- - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Red Songs over China

For those who may have doubted the Chinese government’s commitment to communist ideology, the current core leadership in Beijing is turning increasingly to the staging of regular mass performances of so-called “red songs” across the nation.

The climax of this new daily affirmation of communist fundamentalism took place June 29. That was when 100,000 people gathered in a packed stadium at the inland metropolis of Chongqing, with 108 singing groups from across the nation, to hear a recitation of the Communist Manifesto word by word by young communist aspirants, while scores of communist music classics, or red songs, were performed.

Thunderous applause erupted over the Cultural Revolution classic “The Sun is most red, Chairman Mao is most dear.” The ruling Politburo gave its endorsement to the event.

Only one foreign dignitary graced the event. Henry Kissinger was a featured speaker at the rally. The former secretary of state was identified as representing his consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc.

Globalizing China’s Navy

On Saturday, a People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) naval convoy left the Chinese military port Zhanjiang for the Gulf of Aden and the Somali coastal waters. The flotilla included the missile destroyer Wuhan, the missile frigate Yulin and the supply vessel Qinghai. This small Chinese naval expeditionary force signified an important landmark for the Chinese navy: It is the ninth such naval contingent in just a little over two years to be dispatched to an area far from Chinese territorial waters, a truly important strategic step in ushering in the age of a Chinese blue-water navy that is increasingly global in nature.

This naval group’s 900 members include surveillance specialists and helicopter-based commandos who will join previously deployed PLA naval vessels patrolling the waters there.

Chinese naval ships have been remarkably active in this area since late December 2008 when anti-piracy operations started. The Chinese government claimed that its naval vessels escorted close to 4,000 merchant ships, mostly oil tankers and container ships sailing to and from Africa, the Middle East and various Chinese ports. Some U.N. food aid ships also were given Chinese naval protection.

When this new group passed the hotly contested Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese captain and his political commissar aboard the flagship Wuhan sent special radio messages to PLA troops stationed on various isolated islands nearby with words of praise for the troops’ heroic dedication to the motherland and the Chinese Communist Party.

These praised PLA soldiers returned their mutual admiration for their comrades aboard the passing gunboats.

Beijing asserts right to strategic waterway

China is one of the world’s major oil importers, and more than 80 percent of its imported oil passes Southeast Asia’s Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.

Yet unlike most other countries in the world that recognize and accept, with ease, joint management of the strait by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, whose territories border the 500 mile long channel, China has expressed feelings of extraordinary insecurity about those management arrangements. China fears other naval powers, notably the United States and Japan, will one day choke China to death by taking control of the strait.

Such strategic insecurity created heated debates for decades within the official Chinese strategic community and resulted in two proposed alternatives. One calls for China to work with Thailand in digging a canal through a Thai isthmus to bypass the Strait of Malacca. A second option calls for building a major overland oil pipeline from Pakistan’s Gwadar port to China’s western Xinjiang province.

While these two alternatives, especially the latter one, have received much attention recently, one government-controlled scholar, Xue Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on June 8 published an eye-catching article in the official Global Times newspaper that boldly challenged territorial claims made by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore over the waters of the Malaccan Strait.

Xue stated that while the alternatives might be attractive, they are too expensive and may take too long to benefit China.

China instead should challenge the three nations’ sovereign claims over the majority of the waters in the strait and insist on having the right to send Chinese naval ships to the strait to “fight pirates” because this area is “international water.”

The comments further highlight concerns and growing tensions in the region over China’s military expansion amid claims to wide areas of international waters.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached a mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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