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NightWatch 20100727


For the Night of 27 July 2010

China-US-South China Sea: The Chinese government reacted angrily on Monday to the announcement by US Secretary of State Clinton that Washington might step into a long-simmering territorial dispute between China and its smaller neighbors over sovereign rights to the South China Sea.

Speaking Friday at a forum of Southeast Asian countries in Vietnam, Clinton apparently surprised the Chinese by saying the United States had a "national interest" in seeking to mediate the dispute, which involves roughly 200 islands, islets and coral outcroppings and the seabed that are claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. China claims all the South China Sea as its territorial waters.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China warned the United States against "wading into" the dispute. "What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one?" he asked in remarks published on the Foreign Ministry's Web site. "It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult."

The state-run news media were far less diplomatic. "America hopes to contain a China with growing military capabilities," ran an editorial Monday in the Communist Party-run People's Daily newspaper.

Global Times, an English-language tabloid published by People's Daily, said, "China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means."

Comment: The overlapping claims in the South China Sea date to the end of the Chinese empire, complicated by those of the colonial powers, including the US. For most of the post World War II era, China refrained from asserting its sweeping claims from the shores of Vietnam to the Philippines and from Hainan to Borneo. But it never abandoned any claims to any territory of the Empire, such as Macao or Hong Kong.

This always was a subterfuge so as not to alarm the Southeast Asian states until Communist China was ready and able to defend its claim as successor to the interests of the last emperor of China. Since the end of the Vietnam War and especially as the Chinese navy has expanded in size and capability, China has become more aggressive in claiming sovereign rights to the entire South China Sea, though all the claimants, including Taiwan, actually station forces on the islands they claim.

Lately China has been describing the South China Sea in the same terms of sovereignty it uses to describe Tibet and Taiwan, as a core area or core interest. The return of Hong Kong is an excellent example of how long China will take and how much energy it will commit to recover its core interests.

Secretary Clinton has done good service in challenging the Chinese on behalf of the Southeast Asians, Japan, South Korea as well as the US. US interests include freedom of navigation for the US Navy as well as oil supplies for Japan. The sea area covers 1.2 million square miles. A third of the world's maritime trade transits the Sea. Just as compelling are deposits of oil and natural gas thought to be under the seabed.

India-Burma: Indian Prime Minister Singh met Burma (Myanmar) military leader General Than Shwe in New Delhi for bilateral talks on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, energy cooperation and developmental projects, The Times of India reported 27 July.

The two leaders signed five pacts, one of which will enhance legal cooperation by helping India access insurgents harbored in its northeast states along the India-Myanmar border. The leaders also discussed increased collaboration for developing cross-border connectivity, as well as infrastructure development.

Comment: Earlier Burmese press reports announcing Than Shwe's visit insisted the visit was part of a religious observance. Whatever the cover story, India is in a bidding war with China for Burmese favor. Today India made a few gains, but the Chinese are far ahead in infrastructure, security and development aid.

Iran: For the record. President Ahmadi-Nejad said the conditions he set in June for returning to discussions on the Iranian nuclear program still apply, Reuters reported, citing an interview on Iran's PressTV. The corrects a statement by Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who said 26 July that conditions no longer applied. Ahmadi-Nejad said talks would resume if multiple countries participate, if parties specify the relationship they seek with Iran, and if they declare their view on the alleged Israeli nuclear arsenal.

Iran seems to be having internal communications problems. Sometimes that is a symptom of policy disarray and disagreements.

Somalia-African Union: African Union (AU) troops in Somalia can now execute preemptive attacks against Islamist insurgents following a change in the rules of engagement, a Ugandan military spokesman said 27 July 27, according to Agence France-Presse.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Lamamra confirmed the changes on 26 July. The spokesman said if there is a possibility troops are about to be attacked, they are "mandated" to attack first. AU leaders have yet to agree on whether to change completely the force's mandate under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, according to Ugandan Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary James Mugume.

Mugume told AFP that a complete change to chapter seven is unlikely; the commission is hoping for a "chapter six and a half" that would allow AU forces to act more robustly. Such a measure would still require U.N. Security Council consultations, Mugume said.

Comment: The significance is that peacekeeping is being converted into peacemaking. This occurs seldom under UN auspices, but al Shabaab overreached in its World Cup attacks, reviving cultural memories of east African Muslim slave traders attacking non-Muslims in the interior. Now it is reaping the consequences.

France-al Qaida: "France is at war with al Qaida," French Prime Minister Fillon said on 27 July, and his country will increase pressure on the group's North African franchise in response to the execution of hostage Michel Germaneau, The Associated Press reported.

France is working with northwest African governments in a fight that takes them to the desert which includes borders with Mauritania, Mali, Algeria and Niger, Fillon said in an interview with Europe-1 radio

National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Axel Poniatowski said, after talks with Prime Minister Fillon, that France will provide logistical support to military operations in Mauritania, Mali and Niger against al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Agence France-Presse reported.

A statement from Fillon's office said France would support the operations through military training, rather than the deployment of troops. The decision to provide military assistance is not an act of revenge or reprisal, Poniatowski said, adding that the support likely will not involve air raids, given the mobility of AQIM camps

Comment: AQIM blundered in executing Michel Germaneau. The French will avenge that murder asymmetrically.

Venezuela: Troops of the National Guard, one of the four components of the National Armed Force, have redoubled surveillance in the western states of Tachira and Apure. The number of troops has not changed, however, in the neighboring Zulia State, according to General Franklin Marquez, chief of the National Guard First Regional Command. The First Regional Command has responsibility for the states of Tachira and Apure.

According to Marquez, the number of regular army soldiers is about 500. They have now been reinforced by up to 1,000 guardsmen. The General reassured that his forces have not engaged in special operations, but remain in a state of alert. He said that during the weekend they patrolled several border points, but he did not go into details.

Comment: President Chavez invested heavily in buying weapons and weapons production facilities from Russia to equip the National Guard so that it would be a people's army-style force for defending Venezuela. Today's announcement borders on comedy because the number of poorly trained and equipped guardsmen is insignificant compared to challenges posed by the length and terrain of the border.

There is no likelihood of a Colombian attack against Venezuela. Chavez is indulging in theater, but few are taking him seriously. As for people's army, even the Chinese, who invented it, have abandoned it.

End of NightWatch for 27 July.

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