Deepwater Fishing

Bayou Renaissance Man brings us this report:

BEIJING has discovered a major threat to its new aircraft carrier: swarms of deadly jellyfish. Now it’s racing to develop weapons of mass destruction to beat them.

Masses of the creatures can be sucked through the warship’s water intakes necessary for cooling the vessel’s engines.

Once in the cooling vents, they get mashed into a thick, sticky soup.

This blocks the cooling system, causing the engines to overheat and bringing the warship to a halt.

It then reportedly takes days to clear the pipes.

Thus the urgent need for countermeasures.

The new jellyfish shredder consists of a net, several hundred meters long and wide, which is towed by a tugboat ahead of the carrier.

This funnels whatever falls within towards an array of steel blades.

What comes out the other side is no larger than 3cm wide.

The effect is so brutal researchers report the waters the shredder passes through become murky as the jellyfish — and other marine life — corpses begin to decompose. It takes up to a week to clear.

Bayou Renaissance Man adds:

I’m afraid the deliberate destruction of marine life to accommodate the ship is characteristic of attitudes towards nature in, not just China, but most of Asia.  The prevailing attitude in many of the countries and cultures there seems to be that nature exists to serve human interests. If it doesn’t, it must be tamed, reshaped, or removed until it does.

There are some folks in my industry who concern themselves with the design of subsea equipment, basically kit that we stick on the seabed to aid in the extraction of oil and gas from the reservoir. In shallow waters, such as those in the North Sea, they have always had to design them such that trawler nets can pass over them without becoming snagged (I heard one story from decades back that a fishing vessel snagged its net on a pipeline, turned the winch on max, and promptly sunk sank itself). In deep water, which is anything over about 600m, this hasn’t been a concern as the nets don’t go down that far. However, I heard a couple of weeks ago that a Chinese fishing ship operating offshore Angola passed its nets over some equipment a mile down.

I get the impression we’ll soon be shown that Africa’s environment, like so much else in the world, is a concern only of wealthy, middle-class white folk who are chiefly troubled by the activities of other white folk. This would explain why you don’t hear much mention of Chinese fishing boats in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series.

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North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation

Via Mick Hartley, this piece on North Korea:

But what North Korea wants is South Korea. It has always wanted South Korea, and it has never stopped saying that it wants South Korea. Its messianic vision of reunification has always rested on its express promise of reuniting Korea under its rule. You can try to pretend that away, but North Korea won’t be content to sit behind its borders and watch its legitimacy eroded away by unfavorable comparison — made vivid by every smuggled DVD of a South Korean TV drama — to a superior model of Korean nationhood.

This is consistent with a piece I quoted before, also via Mick:

North Korea would not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike South Korea, whose capital sits just 35 miles from their shared border. Pyongyang has had the ability to detonate nuclear devices in Seoul via short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for years. There’s also reason to question the wisdom of nuking a proud, democratic city of 25 million people before attempting to rule it.

What an ICBM does for North Korea is establish deterrence in the event of a reunification campaign.

Kim Jong Un thinks “the nuclear weapons will prevent US from getting involved,” Sun said. “That’s why we see more and more people making the argument that the North Korea’s nuclear development is not aimed at the US, not aimed at South Korea, but aimed at reunification.”

It should hardly be surprising that North Korea seeks reunification of the peninsula. When I was working in Seoul in 2005 I talked to some South Koreans about this, and they all agreed that reunification would happen one day. The only problem is Kim wants the unified Korea to be a Communist hell-hole, the South Koreans want it to look like South Korea, and the Chinese want to be sure they don’t have a hostile or (more likely) embarrassingly rich and democratic state on its borders raising awkward questions among its own population. As the BBC says:

China is key but it is a conflicted party. On the one hand it does not want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea and it has made its view clear to Pyongyang on many occasions.

Something which always gets left out of the reporting is that a nuclear North Korea is largely a problem of China’s own making. First they supplied Pakistan with the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons:

Since the 1970s, China has been instrumental in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. China provided Pakistan with highly enriched uranium, ring magnets necessary for processing the uranium, and education for nuclear engineers. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, in fact, is widely believed to be based on Chinese blueprints. Worse, in 1990 and 1992, China provided Pakistan with nuclear-capable M-11 missiles that have a range of 186 miles. China reportedly has provided the technology for Pakistan to build a missile that could strike targets within a 360-mile range.

A key figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was one A.Q. Khan, known as the father of the Pakistani bomb. To cut a long story short, this chap (and/or others in the Pakistani military) then wandered around the world flogging the technology to anyone who wanted it, chiefly Iran, Libya – and North Korea:

The story of the world’s worst case of nuclear smuggling took a new twist on Thursday when documents surfaced appearing to implicate two former Pakistani generals in the sale of uranium enrichment technology to North Korea in return for millions of dollars in cash and jewels handed over in a canvas bag and cardboard boxes of fruit.

The source of the documents is AQ Khan, who confessed in 2004 to selling parts and instructions for the use of high-speed centrifuges in enriching uranium to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Extracts were published by the Washington Post, including a letter in English purportedly from a senior North Korean official to Khan in 1998 detailing payment of $3m to Pakistan’s former army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and another half-million to Lieutenant General Zulfiqar Khan, who was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb tests.

It is unlikely that the proliferation of their nuclear missile technology and capabilities into North Korea via Pakistan was the intention of the Chinese government when they set out to assist Pakistan, but here we are. With Kim Jong-Un now testing hydrogen bombs, the proliferation horse has well and truly bolted.

The most logical step, although one that would horrify most people, is for South Korea to go nuclear, enabling it to retaliate in the event of a North Korean first use. The nightmare situation for South Korea is for the North to attack and before the South can eliminate the North (using conventional means) in response the Chinese step in and ensure the regime’s survival for their own ends. Yes, we’ve been here before. If the South was nuclear-armed, they could remove the regime before the Chinese could intervene and/or dissuade the Chinese from doing so in the first place.

If South Korea goes nuclear, and we’re fast approaching the point that they have every right to, Japan will quickly follow – and possibly Taiwan. This would cause the Chinese to go apoplectic, but it would be too late and their own fault. If I were the US, I’d be putting this scenario in front of the PRC and telling them it is both very much of their own making yet still within their powers to prevent it.

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Chinese Tourists Robbed in Paris

Commenter “Hugely Ceebs” points me towards this article:

Tourists from China are avoiding France amid surging violence and crime, a Chinese tourism expert has said, reporting that customers are turning to Russia as a safer destination.

President of the Chinese Association of Travel Agencies in France, Jean-François Zhou, said “increasingly violent” thefts and assaults are turning France into “one of the worst destinations for foreign tourists”.

Mr. Zhou, a representative for major Chinese travel agency Utour in France, reported a steep decline in visitor numbers from Asia, and said many tourists are now looking to Russia as a less dangerous holiday destination.

I’m going to take that with a pinch of salt. Firstly it’s Breibart; secondly the situation might be being exaggerated; thirdly nobody will go on holiday to Russia instead of Paris.

But that said:

“[Chinese tourists] are robbed in the palace of Versailles, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in front of their hotel, as they leave the coaches … In high season, not a day goes by without tourists being assaulted.”

There is a massive problem with pickpockets, beggars, thieves, scam artists, hawkers, and general criminals around the main tourist areas of Paris, particularly under the Eiffel Tower and the steps leading up to Montmartre outside the Sacré Cœur. I have known a few visitors who have had their bag snatched or pocket picked in these areas, and the perpetrators are many in number and loitering in full display of everyone waiting for an opportunity. I have often wondered why the police don’t clear them out but am told that when they do, they just move onto somewhere else. For whatever reason, probably something to do with fear of being called racist, the authorities don’t clear them out permanently.

But the situation is getting worse and can’t go on forever. It might be that the Chinese tourist agents have received a lot of complaints and they have decided to issue a warning to the French to sort it out or they really will start looking elsewhere. If this is the case then good: it’s high time somebody said something.

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Chinese Toys Ejected from Pram

It appears that the Chinese government might have some growing up to do:

President-elect Donald Trump has questioned whether the US should continue its “One China” policy, sparking fury from Chinese state media.

Under the policy, the US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province.

This principle has been crucial to US-China relations for decades.

But Mr Trump said he saw no reason why this should continue without key concessions from Beijing.

Indeed.  From all practical, political, and indeed moral standpoints, Taiwan is an independent sovereign state.  China’s claim over Taiwan is based on the rather fanciful idea that a region that the Communists failed to capture from the sitting government in the civil war 70 years ago should nevertheless belong to the Communists, even though they plainly want to be left alone.

In the interview, broadcast by Fox News on Sunday, Mr Trump said: “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”

Well, I’m not sure the sovereign rights of the Taiwanese should be subject to yet more horse-trading between the US and China.  But I find it hard to fault Trump’s logic here.

No US president or president-elect had spoken directly to a Taiwanese leader for decades. But in the Fox interview, Mr Trump said it was not up to Beijing to decide whether he should take a call from Taiwan’s leader.

“I don’t want China dictating to me and this was a call put into me,” Mr Trump said. “It was a very nice call. Short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can’t take a call?

“I think it actually would’ve been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it.”

Again, I’m finding it hard to disagree with this.  It’s almost as if Trump has some balls.

His comments prompted an angry editorial in Chinese state media outlet Global Times, known for its hawkish rhetoric.

Titled “Mr Trump please listen clearly: The One China policy cannot be traded”, it labelled Mr Trump’s move “a very childish rash act” and said he needed “to humbly learn about diplomacy”.

It also called for a strong response, saying: “China must resolutely battle Mr Trump, only after a few serious rebuffs then will he truly understand that China and other global powers cannot be bullied.”

If a simple phone call is enough to cause heart palpitations in Beijing, then perhaps this policy isn’t very robust.  As for charges of bullying, Wikipedia tells us:

The PRC has threatened the use of military force in response to any formal declaration of independence by Taiwan or if PRC leaders decide that peaceful unification is no longer possible.

Trump taking a phone call from the Taiwanese leader is a “childish rash act” and constitutes bullying.  Whereas China threatening to invade Taiwan for daring to formally renounce oppressive, Communist rule is none of those things, obviously.

It’s a bold – some would say reckless – gambit, given that for China there is nothing vaguely negotiable about the island’s status.

Except for the fact that they neither own it or control it.

That may now begin to change, with the blow-hard state-run tabloid, The Global Times, true to form in being the first to up the ante, with the talk of retaking Taiwan by force, or of arming America’s foes.

The same old record, in other words.

As China gets richer and more deeply involved in the global economy and world affairs, outdated policies from Mao’s era are going to start doing them a lot more harm than good.  Despite the rhetoric – or perhaps because of it – the Chinese Communist Party is a brittle regime propped up by an economy built on quicksand.  This cannot last forever.  China’s transition to democracy is inevitable in the long term, and they might want to consider that the Soviet Union didn’t survive this and what remained needed an awful lot of assistance.  This might be in short supply if China doesn’t wind its neck in over issues like Taiwan.

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An Unproven China

Streetwise Professor has put up a post regarding Donald Trump’s possible policy towards China, which includes a paragraph on the Chinese military capability:

Chinese military power is increasing dramatically. This is perhaps most evident at sea, where the Chinese navy has increased in size, sophistication, and operational expertise. Submarines are still a weak spot, but increasing numbers of more capable ships, combined with a strong geographic position (a long coastline with many good ports, now augmented by the man-made islands in the South China Sea) and dramatically improved air forces, long range surface-to-surface missiles, and an improving air defense system make the Chinese a formidable force in the Asian littoral. They certainly pose an anti-access/area denial threat that makes the US military deeply uneasy.

I’ll not argue with this, it is hard to imagine China’s military isn’t improving with all the money and technology being thrown at it.  What I don’t agree with is a comment by “FTR” underneath:

China will be the dominant power. There’s really no stopping it, try as the Communist Party might. Even if long-term per capita development remains below the west thanks to the inefficiency and corruption of the party, it will still be the world’s largest economy from sheer population alone. Correspondingly, the military will eventually match or exceed American capabilities. Just as the United Kingdom couldn’t block the rise of the more populous Germany or America, China will take the pole position.

People often talk about the future of China in terms of inevitability, as if their enormous population is the one factor that will propel them to the top of the pile.  Me, I’m not so sure.

I remember writing ages ago – I forget where – that quality is inherent in a culture and not every culture has it to the same degree.  The Chinese have grown their economy from a very low base by engaging in low-level manufacturing of things Westerners want to buy, and made technological progress by copying what the West has been doing for years.  This will be enough to bring improvements, but I don’t think one can draw a line through the progress, extrapolate it 20 years into the future, and conclude China will be top dog.  A lot of the stuff the Chinese produce is utter junk.  Most of their own designs – meaning, those they have not bought or stolen – are rubbish which nobody with money or standards wants.  People talk about the incredible learning rate of the Chinese, but I think most of this comes from having the bleedin’ obvious pointed out to them.  I don’t think it means they will necessarily be able to do what any economic superpower needs to do – innovate, and produce quality goods.

It is not just a matter of time.  The British have had plenty of time to learn how to build a decent house, but seemingly can’t.  For whatever reason, we put up with shit that some other nationalities don’t.  Our cars were also crap (I used to be an amateur Land Rover mechanic: I found some of the bolts/screws were metric, some imperial, and the remainder some obscure thread nobody had heard of in two generations), whereas the Germans and Japanese made them properly.  I will believe the Chinese have mastered technology not when they have built a high-speed rail to much government fanfare based on a design they copied from Siemens without permission, but when an international airline orders a batch of Chinese aircraft instead of Boeing or Airbus.  Until then, the jury is out on whether they can produce quality goods or differentiate themselves when it comes to innovation.  Perhaps they will manage it – I’m not saying they won’t – I’m just saying that thus far they haven’t proven much and fears of them taking over the world might be a little premature.

Which brings me onto the Chinese military.

When I was a student I came back from a night out and found my apartment had been burgled and all my stuff stolen.  This was rather unsurprising given I lived in Manchester, but nevertheless I had been rather stupid and not gotten insured.  Eager not to get burned again I replaced the goods out of my own pocket and got some insurance.  The company I dealt with were very reasonable and I got covered in short order, and so I happily told my eldest brother that I had found a good insurance company.  His reply was that you normally find out if an insurance company is any good when the times comes for them to pay out.  Wise words, indeed.

Similarly, a military normally finds out if they are any good or not when they have to actually fight.  Manpower numbers, training levels, budgets, equipment specs, number of ships/tanks/planes etc. are all good indicators as is historical performance and the culture from whence the personnel comes, but none of this really counts until they are involved in some serious action.  History is littered with examples of supposedly superior forces being proven to be useless (the Russian navies in the Russo-Japanese War, for example) and of theoretically weak armies being surprisingly hard nuts to crack (e.g. the Finns in the Winter War).  I wrote here that Turkey’s intervention into Syria might end up putting a dent in what I think is probably a rather outdated reputation of their army, as they haven’t done any proper fighting in generations.

Other than a few skirmishes, the Chinese have not had a proper fight since the Korean War.  By contrast, the Americans – perhaps for this very reason – seem keen on fighting in one way or another practically non-stop, as do the Brits.  The US Navy hasn’t been properly tested in a long time, and nor has its air force.  But American ground troops have, as have their logistics capabilities.  True, they’ve not fought an all-out large scale war but they have come far closer than anyone else with Afghanistan and the Iraq War.  Their weapons and personnel have been tested in the field and, although sometimes have come up wanting, it is at least known that they work.  The Chinese?  Well, it’s all theoretical, isn’t it?

I think what would hamper the Chinese military more than anything is the same thing that could bring China to its knees anyway: an unaccountable Communist Party facing off against an increasingly wealthy and well-informed middle class.  During the Korean War, Mao was able to send hundreds of thousands of Chinese to be slaughtered without any domestic backlash: being slaughtered seemed to be a pretty routine way of life in 1950s China, especially if you complained about it.  But China has changed.

Let’s supposing China does decide to flex its military muscles in the South China sea.  They could probably lose quite a few men and a lot of material before they’d hear any grumbling at home, and – like Putin over Crimea – they could dress up the capture of a few hundred square miles of land as a major strategic victory which has saved the face of the nation and proven that it’s rightful place is zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Sorry, I nodded off just thinking about such a speech.  But should they decide on a bolder adventure, such as a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, they will almost certainly incur enormous casualties – something everyone assumes they would just absorb.

But would they?  China’s one-child policy has left most households with a single son.  Could the mothers of the quarter-of-a-million soldiers who are going to die capturing Taiwan please step forward and tell me how robust is your national pride?  Are they really going to be motivated by the same ultra-nationalistic propaganda used in the Korean War when the body bags start coming home (or the bodies washing up on the beaches) in 2030?  If their military is found wanting and catastrophic flaws are found in their doctrine, equipment, leadership, and men it could easily lead to an internal revolution – either from the military themselves or a middle class who are fed up of a CP who have badly overestimated the popularity of their own geopolitical ambitions.  As with their economy, I don’t think it is a given that the Chinese military will be any good simply because it is big and they have spent a lot of money on it.  As yet, they are completely unproven.

I’m sure the Chinese leadership knows that any bold military adventure would need to succeed very quickly or they could find the domestic situation slipping out of their control., and that for all the hype their military has yet to be put to even a simple test.  By contrast, the Americans know they can fight deeply unpopular wars and life goes on much as before, and that their military is up to the task.  With General Mattis now on board hopefully preventing anything idiotic from happening, Trump probably doesn’t have too much to worry about from China.

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A Positive Step for Chinese International Relations

This, on the other hand, is good news:

Two Chinese oil companies operating in Ecuador said they could seek international arbitration if they do not reach agreement over new contracts, saying negotiations so far were characterised by pressure and a lack of transparency, a letter from the companies said.

Andes Petroleum and Petrooriental sent the letter last month to state officials involved in negotiating new contracts with foreign oil companies to express their concerns over how the talks were progressing.

“The initial phase of the negotiations has been marked by a lack of transparency — in terms of take or leave it, confiscatory measures and pressure to accept conditions,” according to a letter dated 19 October and signed by executives, Reuters reported.

As the Chinese get more involved in international affairs, of which oil and gas is but one, they are going to find themselves increasingly exposed to the trials and tribulations which have plagued the Americans in their dealings around the world, and the British before them.  How the Chinese react to these will be worth noting, but it is inevitable that they will have to rely on international cooperation to a greater extent than they have previously needed.  The two small Chinese companies seeking arbitration against Ecuador might not amount to much in itself, but it signifies that the Chinese appreciate the benefits of international cooperation.  This can only be a good thing.

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