removed from the ore. In northern China, these tailings contain traces of radioactive thorium. In addition, it is estimated that all factories and processing facilities in the Rare Earth Hi-Tech Development Zone create approximately 10 million tons of all types of waste water every year.  Much of this waste water along with an estimated 7-8 million annual tons of mine tailings are dumped into what has grown into an approximately 11km² waste impoundment lake without being effectively treated. A 2006 Chinese report undertaken by local authorities found that the level of thorium in soil near the lake was 36 times higher than in the soil in other areas of Baotou. From the lake, the chemical and radioactive waste has seeped into the ground water. The waste has also found its way into the Yellow River which passes to the south of Baotou before continuing another 1300 miles to the Yellow Sea. The Yellow River is subsequently used as a water supply for a large concentration of China’s population, including the residents of Beijing and Tianjin.

Around Baotou, most fish in the Yellow River have died. Agriculture has also been severely affected as lake wastewater has contaminated irrigation water supplies and the soil. Local farmers say that since the 1980s, fruit trees have either yielded no fruit or that the fruit they do grow is small and foul-smelling. Vegetable plants have stopped producing and many livestock in the area have become ill and died.

Residents inhaling the vapors and drinking the contaminated water have noticed higher incidents of diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory diseases, leukemia and other cancers, skin and eye irritations, irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, black lung disease and kidney damage.

China’s southern REE mining and processing operations have also caused significant environmental degradation. The in-situ extraction method, which was hoped to be less environmentally damaging, has also resulted in reduced or eliminated crop yields and in fish dying in the rivers in the areas around which it is being mined. One issue in the south has been the extensive presence of illegal mines which are particularly prone to releasing toxic waste into the general water supply.

Until recently, China has never had firm pollutant discharge standards for the rare earth industry. Additionally, it poorly enforces the regulations that do exist. This lack of stringent environmental regulation and enforcement has meant that China’s REE industry produces REEs at roughly a third the price of its international competitors. While some Chinese REE companies have tried to improve their mining processes to make them more environmentally friendly, many have chosen to keep their environmental costs to a minimum in order to maintain a competitive edge in the market. In addition, as the government owns the land on which the factories lie, companies have little incentive to protect it. Additionally, China’s still-developing legal structure means that people and companies cannot easily be held accountable through the country’s judicial system. In Western countries, if employees or residents become ill due to unsafe production methods, those responsible would likely face due process which could result imprisonment and fines. This is not the case in China, unless victims have the support of the government. Yet the government often has a stake in the REE production process which acts as an incentive for the REE processing to continue untouched.

Characteristics of China’s Rare Earth Industry before Government Reform

Fluorescent light bulbs require rare earths

Starting in 2000, China’s government began to re-evaluate its REE strategy in the light of its rapid development, the poor profitability of its rare-earth producers and the rapidly growing demand for REEs worldwide. While its achievements in the REE field since 1978 are undeniable, the government has become increasingly concerned about a number of issues. These issues were outlined in Situation and Policies of China’s Rare Earth Industry published by the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in June 2012 and included: severe ecological damage to the environment, excessive exploitation of REE resources, poor profitability of the REE industry causing what it considered to be a severe divergence between the price and the value of REEs, and the illegal mining and sale of REEs.

While the environmental degradation that has been caused by China’s REE production is quite widely known, part of the purpose of the China’s REE report was to inform on the other challenges that China faces in managing its REE resources. Specifically, China found that 50 years of aggressive mining of its REE resources have significantly reduced its reserves. In Baotou, for instance, the report stated that only about one third of the original volume of REE resources was left in its principal mines. In its ion-adsorption clays, the reserve extraction ratio – the remaining supplies of REE in years – has declined from 50 years of remaining resources 20 years ago to 15 years of REE resources today.

While China publishes the country’s REE data yearly, these reports are not available to foreign researchers. Independently verifying the PRC’s calculation of its reserve levels has thus been difficult. For instance,

s China’s Situation and Policies of China’s Rare Earth Industry paper calculated that China holds 23% of the world’s reserves, while the 2008 US Geological study calculated that China held 58% and a 2011 British Geological Survey Rare Earth Elements paper calculated that China held 44%. That said, there can be no doubt that China has seen a rapid depletion of REE reserves in the last three decades.

China has also expressed concern about the poor profitability of the REE industry. Historically, the Chinese REE industry has been characterized by numerous, relatively small-scale enterprises, particularly in the south, which often engage in cutthroat competition. This has often meant that REE producers have often struggled to maintain profitability. Yet, as many local governments have relied on REE producers to provide employment and revenue, they have continued to encourage local production even it means exceeding national production targets. As a result, China feels that it REE resources have been sold at prices which do not reflect their real value or take into account environmental costs. To support this argument, China cites the fact that between 2000 and 2010 the price of rare earth products increased by 2150%, while the prices of gold, copper and iron all increased by in excess of 4300%.

China’s REE has also been plagued by illegal mining and smuggling. The report states, that from 2006 to 2008, statistics collected from foreign customs offices were 35%, 59% and 36% higher than the volumes that China officially exported over this time period. In 2008, it was estimated that approximately 29,000 tons of rare earth materials were smuggled out of the country, representing an estimated one-third of total REE exports. In 2014, it was estimated that illicit sales rose to 40% of all REE production or as much as 40,000 tons. Illicit REE materials are often hidden as steel composites, then reverse-engineered out when they reach the customer’s home country. It is believed that Japan is the largest importer of illicit REE materials, and may get as much as 20% of its REEs from China’s black market. Smuggling hurts China’s rare earth industry both by depressing prices, more quickly depleting REE resources and by increasing environmental damage as smugglers usually pay scant attention to pollution management.

Rapid Increase in Domestic Demand for REE Products

China has also seen a rapid increase in domestic demand for REEs, and it expects this demand to continue to increase in the future. In 2000, for instance, Chinese REE consumption was about 19,000 metric tons while non-Chinese usage was about 72,000 tons. By 2009 Chinese REE consumption had reached about 73,000 tons while other usage had declined to 59,000 tons. China uses more REEs today as its REE industry is moving higher up the manufacturing value chain. For instance, its 1987 production of products such as catalysts, magnets, phosphors, and polishing powder represented only about 1% of the total REE that it consumed. By 2008, the production of these products accounted for about 53% of the REEs used in China. Going forward, China expects its REE use in the new material technologies to grow faster than in its other traditional industrial sectors.

As an example, in July 2008, China had approximately 600 million mobile phone users; by November 2012 China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology estimated that China’s mobile phone owners had exceeded one billion. Similarly, in 1998, the United States, Europe and Japan produced 90% of the world’s permanent neodymium-iron-boron magnets; today China manufactures 76% of the world’s total. In 2009, China produced 12,000 gigawatts of wind power; by 2015, China aims to have 100 gigawatts of on-grid wind power generating capacity, and to be generating 190 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of wind power annually.

China’s Reform of its Rare Earth Industry

As early as 1990, the Chinese government deemed REEs to be a strategic mineral critical to China’s long-term political, economic and military power and began restricting foreign investors from mining rare earth, or from participating in smelting and separating except in joint ventures  with Chinese firms. By 2000, Chinese scientists and military experts were calling for even greater controls over its REEs. In 2005, Xu Guangxian, China’s leading REE scientist, argued that at the current rate of extraction the Bayan Obo mine would be depleted in 35 years.

As a result, the Chinese government began to implement a number of initiatives designed to reform the industry. Laws regarding REE mining, production and waste management were reviewed, and efforts have since been made to improve enforcement. Additionally, in 2005, the government eliminated the value-added tax rebates for REEs, and taxes on the export of unimproved REEs were raised. The government also reduced the number of REE mining and processing licenses issued. In 2006, 47 domestic REE producers and 12 Sino-foreign rare Earth producers were licensed to export rare earth products from China. By 2011, that number had dropped to 22 domestic REE producers and 9 Chinese-foreign joint venture REE producers. It has also begun to stockpile REE materials with the goal of reaching reserves of 30,000 to 55,000 tons of rare earth concentrates.

Additionally, it created the 2009-2015 Plan for Developing the Rare Earth Industry, and established the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, consisting of 150 members whose aim is to develop a fully integrated REE sector. Part and parcel of this, it has divided the country into large REE districts: Jiangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan, and Guangxi in the South; Inner Mongolia and Shandong in the North; and Sichuan in the West. Between 2009 and 2015, the government expects Inner Mongolia and Sichuan to be primarily responsible for producing LREE with additional capacity coming from Shandong as needed. HREEs will be produced in Jiangxi, Guangdong and Fujian. Increased inspections by government officials will be carried out in order to ensure that facilities are not exceeding national quotas and that mining and manufacturing are meeting environmental regulations.

Since January 2014, China has pressed aggressively ahead with its efforts to consolidate the REE industry under six large state owned enterprises (SOE)including Inner Mongolia Baotou Iron and Steel Group, China Minmetals Corporaion, Aluminum Corporation of China (Chinalco), Guangdong Rare Earth Group, Xiamen Tungsten, and Ganzhou Rare Earth Group. These SOEs will control the industry by geographic region. An estimated 300 smaller, independent REE producers have been forced to shut down or  to merge  with  the SOEs. These SOEs will invest in all aspects of the rare earth industry chain. Currently, these six companies control 94% of China’s RE resources,  75% of its mines and  60% of the smelting and separating capacity. After consolidation, the six SOEs are expected to have complete control over these sectors. These  conglomerates will be supported by financial subsidies, tax breaks, and other form of government  investments, and will be encouraged  to expand their expertise  in areas such as REE recycling.

China continues to view the REE industry as of strategic importance to the country. Its goal is to have a significant market share of the entire REE supply chain from mining, smelting and separating to manufacture of high-end rare earth technologies. China’s dominance in the middle aspects of the REE supply chain – transforming mined materials into useful ingredients – enables China to draw in related domestic and multinational businesses that depend on the REE materials. This in turn increases China’s importance to supply chains in everything from mobile phones to wind turbines.

Since January 2014, Beijing has also stepped up its campaign against illegal mining. It has forced smaller, wildcat producers to close, and is now conducting helicopter searches in areas where illegal mines are purported to be operating. It is also going after the gangs who are running them as well as local government officials who turn a blind eye.

Beijing is also working to stamp out illegal production by larger, licensed companies which avoid production quotas by exporting RRE under ambiguous labels such as “iron alloy”.  New export license paperwork for the big six will be more onerous and exacting. Beijing is also trying to implement a RE supply chain trace-ability system.

Since July 2014, China has push ahead with its plans to grow  its domestic REE stockpiles.  China plans to use it stockpiles to ensure  adequate resource  supply  in the future, especially in light of growing domestic demand. It will also use it stockpiles as a mechanism  to support REE  pricing.

Export Quotas

Chinese ships loaded with rare earth minerals for export

The government also began to implement quotas on the amount of REEs that it allowed to leave the country. From the Chinese perspective, quotas felt appropriate as foreign countries, particularly the United States and Japan, were seen to be taking advantage of China’s cheap, environmentally-destructive REEs while maintaining strategic stockpiles in their own un-dug mines. Quotas would also help ensure that the Chinese had plenty of REEs for their domestic needs. Historically, separate export quotas have been set for domestic REE producers and for Sino-foreign joint venture REE producers. Between 2005 and 2007, the government authorized domestic REE producers to export 40,000 metric tons and Chinese-foreign joint ventures to export 16,000 metric tons. In 2008 and 2009, China reduced the domestic quota by 21.6% and 2.5% respectively while holding the Chinese-foreign joint venture quota steady. By 2010, China’s overall REE export quota was reduced an additional 37.1%, this time impacting both domestic and Sino-foreign joint venture producers alike.

The government’s new policies are specifically designed to restrain the export of unprocessed REEs, as no quotas have been placed on REEs exported in finished products. Part of the reason for this is that the government wants to encourage foreign REE manufacturers to relocate their production facilities to China, particularly to Baotou’s Pioneering Rare Earth Hi-Tech Development Zone.  It is estimated that approximately 50 foreign companies are already operating within Baotou’s industrial complex. From the Chinese perspective, this would allow them access to new technology and would generate jobs for its citizens. Non-Chinese consumers of REEs have criticized this policy saying that it is pressuring them to relocate to China in order to stay cost competitive. This in turn could put their proprietary REE technology at risk, and it would continue international dependence on China’s REE industry.

Chinese Suspension of Rare Earth Exports

On September 7th, 2010, a Chinese fishing trawler rammed a Japan Coast Guard vessel near to the Senkaku/Diaoyu disputed islands, known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands, and in China as the Diaoyu Islands. The islands are administered by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan. The Japanese subsequently detained the captain, causing a major diplomatic dispute between the two countries.  Despite repeated demands by the Chinese government, the Japanese refused to release the captain, saying that instead his case would be handled by the Japanese courts. In retaliation, the Chinese canceled official ministerial Sino-Japanese meetings, and revoked an invitation for 1000 youths to attend the Shanghai World Expo. (Lin, 2010) Although denied by the Chinese government, on September 21st, it is widely believed that the Chinese also orchestrated an unofficial halt of REE exports to Japan by having its custom agencies prevent the export of REEs, though this has recently been questioned in academic studies, particularly in light of the fact that shipments to Europe and the US were also halted the following month, and given that the Japanese government had expressed grievances over the rare earths issue as early as August 18th. Beijing claimed instead that the export stoppage was a spontaneous, independent demonstration of support by Chinese REE exporters and custom agents. Regardless of its origin, the embargo has enabled China to exert political pressure on Japan. The unofficial nature of the embargo also made it more difficult to challenge in the World Trade Organization (WTO) which bans most unilateral export stoppages.  On September 24th, Japan released the Chinese captain, with the Chief Prosecutor citing “Japan’s national interests”.

By mid-October 2010, China was also blocking some shipments to the United States and Europe after the Obama administration opened an investigation into whether China was violating free-trade rules with its green energy policies including its restrictions on REEs. China resumed shipments to the U.S. and Europe at the end of October, but did not resume shipments to Japan until the November 24th. Part of its decision to resume shipments to Japan might have been due to the fact that many Chinese assembly factories, employing hundreds of workers, were running low on Japanese-made components when suppliers began to face shortages of some of the REEs needed in their manufacture.

Consolidating the Industry and Ending Illegal Mining and Smuggling

Since 2006, the government has stepped up its efforts to shut down illegal mines in the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Sichuan. Over the last two years, China has investigated and rectified 600 cases of illegal mining, has identified an additional hundred cases against which further action will be taken, and has closed 13 mines and 76 processing facilities. Similarly, in 2011, China launched a campaign to crack down on REE smuggling, retrieving 769 tons of smuggled REE metals and prosecuting 23 criminal suspects in eight cases.

China has also been urging its REE producers to merge together. Ultimately, the government envisions that the REE industry will be eventually controlled by a few, state owned enterprises. Surviving Chinese producers have seen advantages to this consolidation strategy as it has helped to reduce unnecessary competition and increase profitability. For instance, Dingnan Dahua New Materials Co., Ganxian Hongjin Rare Earths Co. Ltd, Minmetals Nonferrous Metals Co. Ltd have all joined together to form Minmetals Ganzhou Rare Earth Co. Ltd to process REEs in Ganshou, Jiangxi Province. Their operations are expected to slowly subsume the majority of the production of the 88 smaller REE producers that have historically been operating in the area.

Improving Environmental Regulation

Rare earths are crucial for wind turbines

China also plans to implement stricter environmental standards. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has now set discharge standards for six types of atmospheric pollutants and for 14 different types of water pollutants. China will aim for its new REE facilities to be built to ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 certificate standard. It may also force its dirty mining and processing facilities to halt operations until they are also able to secure the ISO accreditation. The ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 are internationally recognized accreditations that look at how a product is produced rather than the product itself. The ISO 14000 standards help organizations establish procedures that minimize negative effects to the environment. If China enforces its tougher environmental standards, it is estimated that it could add between $145 and $220 to the production costs of every ton of REE products. These higher costs would significantly erode China’s cost advantage in the industry.

Additionally, China intends to increase the recycling rate of both REEs in discarded electronic products as well as recycling an estimated 12.6 million tons of REE oxides that had been deposited in its Baotou tailings pond. Currently there are no cost-effective ways to recycle rare earth elements from old equipment such as computers, electric motors and cell phones. Similarly, technology to extract residue REEs in tailings ponds is also in need of further development. China is also working on technology that will reduce the amount of REEs that are flushed into tailings ponds in the first place.

China’s Rare Earth Industry Research and Investment

As China considers its REE industry to be of critical strategic importance, it is heavily investing in REE research and development. It hopes breakthroughs in REE technology will help ensure its national security, and could enable China to leap-frog the West to lead in the development of many new advanced technologies such as those found in the rapidly emerging environmental sector. Indeed, in 1999 President Jiang Zemin noted that if China could master REE technology, its REE resource advantage could then help lead China to economic superiority.

Much of China’s REE investment has been funneled through the State Key Laboratory of Rare Earth Materials Chemistry and Applications, affiliated with Peking University in Beijing, and the State Key Laboratory of Rare Earth Resource Utilization, affiliated with the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry which is run under the direction of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Between the two labs, there are approximately 70 faculty members, 35 professors and 75 graduate students dedicated to REE research. Additionally, China also conducts REE research through the Baotou Research Institute in the General Research Institute for Nonferrous Metals. Each of these institutions run complementary but independent research into the efficient and environmentally friendly mining and processing of REEs, the development of technology employing REE materials, the recycling of REEs from already existing products and the reclamation of REE materials in its extensive waste ponds.

China is not only investing in REE domestically, it is also purchasing stakes in rare earths natural resources abroad. For instance, China has purchased a 25% date in Arafura Resources Ltd, an Australian Rare Earth developer.

World Response to the Reform of China’s Rare Earth Industry – WTO filing

In March 2012, the United States, European Union, and Japan filed a complaint with the WTO against China’s REE trade practices in response to export restrictions, restrictions in export licensing, higher export taxes, and the withdrawal of the 16% refund of value-added tax on exports of unimproved REEs. They argued that the effect of these policies has been that non-Chinese producers of REE products pay 31% more for their REE materials than their Chinese competitors.  The US, EU and Japan are also challenging aspects of the allocation and administration of export quotas, export licenses and the manipulation of export prices. They contend that Beijing aims to satisfy domestic REE demand first, and to control the international price of REEs abroad. They also say that Chinese practices are placing pressure on foreign manufacturers to relocate their operations to China in order to minimize the impacts of rising costs and shrinking supplies. It is expected that the complaint will take between one and three years to resolve.

WTO ruled against China's REE export restrictions

WTO ruled against China’s REE export restrictions

China has countered that its policies are intended to improve the environmental standards of its REE mining and processing facilities as well as to promote the long-term economic sustainability of its REE resources. It has rejected a call for the establishment of a WTO panel. China has also countered that foreign suppliers have not complained of China dumping low-cost REEs as they previously had with China’s export of low-priced steel and textiles.

The US, EU and Japan feel that a WTO ruling made in January 2012 supports their case. In that ruling, the WTO decided that price and quantity controls primarily targeting foreign entities were not a reasonable implementation of a resource conservation policy. It also stated that trade restriction measures for the purpose of environmental protection can only be applied in conjunction with restraints on domestic production or consumption.

In June 2014 the WTO ruled against China and in August 2014 China lost its appeal. The WTO stated that China’s efforts conserve its limited REE resources and to protect its environment by restricting foreign access to REE tungsten and molybdenum through export duties, export quotas, minimum export pricing requirements and additional requirements and procedures constitute a breach of WTO rules. Instead the WTO found that the China’s REE restrictions were designed to achieve industrial policy goals rather than REE resource conservation or environmental protection. The WTO ruled this because no measures were put in place to restrict domestic access to REE supplies. Instead the export restrictions gave domestic companies preferential access to REEs at prices below that available to foreign customers.

World Response to the Reform of China’s Rare Earth Industry – Developing New Rare Earth Sources

Car production could be affected by rare earth shortages

Many governments and companies around the world are also beginning to develop new REE sources, now feasible given the higher REE prices which have resulted from increased REE demand and China’s export restrictions. The Australian company Lynas Corporation, for instance, has invested in an $800 million processing plant located on Malaysia’s East Coast. Once fully operational, Lynas’s Malaysian processing plant is slated to become one of the largest REE processing plants in the world. Yet, the opening of the plant has been plagued by protests from Malaysian activists who worry about its environmental implications. The plant is located on reclaimed swampland just 12 miles from Kuantan, a city of 600,000 people. A particular worry is that the plant’s toxic wastewater, containing chemicals and low levels of thorium, will seep into the groundwater, and that its storage ponds could become vulnerable to the monsoons that inundate the swampy coastline each autumn. Currently, Mitsubishi Chemical is investing $100 million to clean up its Bukit Merah REE processing site which it was forced to close in 1992 when local residents began complaining of leukemia and other ailments tied to thorium contamination. This environmental contamination has caused Malaysian activists to demand greater environmental regulation for all future RE processing facilities located on its soil.

In California, near Death Valley, Molycorp Minerals has invested $781 million in the modernization and expansion of its RE mining and manufacturing facilities that were shuttered in 2002 when it was unable to produce REEs at prices which could compete with Chinese producers. Molycorp aims for its newly refurbished Mount Pass facility to be one of the most technologically advanced, energy efficient and environmentally friendly REE processing operations in the world. By the end of 2013, Molycorp expects Mountain Pass to be producing 40,000 metric tons of REEs annually. As the US currently consumes between 15,000 and 18,000 metric tons of rare earth oxides each year, this would mean that the US would turn into an exporter of REE products in the near future.

Mines are also under consideration in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Greenland, Mongolia, Vietnam and India. In 2009, Japan signed a contract with Vietnam to invest in a rare earth mine that will produce solely for Japanese vehicle manufacturers. The problem is even if these new mines and accompanying processing plants were given the go-ahead, it could still take between 3 and 10 years, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars, before these new projects would become fully operational. Others are investing more heavily in the manufacturing of high-end REE products outside of China. Japan’s Hitachi Metals Company, for instance, is investing in a permanent magnet factory in China Grove, North Carolina instead of locating it in China as it had originally envisioned.

A concern for those investing in new REE mining and processing locations is that China could increase production again driving down REE prices just as their projects come on line, once again making non-Chinese mining and processing facilities uneconomical. Ironically, a WTO judgment in favor of the US, the EU and Japan could have this effect by forcing them to withdraw export restrictions which would once again flood the market with Chinese REE product. To protect against this, some non-Chinese scientists and industrialists have called for their governments to provide federal support in the form of loan guarantees and other assistance. Others argue that the rapidly growing demand for REEs should help maintain prices, even in the event of a significant increase in Chinese REE production.

World Response to the Reform of China’s Rare Earth Industry – Other Initiatives

International consumers of China’s REEs are also taking other steps to become independent from Chinese supplies. As a short term stop-gap, countries such as Japan and South Korea already have strategic stockpiles of rare earth metals. Countries are also increasing research into REE substitutes and REE recycling.

Trends for the Future

Rare earth mining is certain to be an important part of China’s future economy

China’s REE industry continues to grow at a strong clip. According to the Industrial Minerals Company of Australia, China’s REE annual output is forecasted to rise from 105,000 tons in 2011 to approximately 130,000 tons by 2016.

China considers the development of REE technologies a national priority. To support this objective, it will continue to invest heavily in research and development in all aspects of REE production from improved mining efficiency to the development of cutting-edge REE technologies.  It will also continue to invest in technologies that will allow it to reclaim REEs from its tailing ponds and to recycle REEs from discarded electronic products.

China should be able to have substantially greater influence over REE’s supply and the pricing. To some extent this will offset its inability to control supply and price by export quotas and by other trade restrictions now ruled to be illegal by the WTO. China will also continue to build domestic stockpiles.

The financial and academic resources China is investing in basic REE research are unparalleled anywhere in the world. Similarly, no other country has identified the manufacturing of REE technologies as a national objective and is pursuing it as single-mindedly. Given China’s significant level of naturally occurring REE reserves, its destination as a low-cost manufacturing base, and its heavy research and investment in all aspects of the REE sector, it can be expected that China will continue to rapidly consolidate its already strong foothold in the manufacture of many of the REE technologies. It is likely it will dominate the production of many of these technologies in the future.

Rising REE prices and aggressive Chinese REE policies have caused non-Chinese REE miners and manufacturers to seek alternative REE sources and alternative locations to produce their REE components. Over the next 10 years, it can be expected that new REE mining and processing sources will come on line, allowing international competitors to claw back some unfinished REE market share. In particular, US Molycorp and Australian Lynas both have brought REE mines on stream. Similarly, international REE producers, wary of the Chinese subsuming their technology, will continue to seek alternative, cost-effective places to manufacture. That said, they will struggle to compete against China’s advantages.

Sino-Japanese Relations: In the Shadow of History

An Overview

There can be no doubt that China and Japan are the giants of East Asia, both in economic and political terms. The bilateral relationship is, therefore, of great importance to both the region and the wider world. Despite a mainly cordial relationship over two thousand years of known interaction, Sino-Japanese relations have been complex and difficult for over a century. After a brutal invasion and occupation of the Chinese mainland during its expansive war of the 1930s and 1940s, Japan was defeated and found itself firmly in the anti-Communist bloc during the Cold War. A thaw in the 1970s, driven by the Chinese split with the Soviets led to the normalization of diplomatic relations but the Chinese and Japanese never truly reconciled this history. As a result, the question of history remains one of the biggest thorns in the side of the Sino-Japanese relationship. Compounding this emotional problem is a series of territorial disputes in the East China Sea, most notably around the Diaoyu (in Chinese) or Senkaku (in Japanese) islands. There are also ground for optimism; China has been Japan’s largest trading partner since 2007 and the two countries have worked together to promote regional cooperation and low level institutionalization. Nevertheless, the difficult shared history casts a constant shadow over the relationship.

The Historical Relationship

China’s relationship with Japan has a long and complex history, with interaction between the two cultures stretching back over at least two millennia. There can be no doubt that much of Japanese culture has its roots in that which it borrowed from the Chinese. This is most notable in the written form of Japanese, which uses both Chinese characters and two other scripts that are derived from written Chinese (though the oral language is entirely distinct from Mandarin). The other major similarity lies in philosophy and religion; the adoption of Confucianism and Buddhism, both of which were learned through interaction with the Chinese over many centuries, is still clearly evident in modern Japan. This adoption of aspects of Chinese culture took place across several of China’s dynastic periods, during which interaction was predominantly cordial with the Japanese paying tribute to the Chinese emperors without ever really becoming a “vassal state” in the way that many other areas of East Asia did during this time.

The relatively cordial interaction was brought to an end during the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868) during which it effectively closed itself to dealings with other states. The end of this period coincided with several of China’s military defeats to Western powers, including the Opium Wars, which led to various parts of China becoming “concessions”, effectively miniature colonies within China. These defeats were part of the long decline of China’s final dynasty, the Qing, and Japan, like several Western powers, sought to take advantage of the chaos and confusion that ensued. After the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, which had initially been fought over control of Korea, China was forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, under the terms of which Japan occupied Taiwan and the Penghu Islands. This defeat is considered by many Chinese to have been a huge psychological blow to the nation. After millennia of perceived Chinese superiority in the region, just a few short decades had seen China’s military humiliation at the hands of various “barbarians” from outside of East Asia and now at the hands of the Japanese, over whom the Chinese had always considered themselves to be both culturally and militarily superior.

However, by far the most significant conflict between the two powers, both in terms of the shutterstock_2646972 resizednumber of deaths and the continuing impact on the bilateral relationship, was the invasion of China by Japan that occurred in the 1930s. After first colonising Manchuria, in the Northeast of China, Japanese forces went on to occupy almost half of Chinese territory, committing widespread atrocities along the way. The most notorious of these atrocities was the Nanjing Massacre, a six-week orgy of violence and destruction during which as many as 300,000 Chinese, many of them civilians, were killed. Almost as notorious was the work of Unit 731, a Japanese research unit that conducted chemical testing on live Chinese prisoners of war. The occupation, including the colonisation of Manchuria, lasted a total of fourteen years, only coming to an end with Japan’s defeat in 1945.

With the dawning of the Cold War era, the PRC and Japan did not normalise relations until 1972, following Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing. During the negotiations to establish mutual diplomatic recognition the Chinese agreed to forgo any war reparations or compensation from Japan for its wartime atrocities. For the remainder of the 1970s the two enjoyed a warm relationship, culminating in the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978 and, following China’s decision to embark on market reform, the initiation of a series of low-interest loans (frequently referred to as “Yen loans”) from Japan to China to fund development of industry and infrastructure. While never explicitly acknowledged as such by either party, these were widely considered to be in lieu of war reparations.

The “History Issue”

Despite the apparent thaw in relations it is widely acknowledged that the reconciliation between China and Japan was only ever at a superficial level. This is evidenced by the CHEN WS / Shutterstock.comrecurrence of what has come to be termed “the history issue” in the relationship. Though the countries normalized relations in 1972, the history issue did not rear its head until the early 1980s. An apparent revision of Japan’s history textbooks in the early 1980s, which seemed to downplay Japan’s invasion of China, sparked an angry response from China at both the societal and political levels. Though it transpired that this was a misunderstanding caused by reporting errors in the Japanese media, the damage had been done and this issue recurs each time Japan’s Education Ministry approves a set of history textbooks, normally every four years. In 2001 and 2005, this issue caused widespread anger in China when a book was approved that apparently downplayed the Nanjing Massacre and referred to the invasion of China has merely an “advance”. What is rarely understood in China is that the textbooks in question are produced by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a very narrowly focused right wing group that attracts little support in the wider Japanese society, and that they only appear on a list of books approved to be used, rather than being the set text. As a result, only a handful of Japanese schools have adopted these books with a reported 0.03% of Junior High School students actually studying them, a figure that would have been much lower were it not for the campaign group issuing free copies to schools for disabled students. Nevertheless, the approval sparked angry demonstrations across China with protest marches attracting in excess of ten thousand in several different cities and violent attacks on Japanese business interests and the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. Though some reports at the time suggested that the Chinese government played a role in organizing and inspiring these protests, later research showed this not to be the only driving force behind the outpouring.
shutterstock_87269803Another particularly sensitive matter is Yasukuni Shrine, a highly controversial Shinto shrine in Tokyo that honors all of Japan’s war dead. Under Shinto beliefs it is believed to be the resting place for the kami (loosely translated as souls) of all those who have died fighting for the Emperor of Japan since the shrine’s inception in the 1860s. This includes Class A war criminals that were convicted after Japan’s occupation of China of war crimes. Most notorious among these is Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minister. After the Class A war criminals were enshrined in 1978 in a secret ceremony that was revealed a year later, the Emperor refused to visit the shrine again until his death a decade later. His successor has continued the policy of staying away in order not to offend Japan’s neighboring states. However, there have been several high profile visitors that have caused consternation in China (and other East Asian countries, most notable South Korea). In the early 1980s, it was commonplace for Prime Minister Nakasone to visit, until he did so on August 15th 1985, the fortieth anniversary of Japan’s surrender. In response to opposition in China, the General Secretary of the CCP, Hu Yaobang, personally requested that Nakasone stop these visits. Though two other prime ministers visited the shrine in the following 15 years, the issue was largely put to rest until Prime Minister Koizumi returned to the shrine in August 2001. He fulfilled his pledge to visit the shrine once a year while he was in office at great cost to the Sino-Japanese relationship at the highest political level and also at the societal level; bilateral summits were suspended and his actions created the impression among many Chinese that Japan had not fully repented for its previous wrongs and even a fear that it might return to its militaristic past. By the end of Koizumi’s tenure in 2006 the political relationship between the two powers had almost completely broken down and on several occasions popular Chinese anger spilled over into protest and even violence against Japanese in China. Subsequent prime ministers elected not to visit the shrine, allowing the political relationship to thaw once more, but this period serves to highlight that the issue of history is never far from the surface of Sino-Japanese relations. In fact, during the three years that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led the country from 2009 to 2012, the issue took a back seat in the relationship. However, it has begun to rear its head once more since the LDP (Koizumi’s party, and the overwhelmingly dominant force in Japanese politics since the end of the US occupation) regained power. In December 2013 Shinzo Abe, now in his second stint as prime minister, visited the shrine on the first anniversary of his return to the post. The act was greeted with anger from across the region but most notable in China and South Korea (with whom Japan has also had a difficult relationship in recent years). Abe has since refrained from visiting the shrine, though he has repeatedly sent offerings under his own name. Objections from the US that have become public since his December 2013 visit might provide an incentive for him not to return in person but even if it is a one-off it has put the shrine issue firmly back on the agenda of Sino-Japanese tension. To mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Abe made a significant and closely observed speech, repeating aspects of previous apologies but insisting that future generations should not be “condemned” to repeatedly apologize for actions in which they had no part. This was a clear indication that he wanted to move Japan away a position that he – and his supporters – consider to have been overly deferential to China in this area for too long. Such a shift does not go down well in China and this was underscored by Xi Jinping’s speech at its own commemorations of the 70th anniversary a few weeks later.

Slips of the tongue from Japanese politicians (that are not always unintentional) often cause anger and resentment in China as well. In his first period in office immediately succeeding Koizumi, Shinzo Abe managed to offend both China and South Korea by claiming that the issue of ‘comfort women’ – a euphemism for the thousands of women forced into sex slavery at the hands of the Japanese military during their occupation of East Asia – had been exaggerated, earning himself a telling off even from the US. More recently, the mayor of Nagoya declared that he did not believe that the Nanjing Massacre happened. This was particularly insensitive as he made the claim when welcoming a delegation from Nagoya’s sister city: Nanjing. It is this level of insensitivity – displayed by only a minority of Japanese but often by those who make themselves most well heard – that continues to cause frustration, bemusement and resentment among the Chinese. Even more recently, similar views have been expressed by one of the governors of NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster.

Territorial Disputes

The other major issue that threatens the stability of the bilateral relationship from time to time is the dispute over sovereignty of the Diaoyu Isalnds (known as Senkaku in Japanese). These uninhabited islands are currently administered by Japan, but are claimed by both countries (and also by Taiwan). It is widely believed that significant levels of resources, including oil and gas, may lie underneath the islands, as well as within the maritime EEZ that would accompany recognition of the sovereignty of the islands. Complicating the issue is China’s exploitation of the Chunxiao gas field; although there is no dispute over the sovereignty of the gas field itself, it is within four kilometres of what Japan considers to be its EEZ and it argues that China may siphon resources from its side. China disputes that this is likely and, in any case, does not accept Japan’s demarcation of its EEZ as it is based on Japanese sovereignty of the islands.

Attempts to resolve the dispute have been largely unsuccessful; during the negotiations for the Treaty of Peace and Friendship it was determined that the matter should be shelved and left for future generations to resolve. However, nationalist activists on both sides have sought to push forward their respective country’s claims to the islands, often leading to heightened diplomatic tensions between the two. One of the most serious incidents in recent times occurred in September 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japan Coast Guard ship that was patrolling the area. The captain and crew of the boat were all arrested and imprisoned in Japan, leading to a major diplomatic dispute between the two countries, with both governments accusing the other of violating sovereignty. The captain was eventually released without charge after Japanese prosecutors determined that action against him would harm Japan’s national interests, though a video was leaked to the media that showed the captain, apparently under the influence of alcohol, intentionally ramming his boat into the Japanese ship. The strength of China’s reaction shocked many in Japan as several Japanese businesspeople were arrested on fairly dubious grounds and exports of rare earths to Japan were apparently halted, though Beijing insisted that the issues were unconnected.

shutterstock_103396334In 2012 Shintaro Ishihara, then the mayor of Tokyo and a right wing firebrand who had long campaigned for a tougher policy towards China, launch a campaign to nationalize the islands. The three largest islands had been in private ownership since Japan integrated them into its territory at the end of the eighteenth century. The family that held the rights to them had been keen to sell them on but was not willing to do so if there could be any threat to Japan’s sovereignty claims. As a result, Ishihara launched a bid to raise enough funds to buy the islands and vowed to take them under the umbrella of the Tokyo government. His plans also included the building of a harbor on the largest island, a move that would unquestionably have inflamed tensions with China and possibly have provoked a military response. When Ishihara’s campaign achieved its goal of raising sufficient funds, the national government decided it had no option but to move on the issue. The then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that the national government would purchase the islands and quickly struck an agreement with the family that owned them. This move was, without doubt, driven by a desire to lessen the tension with China as Ishihara’s plan was deemed highly provocative. Under the national government’s ownership no development of the islands would occur and the status quo would effectively be maintained. Noda clearly hoped that this move would be recognized by the Chinese and the response would be proportionate.

However, the nationalization of the islands proved to be a particularly hot topic in China and the response from Chinese society was the most serious that has been seen in any international issue in living memory. A series of scathing diplomatic attacks from the government served as a backdrop to widespread anti-Japanese protests across China. In total, 85 cities on the mainland witnessed large protests with many of these becoming violent. Japanese businesses and citizens were harassed, with even the ambassador’s car coming under attack in Beijing. Calls for boycotts of Japanese produce – a common response from nationalistic Chinese whenever a dispute with Japan occurs – appeared to have a greater effect than ever; in one bizarre demonstration of support for this idea a man set fire to his own Honda car in the middle of a Shanghai street. The economic relationship was demonstrably affected, with Japanese firms temporarily closing factories in China and laying off tens of thousands of workers. Sino-Japanese trade had previously been thought to be almost immune to the repeated spats between the two countries, but annual trade dropped by 4% in 2012. Two-way tourism figures fared even worse, with Chinese visitors to Japan down 33% in October 2012 compared with the previous year while the numbers of Japanese visitors to China fell by two thirds in the second half of 2012.

Since the nationalization China has stepped up “surveillance” of the areas surrounding the islands. Where once an unwritten agreement not to enter Japan’s de facto contiguous zone around the islands had kept the prospect of conflict to a bare minimum, China has since regularly flouted this norm. Though the incursions are frequently “Marine Surveillance” vessels rather than military ships, the possibility of conflict has been raised to its highest level since the two countries normalized relations in 1972. This was brought into sharp focus in December 2012 when a Chinese “Maritime Surveillance” plane entered the airspace of the islands, leading to the Japanese scrambling jets in response. A further escalation of the dispute in January 2013 occurred when the Japanese claimed that a Chinese PLAN frigate (a navy warship) had locked its radar onto a Japanese ship in the waters, suggesting that the first shots were about to be fired. Though China subsequently denied the incident the fact that such ships are now in frequent and close contact has significantly raised the possibility of a miscalculation that might trigger actual armed conflict between the two powers. The seriousness of the situation was heightened by a declaration from Hilary Clinton in January 2013 that the US’ joint security treaty with Japan covers the islands, thus obliging it to defend Japan if attacked by China. This raises the possibility of direct conflict between China and the US for the first time since the Korean War and is a stark reminder to all involved of the gravity of the situation. This was again brought into sharp focus in April 2013 when Prime Minister Abe issued a warning that Japan would respond with force to any attempt by China to land on the islands. Though this is would clearly be a war that would benefit nobody, it remains an unpalatable possibility.

In October 2013 China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) above the East China Sea, including directly above the islands. This requires aircraft entering the zone – which is separate from China’s territorial airspace – to identify themselves to the Chinese authorities, log a flight path and retain open communications for the duration of the period of time in the zone. Although the zone is not unique – several of China’s neighbors have similar zones, including Japan – the sudden declaration and the more stringent requirements imposed by China have made this a controversial move that is clearly linked to the islands dispute. Aircraft from both Japan and the US have so far ignored the rules without serious consequence but the potential for miscalculation has clearly been raised even further by this development.

The islands issue has calmed somewhat in recent months but remains a potential flashpoint between the two countries. Certainly no resolution of the issue appears imminent and it has clearly played a role in Japan’s moves to reinterpret its Constitution in order to allow its military to play a role in collective self defense, a move that has caused a great deal of unease in a number of countries in the region, not least in China and South Korea.

The Taiwan Issue

When Japan defeated the Qing in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, one of its major prizes was the ceding of the island of TaiwanTaiwan has not been ruled by Beijing since then, despite its continued claims of sovereignty. Though the Japanese were expelled after their defeat in 1945, its role and position within the Taiwan issue remains a cause of consternation for the Chinese. In particular Japan’s continued hosting of US forces on Okinawa, an island that is of clear strategic importance should the US ever seek to defend Taiwan in a conflict with China, causes friction with Beijing, though it should be noted that it is even more controversial in Okinawa itself where local people have long campaigned for the complete withdrawal of US forces.

Though Japan is firmly committed to the ‘one China’ policy that all countries with which Beijing has diplomatic ties must affirm, it continues to have close ties with the island. These ties are particularly evident in the field of business and Japan is Taiwan’s second largest trading partner with bilateral trade topping $70 billion in 2011. Japan also continues to have a close cultural relationship with the island, with Japanese pop music and television programs particularly popular. This successful ‘soft power’ irks the Chinese who see a continued threat to their claims of sovereignty from a power that has not only demonstrated a willingness to colonize in the past, but which also has a motivation for preventing or delaying the process of the ‘reunification’ of Taiwan and the mainland.

Bilateral Trade


Bilateral trade is the biggest area for optimism in the relationship, and it has been argued that the main factor in preventing open conflict from erupting has been the level of trade between the two. Japan has consistently been one of China’s biggest trading partners since early in the reform era, and has also been a source of significant inward FDI. In 2007 China became Japan’s biggest trading partner and, though Japan’s significance to China has declined relative to other major partners, the two remain closely interlinked. In 2010, bilateral trade reached $300 billion. Such interdependence was forged from a high level of complementarity between the two economies – China was in a position to provide plenty of cheap labor in return for investment and technological transfer at a time that Japanese firms found the need to expand and outsource away from Japan – in combination with a geographic proximity that allows relatively quick transport of both people and goods. In June 2012 direct trading between the RMB and the Yen began, bypassing the US dollar for the first time and making bilateral trade even easier. The trading relationship has remained robust through some of the most heated political disputes, and the relationship during the early 2000s, characterized by political spats over the history issue and popular anti-Japanese protests in China, came to be referred to as “zhengleng jingre” (cold politics, hot economics), though it could also be argued that such problems do impact on bilateral trade that could have been even more spectacular against the backdrop of smoother political ties. Notably, when China chose the partners for its high speed rail network it felt compelled to shun Japanese firms in response to domestic pressure from nationalists angered at Japan’s perceived continued provocations over the history issue. As a result, China’s network of high speed train network was put together by a combination of firms from France, Germany, Canada and China, among others. This represented a negative outcome for both sides, with the Japanese unable to cash in on Chinese investment in its infrastructure that has totaled $300 billion by 2012 and is expected to continue to rise as the network is expanded, while the Chinese ended up with a system that fell short of its original expectations and may have contributed to the fatal train crash in Wenzhou in 2011.

East Asian Regionalization

In recent years there has been some limited progress toward regional integration and institutionalization in East Asia. In some areas this has actually been a source of competition for influence between China and Japan such as in the development of ASEAN +1 and ASEAN +3, whereby the two countries have sought to engage with Southeast Asian countries in order to further their own interests rather than to develop frameworks for dealing directly with each other. However, the two countries’ involvement in the six-party talks over the North Korean nuclear issue that also included both of the Koreas, Russia, and the US, was a first step in the creation of a significant regional forum. Though not formally related to the six-party process which has now stalled, China and Japan, along with South Korea, now hold annual three-way summits, hosted on a rotational basis, that have begun to foster a much greater sense of understanding and cooperation between the three powers. While it is significant that South Korea is involved in this, it is the engagement of China and Japan that has the greatest potential for positive impact on the region going forward. However, the islands dispute between China and Japan (as well as another territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea) the erupted again in 2012 has stalled the process. The 2013 summit was indefinitely postponed and although never formally abandoned, there has not been a summit since 2012.

Future Trends

The Sino-Japanese relationship is, arguably, the most important bilateral relationship in shutterstock_3155944East Asia. Many tensions remain, particularly over the history issue and the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute. While the former of these problems has appeared to have been handled sensibly on both sides since the resignation of Koizumi, it remains a deeply-rooted issue that retains the potential to be the cause of significant mistrust and ill-feeling, something that was potently demonstrated by Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 2013. That mistrust of Japan’s apparent moves towards normalization of its military forces is played out in the arena of this historical ill-feeling underlines how important the interpretation of history is in the bilateral relationship, even when considering contemporary issues. The territorial dispute appears equally unlikely to be wholly resolved any time soon, with the positions of both countries entrenched and apparently irreconcilable. The trawler incident in 2010 demonstrated how easily this issue can come to the fore and become a major stumbling block in improving Sino-Japanese relations. Furthermore, the nationalization and subsequent flare-up of tensions from 2012 onwards has shown how dangerous this issue is. However, both sides have ordinarily demonstrated the political resolve to prevent either of these two issues from spilling over into open conflict, and a return to military warfare seems highly unlikely, even if it is no longer entirely unthinkable. The strength of the economic relationship, while declining in relative importance to China, continues to grow and remains both a motivation for, as well as a method of, mitigating the undoubted tensions that do exist between the two powers.

History Articles

China and Southeast Asia: Waking up the Neighbors

Introduction

shutterstock_15960148 resizedIf China is to be the world’s next superpower, then Southeast Asia is its ‘backyard’, just as Central Asia was to Russia during its superpower era, and Central America is to the US. It is a diverse region made up of countries of various sizes, political systems, and levels of development, with annual GDP per capita ranging from a little over $1,000 (Myanmar and Laos) to $50,000 (Singapore). China competes for influence in this area both with its main regional rivals – Japan and India – as well as its main global competitor – the US. China’s successes in gaining trust and deepening economic ties with Southeast Asia have been hampered by a complex shared history that both facilitates cultural commonality, and fosters mistrust of the intentions of a powerful, hegemonic China. The relationship is also challenged by historically-rooted territorial disputes that occasionally flare up, threatening peace in the region.

In recent years, China has made many efforts to gain Southeast Asia’s trust, and to shutterstock_93345997 resizedprogress its economic and political ties with the region. A key form of engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia has been through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Founded in 1967, ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam (the geographical term ‘Southeast Asia’ is generally considered to include these countries as well as Timor L’Este, which has held tentative discussions about joining the group). ASEAN states its main purpose as being “to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region” as well as “to promote regional peace and stability”. Although it has worked towards the development of a cultural Southeast Asian identity in recent years, most would agree that its greatest achievements have been in the field of economic cooperation and regional stability. While Indonesia is the giant of the group, it has been careful not to dominate the organization. ASEAN prides itself on conducting its business through the ‘ASEAN way’, which involves building consensus among all members and maintaining a commitment to mutual non-interference. ASEAN gives the less powerful countries the benefit of collective bargaining, which serves to balance to some extent the relationship of these countries with China. Settling issues of mutual interest within the ASEAN framework has eased many tensions between member countries and has promoted overall cooperation within the region. Despite real successes with China, ASEAN itself has not been a silver bullet and many difficult issues remain between China and the region. In addition to ASEAN, engagement between the countries of Southeast Asia and China has also been facilitated through the large Chinese emigrant populations in most of the Southeast Asia countries, many of whom maintain strong business and cultural ties with their ancestral home.

Historical Context

 

Throughout much of China’s dynastic history it maintained regional hegemony in East Asia (East Asia refers to the territory of what today is Southeast Asia, China, the two Koreas, and Japan) by instigating a ‘tributary system’. Regional East Asian rulers would seek the patronage of the Chinese emperor of the day in order both to legitimize their own rule and to ensure that peace was maintained with their powerful neighbor. This system had a profound effect on many parts of Southeast Asia, particularly the areas that are now Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, where the cultural influence of China is palpable. This is evidenced, for example, by the presence of Chinese characters on many older buildings although they are no longer used in the writing systems in these countries and by the pervasion of Confucian values in the respective societies. Equally important as the political ties was the trade between China and many of the countries of Southeast Asia. Chinese merchants, following trade routes, gradually immigrated to various Southeast Asian countries, where they settled and assimilated. Thus, every single country in Southeast Asia now has significant Chinese communities, many of whom maintain strong cultural links to their ancestral home. This is especially noticeable in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia but can be observed across the region.

The legacies of this history are complex. The cultural links that have been created between many parts of Southeast Asia and China, both in terms of shared norms and values and because of the ethnic Chinese still living in these countries (referred to in Chinese as huaqiao, which literally means ‘Chinese bridges’), provide a huge opportunity for China to extend its influence throughout the region. In recent years, China has sought to exploit this both through economic integration and by the development of ‘soft power’. For example, China has promoted the study of Chinese language and culture by bestowing scholarships for poorer students to come to China to study. While this program to promote the teaching of Chinese culture and language is worldwide, China has concentrated its main focus on Southeast Asia. Specifically, a large proportion of the recipients are huaqiao. This awarding of scholarships to ethnic Chinese has been controversial, reminding some in the region of a Mao-era tendency to interfere in countries with large ethnic Chinese communities on the premise that these populations remained, in effect, part of the Chinese nation. Such interference was a source of serious friction with both Indonesia and Malaysia in the 1950s and 1960s. Another legacy of this shared and complex history is the issue of territory. Although China has now resolved virtually all of its outstanding land border disputes (only those with India and Bhutan remain), it still has numerous disputes with several countries in Southeast Asia over sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea.

A particularly significant event in China’s relations with the region occurred in 1979 when Deng Xiaoping gave the order for the PLA to invade Vietnam. The invasion was in response to the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia after defeating the Khmer Rouge, a Chinese ally, as well as a reaction to internal Vietnamese policies that discriminated against ethnic Chinese and had resulted in a flood of refugees into China. Deng announced, during a trip to America, that China would “teach Vietnam a lesson”. The war was brief but bloody, lasting only three weeks but resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Some Western academics have put Chinese casualties as high as 20,000 though this figure is disputed by China, while Vietnam claims 10,000 civilians were killed (it gives no figures for military casualties but it is widely believed that these number in the region of 50,000). Chinese forces withdrew from all areas that had been briefly occupied, claiming success in their mission, but there is no question that they suffered much heavier losses than they had envisioned and that China’s reputation suffered tremendous harm as a result. The damage was both in terms of its perceived relative power, as well as to its image as a trustworthy and peaceful neighbor. Vietnamese perceptions of the war are of another successful repulsion of a foreign invasion, following soon on from the defeats of both the Americans and the French.

Territorial Disputes

The most serious political and security issue that exists between the nations of Southeast Asia and China is the continued failure to resolve to numerous territorial disputes. By far the most grave of the disputes is that of the Spratley Islands, which are situated in the South China Sea close to the Philippines and the northern coast of Malaysia. The PRC claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago of more than 30,000 largely uninhabited islands that constitute the Spratleys. However, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan all claim some of this area. To complicate matters further, some of these claims are overlapping and so there is no unified Southeast Asian position from which to argue with China. In order to protect their claims, military installations from all the claimants, except for Brunei, are stationed within the archipelago, making the area one that is fraught with multilateral tensions. Although all countries are rhetorically committed to resolving the dispute peacefully, the presence of so many different militaries means that low-level conflict from time to time is almost inevitable. This is particularly true with regard to the two largest presences, China and Vietnam. For example, several Vietnamese fishing boats were captured in 2007 in an area that is claimed by both countries. In May 2011, there were reports that Chinese patrol boats had escorted a Chinese fishing boat when it rammed a Vietnamese survey ship in the area. The other major dispute is over the Paracel Islands, a chain of around 30 islets roughly equidistant from China’s Hainan Island and the east coast of Viet Nam. This dispute is largely a bilateral one, between China and Viet Nam, although Taiwan also has a claim. The islands were occupied by both Chinese and Vietnamese forces until battle in 1974 which resulted in control over the entire archipelago being taken by the PRC. Viet Nam, however, has never renounced its claim to the islands and sporadic incidents involving fishing boats in the area have continued. Two other disputes, both with the Philippines, persist over two small groups of islets and this spilled over in early 2012 when Chinese patrol boats prevented Philippines police patrols from boarding Chinese fishing boats in the region. A stand-off between the two nations ensued that escalated tensions in the region, leading to anti-Chinese protests in Manila. Though the situation appeared to be resolved in June 2012, the withdrawal of all concerned may have had more to do with the coming typhoons than any diplomatic breakthrough. Certainly this issue has not yet gone away for good.

2014 brought another serious outbreak, but this time with Vietnam. In May 2014 China moved an oil rig from a part of the sea that was undisputed into an area that Vietnam considers to be its territorial waters. This sparked an angry response from both state and society in Vietnam with violent anti-Chinese protests breaking out across the country, resulting in several serious injuries to Chinese workers and the evacuation of hundreds of foreign workers (including many non-Chinese caught up in the protests). Though no direct military confrontation has followed, the dispute has taken Sino-Vietnamese relations to their lowest point for decades.

shutterstock_42598996The importance of the disputed islands is threefold. Firstly, the islands are of strategic importance militarily to China as its strives to increase its naval projection, especially given their ideal location close to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Secondly, it is widely believed (though not conclusively proven) that significant resources of gas and oil lie within the EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones) that would accompany recognized sovereignty over the islands. Finally, the issue of territorial integrity is of critical importance to Chinese national identity and the legitimacy of the government, meaning that nationalists in the country would not tolerate acquiescence on any of the disputes. A combination of all three of these reasons has seen China become increasingly active in the area over recent years. This has not gone unnoticed in those countries that also claim the islands and Southeast Asian states have responded by seeking the protection of other powers, most notably through closer ties with the US. In 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the South China Sea was of “national interest” to the US, sparking an angry response from China. In the same year, cities across Vietnam saw large scale anti-China demonstrations that evidenced the damage done to China’s soft power initiative in the region. China is now facing a choice of maintaining an inflexible stance about the islands, risking further harm to its hopes of regional leadership and even potential conflict with the US, or backing away, risking upsetting its domestic audience. It is a tough balancing act and is complicated by the competing policy-makers within China. A successful charm offensive launched by the Chinese around the turn of the millennium to woo its Southeast Asian neighbors and convince them of the benign intent behind China’s rise has been wholeheartedly undermined by what appears to a bullying and militaristic tendency with regard to the territorial disputes, the key issue in China’s relations with the friends it sought. A more coherent policy towards these countries would be beneficial for all concerned.

ASEAN

The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed into one of the most successful regional organizations in the world, arguably second only to the EU in terms of its coherence, levels of cooperation and weight in the international arena. Formed in 1967, ironically as a foil against the spread of communism in Asia, its five founding members were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Its success in terms of promoting economic cooperation and development among its members led to applications from other states to join. The end of the Cold War allowed for even those states against which the alliance had originally been aimed to become full members and the organization now incorporates the whole of Southeast Asia, with the exception of Timor L’Este. While China is not a member, it, uniquely in East Asia, recognized from an early stage both the importance of the institution and the need for its own engagement with it. Specifically, China spotted a double opportunity with regard to Southeast Asia, and ASEAN proved to be the vehicle through which it could exploit it. The two aspects of the opportunity that China seeks to exploit are: the development of economic growth and integration; and the promotion of its ‘soft power’ in a region it considers to be its own ‘backyard’.

The creation of ASEAN+1 (which includes China) and ASEAN+3 (which includes China, South Korea and Japan) shows how China has stolen a march on its East Asian rivals in shutterstock_112693318 resizedgaining leverage with the Southeast Asian states. That there is a forum which is basically dedicated to China-ASEAN relations, in which other states have no part, as well as a forum dedicated to ASEAN-East Asia relations, in which China still has a key role, shows how it has positioned itself as a key player in this process of ASEAN-centered regionalization. Despite interest from both Japan and South Korea in increasing trade ties with Southeast Asia, it was China that managed to secure a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN, which came into force on January 1st 2010. Theoretically, this created the largest free trade area in the world by population (1.9 billion people), though it ranks third in terms of actual volumes of trade. There are also many more exemptions than one might ordinarily expect in such an agreement. Each country lists dozens of areas where tariffs may continue, and four ASEAN countries (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar) are completely exempt until 2015. It should also be noted that a similar, though less extensive, agreement between ASEAN and India came into force on the same day. Nevertheless, the establishment of the agreement represents a public relations coup for China and the economic benefits for all involved should not be underestimated. By December 2010, China-ASEAN trade reportedly increased by almost 40% and two-way FDI topped $10 billion, with two thirds of that figure flowing into China. The slated 2015 opening of high-speed rail links between mainland Southeast Asia and China, linking the southwest of China with Laos and part of China’s enormous and ambitious high speed rail network project, should increase integration even further.

China has also involved itself in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) that is designed to promote security dialogues and confidence building between states around the Asia Pacific region. The forum involves 27 members, including all ASEAN members, China, Japanthe USthe EU and every other major actor in the region – excluding, at China’s behest, Taiwan. It is through this forum that China has sought to ease the fears of its smaller neighbors over its own rise and expansion of power, particularly with regard to its military expansion and the previously mentioned maritime territorial disputes. Generally, China balks at being pinned down by any broad-spectrum ASEAN-China negotiations, preferring instead to deal bilaterally to solve issues between countries. Nevertheless, it has agreed in principle to a ‘Declaration on the Conduct of Parties’ which would commit all signatories to peaceful resolution of these disputes. While this is not yet signed and sealed, China’s agreement has helped ease some tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Water

shutterstock_11779609 resizedThe Mekong, a major river that runs through Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, has its source in China, making relations with it of potentially critical importance to these nations. China considers developing large-scale hydropower to be critical to meeting its future energy needs and thus its national security. The Chinese government has thus worked to keep these resources under its control, and has been unwilling to sign any comprehensive water sharing agreement with downstream riparian nations or to join any river basin associations such as the Mekong River Commission, which was established in 1995 “to promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries’ mutual benefit and the people’s well-being.” It is also one of only three countries that voted against the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Water Courses which lays down rules on the shared resources of international watercourses. Additionally, China has been reticent to share information on water levels and flows with its downstream neighbors once its dams are operational. China is now impounding water for the large reservoir behind the Xiaowan dam on the upper Mekong, for instance, which some believe exacerbated 2010 drought conditions downstream. Only after the drought became severe, and China came under significant pressure from the Mekong River Commission, did it start to provide information on daily water flows from its dam cascade.

China has tried to offset complaints and the potential creation of anti-Chinese alliances by its downstream neighbors by using trade and development incentives – developing the Southeast Asian electricity grid and building sewage and road infrastructure in Cambodia for example – to weaken their ability to challenge China’s dam-building activities. It also engages in a public discourse that not only advocates the importance of hydro-power to its national security, but emphasizes exclusively the benefits of the dams without considering how they will disrupt downstream ecosystems and water access. Specifically, it talks about flood control, reduction of Chinese CO2 emissions, and the benefits of improved navigation and water flow during the dry season. In many cases, it is also helping to fund and construct dams downriver in places such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Their own independent construction of dams with Chinese financing has weakened downstream riparian neighbors’ ability to protest the ecological destruction that China’s upstream dams are causing.

Future Trends

China’s relationship with Southeast Asia is one of its key foreign policy priorities. If it is to establish itself as a global power then it must first be a genuine regional leader. It can only achieve this through engagement with the ASEAN countries at both the economic and political levels. It has shown a clear understanding of the importance of this through its engagement with the ASEAN institutions in which it was ahead of the competition, specifically Japan and South Korea. It can be expected that China will continue to increase its ties with ASEAN in the future.

The increased economic integration with the region has been facilitated both by this willingness to become involved in ASEAN’s structures and also by the myriad cultural ties that bind China to Southeast Asia. It seems likely that both of these factors will continue to contribute a close relationship and this, on the face of it, appears to be a positive development in China’s quest for acceptance as a regional leader and, therefore, a global power.

However, the continuing territorial disputes represent a major threat to China’s goal of shutterstock_78574054 resizedattaining regional leadership. China’s national interests will likely dictate that its claims over the islands continue to be non-negotiable; driven by both strategic concerns and the demands of domestic nationalists it would be virtually unthinkable for China to acquiesce on any of its claims now. One unwelcome side-effect of this from China’s perspective is that the developments have driven several Southeast Asian countries to renew and strengthen their ties with the US. Notable among these have been Vietnam and the Philippines. Such close ties are clearly not in the interests of China’s own national security, nor its ambition to be the regional hegemon. While the recent moves within the ASEAN framework to establish formalized dialogue on the issue are welcome and positive, the prospect of a compromised resolution seems remote and, particularly in the case of the islands, China continues to insist that each individual dispute be resolved bilaterally. With China continuing to expand its naval projection-capabilities in the area, the prospect of increased hostility is very real. Indeed, China’s increased tendency to flex its muscles in this area over the last few years has undone much of the good work it had done in promoting a positive image of itself in the Southeast Asian countries. This schizophrenic policy toward the region may do further harm in the long run as smaller countries seek the protection of a larger and more predictable ally in the form of the United States, a result that would be counter to all of China’s perceived interests. This risk of hostility will continue to cast a shadow over relations between China and the Southeast Asian region.

The Tibet Issue

Introduction

To many in the West, China’s continued rule in Tibet is often considered to be a foreign occupation, though few inside China accept this point of view. Tibet is of great psychological importance to China and to Chinese people in terms of national identity and the maintenance of Chinese national unity, as well as of enormous strategic importance with regard to China’s traditional national security and its access to water and other vital natural resources.

Geography

The Tibetan Plateau is the highest region on the planet, sometimes referred to as “the roof of the world”. With an average elevation of more than 4500 meters, it is an

inhospitable place to plant and animal life alike and frequently leaves unaccustomed visitors gasping for air. It is home to one half of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest or Qomolangma as the Tibetans call it, with the peak forming the border with Nepal. Tibet is also the source of many of Asia’s major rivers, including China’s two biggest, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, as well as the Brahmaputra, the Salween, the Mekong, the Irrawaddi, the Arun, the Karnali, the Sutlej and the Indus. About 90% flows downstream to China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The sources of these rivers are the huge glaciers that exist in the Tibetan mountains, effectively forming enormous frozen reservoirs that are gradually released to flow down river. The constant flow of these rivers creates a stable source of water in regions which are otherwise dominated by monsoon rain falls. The Tibetan rivers are thus extremely important to sustaining life throughout South and Southeast Asia.

The territory of Tibet is large, with the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) spanning more than 1.2 million square kilometers. Historically, though, Tibet has often included the whole of Qinghai province, as well as the western sections of Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan, making it geographically almost the size of modern day India. These areas outside of the autonomous region maintain a strong Tibetan identity today and continue to be populated by mainly ethnic Tibetans. Indeed, many of the protests that have made the news in recent years have occurred outside of the autonomous region, predominantly in Sichuan. When the Dalai Lama speaks about Tibet, he’s referring to those parts of the plateau that were historically Tibetan and are primarily populated by Tibetans. When China refers to Tibet, it is normally referring solely to the TAR.

Demographics

Despite covering such a vast area Tibet’s population is relatively small. The harsh climate has dictated sparse population throughout its history and, even with advances of modern technology, this continues to be the case. The TAR has a population of just 3 million people, though the total Tibetan population of areas that have historically been within Tibet numbers around 6 million. Such small numbers in such huge areas make Tibet one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet, a striking contrast to the thronging cities of eastern China.

Unlike the other autonomous regions in China, Tibet has maintained its ethnic identity throughout the history of the PRC; whereas the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Hui in Ningxia, the Mongols in Inner Mongolia, and the Zhuang in Guangxi all now account for less than half of the population in their respective areas, Tibetans still represent 92% of the population in their own autonomous region. This is, however, changing rapidly. The opening of the world’s highest railway connecting Qinghai to Lhasa – an impressive engineering feat that takes trains across mountain passes over 5200 meters high – has enabled a much greater flow of people into, and out of, the TAR. Han Chinese currently make up around 6% of the population, but that number is beginning to rise as the Chinese government encourages Han migration into the areas by providing incentives such as housing, business, and pension benefits. Indeed, It is estimated that Han Chinese now make up 50% of the population of the capital city, Lhasa, and the Chinese government is heavily investing in the city’s infrastructure to raise the city to modern Chinese standards. Beijing says that the Han economic migrants have temporarily come to Tibet in order to help modernize the area. Some Tibetans fear that China will use demographics as a way to more thoroughly integrate the region into China. Visitors to Lhasa are keenly aware of the division with the city almost literally split into two areas, one almost entirely Tibetan and the other almost entirely Han.

Tibet remains overwhelmingly Buddhist, though the influence of Tibet’s native religion, Bon, can still be seen in some of the practices. Although the much of Tibetan monastic heritage was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, Tibet still remains home to many large and small Buddhist monasteries and temples, with Tibetans making pilgrimages at various times of the year to sites of importance. The Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is the centerpiece of Tibetan Buddhism. It attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims yearly, particularly during the winter months when some Tibetans from rural areas may walk hundreds of miles to pay homage by prostrating themselves around the perimeter.

The Tibetan Economy

China currently invests about $2.5 billion annually in the region, primarily in the form of shutterstock_77066617infrastructure projects. Farming, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery accounted for approximately 70% of the total gross output value in 2000. Because of its high altitude and mountainous conditions, the Tibetan growing season is short, and the main crops grown are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes and some fruits and vegetables. Sheep, cattle, goats, camels, yaks and horses are also raised within Tibet, with the yak being particularly well suited to Tibet’s harsh winter conditions. Most of the farming, animal husbandry and forestry is still done by hand or with animal labor. Increasingly, electric and hydro-power, mining, light industry and handicrafts also generating earnings for the region. Tibetan hats, jewellery, wooden items, clothing, quilts, fabrics and carpets are all important money earners, as is tourism, with most tourists staying in Lhasa, Shigatse, and the Mount Everest base camp, though the number of foreign tourists permitted to visit Tibet has been scaled back in recent years. Tibet also has large deposits of gold, copper, salt and radioactive ores, although its lack of infrastructure to date has meant that it has been difficult to extract these minerals. China’s huge investment in infrastructure should mean that mining will be a growing sector for Tibet in the future. Overall, China’s significant investment in the region has meant that many Tibetans have seen a rise in living standards. Annual per capita income, for instance, quadrupled to $1076 between 1986 and 2006, though there are claims that this benefit is felt primarily by Han Chinese migrants and not by the indigenous population. Unemployment remains high at approximately 10.3%, more than double the national urban rate.

The Historical Argument

The Tibetan empire reached its zenith around the 8th century CE with an empire that encompassed parts of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and also parts of what are now the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Yunnan, Gansu and Sichuan in China. During the Tang dynasty in around 640 CE the Chinese princess Wencheng was sent to Lhasa to marry the then Tibetan emperor Songtsan Gampo. Many Chinese academics credit this as the first sign of China’s suzerainty over Tibet, though many Tibetans claim the opposite: that this was a sign of Tibet’s power and independence since the Emperor only acquiesced in sending the princess under threat of force from Tibet (a claim which is not accepted by modern Chinese historians and was not recorded in the Chinese written Tang annals). Contemporaneously, an informal treaty was signed between the two countries in which the Tibetans claim that the Chinese recognized Tibet as equal to China. By 821 a formal peace treaty was agreed and signed between Tibet and China, known as the Tang-Tibetan Alliance, and the details of this were inscribed on a stone pillar outside of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa in both Tibetan and Chinese. This pillar remains in place today.

The 13th century Mongol subjugation of Eurasia brought Tibet and China under one rule for the first time when both countries became subject nations under the Mongol empire. Having conquered China, Kublai Khan consolidated his rule by proclaiming himself the Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. Despite the Yuan Dynasty being formed as a result of an invasion from an external force, Kublai Khan is considered in China to have been Chinese as he perpetuated China’s cultural heritage. That he was Mongolian is no barrier to this interpretation, as Mongolians are recognized as one of China’s official 56 ethnic groups. As a result, modern Chinese historians argue that it was during the Yuan Dynasty that Tibet formally became part of Chinese territory and has remained so ever since. In contrast, the opponents of this view maintain that China and Tibet were two independent countries subjugated by an outside force; in emphasis, they point out the Mongols ruled the two territories separately much in the same way that the British ruled its colonies independently, and that Tibetan life remained centered on monastic Buddhism rather than Chinese cultural norms. Tibet continued to move in and out of the Chinese sphere of influence throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties that followed the Yuan, leading up to the end of the 19th century.

The 13th Dalai Lama entered a rapidly changing international order when he assumed power from his regent in 1895, by which time both Tibet and the Qing were under pressure from predatory Japanese and European colonial powers. By 1890 the British were negotiating a treaty with the Qing to establish the border between Tibet and Sikkim, which the British sought to include within its Indian colony. Historically, the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim had been viewed as a vassal tributary state by Tibet, yet the Tibetans were not consulted during the treaty negotiations. Mainly as a result of fear that Russia was making incursions into Tibet in order to establish a sphere of influence, Britain invaded Tibet in 1904 and the 13th Dalai Lama fled into exile. The British invasion of Tibet refocused Qing attention on the region, which had been distracted by challenges closer to home. By December 1904, Tibetan officials left in charge by the 13th Dalai Lama, capitulated to British terms in order to secure withdrawal of troops from Lhasa. In the resulting convention between Great Britain and Tibet, Tibet accepted London’s annexation of Sikkim and agreed not to conduct for relations with foreign states, including China. Tibet also had to pay war reparations.

During this time, the thirteenth Dalai Lama was trying to get Russia to engage on Tibet’s shutterstock_94573753 resizedbehalf, yet Russian help was not forthcoming. Ultimately it suited both the British and Russians that Tibet was neither an independent state nor a vassal of an enemy. London and Moscow concluded that it was in both their interests to recognize a purposely vague Chinese claim over Tibet, especially as the British realized that it would be too expensive to turn Tibet into a true British protectorate as it had done to Sikkim. As a result, some clauses of the 1904 Convention were rejected by the Foreign Office in London, and it negotiated two new treaties with the Qing and with Russia. In a 1906 treaty with the Qing, the government of Great Britain engaged not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet. The Qing undertook to prevent other foreign states from interfering with the territory or internal administration of Tibet. The British then signed a second 1907 accord with Russia in which the two states agreed to recognize the principle of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, thus effectively denying that Tibet was an independent nation. Moreover, English legal and historical documents were beginning to equate China with all the territory of the Qing empire. At the same time, as those Han Chinese that sought to end imperial rule began to think what a Chinese nation would be once the Manchus were overthrown, they too began to define their borders by those drawn by the Manchus when they took power. The Chinese became fixated on the humiliation that they were experiencing at the hands of foreign powers so the defense of Chinese borders became a matter of national pride for the Chinese people. By 1912, a year after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the formation of the Republic of China, San Yatsen declared China to be a multi-ethnic state composed of Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Han and Uyghurs among others. Promoting this diverse population was one of the ways that the young republic articulated that its aim was to consolidate its country upon the larger Qing borders.

Taking advantage of the chaos during the early days of the Republic of China, in 1912 the 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet’s complete independence, and a voluntary Tibetan army drove the remaining Chinese out of the Tibet. In 1913, the Dalai Lama returned from exile after an absence of eight years. Importantly, the Tibetan government also negotiated with British India over shared borders and an agreement was signed between British India and Tibet in 1912 which ceded Tibetan territory to colonial India. This is often cited as proof that Tibet acted with genuine independence as a nation state at this time, but it is the only example of Tibet ever acting as such in the modern international system. It is worth noting that Chinese authorities were included in these negotiations and the Chinese representative even initialed the final treaty. Though this is now downplayed by Beijing due to the complications of continued disputes with India over the modern border, it does raise a serious question over the ability of Tibet to act as a genuinely sovereign nation even during this sole example of it apparently doing so. Furthermore, Britain was in breach of its own Anglo-Russian Entente, signed in 1907, in which it had agreed that all matters surrounding Tibet would be dealt with through the authorities in Peking (Beijing) and that no negotiations would be conducted with Tibetan authorities. The chaos and confusion in China after the fall of the Qing left Tibet’s status relatively unaddressed. During this period, the 13th Dalai Lama passed away. Tibet’s 14th and current Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, 18 months after the death of his predecessor.

Tibet under the PRC

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During the struggle against Japanese occupation and the civil war between the communists and the nationalists, it is reported that Mao Zedong pledged that the periphery regions of China, such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Outer Mongolia, would be free to decide their own future. However, upon the establishment of the PRC in 1949, this policy was repudiated (with the exception of Mongolia, whose independence was accepted by the communists probably as a favor to their allies in the Soviet Union). By 1949, the Chinese were using its radio infrastructure to broadcast into Tibet its need to peacefully liberate the country. By October 1950, the PLA had entered Tibet’s eastern regions. After initially rejecting the idea of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, the Dalai Lama signed the “17 point agreement” in 1951 after recognizing that it was not in Tibet’s interests to make an enemy of its giant neighbour against which it stood little chance of military success. The Chinese army had already inflicted defeats against Tibetan resistance and it was clear that the battle could not be won. The agreement accorded the Tibetans autonomy over their own affairs, recognized the position of the Dalai Lama and guaranteed freedom of religion in Tibet. It needs to be acknowledged that this both demonstrates that the PRC government recognized the ability of the Tibetan authorities to act on behalf of Tibet (otherwise they would not have conducted negotiations and signed an agreement with them) and also that several of the points in the agreement have been broken by the PRC authorities, in particular the promise not to interfere with the position of the Dalai Lama and the guarantee that local religion would be respected.

The Dalai Lama remained in Tibet after this agreement was signed and, according to his own account of the story, met with Mao Zedong in Beijing on more than one occasion. In March 1959, following three years of sporadic battles at the edges of Tibet between local paramilitaries and the PLA, the Dalai Lama officially repudiated the agreement citing breaches from the Chinese. What followed was an uprising from Tibetans against the increasing Chinese presence in Tibet, followed by a large military response from the Chinese and a bloody wave of repression. The Dalai Lama fled, on horseback, across the Himalaya into India where he later claimed asylum and established the ‘Tibetan government in exile’ in Dharamsala. It took a further three years to fully establish Chinese control over Tibet. The number of Tibetans killed has never been independently verified but the Tibetan government in exile claims the figure to be in excess of 86,000. It is also believed that the US was involved in inspiring the uprising by engaging in training some of the Tibetan paramilitaries, a practice that continued for several years after the uprising was crushed.

Prior to China’s ‘liberation’ or ‘occupation’ (what it is called depends on one’s own viewpoint) there is no doubt that life in Tibet was a long way from the idealistic vision of a harmonious, peace-loving, and free society that some in the West tend to paint it as. Life expectancy was just 36 and the overwhelming majority of the population was illiterate. A majority of Tibetans were hereditary serfs of varying statuses, allowing the elite – including the religious leaders – to live a luxurious life on the backs of a poor, uneducated society that was structurally condemned to remain in poverty through the following generations. In essence, this was precisely what the international communist movement sought to bring to an end. Tibet had no roads, poor sanitation, and no monetary system. Until the 1960s, there were virtually no vehicles of any kind, motorized or otherwise. Punishment for various crimes was barbaric, including amputation of limbs and eye-gouging.

However, whatever the rights and wrongs of the legal or moral claim that China may have over Tibet, there is no question that many Tibetans suffered both during the ‘liberation’ and after, particularly through forced collectivization and during the Cultural Revolution. In this latter period many temples were destroyed and monks forced to tend pigs, sometimes within the walls of their own religious institutions, a grievous insult. While it is important to keep such acts in context – the Cultural Revolution was a chaotic and unpleasant time for most people in China, regardless of ethnicity – it does not excuse such acts in the minds of Tibetans, and many continue to harbor ill feelings over this. Despite the orgy of destruction that ensued in the late 1960s, it is thought that the Potala Palace, the former winter home of the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s most famous symbol, was preserved at the behest of Zhou Enlai who recognized its significance.

The Dalai Lama has remained in exile since 1959 and has spearheaded a very public campaign for Tibetan autonomy, gaining much sympathy and support in Western countries and elsewhere, including in Japan. In 1989 another attempted uprising, marking the fortieth anniversary of Dalai’s flight from Tibet, was crushed on the orders of the then-Party Secretary of Tibet, Hu Jintao, who would later go on to become China’s president and supreme leader. During the incident around 400 Tibetans are believed to have been killed. This occurred just months before the Tiananmen Square incident but did not receive a similar level of coverage due to a lack of media presence on the plateau at the time. Later that year, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “consistent resistance to the use of violence in his people’s struggle to regain their liberty”. The award, and the celebrity endorsements that have continued to flow (the Hollywood actor Richard Gere is the most notable), have helped to keep the Dalai’s drive for “genuine autonomy” within the PRC in the headlines, at least in the West. He abandoned hopes of Tibetan statehood in 1979, though the PRC government continues to paint him as a “splittist” seeking to create a separate country, and maintains that Tibet can exist within the PRC to the chagrin of some of his followers who would prefer a cleaner separation.

The Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most important spiritual leader who has the responsibility of identifying the reincarnated Dalai Lama after his death, was arrested shortly after being confirmed as the current Dalai’s accepted choice in 1995. Aged just six years old at the time, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was considered to be the world’s youngest political prisoner by many in the Tibetan movement. Beijing subsequently appointed their own choice of Panchen Lama, Gyancain Norbu, a somewhat difficult position for the CCP to explain given its strictly atheist constitution. Beijing’s Panchen Lama has never been accepted by the Dalai Lama and the campaign for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima continues. He is reported to still be alive and living in Beijing under virtual house arrest and with an assumed identity. This complicates any future succession the Dalai Lama. Under the system in place in Tibet for more than five centuries, the Panchen Lama has the responsibility to identify the reincarnated Dalai, something he clearly will not be able to do whilst under house arrest in Beijing. Any reincarnation identified by Beijing’s hand-picked Panchen is unlikely to garner support from grassroots Tibetans and will be probably be seen as simply a puppet of the Chinese. With this in mind, the current Dalai Lama – who, while in good health, is already in his late seventies – has suggested that his reincarnation might be found outside of Tibet.

In recent times, particularly since the death of Mao and the launch of the reform era in China, there has been a drive towards economic development in Tibet. This has included some of the aspects of Chinese rule that provoke controversy among Tibetans and pro-independence groups such as increased migration of Han Chinese. Most controversial has probably been the development of a railway line that now connects the Tibetan heartland to the rest of China, making it possible to take a train from Beijing all the way to Lhasa (an extension to Shigatse will open in 2014). While this railway represents a notable engineering feat – with passes as high as 5200 meters it is the highest railway in the world – concerns over damage to Tibet’s delicate ecosystem have not been allayed. Furthermore, the massive increase in internal tourism that has accompanied the launch of the train service threatens to erode Tibet’s unique culture even further, turning important historical and religious sites into Disneyland-esque tourist stops. While it is undeniable that this has brought economic benefits to the area, with an increase in GDP per capita of around 400% during the first decade of the 21st century, an astonishing growth rate even by China’s standards, accusations that this increase does not benefit the local population abound. The truth is difficult to ascertain as the Chinese government does not release relevant statistics and may not even keep them itself.

Over the last few years there has been an upsurge in political activity and protest in the TAR and the surrounding Tibetan areas. The most high profile of these was a series of protests in Lhasa in March 2008, marking the anniversary of the 1959 uprising but also timed to gain maximum international attention in the run up to the Beijing Olympics. Riots across Lhasa left hundreds wounded and a reported 18 dead, mostly Han Chinese. The response from the Chinese authorities was initially relatively low key, though Tibetan groups in exile later reported that upwards of 1500 people were arrested, with many allegations of torture being used to extract confessions. Since 2008 security in the TAR and surrounding areas has increased, making it substantially more difficult for foreigners to visit for tourism and almost impossible for journalists or academics to investigate some of the claims being made. In 2012, a series of self-immolations made the headlines both in China and abroad, leading to the Dalai Lama to appeal for Tibetans not to resort to such measures, though Beijing is resolute in its insistence that such acts are committed at his behest.

China’s Traditional and non-Traditional Strategic Considerations

Tibet provides a buffer region between the Chinese heartland and both India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers. While neither of these two countries poses an apparent and immediate threat to China (they are normally more focused on each other) this is a consideration that any strategist would make. In particular China’s relationship with India has been problematic and the two fought a border war in 1962, and have a continued dispute over territory. A sparsely populated region such as Tibet is an ideal way to keep tensions at a minimum between two such nations. Allowing any form of independence to Tibet risks creating a kind of power vacuum that might be filled with Indian influence. From the point of view of national self-defense, no government in the world would countenance this if it did not have to.

Access to water resources will be crucial to China in the coming decades as it seeks to continue its rapid economic growth and improvement in living standards. China has less than half the per capita average of available water resources and large areas of the country suffer from serious drought on an almost annual basis. For this reason, the large rivers that flow through China are essential to the survival and prosperity of its people. Several of China’s largest and most important rivers have their sources in Tibet, including both the Yangtse and the Yellow River which, combined, provide water supplies for more than 500 million people. The Tibetan Plateau is the greatest store of fresh water outside of the North and South Poles. Although not explicitly acknowledged by the Chinese government in any discussion of the question of sovereignty over Tibet, it is clear that this remains a significant consideration for policy-makers when addressing the issue. The control of these river sources is an important advantage that no country would give up willingly, particularly one that is in such a precarious position with regard to its water supplies.

The Psychological Importance of Tibet

Knowing China’s modern history is crucial for understanding its perspective on many contemporary issues. Moreover, comprehending the Chinese interpretation of that history is the key to unlocking much of the Chinese view of the so-called “Tibet issue”. China’s view of itself as a victim of various powerful nations that took advantage of it while it was fragile, and sought to keep it weak by breaking it up, is a powerful lesson both for those in government and for the citizens of modern China. This “century of humiliation” was (in the Chinese narrative) brought to an end by the Communist victory in the civil war in 1949 but the scars remained in the form of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. What is viewed in China as the rightful “return to the motherland” of the first two went some way towards redressing this and the continued desire to “reunify” with Taiwan demonstrates its continued role. Given that nearly all Chinese start from the view that Tibet is part of China, efforts to remove it from the unity of the PRC are viewed through this lens, and foreigners who involve themselves in the issue are ordinarily seen as trying, once more, to “split” China. This is a particularly potent storyline during a period of time in which China’s power is clearly rising and fears from outside are evident.

The View from the West

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Tibet is frequently presented as an almost-mythical “land of snows”, populated by peace-loving religious people who live a simple (indeed, backward) life. The mythical Shangri-La is widely believed to be in Tibet (it has officially been designated as Zhongdian in northwest Yunnan but this is purely for tourism purposes). Tibetan people are portrayed as being deeply religious and almost entirely homogenous in their devout commitment to their religion and its leading figure, the Dalai Lama, as well as to the path of peace that he passionately advocates. In many ways Western depictions of Tibet and its people are simplistic, romantic, and occasionally patronizing.

When Tibet comes into the consciousness of Westerners it is often through the activities of high profile groups such as the International Campaign for TibetTibet House and Free Tibet, all of which are based in major Western cities such as New York, Brussels and Berlin. Richard Gere’s role in several of these groups has raised the profile further and reached audiences that do not ordinarily pay a great deal of attention to international political issues. The involvement of celebrities has sometimes been frivolous; the British rock band, Oasis, was denied visas to play concerts in Beijing and Shanghai in 2009 because of the involvement of Noel Gallagher, the band’s guitarist and lyricist, in a ‘Free Tibet’ concert twelve years previously despite Gallagher’s own confession that he had no recollection of the event and no interest in the movement. Condemnation of human rights abuses in Tibet frequently comes from senior figures in the US political scene as well as from independent NGOs across the Western world, lending such reports an air of credibility despite the difficulty in corroborating many of the individual stories that constitute the reports. The explanations offered by these groups for China’s continued presence and interest in Tibet focus entirely on the economic benefit that China can gain from the region. Free Tibet, for example, cites only the vast reserves of minerals and the sources of much of China’s water supply as its motivation, making China’s motives appear entirely selfish and materially-based.

The most visible manifestation of this feeling in the West came in 2008 with the protests Sam DCruz / Shutterstock.com surrounding the Olympic torch relay, particularly in European cities such as Paris and London. Large crowds of people displayed banners and waved Tibetan flags while some attempted to extinguish the Olympic flame. This was in direct response to the reports of riots in and around the Tibetan Autonomous Region in March of that year. The riots were misreported by some parts of the media in the West (this was not helped by the Chinese authorities preventing many outlets from entering the territory) and so it is not fully understood that many of those that died were Han Chinese, killed or burned alive by Tibetan rioters. These acts, if carried out in a US domestic context, would have been labelled as terrorism. This reporting caused anger among many Chinese who cannot understand where the Western bias comes from and consider it to be simply “anti-Chinese”.

No country in the international system recognizes Tibet as an independent nation and all who have diplomatic relations with Beijing acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over the region (indeed, even those few countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei instead consider it to be part of the Republic of China). The last country to fall into line and recognize Tibet formally as part of the PRC was the UK, which did so in 2008, blaming a bureaucratic oversight for not having done so previously. Even the Dalai Lama himself no longer calls for independence, but for “genuine autonomy” within the People’s Republic.

The Future of Tibet

The Tibet question is one that has shown no sign of simply going away. The Dalai Lama’s successful internationalization of the issue has made it infinitely more complex for the Chinese leadership to handle but their legitimate and rational security concerns, combined with the crucial issue of maintaining territorial integrity of the Chinese nation, mean that the Dalai’s wish for genuine autonomy is unlikely to be granted. The Chinese government, despite its intermittent negotiations with representatives of the Dalai (the last of which took place in 2008 prior to the riots), shows no intention of shifting position and appears to be playing a waiting game, apparently believing that Tibetan resistance will subside after the death of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Having captured the Panchen Lama and appointed their own, they consider themselves to be in charge of the future of that particular institution. However, the Dalai himself has raised the possibility that a future reincarnation of himself may be born outside of Tibet (previously believed impossible) which might allow for a continuance of a government in exile that maintains some level of loyalty from the Tibetan people. Furthermore, he has already announced that he intends the position to be one only of religious leader and that the head of the Tibetan government should be democratically elected. Even without this, there is no guarantee that the Chinese waiting game will pay off in the long run; there is some evidence, particularly in the wake of the 2008 protests and the recent spate of self-immolations, that Tibetan youth is becoming radicalized in the face of an apparently immovable Chinese position, and without the calming influence of their spiritual leader it is possible that further violence might erupt.

China continues to focus on the economic development of Tibet, hoping that continued economic prosperity will help Tibetans feel more integrated into China. China has invested heavily in Tibetan roads, housing, schools and electrical grids so that it may feel the benefits of being part of China. Yet proposals that carry with them the prospect of greater prosperity, such as the proposal to extend the railway from Lhasa further into Tibet, are also viewed with suspicion by some Tibetans who fear that they are just another tool for the Chinese military to ensure control over the region is maintained. To assuage these fears, China needs to pay more attention to the legitimate complaints of Tibetans who feel that their culture and history is being destroyed. This loss cannot be compensated with the kind of economic progress that has, so far, satiated other parts of Chinese society.

Taiwan: Strait Talking

Introduction

More than sixty years after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fled to the island, Taiwan remains at the core of domestic and foreign policy decisions for Beijing. Despite enjoying de facto independence, having never been directly ruled by the CCP, Taiwan is considered by Beijing to be an inalienable part of its territory and the goal of ‘reunification’ is one of its highest priorities. This is resisted in Taiwan where most people favor retention of the status quo; that is, neither a declaration of de jure independence – a move that would almost certainly provoke an angry reaction from the mainland – nor a move to accept CCP rule over the island. The issue is a sensitive one in China at both the political and societal levels and any suggestion of support for an independent Taiwan ordinarily sparks heated responses from China, which accuses its protagonists of trying to ‘split’ China. It is a complex, emotional, and seemingly intractable problem.

Chinese Annexation and Japanese Colonialism

Taiwan was formerly known as Formosa in the West

Known as the island of Formosa in its past, Taiwan’s history over the past two hundred years has been complex. The largest island of the Formosa island chain located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, it was originally the home of aborigines and the occasional Chinese migrant, refugee, and pirate. Neither Western nor Asian powers showed any sincere interest in acquiring the island until the late seventeenth century, when China brought Taiwan under its authority in order to quell pirates using the island as a base of operations. China largely left the island untouched until the Qing Dynasty was forced to cede the island to Japan after its loss in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5. Qing subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and move to mainland China if they so wished, but very few Taiwanese saw this as feasible and most remained under Japanese rule. An 1895 effort by pro-Qing Taiwanese officials to challenge impending Japanese rule was quickly put down by Japanese forces.

During Japan’s fifty-year control of Taiwan, the occupying government imposed harsh rule on the island, showing no tolerance of dissent, and limiting lucrative jobs and business contracts to Japanese living on the island. Aboriginals and Chinese were treated as second-class citizens. Despite this harsh rule, the Japanese helped to develop Taiwan’s economy and brought with them technology that was unseen on the Chinese mainland. They also helped to enlarge Taiwan’s railroad and other transportation networks, built a widespread sanitation system, and developed the public school system. Rice and sugarcane production also increased greatly under Japanese occupation. Thus, by the end of the World War II the island of Taiwan was much better off than mainland China. That it was largely saved from the ravages of the Japanese occupation that were meted out on the mainland certainly helped in this, but it is an uncomfortable truth for those on both sides of the strait that Taiwan owed its position of relative economic strength to its former occupiers.

The Republic of China

Japanese rule over Taiwan came to an end after they surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War II in 1945. At this time the approximately 300,000 Japanese living in Taiwan were repatriated back to Japan. After Japan’s surrender Taiwan once again fell formally under Chinese rule, which was by this time under by the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), with China now formally called the Republic of China (ROC). Celebration of the island’s return to Chinese rule was short lived. Tension soon built between the locals on the island and their new government. The source of this tension was two-fold. Firstly the KMT government questioned Taiwanese loyalties after their having been subject to fifty years of Japanese rule. The KMT thus continued Japan’s policy of treating the Taiwanese as second-class citizens. Secondly, as the KMT was fighting a civil war with the Communists in China, they took every resource available on the island to support their war efforts.

These tensions culminated in the 228 Massacre of 1947, so called because it occurred on February 28th. What started off as police harassing an old woman who was peddling cigarettes turned into island-wide riots in which local residents attacked mainland immigrants and their property. KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan governor Chen Yi responded by bringing in military reinforcements to restore order to the island. The result was the execution of as many as 4,000 Taiwanese. The 228 Massacre was the start of the nearly four-decade White Terror in which the KMT established a dictatorship over the island and suppressed any organized dissent.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Monument in modern day Taipei

In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to flee to Taiwan after Mao Zedong and the Communists took control over all of mainland China and founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Eventually, 2 million people, most of them soldiers, KMT party members, intellectuals and business elite where evacuated to Taiwan. These refugees brought with them many national Chinese art treasures, as well as gold in foreign currency reserves. Most people on the island believed this would be the end of the KMT as Mao amassed an invasion force in the Chinese province of Fujian, directly across the Taiwan Strait from the island. In addition, the US, the KMT’s largest provider of funds and material, announced it would take no further steps to support Chiang in his fight against the Communists. It appeared that it was simply a matter of time before the PRC would gain control of the island.

The situation changed quickly in 1950, however, when communist North Korean soldiers crossed the attacked the US ally South Korea. US President Harry Truman, fearing communist attempts to take over all of Asia, reversed his policy on Taiwan and sent the US Naval Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to protect the island from Chinese invasion. This led to a political and military stalemate that is still basically in effect today. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded Taiwan’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China until the 1970s, when the most nations began switching their recognition to the PRC, a response to a thaw in relations with the US that saw it achieve mutual diplomatic recognition by 1978. Initially, Taiwan held the seat on the United Nations Security Council under its formal name of the Republic of China, recognized as the sole legitimate government of all of China. In November 1971, the seat was transferred to the PRC, since which time Taiwan has had no formal representation at the UN despite some sporadic attempts to achieve this.

Taiwan’s accelerated economic growth since World War II has transformed it from a largely agrarian island into an industrialized, developed society. The IMF categorizes it as an ‘advanced’ economy, and the World Bank considers it to be a ‘high income’ economy. One of the strengths of its economy is its advanced technology industry, which plays a significant role in the global economy. Although most of this manufacturing is now outsourced to mainland China, Taiwanese companies still control the production of a large portion of the world’s consumer electronics.

Political Reform

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The Sun Yat-sen Memorial in Taipei

Chiang Kai-shek died in April 1975, just over a year before the death of his old foe, Mao Zedong. Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, took over. The younger Chiang slowly instituted political reform, allowing more native Taiwanese to enter into the bureaucracy and tolerating limited dissent. One example of the latter was the Tangwai. While the KMT did not allow any opposition parties to develop before 1987, it did allow for candidates to run for office independently. Thus some independent activists and politicians founded the Tangwai. The Tangwai, whose name literally translates as “outside the party”, was a loose coalition of people whose main commonality was opposition to the KMT’s dictatorship. The KMT did occasionally persecute its members, namely in response to a 1979 protest held in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, KMT leaders largely tolerated the organization.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the island’s first enduring opposition party, was founded in 1986, a year before such parties officially became legal. The DPP’s makeup was similar to that of the Tangwai in that members were united predominantly in their opposition to the KMT. In fact, the DPP was made up largely of former KMT members. However, within a few years of its founding, the party had established itself as a pro-Taiwanese independence party that promoted a Taiwanese cultural and national identity.

Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988 and was replaced by his hand-picked successor Lee Teng-hui, the first native Taiwanese to become ROC president and KMT chairman. Lee continued with Chiang Ching-kuo’s reforms, working within the KMT and with activists to open up more government positions to competitive election. For example, the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan, the government’s two legislative bodies, had their first general elections in the early 1990s, and Taipei, the island’s capital, had its first competitive mayoral elections in 1994, which was won by the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian.

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Taiwan’s current president is the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou

Taiwan’s democratic reforms continued through the early 1990s and culminated with the island’s first ever direct presidential election, held in 1996. Interestingly, in a world where dictatorial parties tend to get punished in free elections, the KMT’s Lee Teng-hui won what was widely considered to be a fair election. China reacted angrily to the possibility of elections in Taiwan and engaged in military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in a naked attempt to intimidate politicians and voters on the island. The move backfired as it led to the US intervening by sending its aircraft carrier into the area as a warning to the Chinese. The move also appeared to harden both the determination to democratize as well as the opposition to any suggestion of ‘reunification’ with the mainland. Four years later, taking advantage of a split KMT ticket, DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected and succeeded Lee, becoming the first non-KMT president of Taiwan and marking the first change in government brought about by democratic elections anywhere in the Chinese speaking world.

Despite grand hopes that the new ruling party brought with them into office, Chen’s eight years as president were largely disappointing. There were many causes of this disappointment. For example, Chen came to power during a global economic downturn. As Taiwan has an export-based economy, the slump in demand significantly harmed many Taiwanese livelihoods. Additionally, China refused to deal with Chen, declaring him to be a Taiwanese separatist with whom they could not deal. While economic ties between the two sides continued to strengthen, political ties significantly worsened. Another problem lay in people’s expectations of Chen himself. Chen, as president, actually had relatively little power to keep his campaign promises. The power his predecessors enjoyed were largely due to martial law and other temporary revisions the government put in place during the KMT’s dictatorship. As the country instituted democratic reform, many of these presidential powers were taken away and given back to the legislature, where the writers of the constitution originally allocated them. This left Chen mostly powerless to enact some of the reforms he promised. Lastly, many in Chen’s administration, and ultimately Chen himself, were accused of corruption. After Chen’s terms as president ended, he was indicted on charges of bribery and is now in prison serving a 19 year sentence, though he maintains that the trial was politically motivated.

The teahouses of Jiufen

The KMT took back the presidency in 2008 with the election of Ma Ying-jeou, showing the resilience of this once dictatorial party. Ma has moved to improve relations with the mainland, recognizing the futility of antagonizing Beijing and the enormous potential of cross-straits trade, though he has always stopped short of advocating imminent reunification. The KMT remains rhetorically committed to the goal of reunifying with the mainland, though insists that this cannot be under the rule of the CCP. Though this had previously been an unacceptable stance to Beijing it has become the lesser of two evils in contrast to the pro-independence stance taken by many in the DPP. Ma was re-elected in January 2012 with more than 51% of the vote on an impressive turnout of over 74%.

Relations with China

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Taiwan’s army is focused almost entirely on one possible aggressor

Despite having a mature and stable government, a thriving economy, and an active civil society, Taiwan’s status in the international community remains in limbo. The reason for this is the position of China. Beijing insistence that Taiwan is a part of China that must eventually come under Beijing’s rule, whether peacefully or by force, remains a stumbling block for Taiwan in many of its dealings with the international community. Though Taiwan has never made a formal declaration of independence, partly because of the KMT’s stance that Taiwan is part of one China but also because of the fear of serious reprisals from Beijing if it did so, Taiwan maintains its de facto independence. In other words, Taiwan is independent for all practical means and purposes. It maintains set geographical boundaries, a government to rule over lands within those boundaries and this government and its state are recognized by its population. The international realm is not so clear. Other states do recognize Taiwan’s passport but most do no conduct formal bilateral relations with the island, although many maintain links in an unofficial capacity. There are 23 states that maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei instead of Beijing, a reduction from 71 in 1969, the most significant among them being Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and the Vatican. A practice of the PRC and Taiwan competing for diplomatic recognition among states seems to have come to an end; according to a document released by Wikileaks, Panama made moves to switch its recognition to the Beijing but was asked to remain with Taipei in order not to cause diplomatic embarrassment at a time when cross-straits relations were improving. Taiwan is therefore not able to enjoy de jure independence, which means it is not independent according to law. This means that Taiwan cannot join many international organizations that require statehood for membership. These organizations include the UN and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Additionally, when joining in other international events and organizations, Taiwan must join under some alternate name, such as its official Olympic title of Chinese Taipei.

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The US continues to supply F16s to Taiwan, despite objections from China

The status of Taiwan cannot be ignored in any aspect of China’s international relations; it is impossible for any state in the international system to have diplomatic relations with Beijing without recognizing the PRC’s sovereignty over the island. This is especially pronounced in the relationship with the US, and in almost every high level political meeting it is incumbent on the representatives of the US to reiterate their support for the “one-China policy”. However, there is a nuance to this acceptance by the US in that it explicitly opposes any actions or statements that would “unilaterally alter Taiwan’s status”. This applies to both Taiwan and the PRC, meaning that Taiwan has an insurance policy in its relationship with the US that ought to deter China from making the first move in any conflict. The special relationship that exists between the US and Taiwan is at the root of this sensitivity, but it is more serious than a linguistic exercise in diplomacy. The US has, on several occasions, demonstrated its willingness to defend Taiwan should it be subject to an unprovoked attack from the PRC. This was evidenced in the 1996 deployment of warships to the Taiwan Strait in response to PRC missile testing in the region. Additionally, the US has continued to meet its legal obligation to provide Taiwan with defensive arms which provokes strongly worded protests from Beijing on each occasion. Since 1990, according to a US Congressional report, Taiwan has requested major purchases in every calendar year except for 2006 and 2009. One of the most recent purchases, agreed in January 2010, included 114 PAC-3 defense missiles and 60 Black Hawk helicopters in a deal worth almost $6.4 billion; one of the largest ever agreed. In September 2011, the US reached a decision to refurbish Taiwan’s fleet of F-16s, fitting them with AESA radars (a form of stealth technology) but stopping short of approving the sale of new planes, but going far enough to anger China. While there are now some calls among American academics to rethink this alliance, it is unlikely to alter in the near future. The involvement of the US seems to assure that the future will be one of an easy maintenance of the status quo. While far from a perfect a solution, this is probably the best option for all concerned.

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China Airlines, Taiwan’s national carrier, now flies direct to the mainland

The period of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency was certainly a low point in cross-straits relations, but the recovery since Ma’s election in 2008 has been impressive and encouraging. Political gestures have been important in this process, most notably the historic visit to the mainland by then-chairman of the KMT, Lien Chan, in 2008. Following Lien’s trip Beijing relaxed rules on Taiwan residents visiting the mainland and on mainlanders visiting Taiwan. The result was a dramatic increase in grassroots exchanges across the strait, with up to 3000 mainland tourists visiting the island every day. Direct flights were permanently established in the same year as Lien’s visit and have expanded consistently ever since, with a total of 558 weekly direct flights between the island and one of 41 cities on the mainland. Taiwanese investment in the mainland is thought to be greater than from any other territory, though the exact figures are obscured by a tendency for the investment to be channeled through tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. More than one million Taiwan residents – around 5% of the population – now live on the mainland.

Future Trends

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world for a time

While maintaining such an unconventional status within the international arena does present some symbolic challenges for the Taiwanese, the situation across the Strait right now remains stable and even mutually-beneficial for both sides. By some measurements, Taiwan is the number one source of FDI into China, providing valuable capital and knowledge from Taiwan’s world-class IT industries. In turn, these economic ties have allowed Taiwanese companies to remain cost-effective even as the island has shifted away from a labor-intensive to a knowledge-intensive economy. These economic ties have also gone some way in tempering Beijing’s saber rattling towards the island. One example of this was seen in 1996 when local officials in Fujian province, an important destination for Taiwanese capital, encouraged Beijing to show restraint during missile tests in the Strait, lest they scare off investors from the island. While CCP leaders say that economic factors would not deter an attack on the island if warranted, the prospect of the flight of Taiwanese capital from China certainly raises the potential cost for any Chinese action.

Although most states in the world continue to pay lip service to China’s ‘one China’ policy, they also maintain informal relations with Taiwan in their day-to-day affairs, particularly in the economic sphere. The US, in particular the US Congress, is Taiwan’s most ardent and powerful supporter. The involvement of the US and the potential for a conflict between to the world’s two greatest powers means that the cost of China acting unilaterally with regard to Taiwan is high, though the complexities of the forces competing for influence in China over this issue mean that it cannot entirely be ruled out. Oddly, one of the most potent sources of political tension in the region – the dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands – has provided an opportunity for improved relations between China and Taiwan, since both share a rhetorical position on the matter. Nevertheless, the most likely future path for Taiwan and its relationship with the mainland is one of an uneasy maintenance of the status quo; it is in neither side’s interests to act unilaterally and the scope for common ground is too narrow to allow an agreement to be reached in the foreseeable future. Taiwan will not gain the independence that some of its people seek, but it is unlikely to be swallowed whole by China any time soon.