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NightWatch 20150309

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For the night of 9 March 2015

China-South China Sea Islands: The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, published a defense of China's land reclamation projects in the South China Sea. The commentator wrote, "China's construction on its own islands and reefs in the South China Sea is lawful and justified, as it is merely building facilities in its own yard."

"The islands and reefs which China has constructed are its inherent territory, over which China owns undisputable sovereignty. It is legitimate and justified to build major infrastructure projects on its own territory. Besides, China's construction activities currently underway on its own islands and reefs do not violate any international laws…."

"'We have every right to do things that are lawful and justified,' Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress."

"In fact, China has always been a staunch supporter and ardent defender of regional peace and stability. It gives all-out support to any move that strengthens cooperation in the South China Sea. However, for the sake of safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity, China does need self-defense."

:… Those facilities on the islands and reefs, even being of some military nature, are reasonable and justifiable for China to use them for defense purposes."

"…In this regard, China rejects any charge by any party on the legitimacy of the infrastructure on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea. China will continue to uphold the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, continue to peacefully resolve disputes through direct dialog and consultation, and continue to play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and stability."

"China's policy toward its neighbors is guided by the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. It aims to bring harmony, stability and prosperity to the neighborhood. This policy has not changed, and will not in the future."

The map shows six of the islands and reefs where China has reclaimed land and built structures for soldiers. The largest star is Fiery Cross Reef on which China is building an airstrip.

Comment: Imagery analysts have confirmed Chinese reclamation and construction projects on seven of the hundreds of island, shoals, atolls and reefs that China claims. The commentator's defense of Chinese actions is consistent with well-established Chinese policy. It breaks no new ground.

The significance of the article is that it makes explicit that the construction projects improve China's ability to defend its claims. Chinese commentators seldom describe them as self-defense projects.

Several news services noted that China is not alone in improving its islands, atolls and reefs. Taiwan, the Philippines Vietnam, and Malaysia also have made improvements to their claims, which are often near Chinese claims.

No country wants to fight over its claims, especially China, whose economy requires stability for sustained growth. On the other hand, China is best able to defend its claims by force, if necessary. China will not compromise its claims of sovereignty, even if it causes instability.

Sri Lanka-China: Last week, the new Sri Lankan government suspended a $1.5 billion luxury waterfront development project in Colombo because the developers failed to perform necessary impact studies and failed to obtain required permits.

The new finance minister, Ravi Karunanayake, reassured Chinese investors that the new leadership is not targeting China and wants its help to fight corrupt deals arranged by the last government. He said the Rajapaksa government gave Chinese firms "carte blanche" in Sri Lanka.

"Sri Lanka is trying to do what Chinese President Xi Jinping is doing: rooting out corruption. We are not against China, but against the Chinese companies manipulated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime into corrupt deals that are bleeding the taxpayer. The Chinese government might have been unaware of the activities of Chinese companies here," the Finance Minister said.

"Our relationship with China goes back to the 1950s, when we defied the West to forge the rice-rubber pact with China. But Chinese investment is as good as any other investment; we cannot give it preferential treatment."

Karunanayake is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon as part of team that will try to renegotiate the contracts the Rajapaksa government signed with Chinese companies and financing bodies.

China urged Sri Lanka to respect bilateral agreements and business contracts and to protect the interests of its investors, following the suspension of the Colombo port project.

Comment: The language of confrontation is polite, but firm. Opposition to the Colombo port project was a key issue in Prime Minister Sirisena's election campaign, as an example of cronyism and corruption in the former government.

The Rajapaksa government made Sri Lanka an economic and political ally of China. Last September, Chinese President Xi Jinping inaugurated the port project, which is now suspended. The suspension of the project reflects the new government's suspicions about China's long term intentions.

Cultivation of Sri Lanka is part of China's "string of pearls" strategy in which the Chinese coast would be linked to the Middle East and east Africa by a string of friendly ports. The updated term is to call it the "maritime Silk Road." The new Sri Lankan government is reconsidering its participation in the Chinese scheme. This is a strategic setback for China..

India has long opposed Chinese inroads in the Indian Ocean region. During a trip through the region this month, Indian Prime Minister Modi intends to push his Indian Ocean Region security plan as the Indian alternative to Chinese dominance in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka will not be a client of India, any more than it will be a client of China.

Nigeria: Update on the offensive. Military sources said that 15 soldiers from Chad and Niger died in fighting against Boko Haram this weekend to retake control of two towns in northern Nigeria. About 30 Nigerien and Chadian soldiers were wounded

The weekend targets were the towns of Malam Faturi and Damasak. Both were retaken. "We have kicked the enemy out of these areas and they are now under our control," a Niger military officer said. Another officer said the forces of order killed about 300 Boko Haram fighters.

Comment: This is the first situation report for the offensive. Damasak is about ten miles inside Nigeria, indicating that the Francophone forces still are only allowed to operate in the border region. The forces from these countries, which have modest military resources, continue to outperform the Nigerians. A Boko Haram backlash is likely. The recent trend has been suicide bombings.


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End of NightWatch for 9 March.

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