Guo Boxiong, a former general in the People’s Liberation Army, has been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party and placed under investigation for graft, becoming the most senior military figure to be targeted in President Xi Jinping’s high profile anti-corruption campaign.
For thirteen years, Guo and Xu Caihou – another senior military figure expelled from the Party for corruption – all but controlled the People’s Liberation Army under Jiang Zemin, a former general secretary of the CCP and president and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). With Jiang’s assistance, Guo became a Politburo member and, in 2004, first vice chairman of the CMC.
Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official mouthpiece said that Guo has been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for favours while serving as vice chairman of the CMC. While no mention has yet been made of specific crimes he is believed to have committed or of individuals who might have benefited from his patronage, the CCP’s Politburo has said in a statement that “[a]n investigation has found that Guo Boxiong exploited his positions to seek gain for others through postings and promotions,” and that he “directly or through family members accepted bribes, gravely violating party discipline.”
The decision to mount a criminal investigation into these allegations is, according to the Politburo, proof that no official, however exalted his position, is immune from prosecution. “No matter what power one holds or how high one’s position is, if a person violates Party rules and law, he or she should be hunted down without compromise and without mercy,” the council has said. In recent months, Xi’s ongoing interest in rooting out top level corruption – or “fighting tigers” to use his own coinage – has been the subject of intense speculation. Guo’s dismissal from the Party and inevitable prosecution for corruption will no doubt assuage some of these fears.
Guo’s eventual downfall was presaged earlier this year by a corruption probe into the activities of his son, Major-General Guo Zhenggang, the deputy political commissar of the military in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and his younger brother, Guo Boquan, head of the Shaanxi Civil Affairs Bureau.
Cameroon’s President confirmed Saturday that twenty-seven hostages, kidnapped earlier this year in raids blamed on Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, have been released in Cameroon.
According to a statement released by the office of President Paul Biya, “the 27 hostages abducted on May 16 in Waza and July 27 in Kolofata were released to the Cameroonian authorities this night.” The ten Chinese citizens, and seventeen other local hostages, including the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister, are all “safe and sound.”
In mid-May, a group of ten Chinese construction workers was seized from a construction camp in Waza, in Cameroon’s Far North region near the border with Nigeria, in an attack that left one Cameroonian soldier dead. While in June, Cameroonian authorities had disclosed that six people had been arrested in connection to the kidnappings of the Chinese citizens, no further information pertaining to their whereabouts was released. The seventeen locals, including Francoise Agnes Moukouri, the wife of vice prime minster Amadou Ali, were kidnapped in July during two simultaneous assaults that targeted their residence in the border town of Kolofata. A military spokesman had indicated at the time that as the fighter retreated with the hostages, they set fire to the residence, stole safes and vehicles and killed at least fifteen people. Both attacks were blamed on Boko Haram. A local religious leader who was also abducted in the July attack was amongst those released Saturday.
Cameroon shares a border of more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) with Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been waging a deadly insurgency since 2009. While the group did not specifically claim responsibility for these kidnappings, they have been involved in a number of other abductions, including the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria in April 2014, which sparked international outrage. The attacks and kidnappings in May and July also sparked concerns that the Nigerian-based insurgents were further expanding their operations into Cameroon as the government became increasingly involved in regional efforts to contain them.
While Saturday’s brief statement pertaining to the release of the hostages did not provide any details about the conditions of their release, sources have disclosed that Cameroonian authorities paid at least US $400,000 in ransom in order to secure the release of Francoise Agnes Moukouri, the wife of the Vice Prime Minister. The deal to release them was apparently reached on Thursday, three days prior to their release. According to the source, who was part of the negotiation that led to the release of the hostages, the terms of the settlement included the payment of an undisclosed sum of money from the Chinese government for the release of the ten construction workers.
On previous occasions, Cameroonian officials have indicated that the government does not pay ransoms in kidnapping cases.
Tensions rose on Monday as North and South Korea traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter just one day after the North increased tensions by threatening to carry out a “new” nuclear test.
South Korean officials indicated Monday that they had returned fire after North Korean shells landed in its territorial waters. In an attempt to ensure maximum publicity for its live-fire drill, North Korea took an unusual step by notifying the South beforehand. The live-fire exercises were announced by North Korea in a faxed message from its military to the South’s navy, with South Korea warning of an immediate retaliation if any shells were to cross its border.
A statement released by South Korea’s Defence Ministry indicated “some of (North Korea’s) shells landed south of the border during the drill. So our military fired back north of the border in line with ordinary protocol.” South Korea further stated that the sides exchanged hundreds of shells, with Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok indicating that “the North fired some 500 shots…and some 100 of them landed in waters south of the border.” In response, the spokesman indicated that the South had responded to Pyongyang’s “premeditated provocation” by firing 300 shells from K-9 self-propelled howitzer batteries that are based on its front-line islands, adding “if the North takes issue with our legitimate returning of fire and uses it to make yet another provocation towards our sea and islands, we will make a resolute retaliation.” During the three-hour incident, which began at 12:15PM (0315 GMT), border island residents were evacuated to shelters as South Korean fighter jets flew overhead. The evacuation order was lifted an hour after the North ended its drills.
While China, which is North Korea’s largest trading partner, has called for calm and restraint in the wake of the exchange of fire, Monday’s incident, which comes a day after Pyongyang threatened to conduct a “new” type of nuclear test, has largely been seen as a sign of the North’s growing frustration with the United States’ resistance to resume multi-party talks on its nuclear programme. The nuclear negotiations are seen by Pyongyang as an opportunity for it to win material concessions and aid from the international community. Monday’s incident also coincided with a massive, amphibious landing drill by nearly 15,000 South Korean and US troops.
Tensions Increased Over Past Few Weeks
While Monday’s incident is not the first to occur in recent year, North-South tensions have been rising for weeks, undermining hopes that were raised after the North in February of this year hosted the first reunion for more than three years of families that were separated by the war.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been on the rise after North Korea last week test-fired two medium-range Nodong missiles over the sea, its first such launch since 2009. According to the South Korean defence ministry, the missiles were fired from the Suckon region north of Pyongyang and flew for about 650 kilometres (400 miles) before falling into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok stated that the Nodong “…is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” The launch came shortly after US, South Korean and Japanese officials met for talks in the Netherlands. It also came on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship.
The launch of the two missiles marked a step up from the short-range rockets Pyongyang has fired in recent weeks. Those launches were seen as a response to the current US-South Korea annual military exercises. To date, North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, with the most recent, and most powerful, occurring in February last year.
While the United Nations drew the western border after the Korean War (1950 – 1953), North Korea has never recognised it and the area has been a flashpoint between the two Koreas. It argues that the de-facto maritime boundary was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces. In late 2010, four South Koreans, two marines and two civilians, were killed on a border island by North Korean artillery fire. At the time, North Korea stated that it was responding to South Korean military exercises that were occurring in the area. Tensions were already high that year after a South Korean warship sank near Baengnyeong island, resulting in the deaths of forty-six people. At the time, Seoul stated that Pyongyan had torpedoed the vessel, however North Korea denied any role in the incident. Border fire was also briefly exchanged in August 2011.
Today, the 17th of December, the Japanese government has released its new national security strategy. It includes commitments to increase military spending and investment in new technologies, largely aimed at countering China’s growing maritime power and the ongoing dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. A more robust military posture is also a cornerstone of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right wing nationalist politics, something that is destined to prove controversial both within Japan, and also in the wider region, with China and both Koreas certain to react with hostility to any perceived return to ‘Japanese militarism’.
Though co-operation with the United States (which guarantees Japan’s military security) seems likely to remain the primary feature of Japan’s defensive posture for the foreseeable future, moves towards more independence and assertiveness seem also seem likely to increase over coming years. The new national security strategy would help provide for this, with a 5% spending increase allowing for the purchase of more equipment for Japan’s already modern military. This will apparently include new naval destroyers, surveillance drones, fighter aircraft and Osprey tilt rotor aircraft. A new assault force (essentially a marine corps) equipped with amphibious landing craft, will also be created.
Much of this development is in response to the increasingly assertive presence of the Chinese military in the region, particularly in the maritime sphere. As China pursues a blue water navy, it is investing extremely heavily in new warships in order to expand it’s control in East Asian waters. This included, last year, the completion of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Though the Liaoning is a refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier and not state of the art, it is allowing the Chinese to develop and train personnel for deployment on their own indigenously built aircraft carriers, which are scheduled to begin entering active service around 2020.
China’s increasingly assertive role has manifested in continuing tensions over a collection of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Japan and known as the Senkakus (though called the Diaoyu by China). These islands are a continuing flashpoint between the two nations, both as a source of national pride and also because of the rich natural resources and fishing fields in the area. Recently, China has unilaterally expanded its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) to cover a large swathe of the East China sea, a move that has provoked criticism from Japan, South Korea and the United States. It is worth noting that Japan’s own ADIZ is also of a similar size, and has also been expanded in a similar fashion in the past. Japan is also engaged in a territorial dispute over islands controlled by South Korea, as well as a long running dispute with Russia over the Northern Territories. Japan is also within missile range of North Korea, and feels threatened by its nuclear program and potentially destabilising actions.
Any Japanese re-militarisation would prove an extremely controversial affair. The legacy of the Second World War remains strong in East Asia, with the Chinese and Korean populace hostile to a Japan that they feel often refuses to face up to its wartime behaviour, particularly involving the usage of comfort women (native peoples forced into prostitution for the Japanese armed forces). Prime Minister Abe’s stringent nationalism is particularly marked – he has been ambivalent about admitting the war crimes committed by the Japanese armed forces, has denied the coercive role of the military in procuring comfort women, and has openly questioned whether Japan should be defined an ‘aggressor’ during the war, arguing school books should give a more positive view of Japan’s wartime role and behaviour.
Within Japan, Abe’s right wing nationalism is also controversial. A recent implementation of a hard-line new state secrets law promoted demonstrations in Tokyo, while Abe’s desire to overturn Japan’s pacifist constitution is well known. It would be difficult for Abe to do this currently, as he would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament as well as a successful referendum. Many on the Japanese left are apparently concerned that Abe is using the threat of a rising China to ‘re-militarise through the back door’ and to meet his own nationalist aims as opposed to external threats.
Despite frequent sabre rattling between China, both Koreas and Japan over their various disagreements and claims in the region, an imminent deterioration in East Asian stability is still very unlikely. However, the long term strategic issues in the region posed by a rising China, a US suffering from a stretched defence budget and declining influence, a remilitarised and more aggressive Japan and an unpredictable North Korea are extremely serious. Any conflict in the region would also have serious economic consequences world-wide, as China, Japan and South Korea are all major players in the global economy.
This morning, Wednesday November 6th, a homemade bomb detonated outside the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shanxi province, northern China, killing one person. The attack comes amidst tight security across China, with sensitive official meetings due later this week that may see radical overhauls to China’s economy, and in the wake of last week’s suicide attack in Tiananmen Square by Uighur Muslims.
At around 7:40 am, reports indicate seven homemade explosive devices detonated outside the provincial headquarters of the CCP in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province. One person was killed and 8 were injured, one critically. The devices were apparently planted in flower beds outside the building, and detonated as government workers began to arrive for the day. Images widely distributed on Chinese social media show metal pellets and ball bearings that were reportedly scattered across the area after the explosions. No individual or group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The incident comes at a politically sensitive time for China. Top CCP leaders are due to meet on November 9th for a three day session (the ‘Third Plenum’ of the new leadership) to outline China’s economic and political direction for the next decade. This is widely expected to include a raft of major social and economic reforms, aimed at promoting economic liberalisation, tackling corruption and providing social security with the goal of moving China towards more stable economic growth. Previous Third Plenums in 1978 and 1993 were the source of the most sweeping economic reforms in recent Chinese history.
Security across the country has also been stepped up following last week’s suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. In that incident, a car was driven into crowds of tourists before bursting into flames. The 3 occupants were killed along with a Japanese and Filipino tourist, while nearly 40 tourists and security personnel were injured. The attackers have been identified as Uighur Muslims, with the Chinese authorities calling it a terrorist attack and blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Uighur terrorist group apparently with some loose connections to the Al Qaeda organisation. Uighurs are a large Muslim minority in China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang, and often complain of discrimination and repression. Terrorist attacks, riots and ethnic violence are not uncommon in the region, with Uighur extremists sometimes attacking targets outside Xinjiang as well.
However, homemade bombs and domestic terror attacks unrelated to the Uighur issue are a not entirely uncommon phenomenon in China. In 2009 two separate attacks on public transport systems by disgruntled citizens killed 26 and 24 people, while a man killed 47 people by setting alight a bus in Xiamen earlier this year. In September, a bomb exploded outside a school in Guilin, killing two and injuring more than 40. A disabled man was jailed last month for setting off a homemade bomb in Beijing airport in July. These incidents are often the result of disgruntled individuals who feel mistreated by the state bureaucracy, in issues ranging from criminal cases to land confiscations.