April 24, 2017

China (中国) Today

Events Review (17.04–23.04.2017)

 

Major Events and Trends in the Development of the Situation around the PRC

The aggravation of the situation around the Korean Peninsula is now considered the main problem in the Asia-Pacific region, which cannot but worry, including China. The American space intelligence reports that Pyongyang has stepped up its activity at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, which may indicate the preparation for testing of a nuclear warhead. During the events dedicated to the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung (the grandfather of the current North Korean leader), the DPRK made another provocation, showing a video with an imitation of a missile strike against the United States. Later, Han Song Ryol, director-general of the US affairs department at the North's Foreign Ministry confirmed that North Korea “will launch missiles on an ongoing basis, despite the pressure from the United States”.

 

US Vice-President Mike Pence meets South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, April 17Of course, Washington is concerned about a possible armed attack on its allies in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) and on its military facilities. Last week, US Vice President M. Pence arrived on a visit in Japan and South Korea with a view to clarifying the situation on the spot, and to determine how to stop the irresponsible actions of the DPRK. After the meeting between M. Pence and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, it was announced that both sides intended to impose additional sanctions against the DPRK immediately after it has conducted rocket and nuclear tests.

Other methods of pressure on North Korea are also considered. According to US Secretary of State R. Tillerson, Washington may suggest reintroducing the DPRK into the list of states that support terrorism (it was on this list from 1988 to 2008). If a positive decision is taken on this issue, the US will resume the whole range of sanctions against North Korea.

In parallel to these steps, the United States continues to demonstrate force in the Asia-Pacific region, while deepening its military and military-technical cooperation with its allies. Thus, in the area of the Korean Peninsula there is an aircraft-carrying strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier “Carl Vinson”. Since April 28, 2017, joint exercises of the USA and South Korea's Air Forces are planned to be conducted, where counteracting North Korean provocations will mastered. In the exercises will participate the crews of American F-16, AV-8B and EA-18G aircrafts deployed at air bases in South Korea and Japan, as well as South Korean aircrafts F-15, F-16, F-5E and F-4E.

THAAD Missile Defense System in South KoreaThe deployment of the US THAAD Missile Defense System continues in South Korea. According to the head of the Bureau of the US Department of State for Asia and the Pacific region, S. Thornton, the United States will put the system into operation on time or even earlier. The THAAD Missile Defense System was called one of the security guarantees of the USA and its allies.

 

China's leadership, while having allied relations with North Korea and certain contradictions with the USA in the APR, de facto supports the United States of America's attitude to the North Korean nuclear missile program. China, as stated by its Foreign Ministry on 19 April 2017, is really concerned about North Korea's launches of ballistic missiles and preparation for nuclear tests. He advocates denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and preservation of peace and stability in the region. China has said that it is ready to continue a meaningful dialogue with all interested parties, including the DPRK and the United States.

By the way, as the Chinese newspaper “Huanqiu Shibao” has reported, China can stop supplying petroleum products to the DPRK in case of the latter's nuclear tests. According to reports of South Korea's media, China continues to build up its military grouping on the border with the DPRK. In addition, because of the threat of an armed conflict in the APR, the combat readiness of the Air Force of the People's Liberation Army of China has already been raised.

 

Last week, the developments around the Korean Peninsula were considered at a special meeting of the UN Security Council. The proposed draft resolution of the Security Council condemning the DPRK's actions in the nuclear missile sphere was blocked by Russia, which once again confirmed its being interested in aggravating the situation in the APR. After all, it will distract the attention of the United States from the Putin regime's armed aggression against Ukraine, and can also become the foundation for building on an anti-American basis allied relations with the PRC.

Within the framework of such a policy, Russia's provocations against the USA in the APR are becoming more active. For example, on 18 April 2017, two Tu-95MS aircrafts of the long-range (bomber) aviation of the Russian Air Force made a provocative flight to Alaska and approached the US border for a distance of up to 160km. F-22 Raptor fighters of the US Air Force flew to intercept the Russian bombers.

Against this background, Moscow is trying to demonstrate “the unity of the positions of Russia and China in relation to the USA's actions in the APR”. In particular, according to some information sources of the Russian Federation, “...Russia and China's reconnaissance ships are jointly monitoring the US aircraft carrier group in the western part of the Pacific Ocean”.

But North Korea hastened to use these intentions of the Russians for its support. According to the representative of the DPRK Foreign Ministry Kim Yong Ho, Pyongyang is ready to develop relations with Russia to jointly counteract European and American sanctions.

 

Important were also other trends or events in the development of the situation in and around China.

 

Politics

7th China—EU Strategic Dialogue in Beijing, April 19China's actions to defend its interests in the Asia-Pacific region are accompanied by its active policy in other areas. For example, on 19 April 2017, 7th China-EU Strategic Dialogue at a high level was held in Beijing. The meeting was jointly chaired by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini.

The sides confirmed the importance of further development of cooperation in the four main spheres determined at previous negotiations. They include: ensuring stability in the world, supporting the development of the world economy, assisting from the European Union in carrying out market reforms in the PRC, and convergence of Western and Eastern civilizations. At this, the sides pointed out positive prospects for further deepening China-EU relations, characterized by “maturity” and “significant energy”.

Representatives of China and the EU exchanged their views on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as on the problems around Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula. Touching upon the Syrian question, Yang Jiechi condemned the use of chemical weapons in the country and spoke in favor of a political solution to the Syrian problem. In turn, F. Mogherini reported on the USA's intentions to deepen the dialogue with China in all these spheres.

 

Meeting of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, Zhang Dejiang, with Russian President V. Putin, April 19China's cooperation with Russia is developing. True, while Beijing is trying to strengthen bilateral economic ties, Moscow seeks to create a counterweight to the pressure on itself from the West. This is evidenced by the 3rd meeting of the China-Russia Inter-Parliamentary Commission, which was held April 18–20, 2017 in Moscow with the participation of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China Zhang Dejiang and the Chairperson of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation V. Matvienko and the Chairman of the RF State Duma V. Volodin. At the meeting, Zhang Dejiang expressed hope that the positive conditions for further deepening of cooperation between the two countries would be preserved and suggested that the Eurasian Economic Union be connected to the Chinese project “One Belt, One Road”. This initiative was supported by the Russian parliamentary leadership.

During his visit to Moscow, Zhang Dejiang met with Russian President V. Putin. In the negotiations, the Chinese official confirmed that the strategic nature of China-Russia relations, as a result of the joint efforts of President Xi Jinping and Russian President V. Putin, remains. V. Putin pointed out China's strategic importance for Russia in terms of defending common positions in the world arena, and the implementation of various economic projects. According to him, today “the relations between Russia and the PRC are at the highest level in their history”, which is especially important in the context of the international situation in the world.

 

China also pays special attention to the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. April 17, 2017, the 10th meeting of the China-Vietnam steering committee on cooperation was held, co-chaired by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. They pointed out the positive nature of the relations between the two countries, as well as the importance of continuing the Chinese-Vietnamese contacts at the highest level.

Summarizing the results of the talks, the parties agreed to deepen the interaction between China and Vietnam in the implementation of various aspects of the project “One Belt, One Road”, including investment, economic, infrastructure, transport and humanitarian spheres.

 

Economy

Results of China's GDP growth for the first quarter of 2017The development of the situation in the PRC confirms the positive trends in the country's economy, which was outlined in the second half of 2016. Thus, according to the State Statistical Office of China, in January–March of the current year the country's GDP grew by 6.9 %, which is higher than the forecasted level. The total GDP for the first 3 months of this year was 18.06 trillion Yuan (2.6 trillion US dollars). Other macroeconomic indicators of the PRC also increased, including industrial production — by 6.8 % and retail trade — by 10 % compared to the first quarter of last year.

Besides, there is an increase in the volume of shale gas production in China in March 2017 — by 50.4 % compared with the same month last year to 1.15 billion cubic meters. In general, the increase was due to the increase in gas production in the pilot zone of the Changning-Weiyuan gas field in Sichuan province (South-Western China).

 

As part of strengthening China's foreign economic relations, the Chinese leadership continues to step up its efforts to implement the strategic project “The Belt and Road”. In this connection, great importance is attached to the preparation of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), which is scheduled to be held in Beijing on 14–15 May 2017. According to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Forum will be attended by leaders from more than twenty countries, as well as the UN Secretary-General, the Managing Director of the IMF and the President of the World Bank.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF)During the Forum, a high-level dialogue will be held on the formula “1+6” (a plenary session and six thematic sessions), where the issues of infrastructure development, increasing mutual investment, and deepening the interaction of project participants in economic, energy, cultural and environmental spheres will be discussed. It is planned to sign a memorandum on the strategy for further implementation of the project “The Belt and Road”, and to conclude bilateral and multilateral agreements.

In the context of these plans, the PRC's government bodies provide statistical data on the results of cooperation between the participants in the project “The Belt and Road” since the beginning of this year. According to the Ministry of Commerce of China, in January–March 2017 direct non-financial investments of Chinese enterprises into the economy of 43 countries participating in this project amounted to 2.95 billion US dollars. The share of such investments was 14.4 % of China's total foreign investments, which is 5.4 % higher than in the first quarter of 2016.

According to the Ministry of Transport of the People's Republic of China, currently more than 130 agreements on cooperation in the sphere of rail, road, sea transport, as well as postal communication have been concluded between China and the participating countries of the project “The Belt and Road”. Under these agreements, 356 lines of international communications were opened with 43 countries.

The 2017 “Forbes” Top 10 Venture Companies ListAgainst this background, on 18 April 2017, the American magazine “Forbes” published the Top 10 Venture Companies List — a rating of the companies with the greatest investment value in the world. The list was headed by the Chinese trade corporation “Alibaba” (the second and third places were taken by “Facebook” and “Uber”). The corporation entered the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014 and received financing of 25 billion US dollars for its initial offers. Since then, the corporation's revenues have shown steady growth of about 30 % within a year. The Forbes rating also includes two other Chinese companies, including the online store “Jingdong” (JD.com) and the company “Xiaomi Inc”.

 

Security and Law Enforcement Agencies

Theater Commands of the China’s People's Liberation ArmyThe leadership of the PRC is reforming the country's Armed Forces to bring them in line with modern situation and requirements. According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the People's Liberation Army of China (PLA) should become a powerful force capable of protecting the interests of the country both in the Asia-Pacific region and South-East Asia, and throughout the world.

In this context, the next stage of the military reform in the PRC assumes the PLA's final transition from the principles of construction characteristic of the period of the Second World War to compact, highly maneuverable and high-tech armed forces. First of all, this concerns the reduction and optimization of the structure of the Land Forces of the PLA with the simultaneous raising the importance of the Air Force, the Navy, Rocket Force and cyber-troops.

In particular, based on the experience of Western countries, the regimental structure of the Land Forces of the PLA is being abolished, and they are transferred to the following structure: the battalion tactical group — the brigade/division — the corps. Besides, the currently existing seven military districts are being transformed into five operational (operational-strategic) commands. The reform will continue until 2020.

 

Comparison between the Chinese Type 052D and American Arleigh Burke class destroyersAs part of the reform of China's defense sector, a large-scale program to build up the Chinese Navy of the PLA continues. By 2018, it is planned to adopt twelve newest Type 052D destroyers. The ships are armed with artillery systems H/PJ-38 (130 mm) and H/PJ-12 (30 mm), anti-aircraft and cruise missiles, Yu-7 torpedoes, and are also equipped with speedboats and Z-9C helicopters. The length of the destroyer is 256 m, width is 18 m, the speed is 30 knots (55.5 km/h), the crew is 280 men. By their combat capabilities, new Chinese ships can be compared to American destroyers like Arleigh Burke, equipped with Aegis guided missile systems.

In January 2017, the fifth of these ships, Xining (board number 117), entered the arsenal of the PLA Navy, which is already actively participating in military exercises.

 

Also in China, a new strategic bomber H-20 is being developed, which should become an analogue of the American B-2 aircraft. At this they use the experience and technologies obtained by the PRC in the development of the low-profile fifth generation J-20 fighter aircrafts (created with Stealth technology), large-size Y-20 (transport) and Comac C919 (passenger) aircrafts, as well as modern two-circuit turbojet engines.

The range of the new bomber will be up to 18 thousand km with one refueling in the air. The aircraft is capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles. The new strategic bomber may appear after 2020 to replace the H-6 (licensed version of the Soviet Tu-16), which are in service with the Air Force of China. In fact, China is already ahead of Russia in the field of advanced aircraft construction, including in the military sphere.

Xian H-6 bomber Xian H-20 bomber
Strategic long-range bomber Xian H-6 and a project of the new Xian H-20 bomber

China and the EU are deepening their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, organized and cross-border crime, including in cybernetic space. In particular, these issues were discussed at the meeting of State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun and Europol Director Rob Wainwright on 19 April 2017 in Beijing. The parties agreed on strengthening cooperation in all these spheres.

 

Science and Technology

Automated docking of “Tianzhou-1” Cargo Spacecraft with “Tiangong-2” Space LabAccording to the plan of the PRC's space research, April 20, 2017, from the Wenchang cosmodrome in Hainan Province, with the help of the “Chang Zheng-7” launch vehicle, “Tianzhou-1” — the first cargo spacecraft of the Chinese design was launched. The ship delivered more than 6 tons of cargo into orbit, including fuel and other supplies for the “Tiangong-2” (”Heavenly Palace-2”) Space Laboratory. On April 22, the “Tianzhou-1” Cargo Spacecraft and “Tiangong-2” Space Laboratory for the first time successfully automatically docked in space.

It is assumed that after the launch, “Tianzhou-1” will three times dock with “Tiangong-2” space laboratory in the orbit for refueling and carrying out experiments and tests. After a joint two-month s flight, “Tianzhou-1” will continue its independent flight in its orbit for another three months. The main feature of the mission is refueling after the completion of the docking of the “Tianzhou-1” with the “Tiangun-2”, the so-called air-filling. Today, only Russia and the United States have such technology.

 

A high-speed taxi ground test of the China's commercial airliner Comac C919 

April 16, 2017 on the runway at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the China's domestically developed commercial airliner, Comac C919 was put through a high-speed taxi test.

This is the last stage of the test before the first test flight of the aircraft.