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NightWatch 20091106


For the Night of 6 November 2009

Japan-Burma: Thein Sein, Prime Minister of Myanmar, is the first premier to visit Japan since 2003, according to Agence France-Presse. Japanese Prime Minister Fukio Hatoyama will meet Sein on 7 November for bilateral talks.

The Burmese junta is reaching out in nearly every direction to make itself more respectable.

China-Burma: Feedback: An extremely well-informed and expert Reader provided additional and clarifying comments on the Chinese pipeline deal with Burma. The Reader wrote, "The implication seems to be that China is eagerly seeking alternatives for importing crude oil into the mainland without relying on shipping routes (The Malacca Strait) that may be blocked for Chinese traffic. This isn't about getting oil cheaper into Yunnan, it is about finding replacement import capacity for the Malacca Strait tanker routes."

The reasoning is that the cost of the pipeline project is so huge that transport by ship will be cheaper for many years. There is no cost savings from building a long pipeline from the Burmese coast to Yunnan Province in China.

Moreover, the throughput of the pipeline eventually will exceed refining capabilities in southwestern China. Thus China's intent is to import oil via the Burma pipeline so that it does not need to rely on shipments that must transit the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The issue is not cost but energy security.

China is arranging overland oil imports via several pipelines from central Asia as well as Burma whose volume would equal or exceed imports through the east coast ports. Chinese economic development investments reinforce the security of imported energy sources by diversifying the sources themselves and by providing pipelines as a more secure and reliable means of importing oil compared to reliance on tankers.

Thanks for the feedback and the excellent insights!

Thailand-Cambodia: Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said 6 November that Thailand has canceled a 2001 oil and natural gas exploration agreement with Cambodia to develop jointly a disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand, Channel News Asia reported. Thailand terminated the agreement because the deal had not progressed during the last eight years, Kasit said. Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said if Cambodia continues to adopt a "hard-line and uncompromising attitude," steps would be taken to seal border checkpoints. No incidents have been reported in the area.

Cambodia's extension of asylum and safehaven to renegade former Prime Minister Thaksin appears to be accountable for this act of economic retaliation. Cambodia's Premier Hun Sen is gambling that Thaksin has a future in Thai politics, after the King of Thailand dies, and will be grateful to Cambodia. The Thai government wants Hun Sen to know he and Cambodia will pay a serious price for harboring an enemy of the monarchy.

Pakistan: Special Comment: Asia Times Online analyst Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote an excellent but troubling column that was posted on 5 November. Shahzad always writes excellent items that are only verifiable in prospect. This comment addresses some issues it raises.

Shahzad wrote that the US government has consorted with the Pakistan Army leadership to find an exit strategy for Afghanistan. Shahzad's sources assert that the reason Dr. Abdullah Abdullah resigned from the runoff election in Afghanistan was pressure from the US and the Pakistan Army which promised to act as mediator with the Taliban on condition that Abdullah resign.

Two other terms in this Faustian bargain are that the US recognize the Pakistan Army as the de facto governing power in Pakistan and that Zardari must resign.

Events in the coming months will show whether Shahzad's sources and his analysis are prophetic or fatuous. If they are prophetic, then those who have argued that the Pakistan Army can control the Afghan Taliban will be proven accurate. That fact should be apparent in an increase in power sharing discussions between Karzai's and Mullah Omar's representatives and a moderation of attacks.

Secondly, in Pakistan, Zardari will be forced from office, if Shahzad' sources are accurate. Thirdly, any empowerment of Pashtuns should revive the tribal civil war between northerners and Pashtuns, thereby returning the situation to the conditions before the US occupation.

If the US has agreed to the terms Shahzad's sources allege, it would be tantamount to a sellout of the regime for whom NATO and the other ISAF members have fought these past eight years. On the other hand, Afghanistan has survived such sell outs in the past and the cost in lives and the drain on the treasury for all ISAF members would gradually decline. Stay tuned.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: Update. Twenty Saudi troops were wounded 6 November during clashes with al-Huthi rebels, Al Arabiya reported. Saudi troops captured 100 rebels, some of which were dressed as women trying to infiltrate Saudi territory. The wounded troops were transported to the Al-Samitah Hospital.

More than 40 rebels were killed in Malahit and Maran in Saada province. Al-Huthi spokesman Muhammad Abd-al-Salam said that the group will release video evidence to prove that they captured Saudi soldiers and military equipment, Al-Jazeera reported. Abd-al-Salam said the group will release footage of the equipment and interviews with the soldiers. He added that the troops will be treated with respect and demonstrate that the al-Huthi rebels did not enter Saudi territory.

Saudi authorities clarified that the air attacks only targeted Yemeni rebels on Saudi territory. Hmmm… King Abdallah, welcome to the world of fighting an ethnic uprising.

Ukraine: For the record. The government announced it might delay presidential elections until May 2010 because of the flu epidemic, Reuters reported, citing the Deputy of the Head of Administration of the President of Ukraine Igor Popov. Ukraine's presidential elections are currently schedule for 17 January 2010.

The potential beneficiaries of delayed elections would be the pro-Western/NATO political interests, which include President Yushchenko who would gain more time for arranging political support. Elections in January would be almost certain to return pro-Russian political interests to office.

Honduras: President Micheletti and his cabinet resigned according to the terms of the US-brokered agreement to settle the political crisis. Micheletti created a national unity cabinet, but former president Zelaya denounced Micheletti's actions and declared the agreement violated and invalidated.

La Tribuna reported Micheletti's words: "I am proud to announce this evening that we have finalized the creation of a Government of National Unity and Reconciliation within the limit established by the Tegucigalpa/San Jose Agreement timetable. The creation of this government is a representation of the broad ideological and political spectrum in our country, in strict abidance by the agreement," the president said.

"Last week, when I announced my government's endorsement of the agreement, I said it was time to give up rhetoric and political games, to focus on an understanding, of our people's demands for reconciliation and peace; this evening, with the new cabinet's creation, we are responding to the Honduran people's wish for unity."

"The signing of the Tegucigalpa/San Jose Agreement has awakened our people's hopes that we will soon overcome the political crisis we face; this government is committed to strictly abide by the agreement's demands and conditions," Micheletti indicated.

The Honduran Congress has not yet approved the agreement. Zelaya is challenging that Micheletti is not adhering to Zelaya's understanding of the timing of the events specified in the agreement, which are subject to several interpretations because of pathetically incompetent draftsmanship!

Note: Zelaya has not been asked nor has he volunteered just what his intentions were and what the actions of his supporters signified on the day of the referendum on which he was removed from office. He has not explained why he will not step back for the good of the country so as to allow the election campaign and the presidential elections to take place this month, as prescribed by the constitution.

End of NightWatch for 6 November.

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