Facts & Figures
President: Xi Jinping (2013)
Prime Minister: Premier Li Keqiang (2013)
Land area: 3,600,927 sq mi (9,326,411 sq km); total area:3,705,407 sq mi (9,596,960 sq km)1
Population (2014 est.):1,355,692,576 (growth rate: 0.44%); birth rate: 12.17/1000; infant mortality rate: 14.79/1000; life expectancy: 75.15
Capital (2011 est.): Beijing, 15.594 million
Largest cities: Shanghai 20.208 million; Guangzhou 10.849 million; Shenzhen 10.63 million; Chongqing 9.977 million; Wuhan 9.158 million (2011)
Monetary unit: Yuan/Renminbi
- China Main Page
- War Losses Cause China to Sign Away Sovereignty
- People's Republic of China Is Established
- China Is Condemned for Poor Treatment of Tibetans
- President Nixon's Visit to China Establishes New Relations
- Student Demonstrators Are Killed at Tiananmen Square
- China Becomes an Economic Power, but Continues to Suppress Personal Liberties
- Natural Disasters Ravage China
- China Hosts a Successful Olympics
- Space Exploration, Government Reforms, and Military Crackdowns
- Tension Reignites with Asian Neighbors Over Islands
- Transfer of Power, Bo Xilai Sentenced to Life in Prison
- New Air Defense Zone Declared and Increased Tension with Vietnam
- Chinese Hackers Indicted by the United States
- China Signs Gas Accord with Russia, Faces Hong Kong Protests, Participates in South Sudan Mission
- China and U.S. Reach Landmark Agreement on Climate Change
- China, South Korea, and Japan Hold First Foreign Minister Talks in Three Years
- China Ends One-Child Policy, Meets with Taiwan for First Time in Sixty-Six years
The greater part of the country is mountainous. Its principal ranges are the Tien Shan, the Kunlun chain, and the Trans-Himalaya. In the southwest is Tibet, which China annexed in 1950. The Gobi Desert lies to the north. China proper consists of three great river systems: the Yellow River (Huang He), 2,109 mi (5,464 km) long; the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang), the third-longest river in the world at 2,432 mi (6,300 km); and the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang), 848 mi (2,197 km) long.
The earliest recorded human settlements in what is today called China were discovered in the Huang He basin and date from about 5000 B.C. During the Shang dynasty (1500–1000 B.C.), the precursor of modern China's ideographic writing system developed, allowing the emerging feudal states of the era to achieve an advanced stage of civilization, rivaling in sophistication any society found at the time in Europe, the Middle East, or the Americas. It was following this initial flourishing of civilization, in a period known as the Chou dynasty (1122–249 B.C.), that Lao-tse, Confucius, Mo Ti, and Mencius laid the foundation of Chinese philosophical thought.
The feudal states, often at war with one another, were first united under Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, during whose reign (246–210 B.C.) work was begun on the Great Wall of China, a monumental bulwark against invasion from the West. Although the Great Wall symbolized China's desire to protect itself from the outside world, under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), the civilization conducted extensive commercial trading with the West.
In the T'ang dynasty (618–907)—often called the golden age of Chinese history—painting, sculpture, and poetry flourished, and woodblock printing, which enabled the mass production of books, made its earliest known appearance. The Mings, last of the native rulers (1368–1644), overthrew the Mongol, or Yuan, dynasty (1271–1368) established by Kublai Khan. The Mings in turn were overthrown in 1644 by invaders from the north, the Manchus.
War Losses Cause China to Sign Away Sovereignty
China remained largely isolated from the rest of the world's civilizations, closely restricting foreign activities. By the end of the 18th century only Canton (location of modern-day Hong Kong) and the Portuguese port of Macao were open to European merchants. But with the first Anglo-Chinese War in 1839–1842, a long period of instability and concessions to Western colonial powers began. Following the war, several ports were opened up for trading, and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain. Treaties signed after further hostilities (1856–1860) weakened Chinese sovereignty and gave foreigners immunity from Chinese jurisdiction. European powers took advantage of the disastrous Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 to gain further trading concessions from China. Peking's response, the Boxer Rebellion (1900), was suppressed by an international force.
The death of Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi in 1908 and the accession of the infant emperor Hsüan T'ung (Pu-Yi) were followed by a nationwide rebellion led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who overthrew the Manchus and became the first president of the Provisional Chinese Republic in 1911. Dr. Sun resigned in favor of Yuan Shih-k'ai, who suppressed the Republicans in a bid to consolidate his power. Yuan's death in June 1916 was followed by years of civil war between rival militarists and Dr. Sun's Republicans. Nationalist forces, led by General Chiang Kai-shek and with the advice of Communist experts, soon occupied most of China, setting up the Kuomintang regime in 1928. Internal strife continued, however, and Chiang eventually broke with the Communists.
On Sept. 18, 1931, Japan launched an invasion of Manchuria, capturing the province. Tokyo set up a puppet state dubbed Manchukuo and installed the last Manchu emperor, Henry Pu-Yi (Hsüan T'ung), as its nominal leader. Japanese troops moved to seize China's northern provinces in July 1937 but were resisted by Chiang, who had been able to use the Japanese invasion to unite most of China behind him. Within two years, however, Japan had seized most of the nation's eastern ports and railways. The Kuomintang government retreated first to Hankow and then to Chungking, while the Japanese set up a puppet government at Nanking, headed by Wang Jingwei.
People's Republic of China Is Established
Japan's surrender to the Western Allies in 1945 touched off civil war between the Kuomintang forces under Chiang and Communists led by Mao Zedong, who had been battling since the 1930s for control of China. Despite U.S. aid, the Kuomintang were overcome by the Soviet-supported Communists, and Chiang and his followers were forced to flee the mainland, establishing a government-in-exile on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). The Mao regime proclaimed the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949, with Beijing as the new capital and Zhou Enlai as premier.
After the Korean War began in June 1950, China led the Communist bloc in supporting North Korea, and on Nov. 26, 1950, the Mao regime sent troops to assist the North in its efforts to capture the South.
In an attempt to restructure China's primarily agrarian economy, Mao undertook the “Great Leap Forward” campaign in 1958, a disastrous program that aimed to combine the establishment of rural communes with a crash program of village industrialization. The Great Leap forced the abandonment of farming activities, leading to widespread famine in which more than 20 million people died of malnutrition.
China Is Condemned for Poor Treatment of Tibetans
In 1959, a failed uprising against China's invasion and occupation of Tibet forced Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and 100,000 of his followers to flee to India. The invasion of Tibet and a perceived rivalry for the leadership of the world Communist movement caused a serious souring of relations between China and the USSR, former allies. In 1965 Tibet was formally made an autonomous region of China. China's harsh religious and cultural persecution of Tibetans, which continues to this day, has spawned growing international protest.
The failure of the Great Leap Forward touched off a power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party between Mao and his supporters and a reformist faction including future premier Deng Xiaoping. Mao moved to Shanghai, and from that base he and his supporters waged what they called the Cultural Revolution. Beginning in the spring of 1966, Mao ordered the closing of schools and the formation of ideologically pure Red Guard units, dominated by youths and students. The Red Guards campaigned against “old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs.” Millions died in a series of violent purges. By early 1967, the Cultural Revolution had succeeded in bolstering Mao's position as China's paramount leader.
President Nixon's Visit to China Establishes New Relations
Anxious to exploit the Sino-Soviet rift, the Nixon administration made a dramatic announcement in July 1971 that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had secretly visited Beijing and reached an agreement whereby Nixon would visit China. The movement toward reconciliation, which signaled the end of the U.S. containment policy toward China, provided momentum for China's admission to the UN. Despite U.S. opposition to expelling Taiwan (Nationalist China), the world body overwhelmingly voted to oust Taiwan in favor of Beijing's Communist government.
President Nixon went to Beijing for a week early in 1972, meeting Mao as well as Zhou. The summit ended with a historic communiqué on Feb. 28, in which both nations promised to work toward improved relations. Full diplomatic relations were barred by China as long as the U.S. continued to recognize the legitimacy of Nationalist China.
Following Zhou's death on Jan. 8, 1976, his successor, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, was supplanted within a month by Hua Guofeng, former minister of public security. Hua became permanent premier in April. In Oct. he was named successor to Mao as chairman of the Communist Party. But Mao's death on Sept. 10 unleashed the bitter intraparty rivalries that had been suppressed since the Cultural Revolution. Old opponents of Mao launched a campaign against his widow, Jiang Qing, and three of her “radical” colleagues. The so-called Gang of Four was denounced for having undermined the party, the government, and the economy. They were tried and convicted in 1981. Meanwhile, in 1977, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated as deputy premier, chief of staff of the army, and member of the Central Committee of the Politburo.
Beijing and Washington announced full diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979, and the Carter administration abrogated the Taiwan defense treaty. Deputy Premier Deng sealed the agreement with a visit to the U.S. that coincided with the opening of embassies in both capitals on March 1. On Deng's return from the U.S., Chinese troops invaded and briefly occupied an area along Vietnam's northern border. The action was seen as a response to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia and ouster of the Khmer Rouge government, which China had supported.
In 1981, Deng protégé Hu Yaobang replaced Hua Guofeng as party chairman. Deng became chairman of the Central Committee's military commission, giving him control over the army. The body's 215 members concluded the session with a statement holding Mao Zedong responsible for the “grave blunder” of the Cultural Revolution.
Under Deng Xiaoping's leadership, meanwhile, China's Communist ideology went through a massive reinterpretation, and sweeping economic changes were set in motion in the early 1980s. The Chinese scrapped the personality cult that idolized Mao Zedong, muted Mao's old call for class struggle and exportation of the Communist revolution, and imported Western technology and management techniques to replace the Marxist tenets that had slowed modernization.
Student Demonstrators Are Killed at Tiananmen Square
The removal of Hu Yaobang as party chairman in Jan. 1987 signaled a hard-line resurgence within the party. Hu—who had become a hero to many reform-minded Chinese—was replaced by former premier Zhao Ziyang. With the death of Hu in April 1989, the ideological struggle spilled into the streets of the capital, as student demonstrators occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square in May, calling for democratic reforms. Less than a month later, the demonstrations were crushed in a bloody crackdown as troops and tanks moved into the square and fired on protesters, killing several hundred.
In annual sessions of the rubber-stamp National People's Congress in 1992 and 1993, the government called for accelerating the drive for economic reform, but the sessions were widely seen as an effort to maintain China's moves toward a market economy while retaining political authoritarianism. At the session in 1993, Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin was elected president, while hard-liner Li Peng was reelected to another five-year term as prime minister. Since 1993, the Chinese economy has continued to grow rapidly.
China Becomes an Economic Power, but Continues to Suppress Personal Liberties
Deng Xiaoping's death in Feb. 1997 left a younger generation in charge of managing the enormous country. In 1998, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji introduced a sweeping program to privatize state-run businesses and further liberalize the nation's economy, a move lauded by Western economists.
On July 1, 1997, when Britain's lease on the New Territories expired, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, and in 1999, the Portuguese colony of Macao also was returned to Chinese rule.
In Aug. 1999, China rounded up thousands of members of the Falun Gong sect, a highly popular religious movement. The government considers the apolitical spiritual group threatening because its numbers exceeded the membership of the Chinese Communist Party. China severely restricts its citizens' civil, religious, and political rights. The use of torture has been widely documented, and for many years it has executed more people than any other country in the world, carrying out more than three-quarters of the world's executions.
China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in Nov. 2001. Its entry ended a 15-year debate over whether China is entitled to the full trading rights of capitalist countries.
In Nov. 2002, Vice President Hu Jintao became general secretary of the Communist Party at the 16th Party Congress, succeeding President Jiang. Hu Jintao also assumed the presidency in March 2003.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a worldwide health threat, hit China in March 2003. After coming under fire by the World Health Organization for underreporting the number of its SARS cases, China finally revealed the alarming extent of its epidemic.
Beijing officials angered democracy advocates in Hong Kong in April 2004, when they banned popular elections for Hong Kong's chief executive, scheduled for 2007.
Tension between China and Taiwan intensified in March 2005, when China passed an antisecession law that said the country could use force if Taiwan moved toward achieving independence. “The state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the legislation said. Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian called the bill a “law of aggression.”
In June 2005, the China National Oil Corporation (Cnoc) bid $18.5 billion to take over the U.S. oil company Unocal. The Chinese firm withdrew the bid in August amid strong resistance from U.S. officials.
After months of pressure from the Bush administration, China announced in July 2005 that it will no longer peg the yuan to the dollar. Instead, the yuan is linked to a fluctuating group of foreign currencies.
The police shot and killed about 20 people who were protesting the construction of a power plant in the southern city of Dongzhou in December. Chinese officials blocked the spread of information about the event.
Government officials announced in December that China's economy had grown by 9% in 2005. China is poised to have the world's fourth-largest economy, after the United States, Japan, and Germany.
In May 2006, China completed construction on the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. More than a million people will be displaced when the area is flooded. In July 2006, China opened a $4.2-billion, 710-mile-long railway from Qinghai Province to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The highest railway in the world, it ascends as high as 16,500 ft, requiring all compartments to have regulated oxygen levels. The railway will increase ethnic Chinese migration into Tibet, which many see as a deliberate attempt to dilute Tibetan culture.
China tested its first antisatellite weapon in January 2007, successfully destroying one of its own weather satellites. Analysts deemed the move a provocative challenge to the United States' supremacy in space-based technology. Others speculated that China is seeking to push the U.S. toward signing a treaty to ban space-based weapons.
In the spring and summer of 2007, dog food and toothpaste products that originated in China were recalled due to the presence of poisonous ingredients, leading many to question the safety of Chinese products and the reliability of its regulatory system. In July, China's former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for favors.
Natural Disasters Ravage China
In January 2008, severe snowstorms in eastern and southern China killed at least 24 people. Half of the country's 31 provinces lost power, about 827,000 people were evacuated from their homes, at least 600,000 train passengers were stranded, and some 20 major airports were closed. The economic cost of the storm is projected to be $3.2 billion.
In March, some 400 Buddhist monks participated in a protest march in Lhasa to commemorate the failed uprising of 1959, that resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India. The protests, the largest in two decades, turned violent, with ethnic Tibetans reportedly attacking Chinese citizens and vandalizing public and private property. Chinese police used force to suppress the demonstrations. Tibetan leaders said that more than 100 Tibetans were killed, but Chinese officials claimed only 16 fatalities occurred and denied that police had used lethal force. China barred many international news organizations from the country and limited the flow of information out of the country. The demonstrations and violence spilled into Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces in western China. Chinese officials accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests, a charge the spiritual leader denied. Zhang Qingli, Tibet's Communist Party leader, reportedly called the Dalai Lama “a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast."
President Hu visited Japan in May and cited an "everlasting warm spring" in relations between the countries. It was the first visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade. While Hu and Japan's prime minister Yasuo Fukuda failed to make progress on resolving a dispute involving a gasfield in the East China Sea, they did agree to regular meetings, signaling a thaw in their cool relationship.
At least 68,000 people were killed and thousands injured when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces in western China on May 12. Nearly 900 students were killed when Juyuan Middle School in the Sichuan Province collapsed. Several other schools also collapsed, killing about 10,000 students. In addition, a well-known panda reserve in Wenchuan was destroyed. The disaster was further complicated by landslides in Sichuan Province that blocked rivers and formed quake lakes that officials feared may cause devastating floods. It was China's worst natural disaster in three decades. In September, the Chinese government acknowledged that poor construction of hastily built schools possibly contributed to their collapse in the earthquake.
China Hosts a Successful Olympics
The 2008 Summer Olympic Games kicked off on Aug. 8, 2008, with a spectacular opening ceremony that many observers called unparalleled. In the lead-up to the games, however, China was dogged by its abysmal human-rights record, crackdown on the Buddhist monks, nearly intolerable air quality, attempts to censor some journalists reporting on the Games, and continued ties to the Sudanese government. In addition, four days before the opening of the Games, two members of the Turkestan Independence Movement, which is also called the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Muslim group based in western China, drove a truck into a group of police officers and then threw explosives and stabbed them. Sixteen police officers died and another 16 were wounded in the attack. Days later, another 12 people were killed in a wave of bombings attributed to the group. As host of the Olympics, China exceeded expectations, despite its moves to stifle protests and dissent, proving that the country is an economic powerhouse. China also won a record 51 gold medals, and a total of 100 medals.
The good will and enthusiasm that followed the Olympic Games was tarnished in September amid reports that three children died and more than 53,000 became sick after drinking milk-based formula that was tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical that's made from coal and used to produce plastic and fertilizer. Officials reportedly knew of the scandal months before it was publicly disclosed.
Space Exploration, Government Reforms, and Military Crackdowns
On Sept. 27, 2008, astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepped out of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and made the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut. The achievement was an important step in China's quest to build a space station by 2020 and someday land on the Moon.
The government announced a land reform policy in Oct. 2008 that will allow farmers to "subcontract, lease, exchange, or swap" rights to the plots of land assigned to them by the government. The government said it hopes the policy change, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of land reforms under Deng Xiaoping, will lead to increased output and greater efficiency.
Although China was generally praised for its handling of 2008's earthquake in Sichuan, by the quake's one-year anniversary in 2009, some of the international goodwill had evaporated. China restricted access to the area by journalists and artists; parents of children who where killed in the quake had their complaints ignored and suppressed; and the government's official investigation into the schools and hospitals that collapsed in the quake claimed that none had been improperly constructed. The government did implement new regulations for the construction of schools and hospitals, but that was little comfort to bereaved parents and international organizations demanding accountability.
On the 20th anniversary of the violent military crackdown in Tiananmen Square that left hundreds of democratic activists dead, China tried to deter remembrance of the event. Police officers stood guard around the square, barring foreign journalists from entering. In response, tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the brutal killings.
Rioting in Urumqi, China between two ethnic groups—Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese—led to the deaths of at least 156 people at the hands of the police on July 6, 2009. Riot police locked down the Uighur portion of the city to try and stop the protests. It was the worst ethnic violence in decades.
Taiwan and China signed a landmark free-trade agreement in June 2010 that lifts or reduces hundreds of tariffs for both sides. Officials from both Taiwan and China described the deal as the most important achievement since the 1949 civil war. Taiwan seems poised to benefit more economically from the deal than China, and China sees a political benefit as the agreement brings the two closer together.
The exiled Dalai Lama, who has lived in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala since 1959, sent a shockwave through Tibet in March 2011 when he stepped down as leader, requested a demotion to elected politician, and proposed amendments to the constitution. While he has made a clear break with politics, the Daliai Lama remains the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
In April 2011, the government-in-exile of Tibet swore in a new prime minister, the first to be elected since the Dalai Lama renounced his position. Lobsang Sangay, a 42-year-old fellow at Harvard Law School, campaigned for an autonomous future for Tibet under Chinese sovereignty. The new prime minister polled 27,051 votes, 55% of the total electorate, to beat two other secular candidates. China has not acknowledged him.
Tension Reignites with Asian Neighbors Over Islands
Regional tension over claims to islands and resources in the South China Sea flared throughout 2012. For centuries, China has declared sovereignty over the sea and many of its islands, including the Paracel and Spratly islands, which are rich in oil and gas reserves and fish. However, Vietnam has also laid claim to the Paracel and Spratly island chains, and the Philippines say the Spratly Islands are within their territorial claims.
While the issue has been festering for decades, China took a tougher stance in 2012, warning other nations to refrain from oil and gas exploration and placing naval vessels in the South China Sea. At the same time, Vietnam and the Philippines have been more aggressively dispatching ships—both military and civilian—to the sea. There was little hope that the nations could solve the problem diplomatically, with China saying it would only negotiate bilaterally and both Vietnam and the Philippines both insisting that the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) mediate the dispute.
Transfer of Power, Bo Xilai Sentenced to Life in Prison
On Nov. 8, 2012, the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress convened in Beijing, beginning its leadership transition, with Vice President Xi Jinping set to take over as president. In preparation, Xi was named chairman of the Central Military Commission and general secretary of the Communist Party. He assumed the presidency of China in March 2013. Li Yuanchao was named vice president. It was only the second time since the party was established in 1949 that power was transferred from one leader to another without violence or protest. Xi was expected to propose several changes to China's social and economic policies, and in Nov. 2013, the party announced it was relaxing its one-child policy to allow urban parents who were both only children to have two children and was abolishing its system of "re-education through labor."
On Sept. 22, 2013, prominent Chinese politician Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in prison. He had been found guilty of embezzlement, accepting bribes, and abuses of power, including a failed attempt to stifle the murder allegations against his wife. His request for an appeal was later rejected.
The son of Bo Yibo, a Communist revolutionary leader, Bo Xilai served as mayor of Dalian, governor of Liaoning, minister of commerce and secretary of the Communist Party's Chongqing branch. Heading into 2012, Bo was considered a strong candidate for the elite Politburo Standing Committee in the 18th National Congress. However, in early 2012, Bo's former police chief, Wang Lijun, went to the U.S. Consulate with information that implicated Bo's wife in the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman. Heywood was poisoned in a Chongqing hotel in Nov. 2011. By Aug. 2012, Gu Kailai, Bo's wife, was convicted and given a suspended death sentence, the equivalent of life in prison.
New Air Defense Zone Declared and Increased Tension with Vietnam
In Nov. 2013, China announced a new air defense zone in an area over disputed islands in the East China Sea that have been the source of a dispute between Japan and China for years. The new air defense zone overlapped with an air zone declared by Japan decades ago. China's announcement included a warning that it would take "relevant measures according to different air threats" against any aircraft flying through the zone without first notifying the country.
The United States challenged the new military action threat by sending two unarmed B-52 bombers into the new air defense zone. Soon after, Japan and South Korea announced that they had also flown military planes over the zone and that the flights had been uninterrupted by China. China responded by sending fighter jets into the airspace.
High-ranking officials from China and Taiwan met in Nanking, China, in Feb. 2014. It was the first time since the 1949 split that minister-level officials held talks. While the meeting was largely symbolic, it signalled that both sides want to maintain stability and warmer ties.
Also in 2014, tensions increased between China and Vietnam when Vietnamese officials reported that their vessels had been hit by Chinese ships. "On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels," said Foreign Ministry official Tran Duy Hai, during a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. "Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels."
The situation intensified three days later when Vietnamese ships confronted Chinese ships. The Chinese vessels were placing an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam when the confrontation occurred. The placement of the rig also led to protests throughout Vietnam and some of those protests turned violent. On May 14, anti-China protesters set fire to at least 15 foreign-owned factories throughout Vietnam, according to state media. Protesters also destroyed and looted offices of manufacturing companies owned or managed by Chinese workers. At least one person died in the protests.
The Vietnamese government asked China to remove the rig and dispatched a naval flotilla to the area. The rig was placed in waters claimed by both Vietnam and China.
The incident also caused tension between the U.S. and China. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called China's recent moves "provocative." China's foreign ministry was quick to respond. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying asked in a news briefing, "We hope that the U.S. side can carefully reflect - if they really hope for the Pacific Ocean to be peaceful, what kind of role do they actually want to play?"
Chinese Hackers Indicted by the United States
For four months in late 2012 and early 2013, hackers in China attacked The New York Times. Hackers gained access to the paper's computer systems and employee's passwords. The attacks came at the same time that the New York Times reported on an investigation that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's relatives had acquired a several billion dollar fortune through business dealings. Security experts suggested that the attack was part of a wider computer espionage mission against U.S. news media outlets that report on Chinese leaders and business dealings. In fact, a day after The New York Times reported the incident, The Wall Street Journal revealed in a statement that hackers had infiltrated it, too, "for the apparent purpose of monitoring the newspaper's China coverage."
On Feb. 19, 2013, a 60-page study released by Mandiant, a U.S. computer security firm, showed evidence linking Unit 61398, a Chinese military unit, to the groups responsible for a large portion of the recent hacking in the United States. The study, which included digital forensic evidence, didn't prove that the hackers were inside the military unit's headquarters, but did show evidence that they were either inside or very close to Unit 61398.
In May 2014, The U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment of five members of Shanghai-based Unit 61398, the cyber division of Chinese People's Liberation Army, charging them with hacking into the computer networks of Westinghouse Electric, U.S. Steel Corp., and other companies. The move was considered largely symbolic since there was little chance the men would surrender.
American officials announced in July 2014 that Chinese hackers had breached the computer network of the Office of Personnel Management in March. They said they believe the hackers were targeting employees applying for top security clearances. It remained unclear how far the hackers got into the agency's network before authorities detected their presence and blocked them.
A year later, on June 4, 2015, U.S. officials announced that at least four million federal employees were involved in a data breach by hackers who had been traced to China. The breach was one of the largest ever of federal employee data and involved past and present employees. The Obama administration announced that the breach was first discovered in April 2015, but may have started in late 2014.
China Signs Gas Accord with Russia, Faces Hong Kong Protests, Participates in South Sudan Mission
After a decade of discussion, Russia's Gazprom signed a deal to sell natural gas to China's National Petroleum Corporation in May 2014. The deal was a $400 billion, 30-year supply contract for 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The supply would start in 2018. The fuel would come from a new pipeline in eastern Siberia. By 2014, China consumed about 4% of the world's gas, but about half of the world's iron ore, coal, and copper. However, China was on its way to being the world's biggest gas user by 2035. The deal was finalized during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Shanghai.
China said in December 2007 that Hong Kong citizens will directly elect the chief executive in 2017 elections and the legislature by 2020. Under the current system, an election committee loyal to the Chinese government elects the chief executive, and a body made up of pro-China business groups elects half of the legislators.
In June and July 2014, the pro-democracy group called Occupy Central held an unofficial referendum on how the island's chief executive will be elected in 2017. About 90% of the 800,000 who voted endorsed giving citizens direct say in the election. Weeks of pro-democracy protests followed the referendum. In late August, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee ruled that the 1,200-member election committee would vote on candidates for chief executive, and those garnering votes from more than half of the committee could run. The decision sparked much larger protests, which intensified throughout September, with tens of thousands of demonstrators shutting down the heart of the business district. On September 28, police in riot gear cracked down on protesters, using tear gas and batons. Despite the violence, protesters returned to the streets. The protests threatened the stability of the financial hub.
Also in Sept., China announced it would send 700 troops to take part in a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for the United Nations. The fighting in South Sudan between rebels and the government continued to be an ongoing threat to China's oil investments there. In a statement, Chinese officials said that the job of the troops will be to protect citizens and aid workers. According to United Nations officials, it was the first time that China sent an entire battalion to assist in one of their peacekeeping missions.
China and U.S. Reach Landmark Agreement on Climate Change
After weeks of discussion, China and the U.S. reached a landmark agreement on climate change in Nov. 2014. The plan was announced in Beijing by both President Xi Jinping and President Obama. The agreement included a commitment for the first time by China to stop its emissions from increasing by 2030. One way China planned to achieve that goal was to use clean energy sources, such as windmills and solar power, as 20% of the country's total energy by 2030. Also in the plan, the U.S. set new goals for carbon emissions reductions, reducing emissions 26-28% by 2025.
Being the number one and two carbon polluters in the world, China and the U.S. hoped to set the stage for other countries to follow their example, with the end result being a new global accord. To avoid future conflicts, the two leaders also agreed on a military plan for navigating U.S. and Chinese planes and ships off China's coast and cutting tariffs on technology items.
China, South Korea, and Japan Hold First Foreign Minister Talks in Three Years
In March 2015, foreign ministers from China, South Korea, and Japan met for the first formal talks since April 2012. South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-Se hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul. The three met in an attempt to calm tensions and improve relations. The tension between the countries has revolved around an ongoing dispute between China and Japan over island territories in the East China Sea. However, relations between all three countries have been strained for years, going back to Japan's occupation of sections of China before and during World War II as well as its colonization of Korea.
The March 2015 meeting included a discussion of a possible future summit between the three countries' leaders. Another topic of discussion was how to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, a matter that all three foreign ministers agreed was a priority.
A cruise ship, the Oriental Star, carrying 458 passengers capsized in the Yangtze River, in central China on June 1, 2015. Strong winds and heavy rain were believed to have contributed to the accident. Few were expected to survive.
On Aug. 12 2015, multiple explosions killed at least 114 people at a warehouse in the port city of Tianjin. Another 70 people were missing after the blast, including 64 firefighters. Dozens of homes were damaged in the explosion. An investigation began soon after to determine the cause of the blast, including possible abuse of power and dereliction of duty. The warehouse stored hazardous materials, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide. Because of the explosion and the large amount of materials being stored, which was a violation of safety rules, a massive cleanup was planned for Tianjin.
China Ends One-Child Policy, Meets with Taiwan for First Time in Sixty-Six years
On Oct. 29 2015, China announced it would allow all married couples to have two children as a way to offset the country's aging workforce. The announcement put an end to China's unpopular one-child policy, which had been in effect for 35 years.
At the advice of scholars, China had already relaxed the one-child policy in recent years, allowing more families to have two kids when parents met certain criteria. The Oct. 2015 announcement stated that the country would "fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an aging population." However, no details of how or when the new policy would be implemented were shared.
In early Nov. 2015, a meeting was announced between the presidents of Taiwan and China. They met for first time since 1949, when the Chinese revolution ended. The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was seen as a test on the thawing relations between the two countries. The two leaders met during the weekend of Nov. 7-8 in Singapore, a neutral territory on good terms with both countries. It was seen by many observers as the last chance for China to push for closer ties economically and politically before Taiwan headed into presidential and legislative elections in January 2016.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Nov. 2015
Source: AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying
According to a U.S. official at the Pentagon, China deployed missiles to a disputed island in the South China Sea in Feb. 2016. News of the deployment immediately increased tension in the region because Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries have also claimed the island. Leaders of those countries also expressed concern over China's recent efforts to create artificial islands in the same area. The Chinese Ministry of Defense would not comment on the missile deployment.