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NightWatch 20100928


For the Night of 28 September 2010

The Senkakus Confrontation

Japan: Japan is willing to explain to the international community the state of its ties with China following the East China Sea collisions on 7 September, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said on 28 September. Maehara said that because there currently is no clear outlook for a reduction of bilateral tensions it is important to explain to the rest of the word a true picture of what has happened.

China: Japan must take "candid and practical" steps to cooperate with China to resolve the spat over the disputed islands, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on 28 September. Jiang called on Japan to stop disrupting Chinese fisheries law enforcement boats in disputed East China Sea waters. China values its relations with Japan, Jiang concluded.

Comment: The significant point is Japan's statement that the outlook is unclear for a reduction in tension. No sources report a return to normal diplomatic or economic exchanges. Japan is sending the message that the release of the Chinese fishing boat captain is not a release of territorial claims. This confrontation continues.

North Korea: Update. The Korean Central News Agency announced several more appointments today. General Kim Chong-un and Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho were appointed Vice Chairmen of the Korean Workers' Party Central Military Commission. General Kim Chong-un and his aunt General Kim Kyong-hui were appointed to the Party Central Committee. Vice Marshal Ri also was appointed the Chief of the General Staff. Ri is a protégé of the Kim family.

Comment: Today's appointments complete the bridge that links military and party authority. The young Kim has both, but in both domains he is shadowed and shepherded by his aunt, his father's protégés and by his uncle Chang Song-taek and his protégés. This young man has no independent authority. He is in training. A regent troika lurks behind the scenes that is composed of the Chang family leaders and the newest Vice Marshal in the army.

Kim Chong-il, meanwhile, has given up none of his positions of authority , such as Chairman of the National Defense Commission, head of the party and head of all the party organizations of importance. Kim Chong-il does not trust his youngest son to govern anything, which explains the regency troika.

The various appointments and elevation of an untested youth in this fashion has no precedent in recent North Korean history. the process looks poorly and hastily thought out in terms of competence and ability, but crafted to try to keep the Kim family in charge.

It suggests that Kim Chong-il is sick and could die with little warning. Appointing neophytes and civilians to four-star military ranks looks ill-conceived and prone to incite resistance from professional military ranks.  The leadership is becoming much less stable and durable.

Nevertheless, the announcements leave no room for doubt that the heir-apparent is the third son, Kim Chong-un. That does not mean he will ever govern.

India-US: For the record. US Defense Secretary Gates hosted Indian Defense Minister A.K. Anthony for talks on defense issues today in Washington. The Indian Embassy in Washington issued a statement saying the officials discussed increasing trade in military equipment, service-to-service exchanges, joint military exercises and collaboration in defense technologies between the two countries.

Comment: The Indians have a good sense of timing, spotlighting the influence of the "other" Asian power when the Chinese are holding the US at arms length except on their terms.

The Chinese have overreached in their dealings with Japan, Southeast Asia and South Asia. As long as the Chinese advanced their influence through economic aid and development, they made friends and acquired influence. In switching to a more aggressive and brittle position on issues of maritime sovereignty, they have confirmed all the worst disdain of Chinese ethnocentrism and arrogance. The Chinese shifted tactics too soon.

Curiously, the Chinese are using archaeological diggings in east Africa about early Chinese discoveries to establish their right of presence and influence. The more aggressive tactics in Asia also are being implemented in Africa.

Expect a deepening undercurrent of distrust of China's intentions among the Asian countries; more frequent clashes of interests over sovereignty disputes; more arms purchases by non-communist countries and more security collaboration to encircle China.

These developments will proceed with or without US assistance. Memories are long in Asia,  long predating the discovery of America!

Sahelian Africa: The intelligence chiefs of Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Mali will set up a joint intelligence center in Algiers, Algeria's El Watan newspaper reported on 28 September. The center's purpose is to collect information on terrorism in the region and make the data available to the Sahel's military operational center based in Tamanrasset. The Tamanrasset center is composed of senior military field officers, while the Algiers center is made up of intelligence officers.

Comment: The evolution of counter-al Qaida efforts in Sahelian Africa is moving reasonably quickly. The French deserve credit for pooling assets including their own, but the African governments deserve credit as Islamic states for resisting al Qaida. The French might have lessons for others.

End of NightWatch for 28 September.

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