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NightWatch 20100907


For the Night of 7 September 2010

Australia: Update. At a press conference in Canberra on 7 September, two independent lawmakers declared that they will form a minority government with the Australian Labor Party. As a result, Julia Gillard continues as prime minister by a slim margin.

China-Burma (Myanmar): China hailed Myanmar as a "friendly neighbor" and warned the world not to meddle in its upcoming election. General Than Shwe, the head of Burma's military junta, arrived in Beijing for a state visit with President Hu Jintao. Than Shwe's visit will last four days during which he will meet all the top officials.

Comment: Today's praise plus warning expose the fundamental difference between the Chinese communist ideas of democracy and those of the West, even taking into account the imperfect nature of Western voting practices. The fact of a vote is important in authoritarian Asian states; they approve of the legitimacy that voting lends authoritarian rule. The idea the outcome might be determined by the electorate, however, is alien to this political philosophy.

Thus the Chinese could with a straight face endorse the already ham-fistedly contrived Burmese elections - what do Burmese generals know about democracy?

In a strategic sense, the Burmese leaders are engaged in a dangerous policing balancing act to retain some freedom of action between India and China. Than Shwe's visit indicates the Burmese junta prefers to tilt towards China more than India.

China-India: Yesterday, 6 September Indian Prime Minister Singh told New Delhi newspaper editors that, ""China would like to have a foothold in South Asia, and we have to reflect on this reality." India had to be aware of this, and also of a "new assertiveness among the Chinese - and it was difficult to tell which way it will go."

Today, 7 September, in an effort to downplay Prime Minister Singh's remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China is committed to safeguarding peace and stability in Asia, including South Asia. Jiang said China is one of the important members of Asia, and that seeking common development with it, South Asia and other countries is in the common interest of "all of us."

Comment: Several features of the exchange are worth noting. First the Indians are aware of and are monitoring Chinese inroads in the Indian Ocean region, which they claim as their sphere of influence. Second, the Indians describe this as new assertiveness, a term not yet recognized in Western commentaries. Third, the Chinese attempt to assuage Indian concerns is actually a deliberate challenge in which China claims interests in al South Asia, as well as East Asia.

China-Iran: China's Railways Minister Liu Zhijun will visit Tehran on 12 September to sign a contract between Iran and a Chinese company to build a $2 billion rail link to Iran, according to Iranian Transport Minister Hamid Behbahani. Transport ministers from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran are expected to gather in Dushanbe in October to firm up the deal for a 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) route that links China and Iran.

Comment: For more than a decade Chinese leaders have talked about linking Chinese rails with systems in Central Asia at meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Within the past five years, the Chinese have backed their talk with investment.

China has railroad projects in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma and now Iran. It has road and pipeline projects in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Many of the projects are scheduled to be completed by 2012. Their cumulative effect would be to shift the economic focus of Central Asian states from Moscow to Beijing. The advantage China brings is that the Chinese rails would use standard gauge, making it possible to ship from the Pacific Coast of China to Turkey without changing bogeys or moving containers in order to accommodate different rail gauges.

Until the Chinese projects become operational, all rail traffic from Asia to Europe will continue to rely on Russian gauge railroads and multiple gauge changes in Asia and at the border of European states.

Afghanistan: NATO and Afghan forces hope to clear the Taliban out of Kandahar by the end of November, according to a statement by the commander of international forces in the south of Afghanistan. NATO forces have secured Kandahar city and are now targeting the surrounding districts of Arghandab, Zharai and Panjwai. British Major General Nick Carter said that 15,000 to 17,000 Afghan security forces and 15,000 international troops have numerical superiority over an estimated 1,000 Taliban insurgents in and around the city.

Comment: The only significance of this report it that it is the first open source estimate of the number of Taliban in Kandahar. The force ratio of 30 allied troops for each Taliban continues to favor the Taliban.

NightWatch Special Announcement:

Kforce Government Solutions (KGS) is pleased to announce that it will sponsor the first ever short course entitled "NightWatch Concepts of Analysis" on the afternoon of 29 September at the AFCEA auditorium. The Instructor/Facilitator will be Mr. John F. McCreary, founder of NightWatch.

Please follow the link below to register for the course and to obtain further information about the course, the instructor, the location and the fee schedule.

End of NightWatch for 7 September.

NightWatch is brought to you by Kforce Government Solutions, Inc. (KGS), a leader in government problem-solving, Data Confidence® and intelligence. Views and opinions expressed in NightWatch are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of KGS, its management, or affiliates.

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