For the Night of 24 September 2010
The Fishing Boat Confrontation
Japan: On 24 September the Japanese Public Prosecutors Office released the Chinese fishing boat captain who had been in detention for ramming two Japanese patrol boats on 7 September. Prosecutors said the decided to suspend the decision on the captain's charges, NHK television reported, in the interest of Sino-Japanese relations, but reserved the right to indict at a later time.
China: Xinhua reported the captain left Japan fro Beijing on a chartered flight sent by the Foreign Ministry.
Prior to the release of the captain, Chinese authorities arrested four employees of the Fujita construction firm for illegally filming in a military area. The men were taking pictures of a site where Fujita is to build a facility for destroying chemical weapons left from the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s.
Comment: Japan caved mostly because of Japanese business pressure. Chinese retaliation included postponing bilateral gas development talks, a halt to public and private exchanges and the suspension of rare earth exports to Japan plus the detention of four Fujita workers. The harassment of the workers was a warning of much worse to come, if the confrontation continued.
The Japanese assessment of economic cost vs. political benefit favored releasing the captain. This might be short term wise and long term foolish because it sets the precedent that Japan backed down from rightfully prosecuting a law breaker in Japanese claimed waters. It creates a superior-to-inferior relationship, which can undermine Japanese sovereignty an incident at a time.
The next incident will be more difficult to handle and the stakes will be higher, as China continues to "emerge." And there will be more incidents, most likely deliberate. Japan's backing down sets China's expectations for future incidents and negotiations, not just for Japan but for other countries in Asia.
Finally, the Chinese probably are not yet finished embarrassing Japan over this issue. They will do one more thing to humiliate the Japanese.
Late update: During this Watch, China demanded Japan apologize. The Chinese demand goes beyond business. Were the Japanese to tender an apology, it would represent a surrender of their claim to the Senkakus and the seabed resources near them. An apology is not likely precisely because it would affect business.
South Korea- US: Update. The UN Command said that the two allies will hold five-day anti-submarine exercises in the Yellow Sea, starting 27 September. The political purpose of these exercises explicitly is to "send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea." Ten ships, including two U.S. guided missile destroyers and two submarines, and some 1,700 troops will participate, South Korean military officials said.
Comment: The exercises should provide an appropriate backdrop to the North's Party Conference, unless it is postponed again.
South Korea-North Korea: The two Koreas failed on 24 September for the second time in a week to agree on plans for the reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
During the Red Cross talks in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, the South demanded that the reunions take place at a Seoul-owned building inside an inter-Korean resort on the communist state's east coast.
The North demanded the South resume its cross-border tours before resuming reunions. The tours were halted after a North Korean guard shot and killed a Seoul tourist who strayed outside the resort enclosure in July 2008.
A third round of negotiations has been set for next Friday. Internal pressures on both governments favor an agreement involving resumption of tours and reunions.
Comment: Both sides want the reunions and tours to resume. South Korea is impatient that the North always insists on getting a pass for its behavior. In this instance, the North never has allowed South Korea to conduct an on-site investigation of the 2008 shooting and nor implement measures to ensure tourist safety. The North just wants the cash flow to resume as soon as possible.
China-Taiwan: On 22 September Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that some day the Chinese missiles based opposite Taiwan and aimed at targets in Taiwan will be removed. Wen also said relations are as good as they ever have been and should continue to focus on economics.
Taiwan President Ma Ying Jeou welcomed Premier Wen's statement.
Comment: Chinese leaders rarely talk about military matters. Wen's statement is as much a reminder of China's present capability to strike Taiwan with 1,000 or more ballistic missiles as it is a promise of a future withdrawal. Wen's condition for removing the missile was not reported in Taiwan, evidently. It is after reunification.
Kyrgyzstan: Update. The agreement on the Russian military base complex in Kyrgyzstan will be signed in the spring of 2011, Kazakhstan Today reported, citing Kyrgyz First Vice Minister of Defense General Major Asylbek Ormokeev. Departments have to coordinate before the signing, Ormokeev said.
Lebanon: A Lebanese politician today warned that a sectarian war could break out in Lebanon if a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri indicts members of Lebanese Hezbollah.
"If the indictments come out against Hezbollah in the trial of the Hariri assassination, there is war in Lebanon ... and today the atmosphere is just waiting for a spark," Suleiman Franjieh, the leader of the Marada movement, told Lebanese television channel LBC on Thursday.
"The scenario of the next war is Sunni-Shi'ite," the former interior minister said.
Comment: Lebanese analysts expect such indictments to be issued at the end of this year or early next year. After a lengthy investigation into Syrian involvement in the assassination, in the past year or so the investigation has focused on Hezbollah involvement, which the movement denies.
Franjieh is a Maronite Catholic and former militia leader. His warning is consistent with Hezbollah warnings about the same topic. Political allegiances appear to be shifting again in Lebanon, now that Syria has been rehabilitated by the visits of the Lebanese president to Damascus and of Syrian President Asad and Saudi King Abdallah to Beirut.
NightWatch Special Announcement:
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End of NightWatch for 24 September.
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