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NightWatch 20101014

NightWatch

For the Night of 14 October 2010

Japan-China: Update. The Japanese Defense Ministry has cancelled a port call at Qingdao, China, by a Maritime Self-Defense Force training fleet, according to Kyodo on 14 October. The decision followed a request from China to postpone the visit. The fleet included the Kashima and the Yamagiri training ships and the destroyer Sawayuki, which were due to make a port call for five days beginning on the 15th. The visit was meant to be part of a goodwill exchange. The report contained no reason for the Chinese request.

North Korea-China: About 100 North Korean workers will travel to the Chinese city of Tumen, just across the border from northeastern North Korea to construct a joint industrial complex, Yonhap reported on 14 October, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the deal. The complex will be around 200,000 square meters and produce goods that will be shipped to North Korea, including light-emitting diode products that are set to begin production in the near future. The number of North Korean workers will likely increase in the future, according to a source in Tumen.

Comment: This is the fourth major economic project that links North Korean economic activity to China. Two recent infrastructure projects are railroad construction and port development. A third older project involves mining. This is the first industrial project.

Chinese assistance has been a key and steady component of North Korean economic life, particularly concessional sales of crude, use of railroad rolling stock, and basic necessities. In the past five years, however, the Chinese have complemented aid with investments in profit making enterprises.

It is tempting to assess that the Chinese are trying to nudge North Korea towards more capitalist practices. That is not clear. What is clear is the Chinese are acting to lighten the burden of supporting North Korea and potentially complicating discussions about reunification with South Korea.

China-US-Southeast Asia: (Long item alert!)

In an interview with the Zhongguo Xinwen She, Senior Colonel Wang Xinjun, research fellow from the Department of War Theory and Strategic Research under the Academy of Military Science, presented an update presentation of China's self-image and how it wants to be seen: as the equal of the US in major fields of international activity.

Wang wrote that while observing the negative side of China-US relations, one should also be aware of the positive factors that would give impetus to the development of China-US military ties. For example, China and the United States had common interests in a number of major fields, including the international anti-terror campaign, proliferation prevention of weapons of mass destruction, and international peace-keeping efforts; and bilateral ties of cooperation are of critical importance to maintaining peace and stability in the region and the world at large.

"In the face of subtle changes in the current and future international order because of China's rapid development, the United States is currently redefining China's role and its relations with China, and China-US relations are expected to enter a relatively difficult 'period of adjustment' and 'period of adaption' in days to come," Wang Xinjun said.

Wang told the interviewer, "Being the two most important countries in the world (emphasis added),both China and the United States have the responsibility and obligation to avoid drastic ups and downs or direct confrontation in bilateral relations, and should make an effort to facilitate a stable and healthy development in bilateral relations. During the current difficult period in China-US relations, the strategic circles of both sides in particular should exercise extreme caution."

Wang then cited principles of bilateral cooperation, reproduced below:

"Firstly, the two countries should respect each other's concerns….The two countries should act cautiously in their handling of each other's core interests and other sensitive issues."

"Secondly, the two countries should step up high-level exchanges and dialogues, with a view to enhancing understanding and minimizing misunderstanding and misjudgment. Facing China's rapid growth, some politicians in the United States are calling for containing China's rise by force. This shows that it is necessary for both sides to step up contacts, enhance understanding, and expand consensus."

"Third, in the course of promoting bilateral relations, both sides should gradually abandon the old alliance ties that are directed against a third party (emphasis added). It is an outdated tradition in international politics to form strategic alliances against a third party, and such a tradition is not in keeping with the realistic trend of global international politics. Defining China as a rival will do no good to peace and development in the region or the world at large."

"Fourth, the two sides should act in line with the principle of facilitating a mutually beneficial and win-win development, and strive to expand cooperation on an equal footing in fields of common interests. China and the United States are currently facing, and will continue to face in the future, many common challenges; and will only be able to cope with these challenges through sincere cooperation with each other."

"Fifth, the two sides should abandon the practice of threatening each other with the use of force on the slightest provocation. In contemporary times, it is an extremely stupid idea, and an expression of poor wisdom and strategic capability, to suggest that problems between China and the United States should be resolved by force."

Wang Xinjun concluded, "The contemporary environment of international politics, security, economy, and science and technology has provided a broad platform for peaceful competition between China and the United States. The real big competition between Chinese and American politics and between the two peoples is to demonstrate wisdom, creativity, magnanimity, and perseverance when facing difficulties and conflicts."

Comment: The news journal is an official government publication. Its primary audience apparently is overseas Chinese. The fact of a commentary on the Chinese-US exchanges at the Hanoi defense ministers' meeting attests to their importance. The commentary updates how China's leaders see their country and want others to perceive it as well.

Two points stand out from the interview. First is the writer and those he represents expect turbulence to continue in what he calls a complex" relationship. In communist cant, "complex" always means unpredictable and prone to stress that could become violent.

Second is the presentation of China as an equal competitor with the US in five areas: international politics, security, economics, science and technology. The commentary also posits that China is the partner of the US in fields off common interest.

It is not clear when this characterization of China began, but it is a departure from earlier descriptions of China as a "rising power" and not a threat to anyone. This overall characterization is so incongruent with reality as to suggest ethno-centric cheerleading. But it is the new look of China for the worldwide Chinese audience.

The message is that China is the US equal, but not a rival. That would seem to mark the end of the "rising power" language. Of course, Japan, Russia and other states might have a different point of view.

Note: NightWatch recognizes that it is misleading to write about China as if there were one viewpoint in a leadership structure as complex as that in Beijing. Nevertheless, the Chinese have mechanisms for summarizing and communicating consensus national policy. This publication is one of those.

Thailand: Update. Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has issued an order to deploy troops in 1,868 communities in all 50 districts of Bangkok and adjacent provinces for civic action, intelligence gathering and the prevention of bombings and sabotage, an unnamed army source said on 14 October.

Intelligence agencies were convinced more sabotage attempts and bombings were imminent following the 5 October bombing at a Nonthaburi apartment complex, the source said. The troops will be deployed in all areas where the emergency decree is still in effect. Each main force has been ordered to set up a rapid deployment company capable of reaching any location where a violent incident occurs within 15 minutes.

Comment: During the past months, the government has scaled back steadily the number of districts in which the emergency decree remains in effect. It has been reluctant to rescind the decree because of persistent intelligence that opposition activists are planning terrorist attacks, focused on Bangkok, by terrorists from Cambodia. The cost of the actions taken on 14 October indicates the government thinks the terrorist threat is real, but preventable.

Thailand-Pakistan: The southern insurgency. Police have detained 15 Pakistanis on suspicion of being involved with a foreign terrorist group. A combined force of 30 soldiers and police yesterday raided Yala My House hotel in Muang District and took the 15 men, who had checked into four rooms, away for questioning.

Investigating inspector at Muang Yala station, Police Lieutenant Colonel Sujarit Wongsagade, said an employee at a local private bank told police he had noticed irregularities in transnational transactions conducted by a group of Pakistani customers. The banker said the men had transferred money from their accounts to someone who is officially listed in the bank's database as a person involved with a foreign terrorist organization.

Sujarit said the suspects claimed they had gone to Yala to raise money to help orphans and flood victims in their homeland.

Comment: Research indicates the Islamist insurgency in southern Thailand has had no outside backing, limited organization and no clear sense of identity that distinguishes it from banditry. It has no history of contacts with Pakistani Islamic extremists.

The arrival of Pakistani agents provocateur provides further confirmation that Pakistani Islamist leaders have decided to export their beliefs and terrorist actions. The new information is that their targets are not just Europe and the US, but anywhere a Muslim population resides. The 15 detained in Thailand should be a warning to regional security authorities.

The Indian government is acutely aware of the terrorist threat spawned from Pakistan. The Southeast Asian security leaders should be on the lookout for Pakistani troublemakers, often in the guise of mendicants or relief workers, among the Cham people of Cambodia, in Malaysia, Indonesia and in the southern Philippines.

Pakistan: For the record. Pakistani police arrested a group of Islamist militants plotting to kill the prime minister in a gun and suicide bomb attack at his house, officials said on 14 October. The seven men also are accused of targeting other government leaders for assassination.

The conspiracy against Prime Minister Gilani was nearly complete, police officials said. The suspects are accused of belonging to the al-Qaida-linked group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Their plan included monitoring Gilani's movements and storming his private residence in the central city of Multan with guns and a suicide bomber, a police investigator said. "These terrorists were arrested in a timely fashion, and surely we have averted an attack on the prime minister," he said.

Pakistan-NATO: NATO was offered the use of Pakistan's Gwadar port for the supply of NATO goods to Afghanistan during a meeting between Baluchistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani and the British High Commission military attache Charles Sattorini, Dawn News reported 14 October.

Despite limited resources, the provincial government was trying to provide security to NATO vehicles, Raisani stated, adding that results could improve if NATO provided training and equipment to police and port personnel in Baluchistan.

Comment: This is an extraordinary report that has not been confirmed by authorities in Islamabad. The offer is almost certainly ultra vires. Gwadar is the port in western Pakistan that the Chinese built for their purposes, which some analysts assess as including remote basing for Chinese naval ships.

If the provincial Chief Minister made such an offer without consulting the federal government in Islamabad, it would indicate the Gwadar port and associated infrastructure projects urgently need an infusion of cash. The problem with Gwadar is that it lacks a reliable infrastructure to link its port facilities to the rest of Pakistan and ultimately to Afghanistan.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: NATO helicopters violated Pakistan's airspace near the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman on 12 October. "Two NATO helicopters crossed 200 yards into our territory and went back after a moment," a Pakistani officer said. The helicopters were seen over Killi Luqman area, he said. He also said that NATO officials deployed in Afghanistan were informed and a protest was lodged against the violation.

Comment: This is the kind of incident that escalated into the suspension of NATO convoys through Torkham. Suspensions at Chaman, the southern entry point for Afghanistan leading to Kandahar, were limited.

If the intrusion was inadvertent, which is highly unlikely, perhaps NATO liaison officers need to be stationed at all likely corridors of NATO helicopter ingress. That would prove such intrusions were inadvertent, would defuse political outrage in Pakistan and might help avoid friendly fire incidents. On the other hand, if the helicopter intrusions represent a programmatic change in NATO tactics in favor of intimidation, liaison officers might become potential targets.

Iraq: Update. The Sadrist Movement reportedly intends to withdraw its support, if Prime Minister al-Maliki does not meet its demands to grant it a number of important ministerial positions, including the vice presidency, the secretariat of the Council of Ministers, as well as the responsibility for appointing Iraq's Interior Minister and Minister of Defense.

A senior Sadrist Movement member said the group did not demand security ministries, especially as all winning electoral blocs have agreed that the security ministries are independent and subject to the approval of all parliamentary blocs. The group's electoral entitlement as part of the National Alliance is 25 percent.

Comment: Earlier on 14 October al Maliki said he would not abandon the Sadrists in favor of the secular parties. The Sadrists' reply is that al Maliki has missed the point of their demands for substantive power sharing.

There is still no political coalition that can form a government. Shiite religious parties refuse to cooperate, much less compromise, and have no interest in working with the Sunnis to form a national unity government. Low level instability and violent spasms will continue.

Saudi Arabia: For the record. Prince Bandar Bin-Sultan Bin-Abd-al-Aziz, secretary general of the Saudi National Security Council, was expected to return to Riyadh on 14 October. A former pilot and combat veteran as well as a highly effective and respected ambassador, Bandar has been ill and out of country for an extended period. His return in good health should provide firm direction to Saudi national security policy, especially in blocking Iran.

Syria: President Bashar al Asad said in a recent meeting in Damascus with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt that Syria recognizes the state of Israel's existence and that he wants to convince Hamas to follow suit, Ynet News reported 14 October. Bildt said the President repeatedly mentioned his desire to resume talks with Israel through Turkey and that al Asad's intentions appear to be sincere.

Comment: Asad engaged in political theater. Syria recognizes Israel but Hamas does not. The likelihood of Asad undertaking serious efforts to persuade Hamas to recognize Israel is zero.

Lebanon-Iran: Comment: Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad's visit to Beirut was headline news for several days. Aside from restating well-known anti-Israel positions, the substantive achievements will require a few days to assess.

There seems to be a struggle for the soul of the Arabs in Syria and Lebanon, led by Saudi King Abdallah, who is opposed by the Persians, led by Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad who is the mouth-piece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his cohorts. It is premature to assess which pressure group is ascendant, bearing in mind that Lebanon is notorious for the temporary nature of any commitment made by any leader.

End of NightWatch for 14 October.

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