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China Reform Monitor - No. 1242

China and Russia plan joint exercises in South China Sea;
Beijing pledges more "humanitarian" aid to Syrian military

Edited by Joshua Eisenman
September 9, 2016

August 17:

Next month China and Russia will conduct joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, PLA Senior Colonel Yang Yuqun announced. Although Russia has remained neutral in China's maritime disputes, Moscow supports Beijing against Washington. "Sino-Russian military-technical cooperation, regular large-scale joint exercises, and information exchange have already gone much further than is said in public or the majority of outside observers are aware of," Vasiliy Kashin of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of the Far East 
wrote in Vedomosti. China has quietly supported Russia in Ukraine and a Chinese cable layer built the Crimean energy bridge, a special high-tension underwater cable that Russia lacked the capacity to build and was unable to import from elsewhere due to Western sanctions. The "energy bridge" was designed to allow Moscow to supply electricity to Crimea after Ukraine cut power to the Russian-occupied region. Agreements on Power of Sibera-2 and the Moscow-Kazan high-speed railroad and several smaller high-tech projects are in various phases of approval. There has been "a significant increase in the coordination between Moscow and Beijing in international policy and in the military sphere," wrote Kashin. "This dependence will only grow. Both parties avoid the word ‘alliance,' but this is already beyond ‘neighborliness' or even ‘strategic partnership.'"

August 18:

On August 16, Guan Youfei, a rear admiral in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and chief of staff of the Central Military Council for International Cooperation, met Syria's defense minister Fahd al-Freij in Damascus and promised to increase "humanitarian" assistance to the Syrian armed forces. Chinese support will include more non-lethal gear and equipment and expanded training for Syrian military personnel in China. Guan also met with a Russian general stationed in Damascus to discuss "issues of common interest." Zhao Weiming from the Shanghai International Studies University 
told the Global Times: "The Chinese military has not sent military forces to fight terrorists in Syria directly, but Guan's visit could be the first step for further cooperation." Analyst Ma Dingsheng added: "Moscow has been deeply involved in Syria, and it is only right that Beijing lends a hand. This is also a warning to the U.S. that China may demand Russia's involvement in the South China Sea dispute." 

August 20:

China "has been actively recruiting Taiwanese present and former officers to serve as spies and provide it with confidential military information about the island," 
Taiwan News reports. Last month, six retired and active military personnel were arrested for spying by the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office, the China Post reports. In recent years, there have been several instances of serving and retired Taiwanese officers travelling to Southeast Asia to pass on secret documents about weapons systems and other projects to Chinese agents, mostly in return for money. Last month Chinese hackers targeted the Taiwan National Defense University's PLA Research Institute, although no confidential information was stolen. The university said it is upgrading its cyber security. 

August 22:

During Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Beijing, China offered Myanmar $300 million in debt financing, theMyanmar Times reports. In February 2015, the previous Myanmar government accepted a $700 million loan from China's Exim Bank to fund loans to farmers, despite concerns that the interest rates were too high. The then-government ultimately accepted $400 million and now doubts have arisen about whether Myanmar should accept the remaining $300 million. China Exim charges 4.5 percent interest annually and the Myanmar government lends to farmers at 18 percent a year. U Myo Aung from the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, said: "There is no plan to accept the remaining $300 million portion of the loan."

August 24:

The third of four Japanese arrested by Chinese authorities for spying between May 2015 and June 2016 has been indicted, although neither the charges against him nor the court have been publicly revealed,
Kyodo news reports
. The "man from Kanagawa Prefecture," a former defector from North Korea, was detained in Liaoning last May near the North Korean border, presumably for dealing with sensitive North Korea-related information. The first indictment, which was announced in May, targeted a man from Aichi Prefecture, who was detained last year near a military facility in Wenzhou, Zhejiang. Last month, a woman working at a Japanese language school in Shanghai was the target of a second indictment, and soon after a third Japanese man was detained. In November 2014 Beijing adopted a counterespionage law and in July 2015 a new national security law took effect.

Related Categories: China; China and East Asia Program

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