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NightWatch 20110103

NightWatch

For the Night of 3 January 2011

Japan-South Korea: Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara said he wants to visit South Korea in 2011 to discuss comprehensive security and military cooperation with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, according to Japanese media on 2 January.

Noting that consistent efforts and dialogue will be needed to expand the alliance beyond economic, political and cultural cooperation, Maehara said a new security alliance could include joint military exercises between South Korean troops and Japan Self-Defense Forces as well as contingency responses on the Korean Peninsula. He added North Korean provocations endanger the peace and stability of both the peninsula and the whole of eastern Asia.

Comment: Maehara prudently withheld any substantive ideas. He also did not mention the US attitude, which is probably supportive. The prelude to yesterday's statements apparently was the press rumors that in an emergency Japanese forces might assist South Korean forces in defeating North Korea … on the Korean peninsula.

In retrospect, those rumors look like a deliberate test of Korean attitudes to the possibilities of Japanese military assistance, as one of multiple options for defending the Northeast Asian democracies. The Korean backlash against the rumors showed that the Korean public is not yet ready to accept the presence of Japanese ground forces even in common defense. Too many World War II veterans are still alive.

Nevertheless, there are other options, including closer naval and air defense cooperation. Increased security cooperation between the great Northeast Asian democracies is tonight's good news. It is bad news for North Korea.

South Korea: South Korean President Lee said during his new year's address on 3 January that peace talks remain an option for North Korea, provided it abandons adventurism and its nuclear program. Lee also said South Korea has "both the will and the plan to drastically enhance economic cooperation" in partnership with other nations, Lee stated.

Comment: Lee's policy towards the North combines the carrot and the stick. In support of the stick, South Korea this month will begin to lengthen basic training for recruits from five to six days a week and from five to eight weeks because combat readiness for war is too low. Plans for streamlining the South Korean forces have not been mentioned since the North Korean attack on 23 November.

China-Indonesia: Representatives from nine Chinese companies will visit Indonesia on 5 January to consider investment in transportation infrastructure in the Papua and West Papua Provinces of Indonesian New Guinea, according to Indonesian Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi. The companies' representatives, accompanied by Chinese officials, are on a fact finding trip for constructing airports and seaports, and will consider upgrading airports in Manokwari, Timika, Biak and Sorong into international airports. The governors of Papua and West Papua Provinces will also present investment opportunities during the visit.

Comment: It was only a matter of time before Chinese investment and mining companies made a move to obtain rights to the almost unexplored mineral wealth in the Indonesian half of New Guinea. The Indonesian half of the island has no ground access from the coast to the interior except jungle trials. Air access is limited by the lack of serviceable airfields and other amenities, including power.

These are conditions that seem to attract Chinese developers. It has become a familiar pattern. As in Afghanistan, the Chinese infrastructure builders will be the advance teams for the mineral exploiters.

In Afghanistan, the Chinese are building a railroad to service their exploitation of the Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, which geologists have assessed as potentially the largest in the world. In Indonesia, the Chinese are promising to build airfields and ports which they will need and use to exercise their mineral rights in New Guinea.

No Western developers apparently are willing to or able to match the Chinese terms and enticements to work in such rugged terrain. Without outside help, Indonesia also will never benefit. But the Indonesians will learn that the costs of dealing with the Chinese are always higher than the benefits the Chinese bestow. The Chinese communists have learned well the lessons of capitalism.

Before the Indonesians settle any deal with China, they should consult the Malawi leaders for a few tips on how to deal with Chinese infrastructure and mining investors.

Pakistan: Political update. Prime Minister Gilani said the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) would offer its unconditional support to the Pakistan People's Party-led government, Associated Press of Pakistan reported 3 January.

Following a meeting with PML-Q leaders, Gilani said the party always has supported his government and that he has come to expect the help of PML-Q leaders. PML-Q leaders assured Gilani they would strengthen democracy and not support any action that could derail it, the prime minister said. Hussain intends to convene a meeting of the PML-Q on 4 January to discuss the party's support for the Gilani government, Gilani said.

Comment: Despite Gilani's upbeat tone in public, the PML-Q leaders have said nothing in public to corroborate Gilani's version of the talks. There are no public signs of a deal yet.

Gilani's Pakistan People's Party-led (PPP) government is apparently 12 seats short of a simple majority. PML-Q is a conservative, pro-Army splinter of the Pakistan Muslim League. The other main opposition party is the PML-Nawaz, which is conservative, but anti-Army and viscerally anti-Musharraf.

Readers will recall that Musharraf overthrew the government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup. During Musharraf's tenure, the PML-Q headed the ruling coalition once the National Assembly was restored. It was Musharraf's instrument for projecting a semblance of legitimacy to the constitutional usurper.

When Musharraf was removed from office after the 2008 elections, the PML-Q went into opposition. It went from having a majority in the National Assembly to winning only 54 of the 336 seats in the National Assembly. Even with that low result, it was the third strongest party in parliament, but it never cooperated with out opposition parties.

The key point is that the PML-Q was Musharraf's party and probably would support Musharraf's long planned return to Pakistani politics as a condition for joining the PPP coalition. It has more than enough seats to strengthen the PPP-led government should it choose to cross the aisle. However, its admission price might prove steep. It is ironic that now the PPP must seek support to stay in office from a party it once drove from office. But that is politics.

There is no deal yet.

Afghanistan: The Associated Press reported on 3 January that the leaders of the largest tribe in Helmand province, the Alikozai tribe, have pledged to cease its insurgency and to expel foreign Islamist fighters, citing U.S. Marine Major General Richard Mills, commander of coalition forces in southwestern Afghanistan.

The deal between local elders in Sangin District and Helmand Province Governor Gulabuddin Mangal was struck after 25 days of negotiations, Mangal's office said. The tribe controls the majority of the 30 villages in the Sarwan-Qalah area of the Upper Sangin Valley. Mills said the coalition will monitor whether the deal will lead to reduced insurgent influence.

Comment: Some older hands will have a sense of deja-vu after reading the above report. This follows the tactics the British tried in Helmand that failed.

End of NightWatch for 3 January.

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