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NightWatch 20100504


For the Night of 4 May 2010

Japan-China: The Japanese Coast Guard said it has temporarily halted a survey of its seabed after one of the survey ships, the Shoyo, was pursued by a Chinese survey ship, Kyodo reported. The incident occurred about 320 kilometers (about 198 miles) northwest of Amami-Oshima Island, in Kagoshima Prefecture.

According to the Japanese Coast Guard, the Shoyo was surveying on the Japanese side of the middle line that Japan recognizes as the division between Japan's and China's Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). The Chinese ship drew within one kilometer and ordered the Japanese ship to cease its survey activities, and then followed it as it continued its survey and then as it headed to Amami-Oshima. The entire incident lasted from 2:00 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. local time, according to the Japanese report.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint with the Chinese government over the incident, which is the third incident of harassment in less than a month.

Whether the Japanese survey ship crossed into waters that China might rightfully claim depends on an interpretation of provisions of the law of the seas agreements. The stakes in such disputes are potentially high depending on the orientation of sub-sea resource deposits relative to the trace of the middle line. One side might get rich or have no claim at all.

Diplomats, not ship captains, will settle the dispute. Until maritime negotiations establish the sea border trace, Chinese behavior indicates China will not accept Japan's interpretation of the border trace, will surrender no claims to ocean resources and will use strong arm tactics to prevent what it considers Japanese poaching.

Japan-US: Prime Minister Hatoyama apparently has given up trying to find a solution for relocating the US Marine air base from Futenma on Okinawa. The Prime Minister said it will be impossible to move all parts of the base out of Okinawa, according to The Associated Press. "Realistically speaking, it is impossible," Hatoyama said.

Japan faces a situation that proves difficult to move everything out of the prefecture, he said on his first trip to Okinawa as prime minister. Hatoyama asked residents to be open to a government plan that would keep some of Futenma's functions on the island, while possibly moving other functions elsewhere. He asked the people of Okinawa to "share the burden."

Comment: Elections for the House of Councillors, the upper house of parliament, are set for 11 July and seem likely to go against the Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan because relocation of Futenma was a pivotal campaign promise in Hatoyama's election. Hatoyama's trip to Okinawa Prefecture today was probably the start of damage control to try to reduce the backlash from his betraying a critical campaign promise.

Thailand: On 4 May anti-government protesters agreed to join the government's national reconciliation process extended yesterday by Prime Minister Abhisit, with conditions. A spokesman said they accepted the proposed reconciliation road map so as to avoid further casualties from taking place in clashes with soldiers and police.

They objected to Abhisit's announcement of the date for elections, charging that election date is the responsibility of the Election Commission. They charged that Abhisit evaded announcing a date when the parliament would be dissolved, ahead of the elections, which is the province of the Prime Minister.

Wira Musikaphong, one of the Red Shirt core leaders, listed four "resolutions" reached at the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship's (UDD's) meeting held on 4 May. They are:

"1) The UDD committee has reached a unanimous resolution that we are pleased to enter a reconciliation process, which was previously proposed by the UDD, and we want to save every life so there will be no more deaths and casualties. This resolution is passed unanimously.

"2) The UDD have some observations and seek clarification on the negotiation process.

"2.1) The UDD believes the Election Commission has power to set the election time frame, not the prime minister. We want a clarification that the prime minister should be the one who announces a time frame for parliament's dissolution since the power to do so belongs to him.

"2.2) The UDD wants sincerity. The government can show it by immediately reducing all forms of threats.

"3) The UDD does not seek amnesty concerning the charges of attempting to topple the [royal] institution and terrorism. The UDD are ready to fight legal cases.

"4) All parties must end any attempt to involve the royal institution in any kind of conflict."

Comment: Three of the conditions are worth noting. First is the insistence on a date for the dissolution of parliament. As a general rule, the governing party makes that announcement at a time most favorable to its re-election. That is one advantage of incumbency in a parliamentary system.

UDD is trying to change parliamentary rules. Its leaders insist the demonstrations that have hobbled Bangkok will not end until parliament is dissolved.

The more important point is UDD explicitly wants no royal interference. This is another attempt to change Thai politics in UDD's favor. Thus far, Abhisit still has the backing of the royal family and that counts enormously against the UDD which is the offspring of former prime minister Thaksin's party, which the monarchy despises.

Finally, in rejecting amnesty the Red Shirts admit no wrong doing, in their third point. This is the position of zealots, not people interested in national reconciliation.

There is no meeting of the minds in this agreement except to avoid more clashes, the burden of which the UDD places on the government. It accepts no responsibility for any disruption. For example, the UDD's conditions would work to restrain the government and the army in street encounters without imposing any requirement on the Red Shirts to disperse, stop demonstrating or allow the return of normality in Bangkok.

The Red Shirts' announcement of an agreement is a deception. The crisis continues.

Sri Lanka: Update. A court of appeals has suspended court martial proceedings against former Army commander and genera Sareth Fonseka. The court banned further proceedings until the validity of the proceedings against the general has been determined.

Comment: A second court martial proceeding also is likely to be suspended on similar grounds. At the end of the election season, the arrest and humiliation of the general who defeated the Tamil Tigers appears to have been a political charade to prevent any serious challenge to President Rajapaksa in January's elections.

Pakistan: A Pakistani Taliban spokesman denied that his group had anything to do with the Times Square attack that failed. However, the investigation by the Pakistani government suggests otherwise.

Pakistani authorities arrested eight people suspected of complicity in or knowledge of the Times Square bomber, Fox and Aaj News reported 4 May. The News reported the man is a Kashmiri, i.e., not a Pakistani.

Khalid Qureshi, a senior official of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, will head an eight-member special investigation group based in Karachi to examine the 1 May Times Square incident in the United States, Aaj TV reported.

Iraq: A spokesman for cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army said the militia's armed wing, the "Promised Day Brigade," which is said to have several thousand fighters, is preparing to carry out attacks against any remaining U.S. forces past a 31 December 2011, deadline, The Associated Press reported 4 May. Separately, anonymous security officials in Basra said recent attacks on stores and anti-Sadrist police officials bear the hallmark of the Mehdi Army.

Comment: In the first four days of May, the two most powerful Shiite Arab political blocs announced their merger and the most powerful Shiite Arab militia announced its reconstitution. With the cooperation of the Kurds, the Shiites should be able to form a government in parliament without support from the Sunnis. Iraq looks like it moved another step towards another round of Sunni vs Shiite fighting.

End of NightWatch for 4 May.

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