For the night of 21 January 2014
China-Southeast Asia: A Chinese media outlet reported today that a 5,000-ton law enforcement patrol ship will be based at what Beijing calls Sansha City in the Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea. The China Ocean News reported the ship will begin making regular patrols in the South China Sea to enforce new regulations.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a naval task group from the South Sea Fleet set sail from a military port on Hainan Island for a drill in the South China Sea. The Chinese claimed the drill is part of the annual exercise cycle and will include combat exercises in the West Pacific Ocean and the east Indian Ocean.
The three-ship task group consists of the amphibious landing craft Changbaishan and destroyers Wuhan and Haikou, according to the press statement. The Changbaishan is the country's largest landing ship by gross tonnage and is equipped with an advanced weapon system. Both the Wuhan and the Haikou have experience of major drills and escort missions in the Gulf of Aden.
Comment: The Chinese are moving with deliberate speed to demonstrate they have the law enforcement and naval capabilities to back up their claim to own almost all of the South China Sea and to enforce their new fishing regulations. Negotiations are nice, but the foreign ministry spokesperson said today that China's ownership of the islands and the sea areas is "indisputable."
The naval statement indicates the Chinese also intend to show the flag and train in India's region of influence in the eastern Indian Ocean. That would represent a deliberate taunt at the Indian armed forces which have a joint base in the Andaman Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Finally, the Chinese seem particularly fond of identifying their naval ships and crews that gained ocean patrol experience from their anti-pirate patrols off the coast of Somalia, in cooperation with NATO and other modern navies. They received excellent training and evidently were adept students.
Thailand: Today, Prime Minister Yingluck's government declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to control large demonstrations, sometimes violent, whose purpose is to force the government to resign.
The government said it intends to rely on the police to enforce the decree, instead of the armed forces. The emergency decree empowers authorities to impose a curfew, ban public gatherings of more than five people, detain suspects for 30 days without charge and censor media.
"We will not use force. We have no policy to disperse the protesters and we haven't announced a curfew yet," said Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who will oversee implementation of the decree.
Comment: It is unclear how the police will be able to do more than they already have done without escalating the street encounters. General elections are only weeks away and the ruling party is almost certain to be returned to office.
The danger is that the opposition does not appear inclined to accept an election outcome that goes against them. At this point a military takeover of the government does not appear likely, but contingency plans almost certainly have been reviewed and rehearsed in the event street disorders exceed police capabilities.
India: The Indian Navy announced that its first indigenously constructed nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, will be ready for sea trials soon, most likely in February and March.
"We expect INS Arihant to finish its harbor trials in a few weeks, a month or so, and then head for sea trials. All its capabilities will be tested as the third leg of the triad, the sea-based strategic deterrence, which will include firing of its ballistic missile. This is the first time we have achieved criticality of a mobile reactor in India….INS Arihant (Sanskrit for exterminator of enemies) is in the terminal phase of the HATS (harbor-acceptance trials) now," Rear Admiral Babu, chief of submarines, told the press.
Comment: The Indian Navy wants at least three SSBNs (nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines) and six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines without ballistic missiles) in the long term. Construction already has begun at Visakhapatnam on the second SSBN.
The new submarine will be named INS Aridhaman (Sanskrit for slayer of enemies). It is expected to be launched by mid-2104, coinciding with the testing of a new, longer range submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Syria: Update. Two days before the start of the Geneva II talks, the Syrian National Council, the biggest bloc in Syria's opposition outside the country, said on 20 January that it would quit the Syrian National Coalition to protest peace talks in Geneva with the al-Asad government.
Comment: If the Council follows through, it would mean that there is no delegation that has the authority to speak for the Syrian opposition, inside or outside Syria. Of course, it just might be seeking a larger incentive for participation.
During this Watch, news sources reported the Syrian Kurds have declared northeastern Syria an autonomous region. Leaders reportedly are drafting a constitution. They took the action because they were not invited to participate in the Geneva II talks.
Comment: This is a significant complication for almost all parties, most of whom oppose the creation of an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan. The Syrian Kurdish leaders refuse to align themselves with any of the combatants and have been effective in defending their region with no government support from attacks by al Qaida-affiliated fighters. They almost certainly obtained encouragement, advice and support from the Iraqi Kurds.
Israel- Gaza Strip/Hamas: Prime Minister Netanyahu warned today that if Arab rocket attacks did not stop, a very hard Israeli response would come very soon. Netanyahu made the remarks during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Israeli Army figures show eight rockets have struck Israeli territory since 1 January and another five were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Two of the most recent attacks came from Sinai, Egypt, and were fired at Eilat in southern Israel.
Comment: Israel will hold Hamas responsible for the attacks from the Gaza Strip and will retaliate. It will expect the Egyptians to take responsibility for controlling the Sinai militants.
The recent slight increase in rocket attacks against targets in Israel appears intended to remind Arabs that Israel is the enemy of Islam, in contrast to the intra-Muslim fighting in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Central African Republic: The Interim Commission of the Central African Republic has elected Catherine Samba-Panza as the new interim head of state. The new leader of the Central African Republic pledged Tuesday to form a government based on skills rather than religion as she sought to end months of Christian-Muslim bloodshed.
A day after Bangui's mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was elected transitional president by the interim parliament, residents said the capital was unusually calm, apart from isolated acts of looting by gangs of youths.
Comment: It seems unlikely that Islamic fundamentalist militants will accept a government led by a Christian woman, despite her conciliatory statements. Samba-Panza's election is no more likely to promote sectarian harmony than that of her predecessor, who was an Islamist. Relative calm in Bangui means the Christians are happy.
France-Africa: The French Defense Minister said today that France will broaden its military presence in Africa's Sahel region. France will establish specialized, new military outposts to better fight the terror threat from extremist groups such as al-Qaida. In an interview with the press, Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France is moving toward a regional counterterrorism approach in former French colonies such as Chad, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
Comment: Le Drian left out details of the French plan, but a return to Africa was not a campaign plank of the Hollande administration. France never really left Africa, having stationed thousands of troops in various strategic locations. The weakness of the Francophone African governments in confronting Islamist extremists and jihadists evidently has persuaded France to increase its military involvement.
After a half-century, French nation-building in Africa is no better than anyone else's. Today's announcement will require a significant increase in the defense budget, especially to increase the capability for logistic support which includes long range airlift and sealift.
End of NightWatch for 21 January.
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