Monday, June 15, 2015

The Vanguard of Heaven?

China's leaders do worry about mass unrest that would end their rule. Watch out for the workers.

Could China face a round of serious unrest if their economy isn't nearly as good as their statistics claim?

A wave of riots and protests swept across China’s industrial cities in 2008 and 2009, of which the unrest at Tonghua was just one example, but they have largely faded from memory in the West. The massive stimulus program deployed by Beijing, one that was more than twice the relative size of America’s rescue plan, worked exactly as it was supposed to: It reignited growth and put China’s expanding army of restless unemployed back to work. ...

And yet now, a mere six years later, central command in Beijing once again finds itself faced with rising labour unrest as the life sputters out of the Middle Kingdom’s economy. In the first five months of 2015, there were triple the number of labour strikes as in the same period in 2014, according to data from the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, while mass protests by workers against layoffs are on the rise.

And you never know what might spark simmering anger over other causes that focuses anger and frustration at the national government.

Keep in mind that if the lid blows off that China will be short of personnel to control the situation. They have 1.6 million police;  2.2 million active duty military; 510,000 reserves; and 660,000 paramilitary infantry (which often were army light infantry divisions renamed "police"). [The latter numbers from my 2012 The Military Balance.)

The classic counter-insurgency rule of thumb says you need security forces numbering 2% of the population to be controlled. With 1.3 billion people, that means China would need 26 million troops.

So China is a bit short, to say the least. I imagine Communist Party members could be quickly organized and armed as local defense force militias. But still.

A localized round of unrest could be smothered by existing security forces. But if that unrest spreads to a certain level of population, the unrest strips the ability of China's security forces to cope.

And no amount of anti-ship ballistic missiles or advanced fighters will do any good at all.

Of course, the fact that much of China's army is not proficient at military tasks is irrelevant for internal security. As many "armies" are, the ability to kill and intimidate unarmed civilians is often the main task of these "armies" in name only.

Under those circumstances, Xinjiang and Tibet would have room to rebel when normally their small populations would allow Han China to swamp them with troops and colonists.

Or, of course, China might launch a short and glorious war in an attempt to short-circuit the rage and rally the unhappy people around a nationalistic objective.

In that case, the lack of military proficiency will be a problem depending on the scope of the "foreign" (which could be Taiwan or targets in the seas nearby) military adventure. Defeat often isn't a rallying point and could inflame anger against the rulers on another front.

I'd guess it would be islands owned by Japan or the Philippines since in the case of civil unrest, China would like to keep a foreign threat restricted to their least relevant forces for domestic unrest--their air force and navy. But these forces are likely to be not as proficient as the rulers believe.

Heaven help them in that case.