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NightWatch 20101012

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 October 2010

China -and it Neighbors: Another study in contrasts.

An unnamed senior U.S. defense official said China is appearing to back away from previous descriptions of its territorial disputes in the South China Sea as one of its "core interests," Agence France-Presse reported on 12 October. The official, speaking on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers' meeting, said Chinese leaders are approaching the issue in other ways, indicating internal Chinese debate over approaches to South China Sea issues.

China will build 30 vessels during the next five years for marine law enforcement and to safeguard marine rights, said Li Lixin, director of South China Sea Branch of State Oceanic Administration of China, People's Daily reported. By early 2011, six vessels will be added to the China Marine Surveillance, Li said, adding that China Marine Surveillance 75, a patrol boat launched at the end of July, will join the South China Sea Branch at the end of October.

Comment: Non-Chinese government officials need to be more cautious in talking to the press about China. There is no debate about Chinese claims or strategy in dealing with the South China Seas. That is wishful thinking. Tactical changes are non-substantive deceptions.

In Chinese history, the empire never abandoned its claims and often claimed lands not belonging to the Han Chinese, based on conquest. Under the Nationalists, Chiang Kai-shek never abandoned historic Chinese claims including to all of mainland China. The communists adopted the same cultural disposition. If China claims it, it is Chinese, on land, sea and air.

It took some 150 years but Hong Kong is now part of China and so is Macao. They embody the central lesson of Chinese history about border territories. China never rests until it gets them back. That also is why a future confrontation with India over land boundaries across the Himalayas is inevitable.

A softening of language is a tactical adjustment for a short term benefit. It signifies no substantive change. The NightWatch assessment is that China is on a path to assert and demonstrate its hegemony in Asia, evidenced by the announcement of law enforcement ship construction, not by atmospheric adjustments in Hanoi. There will be many more and more frequent confrontations. This is a strategic warning.

Pakistan: Woodward's book "Obama's Wars" is shaping politics in Pakistan as if a military coup had taken place. It threatens the downfall of elected government because of the bewildering and intemperate statements of Pakistani and US leaders to a book vendor.

An article in The News asserts that leaders have "spilled so many beans about the Pakistani leadership, it is hard to determine how he (Woodward) was allowed to quote officials about events which are only months old, with work still in progress, and making disclosures that could create a turmoil for the political leadership in Pakistan."

"For instance, (according to the editorial) his book reveals that a special force of 3,000 hot pursuit US troops was carrying out operations inside Pakistani territory from the Afghan side, Pakistani airbases were still being used for drone attacks, US just did not trust the ISI, Zardari had stated to CIA chief clearly that civilian deaths did not worry him at all, US would bomb 150 camps inside Pakistan if there was another attack inside US, besides many other details which have never been revealed."

"But the very fact that Woodward has been able to sit with the top leaders in important meetings and has been allowed to write things which were otherwise never released to the public, shows the US leadership was sending clear messages about their intentions and plans."

"Woodward, on page 52, writes that on December 9, before Obama took oath as president, the DNI and CIA chief gave him a briefing listing 14 highly classified covert actions, the nature of those actions, and the written findings from Bush and other presidents. These 14 operations, Hayden (CIA Director) said, included operations in 60 countries, clandestine, lethal counterterrorism operations to stop terrorists worldwide, including drone attacks on camps anywhere."

"How much are you doing in Pakistan, Obama asked. Hayden's response, quoted by Bob Woodward, is revealing. "Hayden said 80 percent of America's worldwide attacks were there (in Pakistan). We own the sky. The drones take off and land at secret bases in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda is training people in the tribal areas who, if you saw them in the visa line at Dulles (Washington Airport), you would not recognize as potential threats."

"Giving details of other operations in Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Sudan, Iraq and Jordan, the CIA director made a startling revelation about Afghanistan. Besides the drone attacks, he said, CIA has a 3,000 strong army of Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT)."

"This figure was given by Hayden before Obama was inducted as president. Later, the new CIA chief Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Jim Jones were sent by Obama to Pakistan to talk to Zardari and (General) Kayani after the failed Faisal Shahzad bombing at Times Square in New York and the details of their meetings provide a rare view of how the Americans see their war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what they intend to do.

"If, God forbid, Shahzad's SUV had blown up in Times Square, we wouldn't be having this conversation, Jones warned. The president would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like. The president wants everyone in Pakistan to understand if such an attack connected to a Pakistani group is successful there are some things even he would not be able to stop. Just as there are political realities in Pakistan, there are political realities in the US. No one will be able to stop the response and consequences. This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact."

Comment: The Pakistanis have been warned, but Pakistani behavior in response to the 30 September attack shows the warnings have been ignored. The diligence and earnest of US officials are striking contrasts to President Zardari's political evasions.

More troubling for stability in Pakistan is the candor of remarks by high level officials in Pakistan to a book writer whose reputation is built on sensationalism that sells books. The revelations raise serious questions about the motives and judgment of the senior officials. They put lives as well as operations at increased risk.

Apparently most of the decisions involving US operations in Pakistan were made before power transferred from the President to the Parliament. Nevertheless, the agreements are an embarrassment to Prime Minister Gilani and the Foreign Minister who have been vocal in criticizing US cross border operations that Zardari authorized but never bothered to tell his Prime Minister, apparently.

The revelations have just begun to percolate through Pakistani politics. More to follow.

Mexico: Update. US and Mexican authorities reported that the Mexican state police commander who is investigating the reported shooting and disappearance of an American tourist on Falcon Lake has been killed.

Tamaulipas state prosecutor's office spokesman Ruben Rios said Tuesday that Commander Rolando Flores, the head of state investigators in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, was killed. Rios did not say how Flores was killed but said his slaying was unrelated to the investigation into the reported slaying of David Hartley.

Flores' severed head was delivered to the Mexican Army.

End of NightWatch for 12 October.

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