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NightWatch 20150310

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For the night of 10 March 2015

China: Since early February, Chinese officials at various levels have leaked information about China's construction of a second aircraft carrier, "vastly more sophisticated" than the Liaoning, which is a training ship.

Comment: The leaks and so-called misstatements have included information that construction began in 2014 in Dalian port, where the Liaoning was refurbished. They also included information that the new ship will have a modern catapult for launching aircraft and generally will be more advanced than the Liaoning. In addition, construction is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Readers should consider all of the leaks to be calculated and deliberate.

A retired Admiral and former political commissar for the Navy; an active duty naval commissar and a Communist Party official from Liaoning Province have been prominent in the steady stream of information about the new, modern Chinese aircraft carrier. Each has contributed bits of new information about the new carrier.

The cover story of excited, but inadvertent leaks is part of a propaganda strategy that aims to keep regional neighbors informed, but not alarmed. The fact is that China can build and is building a US-style aircraft carrier and sea control ship. Some sources reported the goal is to build six,

General Comment: The People's Liberation Army Navy has held no press conferences about the new aircraft carrier. China watchers consider this a deliberate act of deception to avoid antagonizing regional states. The Chinese leadership has chosen to use staggered and partial leaks of information about the new carrier to accustom the leaders of regional powers to the prospect of another Chinese aircraft carrier, enforcing China's claims to sovereignty and asserting regional hegemony.

US naval experts say they are encouraged by China's determination to spend the time and resources to develop a naval air force. A former commander of the US Pacific Command observed it took the US Navy 70 years to develop competent carrier air wings. An eminent US Naval strategist suggested Chinese aircraft carriers are big targets, like US aircraft carriers.

China is following the only successful model of a great power: the United States. Great powers have great navies. The Chinese are modifying the US model, however, to suit China's needs, which mostly are regional, rather than global.

The Chinese reportedly intend to build and operate up to six aircraft carrier task groups. In northeast Asia, they will be challenged. Japan has three aircraft-carrying destroyers and plans to build more. South Korea also wants and plans to build at least two light aircraft carriers.

On the other hand in Southeast Asia, Chinese aircraft carriers could be intimidating to Southeast Asian countries, unless US or other friendly naval forces are nearby. The Indians and the Japanese are acutely aware of this challenge and have engaged in naval cooperation for at least a decade.

China-Xinjiang: Chinese authorities recently arrested members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The ISIL fighters were arrested after returning to Xinjiang, according to Zhang Chunxian, a member of China's Politburo and Xinjiang's Communist Party chief. Zhang reportedly declined to specify the number or nature of the arrests, or to identify the suspects.

Comment: Today's report is the first to relate that ISIL is trying to develop a presence among the Muslims of western China. Chinese officials said in December 2014 that about 300 Chinese nationals were fighting with ISIL. The arrests are the first indication that any of them returned to Xinjiang.

The descriptions of the arrests indicate that the detainees probably are ethnic Uighurs. In the past, Uighur militants have traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan for training. ISIL presents a third, even more extreme alternative.

An ISIL presence in western China that is comparable to Boko Haram, for example, would pose a significant threat to the stability that Chinese authorities judge to be essential for economic growth.

Iraq: The Iranian-led ground offensive to recapture Tikrit has reached the outskirts of the city. Some news services state that the pro-government forces have entered Tikrit during this Watch.

Comment: The success of the offensive contains several important lessons. Most important is that the Iraq government does not need US support to defeat the Islamists, provided it has Iranian support.

A second lesson is that a disciplined and reasonably well-equipped force with decent leadership and adequate logistics can beat ISIL forces anywhere in Iraq as easily as comparable forces are defeating Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.

The third important lesson is that the current level of US air support is helpful, but not essential to the defeat of ISIL in Iraq. Sometimes, it can be a vital force multiplier, as when ground forces are insufficient to defeat ISIL forces - as at Kobani in Syrian Kurdistan.

Nigeria: In Maiduguri on 10 March, a suicide bomber killed at least 34 people at a market place.

Comment: A suicide bomber on Saturday killed 54 people in the same Maidugui market. Boko Haram is falling back on what it does best: slaughter. .

Special Administrative Announcement

A NightWatch Special Administrative Announcement last June informed Readers that changes were on the horizon for NightWatch. To better serve you, we conducted a survey of Readers' preferences. We received an overwhelming and positive response. Long-time Readers will note that NightWatch has incorporated the preferences and changes Readers said they wanted most. Included in these changes is the conversion of NightWatch to a paid subscription, which will begin 16 March 2015.

To our valued Readers, we are extending the enrollment date for current subscribers to 31 March 2015 during which time you will continue to receive NightWatch free of charge. In addition to a complimentary two week sign-up period, you will also receive a 40% discount on the introductory monthly cost of $3.49 (plus applicable tax) if you sign up for an introductory subscription at a cost of $24.99 (plus applicable tax).

As the period for subscription nears, we shall publish directions about how to sign up and make payment, starting 16 March. NightWatch has been a free service for eight years. We hope through subscriptions we can continue to provide this service for years to come.

End of NightWatch for 10 March.

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