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NightWatch 20110304


For the Night of 4 March 2011

South Korea-China: A 30-ton Chinese fishing boat and another Chinese vessel were captured on 3 March about 62 miles southwest of the South Korean town of Taean after coastguard officers suspected the vessels were fishing nearly seven miles inside South Korea's exclusive economic zone, according to a report in Agence France-Presse. Coastguard officials boarded the vessels and opened fire on the armed crewmen, wounding one in the leg and capturing 10. One South Korean officer was injured.

Comment: Fishing disputes are common. The key point is that the Chinese remain aggressive in pressing what they consider their right to be anywhere in eastern Asia. Last year top officials indicated they would pursue a more cooperative approach to operations in disputed areas. That has proven to be a false promise.

China: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the National Peoples' Congress session on4 March that the government plans to raise the defense budget by 12.7 percent to $91.5 billion in 2011, Xinhua reported. China has always tried to limit its defense spending and the level is set to ensure the balance of national defense and economic development, spokesman for the annual session of China's national legislature Li Zhaoxing said.

China will maintain friendly relations with neighboring countries, such as India, despite the increase in defense spending, spokesman for the annual session of China's legislature Li Zhaoxing said, Xinhua. China and India have reached a consensus on maintaining peace on the border. China is ready to work with India to implement relevant agreements to maintain the stable situation. The increase of defense expenditure is slight and as a ratio of the gross domestic product it is much lower than many countries, Li said

Comment: The budget numbers are a fraction of actual defense expenditures because of Chinese book keeping practices. Reassurances of benign intent are belied by aggressive Chinese military behavior, which can only occur pursuant to national policy. For example, the border with India is not stable, by a long shot. This budget announcement indicates Chinese determination to continue, if not expand, the defense buildup and aggressive behavior consistent with the Chinese understanding of a how a great power acts.

As a footnote, Premier Wen also said China will set up a financial early warning system to improve risk management! The US has not such system.

For the record. China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is likely to conduct more rescue operations of Chinese nationals overseas in war-torn countries following its first-ever evacuation mission in Libya, Xinhua reported 4 March, citing PLA generals. It is necessary for the army to help the government get people out if there is an emergency, Major General Luo Yuan said. The PLA's performance in the evacuation mission showed the army's ability to respond to different types of security threats, and underscored its long-distance transportation capabilities, Major General Hao Zhengli said.

Comment: In the event of a crisis, expect to deconflict air traffic control with the PLA AF, in Africa especially.

China-Six Party Talks: China is not in favor of setting pre-conditions for resuming six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula, China's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei said. The resumption of talks is facing difficulties that China hopes is resolved soon. China supports any proposal for talks regardless of whether North Korea and the United States talk first, or South Korea and the North talk first, only the setting of pre-conditions should be avoided, Wu said.

Comment: This statement indicates the Chinese have abdicated any pretense of objective detachment about North Korea. Today's statement also signifies China's adoption of the North Korean approach to talks which insists on no pre-conditions.

"No preconditions" means no assurances about ending the nuclear program, stopping arms proliferation or refraining from shelling South Korea. In other words, the Chinese are backing the North Koreans' insistence that they get a pass on all their misdeeds in return for the "privilege" of talking to North Korean representatives.

The irony is that talks with the North invariably end in discord with the certainty that the North's people will leave in a huff. Unconditional talks reward the North for bad behavior and uncivilized negotiating decorum. Defector reports of food conditions in the North at this time indicate the North is in no position to make demands. The Chinese would like the South Koreans and the US to share the burden of propping up a failed government and economy.

China-Philippines-Vietnam: A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Manila insisted China has sovereignty over the disputed area of the Spratly Islands and their adjacent waters, known as Nansha Islands by the Chinese. He did not comment directly on complaints made by the Philippines about harassment by Chinese patrol boats, saying only that the mission is taking notes of reports

Philippine Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ed Malaya said the Philippine government asked for the Chinese to explain the incident, but received no reply,

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said officials lodged a protest with China on 2 March about counter-piracy naval drills in the Spratly Islands, held a week earlier, according to a statement posted on the foreign ministry website. The drills violated Vietnam's sovereignty and Vietnam asked China to refrain from activities that would complicate competing claims to the islands, the statement said.

Comment: Having already annoyed Japan and been rebuffed, the Chinese are now preying on their weaker Southeast Asian neighbors. The intrusions are not accidental.

Bahrain: Tens of thousands Bahraini protesters marched in Manama on 4 March demanding the resignation of the cabinet. Secretary-general of the Shiite Al Wefaq opposition group, Sheikh Ali Salman, said that the peaceful action of the protesters forced authorities to abandon plans to control the demonstration by force.

Following clashes between Shiites and Sunnis on 4 March, thousands of anti-government protesters went to the state television headquarters in Manama and chanted slogans against the al-Khalifa dynasty.

Several people were wounded in a fight between Sunni and Shiite Muslims involving approximately 100 people after a small altercation escalated.

Comment: Saudi advice to pursue dialogue and power sharing has failed.

Iraq: About 2,000 Iraqi protesters gathered around Liberation Square in the capital city of Baghdad with hundreds rallying in the western Mansour neighborhood and more in front of the Abu Khanifa mosque in the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.

A 3 March vehicle ban in Baghdad forced many protesters to walk for miles, a scene repeated in at least ten other cities with similar bans and demonstrations in such cities as Mosul and Tikrit. Around 1,000 people demonstrated in front of the Basra provincial council building, 300 protesters in Hilla and 400 protesters outside the town hall in Dujail. However, Iraqi security forces prevented planned protests in Samarra as well as other part of Salaheddin province.

Comment: The numbers are not yet large but the discontent is rising and it seems to cross sectarian boundaries.

Saudi Arabia: Around 300 youths participated in a peaceful march to the provincial headquarters of Al-Ahsa province in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia, ABNA reported March 4. Security forces surrounded the headquarters but did not come into contact with the demonstrators. More than 100 clerics from Al-Ahsa and Qatif issued statements demanding the release of democracy activist Sheikh Tawfiq Al-Amer.

Comment: Separate protests were held in the predominately Shiite Eastern Province for the release of political prisoners. Public protests of any size in the Kingdom are rare.

Yemen: Shiite Muslim rebels in northern Yemen said the military fired rockets at a group of anti-regime protesters during a demonstration in the city of Harf Sufyan early on 4 March, injuring dozens. A rebel spokesman said thousands marched in the streets of Harf Sufyan demanding an end to corruption and President Saleh's regime when they were hit by rockets fired from the army base located in the city.

Prominent Yemeni cleric Abdul Majeed al-Zindani wrote an eight point plan, approved by Yemeni clerics, to end the current political crisis and submitted it to President Saleh, Saba reported March 4.

The plan calls for the withdrawal of current election and referendum draft laws with parliament to approve a new consensus law. It calls for the withdrawal of proposed constitutional amendments and the establishment of a mediation committee to end political disputes as well as the formation of a national unity government. Political prisoners not found guilt or without pending cases are to be released and anti-corruption investigations intensified. All parties are to end inciting and provocative media campaigns as well as all demonstrations and sit-ins.

Comment: The Muslim clerisy is making a bid to take control of the uprising in the name of ending the unrest. In other words, it is trying to be politically relevant.

Egypt: The Egyptian Cabinet announced on its Facebook page 4 March that a referendum on constitutional amendments will be held March 19, Egyptian Nile News TV reported.

An estimated 1,000 Egyptian protesters marched on an internal security service building in Alexandria. Officers inside fired on the crowd, injuring three demonstrators, a medic witness stated. Military forces were called to disperse the crowd after protesters set four police cars on fire.

Comment: As long as the military-backed government pursues constitutional amendments, instead of rewriting the constitution, that means it is not serious about fundamental political change. It still wants strong man rule, which the constitution supports in so many articles that it cannot be amended.

The Alexandria incident supports the point that the Egyptian Army would have shot protestors without hesitation had it been ordered. The high command manipulated the uprising for its own political purposes. That at least is reassuring that the mullahs will have little substantive power in whatever the military approves as the next government. It also means that sometime in the future another uprising is inevitable.

Libya: Situation Summary: On 4 March, pro-Qadhafi forces went on a counter offensive in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli and beat back protestors in Tripoli itself. Qadhafi claims his mercenaries are in control in Zawiyah. Combat aircraft bombed rebel areas again. Rebels claim to have taken control of Ras Lanuf, an important oil town.

In Tripoli, Qadhafi's militias were ready for the protestors after Friday prayers. The tear gassed them and shot them with rubber bullets. In Zawiyah the death toll was said to be 50, which is high for what are essentially light infantry engagements. The tactical skill of Qadhafi's supporters is just slightly better than that of completely untrained rebel fighters.

At the end of the day, little geography changed, but the rebels showed they have a presence in Tripoli and that is a basis for building. Tripoli is the prize, unless the rebels are content to fragment Libya, which is not yet the case. Instability is always centripetal, towards the center of power which is Tripoli.

The rebels lack the strength and organization to challenge Qadhafi's grip on Tripoli unless his inner circle fractures. Bribery and safe passage will work.

Libya-UK: The Cameron government indicated that it is stepping up its support to the Benghazi-based National Liberation Council by providing expert military assistance, which almost certainly includes top of the line military communications to coordinate groups.

Comment: The euphoria of local success by the rebels is being replaced by the realization that freedom is hard to achieve and hold. Supplies run out, not helped by illiterate pre-modern holders of guns who shoot them in the air for no reason. Bullets come down and are dangerous in their return to earth.

Essential support infrastructures are vulnerable. A single lucky bomb on a storage tank at an oil facility in eastern Libya will end the rebellion in a week by making everyone walk, except Qadhafi's forces. The British approach has merit because the rebels need professional help, regrouping, training and organization even though they want to succeed without it.

It was clear two weeks ago, but much clearer today, that the Qadhafi family cartel must be killed or taken prisoner. The cartel will fight to the last Libyan to stay in power. Negotiations with the rebels would be invitations to a rebel leadership massacre. Everything depends on the tribes and the arrival speed of effective modern military advice and aid.

The problem with the tribes is their interests are tribal not national. They must have the promise of a tangible return greater than Qadhafi is offering. If they side with the rebels, Qadhafi is history.

Tunisia: Tunisia's newly appointed Prime Minister Beji Caid-Essebsi said he hopes to form a new interim government with presidential approval by 6 March. He said the popular revolution does not have a framework to work within and that any government members who wished to leave or stay should feel free to do so. Essebsi also said the new government will relaunch the economic cycle as soon as possible, adding the Tunisian economy is on the brink of an abyss, DPA reported.

Comment: One of the many ironies in the ferment shaking the Arab world is that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt often are cited as inspiring other uprisings. The irony is that Tunisia, even more than Egypt, is far from a fundamental change of government. Ben Ali and Mubarak are gone but their cronies are still in office or in positions of wealth and power and their systems thrive.

End of NightWatch for 4 March.

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