Quotulatiousness

March 16, 2015

Parallels between the Regia Marina of the 1930s and the PLAN today

Filed under: China,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Diplomat, Franz-Stefan Gady shows how it could be that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) may be following a similar strategy to Mussolini’s Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy):

The history of the inter-war Italian navy, the Regia Marina, which faced a strategic outlook similar to the PLAN and was also confronted by technologically superior naval opponents, provides a great lesson in why overestimating your enemy’s capabilities is maybe just as dangerous as underestimating military power.

In short, miscalculating the fighting strengths of Mussolini’s navy prior to and during World War II diverted precious allied resources from dealing with more important military challenges (and as a consequence it inadvertently contributed to various allied defeats in the first three years of the war, such as during the Battle of France, and especially during the campaigns in North Africa). It also influenced policy making by granting Italy too big of a say in European politics (e.g., look up the history of the signing of the Munich Agreement) in comparison to the country’s real military capabilities.

Like the PLAN today, the Italians were engaged in many military innovations throughout the 1930s. For example, one article notes: “The Italian navy was impressive for its pioneering naval research into radar and its prowess in torpedo technology — the latter resulting in powerful aerial and magnetic torpedoes and contributing to the maiali, or small human-guided torpedoes — the ultimate weapons in asymmetric naval warfare.”

Also, the post-World War I Italian Navy, similar to today’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, harbored regional aspirations. With the conclusion of the war in 1918, the Italian admirals agreed that the navy must first dominate the Adriatic Sea and then expand into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. China has a similar sequential strategy with attempting to dominate the Taiwan Strait as well as the South China Sea, followed by a push beyond the First Island Chain, and finally projecting power all the way to the Second Island Chain and beyond.

March 11, 2015

China’s “Catch up” growth

Filed under: China,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at last week’s announcement that China is (slightly) lowering their economic growth forecast.

On that larger scale though what people are worrying about is this. Catch up growth is easier than growth from the technological frontier. What is meant by this is that it’s a great deal easier to generate economic growth if you have an example in front of you of how to do things. To take a trivial example, if you can go and buy a mobile phone, take it apart to see how it works, it’s a lot easier to copy that technology than it is to invent it for the first time. And this is true of how you make cement, how you put up buildings, how you farm a field and so on. And at root that’s what economic growth is: becoming more efficient at doing all of these things as well as everything else. Each time you become more efficient at doing one task you free up resources to be doing something else. Thus you get both the original thing plus the new one from the same resources: this is the very definition of economic growth.

However, there’s a limit to such catch up growth. In certain areas China is right at that technological frontier (in some areas ahead of the rest of the world in fact). Which is where things become more difficult: there’s no one to copy. Therefore that invention has to happen domestically. This is obviously more difficult. But also it rather requires a certain set of institutions. The rule of law, property rights and so on. These aren’t things that China notably has (although things are very much better than they were decades ago). It’s those headwinds that need to be beaten. Bringing in these new institutions, embedding them in the society and the economy, without causing so much disruption as to slow down growth while they are done.

The standard jargon for this is “middle income trap”. To be crude about it the general feeling is that it’s pretty easy to go from dirt poor to middling income. The essence is really just to stop doing stupid things that hold economic development back. China’s done that very well even though they did start from a very low level of an immense number of very stupid things that Maoism did to hold economic growth back. The middle income trap is where the transition over to those institutions that promote technological frontier growth don’t appear (or are not imposed). And thus the stunning growth peters out.

February 7, 2015

Now afflicting Chinese internet users – “Straight Man Cancer”

Filed under: China,Media,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Diplomat, Nancy Tang explains a sudden outbreak of “Straight Man Cancer” among China’s Weibo users:

“A woman only has one ambition. In her heart, she sees love and childrearing as the most important thing in life.” On January 12, 2015, scholar Zhou Guoping thus tweeted on Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging platform. Zhou later responded to the backlash, saying, “I agree with women’s liberation and equality between women and men… However, no matter how talented [women] are or what achievements they reach, if [a woman] refuses to, or doesn’t know how to be a gentle lover, a caring wife, a loving mother, the sense of beauty she gives me will be greatly reduced.” Both tweets were subsequently removed by Zhou.

Chinese commentators quickly diagnosed Zhou, a popular public intellectual at the state think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, with “Straight Man Cancer.” The term “Straight Man Cancer,” coined in mid-2014, refers to chauvinist, judgmental behavior and language that propels sexist double standards or belittles women. Zhou’s controversial tweets exposed him to public scrutiny and attracted state attention. Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily re-posted an editorial, calling for the use of law and public opinion in order to “prevent ‘Straight Man Cancer’” in the private realm from “spreading into the public domain.” State news agency Xinhua also published the transcript of a newspaper interview with Zhou, in which he shamelessly called himself a “feminist.”

Zhou is by no means the sole Chinese straight man afflicted with Straight Man Cancer. In the aftermath of Zhou’s tweets, Chinese netizens have dug up other notable cases of public figures infected by the “epidemic.” Han Han, popular author-blogger and youth icon, is another representative of the cancerous straight male among Chinese millennials. He has stated in an interview that “there is no way that my girlfriend would [be allowed to] work outside of the household.” The renowned Chinese translator of Haruki Murakami, Lin Shaohua, has warned men against housework, which he thinks of as detrimental to masculinity and having the potential to make men effeminate or gender-bent. Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping has suggested that decreasing female employment and facilitating earlier female retirement would alleviate the social pressure caused by China’s large population. New Confucian scholar Qi Yihu has also advocated that women work only half-time so that they can rear children. Meanwhile, even these infuriating sexist remarks are eclipsed by intolerable misogynistic violence: While most sexists perpetrate unfair stereotypes, some actively hate on women and harm women’s well-being. For instance, the celebrity English teacher Li Yang, misogynist and perpetrator of domestic violence, is considered a “terminally ill” case of Straight Man Cancer.

January 22, 2015

China (barely) misses growth target … as if we can trust their numbers anyway

Filed under: China,Economics,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ah, well, I haven’t ridden this old hobby horse for a while, so let’s just let Tim Worstall explain why this time, we might be able to get a bit of perspective from the otherwise unreliable official Chinese government economic figures:

Many observers have been slightly sceptical of Chinese GDP numbers for some years now. Regional GDP numbers don’t seem to quite match with other regional numbers (say, oil consumption, other proxies for economic activity) and national numbers don’t necessarily reflect the sum of all of those regional numbers either. There’s absolutely no doubt at all that the place has been getting richer but whether quite so much or quite in the manner being reported is another matter. And then there’s another group of observers (this one including myself) who have some experience of how communists report economic numbers. There’s a plan, the Communist Party is in charge of executing that plan and, amazingly, the plan is always reported to have either worked or been exceeded. Anything less would reflected badly on said Communist Party. As I’ve also been exposed to the old Soviet accounting systems I’m more sceptical than most on this point.

So, there’s that slight worry that a slowing China (or one not growing at the former breakneck pace perhaps) will also lower growth in other countries. We’re pretty sure that’s going to happen. But we’ve also got this other thing to ponder. If the Communist Party is allowing the reporting of numbers that don’t meet the plan then what’s going on with that?

Is this some sea change in the management of the numbers? They’re actually reporting the correct numbers? Or are those suspected massages of the numbers still going on but they underlying reality is so bad that they just couldn’t get up to the planned target? This is, I agree, all wild surmise. But it is a surprise that the numbers came in below target because that’s just not what we’ve come to expect in such a political system. And that could be very bad news indeed.

The seductive appeal of the big project

Filed under: China,Railways,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a Forbes post from a few years back, Warren Meyer looks at the appeal of the megaproject to those inclined to think that what society really needs is someone in control:

What is it about intellectuals that seem to, generation after generation, fall in love with totalitarian regimes because of their grand and triumphal projects? Whether it was the trains running on time in Italy, or the Moscow subways, or now high-speed rail lines in China, western dupes constantly fall for the lure of the great pyramid without seeing the diversion of resources and loss of liberty that went into building it.

Writers like Thomas Friedman and Joel Epstein in the Huffington Post have eulogized China and its monumental spending projects. These are the same folks who, generations ago, tried disastrously to emulate Mussolini’s “forward-thinking” economic regime in the National Industrial Recovery Act. These are the same folks who wanted to emulate MITI’s management of the Japanese economy (which drove them right into a 20-year recession). These are the same folks who oohed and ahhed over the multi-billion dollar Beijing Olympics venues while ignoring the air that was un-breathable. These are the same folks who actually believed the one Cuban health clinic in Sicko actually represented the standard of care received by average citizens. To outsiders, the costs of these triumphal programs are often not visible, at least not until years or decades later when the rubes have moved on to new man crushes.

These writers worry that the US is somehow being left behind by China because its government builds more stuff than we do. We are “asleep.” Well, here is my retort: Most of the great progress in this country occurred when the government was asleep. The railroads, the steel industry, the auto industry, the computer industry — all were built by individuals when the government was at best uninvolved and at worst fighting their progress at every step.

In particular, both Friedman and Epstein think we need to build more high speed passenger trains. This is exactly the kind of gauzy non-fact-based wishful thinking that makes me extremely pleased that these folks do not have the dictatorial powers they long for. High speed rail is a terrible investment, a black hole for pouring away money, that has little net impact on efficiency or pollution. But rail is a powerful example because it demonstrates exactly how this bias for high-profile triumphal projects causes people to miss the obvious.

Which is this: The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital. It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies. And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world. It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s). But here is the real key: it is almost all freight.

January 17, 2015

If anything, Blade Runner was too optimistic

Filed under: China,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Joey DeVilla posted a few images comparing the dystopian future envisioned in Blade Runner with the modern cityscape of Beijing:

Click to embiggenate

Click to embiggenate

The crowded, dirty Los Angeles of 2019 featured in the 1982 film Blade Runner looks rather pristine compared to the real-life Beijing of 2015.

October 26, 2014

A bit of perspective on the damage to China’s aircraft carrier

Filed under: China,Military,Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:40

At The Diplomat, James R. Holmes talks about the recent accident on board the Chinese carrier Liaoning:

Reports of Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning’s death — or debilitating wounds — are greatly exaggerated. The flattop suffered some sort of steam leak that prompted her crew to stop at sea and conduct repairs before resuming operations. The news comes from Robert Beckhusen of War Is Boring, who relays a Sina.com story that Liaoning suffered a “steam explosion” following “a leak in ‘the machine oven compartment to the water pipes.’”

Beckhusen denies that PLA Navy leaders will decommission the flattop because of mechanical problems. (By raising the possibility, though, he seems to imply they might.) He does speculate that the accident will force the navy to relegate her to training duty.

Would an engineering casualty represent a setback unseen in the annals of naval history? Hardly. All sea services have been there, done that, and will likely find themselves there again. It’s doubtful such travails will induce PLA Navy officials to overreact, demoting Liaoning from whatever plans they have in mind for her. China’s first aircraft carrier is probably destined to serve as a training platform in any event — a ship used to groom China’s first generation of naval aviators, flight-deck crewmen, and air-group commanders. She will remain such despite minor hardware problems belowdecks.

Indeed, if suffering zero engineering casualties were the standard for maritime competence, the briny main would be empty of shipping. Think about what going to sea involves. A warship is a metal box largely encased in an environment hostile to metal — namely seawater and salt air. And it’s a box packed with machinery, flammables and explosives of various sorts, and human bodies. In such surroundings, rare is the seaman without a hair-raising tale to tell about fires or floods, equipment failures, and sundry mishaps.

I could spin a few such yarns myself. One involves a pipe springing a pinhole leak. And spraying fuel. On a steaming boiler. While crewmen are loading ammunition. At anchor. In rough weather. And that was a good-luck ship for the most part. Murphy’s Law — a.k.a. s*#t happens — is an iron law of marine engineering, and of seafaring writ large. When it does happen, you fix the damage, learn whatever lessons there are to learn, and move on.

October 5, 2014

Protest locations in Hong Kong

Filed under: China,Government,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

In The Atlantic, Bourree Lam looks at where the Hong Kong protests tend to be located:

Hong Kong’s “umbrella revolution” — an anticipated protest movement with unanticipated mass turnout — is currently spreading across an island slightly bigger than Manhattan.

The Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) campaign, whose main demands are the resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung and true democracy for Hong Kong, announced months ago that it planned to shut down Hong Kong’s Central District — the city’s financial hub, which also houses government offices (including the Legislative Council’s buildings and the chief executive’s residence) and a luxury-shopping strip featuring a city block-wide Louis Vuitton store (by night it’s where tourist and locals go drinking and clubbing, especially in the Lan Kwai Fong area). Beginning with British colonial rule in 1841, the district has gradually become the main artery of Hong Kong’s business and social life.

But the protest movement, of which the OCLP is now just one part, has expanded in the last few days to the districts of Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mongkok — some of the city’s most bustling commercial sectors. On Tuesday, the protests encompassed the areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai. And, in a twist on the ‘Occupy’ movement in the United States, the demonstrations haven’t been confined to public squares; they’ve also spread to intersections, forcing road closures. Protesters, for instance, are currently holding their positions on Connaught Road Central, a major six-lane throughway that connects four districts on the island.

[…]

Hong Kong protest locations, October 2014

Update: Zachary Keck is quite pessimistic on the chances for success.

As covered extensively in The Diplomat, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong demanding democratic reforms. Specifically, the protesters want free and fair elections and universal suffrage to select the city’s government, which Beijing promised as part of the condition for the U.K. handing back the city to mainland China.

Sadly, Occupy Central is doomed to fail. The Chinese government will not accept the protesters’ demands.

Beijing has already made it clear that it views free and fair elections in Hong Kong to be a threat to one-party rule in the country. At most, it will allow Hongkongers to select one of the candidates that it pre-approves. It has also deemed Occupy Central illegal. In other words, the Chinese Communist Party views the issue as one of its “core interests,” and it hasn’t stayed in power this long by compromising on issues that it views as threats to its survival.

[…]

The massive protests that have swept through Hong Kong in recent days have only made it more urgent that the CCP hold the line on the issue. The Party can ill afford an example of mass demonstrations forcing it to compromise on an issue deemed to be of core importance. Before the protests, it was possible the CCP might have assessed that free and fair elections in Hong Kong would not threaten one-Party rule on the mainland because of the “one country, two systems” mantra. However, the Party giving in on a core issue because of mass protests would, without question, set a dangerous precedent for the CCP’s grip on power in mainland China. It therefore will not be done.

This isn’t to say that a violent crackdown is coming. Indeed, as is almost always the case, the CCP will want the local government on the frontlines in handling the protesters, while Beijing directs things from behind the scenes. As Steve Hess has pointed out in The Diplomat, using local governments as scapegoats has long been an effective tool of the CCP. If it means the restoration of stability, that could very well mean the end of CY Leung’s career. It’s also possible some sort of “compromise” will be worked out that allows the protesters to claim some sort of victory without compromising the CCP’s ability to maintain a large degree of control over the chief executive of Hong Kong.

October 2, 2014

Russian TV claims Hong Kong protests are US/UK plot against … Russia

Filed under: China,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:32

We’re used to Russian talking points being a bit off-centre, but as Karoun Demirjian reports, the Russians are now seeing things like the Hong Kong student protests as “really” being directed against Russian interests by shadowy American and British puppetmasters:

Here in Russia, the umbrella-wielding demonstrators of Hong Kong are being presented as pawns in a Western plot to foment instability in yet another one of Moscow’s allies — and Russia wonders if it could be the ultimate target.

“Was the student protest organized by Great Britain and the USA?” state television station Russia 24 asked Tuesday, citing reports in the Chinese media that “the leaders of the movement received special training from the American intelligence services.”

[…]

“The tactics of the protesters are exactly the same as at the beginning of all ‘orange’ revolutions, which in fact were state coups,” a Russia 24 news presenter said Tuesday, referring to the signature color of Ukraine’s 2004 protests. “Besides, the White House officially confirmed through its spokesman that Washington supports the intentions of the citizens of Hong Kong to protect their basic rights and freedoms.”

Russian state media have also suggested that Britain supports the protests as a way of safeguarding its business interests in Hong Kong, especially as Beijing is “gradually abolishing benefits” for British companies located there.

Yet there is one thing missing in the Russian analysis: Any specific advice as to how China’s government should proceed. Russia’s leaders have neither cautioned China’s leaders to show restraint nor urged them toward a crackdown.

September 14, 2014

QotD: Chinese millionaires

Filed under: China,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Up to a point, as we recognized, the problem of the coolie-millionaire offers no real difficulty. The Chinese coolie lives in a palm-thatched hovel on a bowl of rice. When he has risen to a higher occupation — hawking peanuts, for example, from a barrow — he still lives on rice and still lives in a hovel. When he has risen farther — to the selling, say, of possibly stolen bicycle parts, he keeps to his hovel and his rice. The result is that he has money to invest. Of ten coolies in this situation, nine will lose their money by unwise speculation. The tenth will be clever or lucky. He will live, nevertheless, in his hovel. He will eat, as before, his rice. As a success technique this is well worthy of study.

In the American log cabin story the point is soon reached at which the future millionaire must wear a tie. He explains that he cannot otherwise inspire confidence. He must also acquire a better address, purely (he says) to gain prestige. In point of fact, the tie is to please his wife and the address to satisfy his daughter. The Chinese have their womenfolk under better control. So the prosperous coolie sticks to his hovel and his rice. This is a known fact and admits of two explanations. In the first place his home (whatever its other disadvantages) has undeniably brought him luck. In the second place, a better house would unquestionably attract the notice of the tax collector. So he wisely stays where he is. He will often keep the original hovel — at any rate as an office — for the rest of his life. He quits it so reluctantly that his decision to move marks a major crisis in his career.

When he moves it is primarily to evade the exactions of secret societies, blackmailers, and gangs. To conceal his growing wealth from the tax collector is a relatively easy matter; but to conceal it from his business associates is practically impossible. Once the word goes round that he is prospering, accurate guesses will be made as to the sum for which he can be “touched.” All this is admittedly well known, but previous investigators have jumped too readily to the conclusion that there is only one sum involved. In point of fact there are three: the sum the victim would pay if kidnapped and held to ransom; the sum he would pay to keep a defamatory article out of a Chinese newspaper; the sum he would subscribe to charity rather than lose face.

Our task was to ascertain the figure the first sum will have reached (on an average) at the moment when migration takes place from the original hovel to a well-fenced house guarded by an Alsatian hound. It is this move that has been termed “Breaking the Hound Barrier.” Social scientists believe that it will tend to occur as soon as the ransom to be exacted comes to exceed the overhead costs of the “snatch.”

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Palm Thatch To Packard Or A Formula For Success”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

September 8, 2014

QotD: The Economist‘s whitewash of the “Great Leap Forward”

Filed under: China,History,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

When Mao died, The Economist wrote:

    “In the final reckoning, Mao must be accepted as one of history’s great achievers: for devising a peasant-centered revolutionary strategy which enabled China’s Communist Party to seize power, against Marx’s prescriptions, from bases in the countryside; for directing the transformation of China from a feudal society, wracked by war and bled by corruption, into a unified, egalitarian state where nobody starves; and for reviving national pride and confidence so that China could, in Mao’s words, ‘stand up’ among the great powers.” (emphasis mine)

The current estimate is that, during the Great Leap Forward, between thirty and forty million Chinese peasants starved to death. Critics questioning that figure have suggested that the number might have been as low as two and half million.

I am curious — has the Economist ever published an explicit apology or an explanation of how they got the facts so completely backwards, crediting the man responsible for what was probably the worst famine in history with creating a state “where nobody starves?” Is it known who wrote that passage, and has anyone ever asked him how he could have gotten the facts so terribly wrong?

David D. Friedman, “A Small Mistake”, Ideas, 2014-09-07.

September 7, 2014

Hong Kong’s chief executive – you can vote for anyone we nominate

Filed under: China — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

Sara Hsu reports on the Chinese government’s plans for how Hong Kong’s chief executive will be elected:

Hong Kong is at a political crossroads, as the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Mainland China has proposed to allow universal suffrage in final selection of the Chief Executive, as long as a nominating committee chooses candidates approved by the Communist Party. The proposal is to be voted upon by the Legislative Council; if rejected, the 2017 will be by committee, as in the last election (of Chun-ying Leung). Mainland China’s involvement in Hong Kong’s elections has reduced the ability of Hong Kong residents to freely run for and elect a candidate of their choice for the most powerful government position of this Special Administrative Region. Does this constraint negatively or positively impact the economy?

Hong Kong’s market economy is to be maintained at least through 2047 according to the Basic Law. China and Hong Kong have strong interests in upholding their mutual economies, as Hong Kong is the largest source of inward investment for Mainland China, and also the largest recipient of foreign direct investment from the Mainland. The economies are intricately intertwined through trade and investment, so in these respects, interests are intertwined.

Nor has the movement against Beijing political involvement gained widespread popularity from an economic perspective. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, has in fact been accused by some of putting Hong Kong’s economy at risk. Even though the movement has had little direct impact on the economy thus far, pro-Beijing groups worry that the pro-democracy movement will give rise to political instability and jeopardize the economic well-being of Hong Kong residents.

September 3, 2014

QotD: The relative size of the Chinese economy, historically speaking

Filed under: China,Economics,History,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

People seem to want to get freaked out about China passing the US in terms of the size of its economy. But in the history of Civilization there have probably been barely 200 years in the last 4000 that China hasn’t been the largest economy in the world. It probably only lost that title in the early 19th century and is just now getting it back. We are in some senses ending an unusual period, not starting one.

Warren Meyer, “It is Historically Unusual for China NOT to be the Largest Economy on Earth”, Coyote Blog, 2014-08-30.

August 5, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One? (Part seven of a series)

Filed under: China,Europe,History,Japan,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I thought we’d be done by now, but there’s still more historical ground to cover on what I think are the deep origins of the First World War (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six). The previous post examined the naval arms race between Britain and Germany. Today, we’re looking at the unhappy Russian experiences in the far East and the dangerous domestic situation it faced after the war.

Russia’s Oriental catastrophe

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was a huge upset, as all the great powers expected Russia to crush the upstart Japanese and put them back “in their place”. Japan’s stunning naval and military successes at the Battle of the Yellow Sea, Tsushima and Port Arthur left Russia in a potentially disastrous situation, with utter undeniable defeat in the East and revolution brewing at home.

The war came about due to irreconcilable differences in the expansionary plans of the two empires: Russia wanted control of Manchuria and Japan wanted control of Korea, but neither side trusted the other enough to make negotiations work. Japan decided to initiate the conflict with a surprise attack on the Russian naval forces in Port Arthur (now known as the Lüshunkou District of Dalian in China’s Liaoning province). From that point onwards, Japan maintained the initiative, forcing Russia to react and interrupting Russian moves on land and at sea.

The Russian Baltic Fleet passage to and return from the Battle of Tsushima (via Wikipedia)

The Russian Baltic Fleet passage to and return from the Battle of Tsushima (via Wikipedia)

After the defeat of the original Russian fleet in the Pacific, the Baltic Fleet was re-tasked and set out to avenge the loss. The fleet’s luck was terrible to begin with, as shortly after passing between Sweden and Denmark and sailing out into the North Sea, lookouts on the Russian battleships spotted Japanese forces and the fleet opened fire. Twenty minutes, later the enemy was in tatters … unfortunately, the “enemy” were British fishing trawlers. Given the massive firepower of even pre-dreadnought ships, the casualties were surprisingly light: one trawler sunk, two dead, and many wounded. Not long afterward, a Russian ship in the fleet was mis-identified as a Japanese ship and nearly sunk by friendly fire. The nearest Japanese ship was still thousands of miles to the East.

Despite nearly starting a war with the Royal Navy over the Dogger Bank incident (Britain and Japan had signed an alliance in 1902), Admiral Rozhdestvensky was unapologetic and insisted it was the trawlers’ fault and his ships were perfectly entitled to defend themselves from Japanese attackers. As a result of the Russian mistake, Britain refused to allow the fleet passage through the Suez Canal, forcing them to take the far longer trip around Africa instead. If ever a military expedition has had bad omens, the sortie of the Baltic Fleet — now renamed the Second Pacific Squadron for this mission — must be one of the best examples.

When the Russian and Japanese fleets met in the Tsushima Straits, Admiral Tōgō managed to “cross the T” of the Russians, allowing his ships to use their full broadside armament against only the forward-facing guns of the Russian ships. In the end, the Second Pacific Squadron lost all eleven battleships and over 4,000 men killed, another 5,900 captured, and 1,800 interned. Japanese losses were trivial in comparison: three torpedo boats sunk, 117 men killed and about 500 wounded.

There were no major subsequent battles, and Russia was forced to sign the Treaty of Portsmouth to end the war in September 1905. Despite the Tsar’s initial instructions to the Russian delegation, the Russians agreed to recognize Japan’s sphere of influence in Korea, withdraw their troops from Manchuria, and to give up their lease on Port Arthur and Talien. The reaction in both countries was similar: political unrest. Japanese public opinion was that they had been cheated of their full reward from the war, and the government fell in the aftermath. Russians were even more angry and the result was revolution.

The (first) Russian revolution

While the result of the Russo-Japanese war was the trigger for the 1905 Revolution, it was far from being the only grievance. Margaret MacMillan wrote in The War That Ended Peace:

In 1904 the Minister of the Interior, Vyacheslav Plehve, is reported to have said that Russia needed “a small victorious war” which would take the minds of the Russian masses off “political questions”.

The Russo-Japanese War showed the folly of that idea. In its early months Plehve himself was blown apart by a bomb; towards its end the newly formed Bolsheviks tried to seize Moscow. The war served to deepen and bring into sharp focus the existing unhappiness of many Russians with their own society and its rulers. As the many deficiencies, from command to supplies, of the Russian war effort became apparent, criticism grew, both of the government and, since the regime was a highly personalized one, of the Tsar himself. In St. Petersburg a cartoon showed the Tsar with his breeches down being beaten while he says, “Leave me alone. I am the autocrat!” Like the French Revolution, with which it had many similarities, the Russian Revolution of 1905 broke old taboos, including the reverence surrounding the country’s ruler. It seemed to officials in St. Petersburg a bad omen that the Empress had hung a portrait of Marie Antoinette, a gift from the French government, in her rooms.

In December 1904, a strike in St. Petersburg triggered sympathy strikes in other industries, leading to 80,000 workers and supporters protesting in the city. In January 1905, a mass march by the strikers to the Winter Palace was met with rifle fire from the defending troops. Casualty estimates range from 200 to over 1,000 on Bloody Sunday. The strikes and protests spread beyond St. Petersburg, to the point that the government was threatened. Eventually the Tsar was persuaded to offer concessions :

Under huge pressure from his own supporters, the Tsar reluctantly issued a manifesto in October promising a responsible legislature, the Duma, as well as civil rights.

As so often happens in revolutionary moments, the concessions only encouraged the opponents of the regime. It appeared to be close to collapsing with its officials confused and ineffective in the face of such widespread disorder. That winter a battalion from Nichlas’s own regiment, the Preobrazhensky Guards, which had been founded by Peter the Great, mutinied. A member of the Tsar’s court wrote in his diary: “This is it.” Fortunately for the regime, its most determined enemies were disunited and not yet ready to take power while moderate reformers were prepared to support it in the light of the Tsar’s promises. Using the army and police freely, the government managed to restore order. By the summer of 1906 the worst was over — for the time being. The regime still faced the dilemma, though, of how far it could let reforms go without fatally undermining its authority. It was a dilemma faced by the French government in 1789 or the Shah’s government in Iran in 1979. Refusing demands for reform and relying on repression creates enemies; giving way encourages them and brings more demands.

Russia’s economy did recover eventually, but the political solution was not strong enough to stand the strains of another war any time soon. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine what the Russian leaders who advised the Tsar were thinking as the Russians continued to stir the pot in the Balkans…

June 7, 2014

China’s Taiwan military end-game options

Filed under: China,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:14

At Business Insider, Armin Rosen examines what might happen if China decided to resolve the status of Taiwan by military force:

War from the air. The entire island sits within range of Chinese surface to air and short-range ballistic missile systems:

Taiwan Strait SAM and SRBM coverage

Taiwan Strait SAM and SRBM coverage

Constant air attacks could “degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or break the Taiwan people’s will to fight.”

A full-scale invasion. Chinese military thinkers have published numerous texts thinking through the realities of an amphibious landing in Taiwan. One, entitled the Joint Island Landing Campaign, “envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air, and naval support, and electronic warfare.”

The report doesn’t think that an invasion is necessarily within China’s current capabilities, and notes that China is mindful of the international scorn that such aggression would invite. But China could seize smaller inhabited Islands that Taiwan claims. And the country maintains numerous military assets in and around the Strait:

PLA forces in Nanjing

PLA forces in Nanjing

PLA forces in Guangzhou

PLA forces in Guangzhou

And if China establishes a beach head, it would enjoy a substantial manpower advantage over the Taiwanese military: China has 400,000 troops positioned around the Strait, compared to 130,000 total combat soldiers in Taiwan’s standing army.

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