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NightWatch 20130724

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NightWatch

For the night of 24 July 2013

South Korea-North Korea: Another round of talks about normalizing operations at Kaesong is scheduled for 25 July.

North Korea-China: Update. Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao will visit North Korea this week to attend Korean War commemorations. Li will be the highest ranking Chinese official to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un became leader.

Comment: The celebrations are annual events. Chinese representation often has been much more senior than the Vice President. Thus, this visit is not necessarily a sign of improved ties, but rather of proper ties.

China-Japan: Chinese coast guard ships approached disputed islands in the East China Sea for the first time Wednesday. A Chinese military aircraft made an unprecedented flight between Okinawan islands, Japanese officials said.

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Wednesday after a Chinese Y-8 maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft flew for the first time through international airspace near Japan's southern islands.

Japan's Defense Ministry said the Chinese aircraft flew through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller Miyako Island in southern Japan out over the Pacific at around noon and later took the same route back over the East China Sea.

"I believe this indicates China's move toward further maritime expansion," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters, in comments carried on public broadcaster NHK.

NHK and RBC reported that the Japan Coast Guard on 24 July spotted four China Coast Guard ships entering the contiguous zone for the first time near the Senkaku Islands. NHK said that the Chinese Government recently established the China Coast Guard by combining its marine patrol operations.

Comment: The timing of the incursions could hardly be more poignant, just three days after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a sweeping electoral victory in the upper house of the Diet that gives the party control of both houses.

If sound economics policies are the upside of the LDP Diet victory, the more controversial issues are the LDP's intention to amend the constitution's provisions on self-defense, its encouragement of nationalism and its support for stronger Japanese military capabilities. Various Chinese media have cautioned the Abe government against stoking Japanese nationalism and amending the constitution. The overflights of Okinawa prefecture and the incursions near the Senkakus punctuate those warnings.

One knowledgeable American expert has proposed that the Abe government will concentrate on economic issues over international affairs and changing the constitution. That judgment probably accurately reflects Abe's preference, but he is not in control of international events.

The Chinese actions suggest the Chinese leaders are testing the Abe government to determine whether the focus on economics will result in a less confrontational approach to island disputes. In so doing, China risks forcing Abe to adjust his preferences. Prime Minister Abe shows no inclination to allow Chinese challenges to Japanese sovereignty to go unanswered.

NightWatch judges there will be a clash between Chinese and Japanese forces. Chinese aggressiveness is increasing and makes an encounter at sea or an air incident almost unavoidable. Either could occur with no further warning at any time.

The likelihood of tension with China poses a significant risk to an otherwise positive investment outlook. China has no interest in a stronger Japanese economy. More and more frequent Chinese air and naval incursions may be expected.

China-India: Update. Riding on horses and ponies, some 50 Chinese soldiers intruded into the Indian territory of Chumar in Ladakh region in northwestern India on 16 July. They re-asserted the Chinese claim to the area and returned to China. Since then two additional Chinese incursions were reported on 18 and 20 July.

The incursions are the backdrop of for two days of high level talks in New Delhi between senior diplomats. The talks are aimed at ensuring peace and tranquility, according to press releases.

Comment: The incursions are occurring in the same area in which Chinese incursions and a three-week standoff took place in April. Indian analysts note the Chinese consider the Chumar area strategically important for access to the Line of Actual Control that separates the two claimants.

The Chinese incursions began a day before 17 July, the date India announced its plan to raise a 50,000-strong Mountain Strike Corps along the border with China plus two independent armored brigades to boost Army capabilities along the China border. This formation will take years to achieve operational capability, but is part of a long term Indian strategy to be able to fight on multiple fronts in a future war with China. India has been executing this for most of Prime Minister Singh's tenure.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (14,700 square miles) of its Himalayan territory, while Beijing claims all of India's Arunachal Pradesh State, in northeastern India, which is 90,000 square kilometers.

Localized clashes always are a possibility, but escalation is unlikely. Neither side wants a war just yet. Both are willing to discuss ways to keep the peace without surrendering territorial claims. In that respect, the Chinese assertions of sovereignty along the land border with India parallel Chinese practices in claiming sea areas also claimed by Japan, South Korea or Southeast Asian states. Like Japan, India is not backing down.

Pakistan: Gunmen attacked a complex housing a branch office of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) in the town of Sukkur, in Sindh Province in southern Pakistan late Wednesday. The attack killed five people and wounded more than 30 others, an official and state TV said. Four bombs detonated and 'terrorists' seized control of one government building. Another building was set afire and the wall of a third collapsed, Pakistan's PTV reported.

Comment: This attack is significant because of its location and the target. Attacks against ISI facilities are infrequent and attacks in Sindh Province, outside Karachi also are rare. Sukkur is not a normal operating area. Despite the new government's outreach to the anti-government groups, they have become bolder and more aggressive.

The Pakistani Taliban and other groups interpret outreach and offers of reconciliation as signs of weakness. They execute more and more daring attacks with greater zeal.

They might have met their match in the Nawaz Sharif's government. Nawaz historically has been sympathetic to problems in the tribal agencies of the northwest and has been tolerant of fundamentalist impulses. Their rejection of his administration's overtures is nurturing a backlash that probably will feature a harsh crackdown by Pakistani security forces.

Reuters reported that nearly 200 people have been killed in attacks in Pakistan since Sharif came to power last month. A time of reckoning is coming, probably later this year.

Election update. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday revised the date for the presidential election, directing the election commission to hold it on 30 July instead of 6 August.

The court ordered the earlier date because many of the lawmakers who will elect a replacement for President Asif Ali Zardari will be making pilgrimages or offering special prayers on 6 August for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends a few days later.

Comment: The president is elected by an electoral college composed of all the members of the national and provincial parliaments. Pakistan's electoral commission is expected to follow the court's order. The next president of Pakistan is likely to come from the elders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party.

Egypt: In a speech at a military graduation ceremony, which was broadcast on television, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said: "I urge the people to take to the streets this coming Friday to prove their will and give me, the army and police, a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism. So that in case there was a resort to violence and terrorism, the army would have a mandate to confront this."

The General said he was not calling for public unrest and wanted national reconciliation.

Comment: A bombing in Dakahliya's provincial capital of Mansoura appears to have been the trigger for the General's unusual statement. In that attack, pro-Mursi demonstrators detonated a bomb in front of a security building in Mansoura, killing one police officer and injuring 19 officers and civilians. This was the first time a bomb was used in the protests since 3 July.

The Army has tolerated peaceful protests and even violent protests involving clubs and stone throwing. It has been less tolerant of gunfights. The use of an explosive represents a significant escalation in tactics which poses a direct and dangerous threat to civil order. It also is a sign of outside influences in the anti-government movement.

The army requires no mandate to perform its national defense missions, but the leadership wants a strong manifestation of public support for what is likely to be a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The infiltration of bombing supplies most likely from Palestinian sources suggests that the crackdown will extend to northern Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

A crackdown is coming regardless of the turnout on Friday. The new government would seem to have little recourse but to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood and drive it underground, after prayers on Friday. Expect clashes and mass arrests.

End of NightWatch for 24 July.

NightWatch is brought to you by Kforce Government Solutions, Inc. (KGS), a leader in government problem-solving, Data Confidence® and intelligence. Views and opinions expressed in NightWatch are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of KGS, its management, or affiliates.

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