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Big Brother Gets Annoyed

August 18, 2009

Strategy Page
August 16, 2009

U.S. counter-espionage efforts are catching, and prosecuting, more
Chinese spies, and finding that the amount of technology stolen in
the last few decades has been massive, and a primary reason for high
Chinese economic growth. China has saved over a hundred billion
dollars in basic research and product development with this espionage
campaign, and continues to deny everything, even as the court
convictions pile up. Last year, Russia convinced China to sign a
treaty halting the theft of Russian military technology. But China
may have done this mainly because they have shifted their attention
to Western stuff, which is more advanced.

While China has backed off from its order for computer manufacturers
to install monitoring software ("Green Dam") in all PCs it ships to
Chinese buyers, it is still aggressively censoring what Chinese can
access via the Internet. The latest ban is on video games that
promote the "gangster lifestyle," drug use, bad language, gambling,
rape, vandalism and theft. The government believes playing these
games (like the Grand Theft Auto series) leads to bad (especially
anti-government) behavior. China is also censoring some of the
violent elements (turning piles of bones into sandbags in World of
Warcraft) out of games that are allowed to continue. The ban will
probably do more political damage than the games, for research in
many countries has shown that there is little impact on  player
behavior because of these games. But the games are very popular and
addictive, and cutting players off from them makes people
angry.  Meanwhile, many private, and a few government groups, in the
West are developing free software that will enable news and messages
to get past the Internet censors in countries like China.

The Chinese government is apparently encouraged by its experience
with security cameras, which it has been installing, in increasing
numbers, since 2003. Nearly three million have been installed so far,
which is about one camera for every 470 citizens. The nation with the
highest concentration of cameras, Britain, has 4.2 million installed
(one for every 14 people). China has a much denser concentration in
some cities. Beijing has a camera for every 45 people. China is
expanding the installation of cameras into the countryside,
particularly key transportation sites (road junctions, train stations.)

The Chinese government has ordered university research centers to
look into the causes of recent ethnic uprisings in Tibet and the
Turkic northwest. There are dozens of other, smaller, ethnic
minorities in China, and some of these have displayed signs of
possible violence. So the government is looking for new ideas on how
to deal with this problem.

August 11, 2009: China began a large scale military exercise, quickly
moving 50,000 mechanized and air force troops several thousand
kilometers, and deploying them for combat. This is not the way the
Chinese military usually operates. Traditionally, local forces take
care of any problems, and it can take weeks to bring in additional
forces from another of the seven military regions the nation is
divided into. But now the Chinese are moving into the late 20th
century in terms of military mobility. This is a major improvement.

August 5, 2009: In a month since the outbreak of ethnic violence in
western China, police have arrested about 2,000 people, while another
2,000 were killed (about 200) or injured. Arrests continue, mostly of
local Uighurs (Turkic Moslems), who are angry about the growing
migration of Han (ethnic Chinese) people.

August 2, 2009: Pneumonic plague broke out in northwest China, with
several dozen cases, and a few deaths. This is the same disease that
killed over a quarter of Europe's population in the 14th century.
Before that, it did similar damage across Eurasia, all the way to
China and Southeast Asia. Plague (usually the bubonic version, caught
from insect bites, rather than the more rare pneumonic form, spread
by sneezing) is no longer the big killer it once was. That's mainly
because of better public health, and particularly because of the
development of antibiotics in the 1940s. Plague, unlike most mass
killers, is not caused by a virus, but by a bacteria.

But at the same time British researchers were developing penicillin,
the Japanese Army, in the form of Unit 731 in northern China, was
trying to turn plague into a weapon. This proved impossible to do.
The Japanese dropped bombs filled with fleas (the normal carriers of
Bubonic Plague) on Chinese villages, and the result was often no
plague cases at all.

Plague still survives, in animal populations, all over the world. But
in the last century, there have been only about 100-150 cases a year,
usually in remote areas, and only about ten percent of them resulted
in deaths. The last big outbreak in the United States was in Los
Angeles in 1924, when there were 38 cases, most of them fatal. There
are still periodic outbreaks in the American West, where people
encounter plague infected animals in remote areas. But medical
personnel in those areas know the symptoms, and quickly administer
antibiotics. Thus there are few deaths.

China, however, is one of the places where there are still outbreaks
in densely populated areas. The pneumonic form of plague is
particularly contagious, and could cause thousands of deaths, and
general panic, if it ever got into a city. So these rural outbreaks
are dealt with promptly, with police setting up roadblocks and
isolating the area, and medical teams flooding the area to follow up
on a media blitz letting everyone know what symptoms to look for, and
who to call. These measures have greatly reduced plague deaths in
western China over the last half century. The recent incident in
China was over within ten days.
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