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NightWatch 20101011


For the Night of 11 October 2010

China-US-Vietnam: Defense Minister Liang Guanglie held talks with US Defense Secretary Gates in Hanoi on Monday on the sidelines of the 1st ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) on bilateral military ties.

Defense Minister Liang invited Gates to visit China early next year, a Chinese official said. Gates accepted the invitation, according to the deputy head of external relations in the Chinese Defense Ministry.

The meeting in which the Chinese made the offer is the first meeting between the two senior defense officials in a year.

Comment: The Chinese characterization of US ties bears attention. Liang said Sino-U.S. relations have maintained momentum of stable development in recent years as China and the United States have agreed to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century. China-U.S. relations are of increasing global influence, he added.

Liang said military relations constitute an important part of bilateral ties. Currently, the two countries are facing some obstacles in developing military relations, with the U.S. arm sales to Taiwan being the main reason.

Comment: This part of Liang's remarks glosses over the brittleness of the "obstacles" involving Taiwan. The opening part of the comment minimizes the extent of US concern about China's lack of opacity and unwillingness to cooperate. The Chinese definition of a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship" does not match the US definition. In the US definition, a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship does not yet exist. To try to develop such a relationship is the reason for Gates' persistence in soliciting an invitation.

Comment on perception management: The US media has made clear that the US is the supplicant seeking a Chinese invitation for the US Secretary, after several Chinese rejections, most sensationally in Singapore by a low ranking Chinese general. Ties were set back by a US decision to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion in defensive arms, to which the Chinese objected strongly and froze defense contacts.

The imagery in Asia is that the rulers of the Central Kingdom finally granted the request for an audience from a recalcitrant supplicant because of his persistence. This is a scenario out of Chinese folklore. The folklore imagery and analogy suggest the Secretary should expect little because he is a player in a modern version of an old folk tale whose primary purpose was to showcase the superiority of the Central KIngdom.

The US is prone to interpret an invitation as a small political breakthrough. That might be an exaggeration. The Chinese are more likely to interpret it as their politicial victory that requires kneeling, head knockings (the imperial kowtow ritual was 3 kneelings and nine knocking of the head) and gifts.

Regarding Southeast Asia, Defense Minister Liang played to the audience and was his most unctuous. His purpose was to reassure China's Southeast Asian neighbors about China' s peaceful intentions. A quick look at Chinese territorial sea claims in the South China Sea puts the lie to China's peaceful intentions, but the Southeast Asian memory of resisting Chinese hegemony is long and fresh.

Afghanistan-Italy: The Italian Defense Ministry has requested approval for arming with bombs Italian jets in Afghanistan. In reaction to the recent combat deaths of several Italian soldiers owing to inadequate air support, Defense Minister La Russa told an interviewer, "I want to go to the parliamentary commissions for them to back me over the idea of equipping our planes with bombs, or for them to make me change that idea.

Comment: As the Taliban and its affiliates moved from hit and run tactics to area occupation tactics, the NATO forces have been forces to adopt less restrictive rules of engagement in order to protect their reconstruction teams in zones that a year or so ago were relatively quiet. The Italian Defense Minister's statement is a manifestation of this evolution in the fighting.

Israel-Palestinian Authority-US: Prime Minister Netanyahu proposed extending the building freeze in the West Bank in return for Palestinian recognition of the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. Palestinian leaders instantly rejected the proposal.

Yesterday, Palestinian President Abbas announced his intention to seek immediate US recognition of the Palestinian State. This would, among many things, keep Israel from building in the Palestinian claimed territory, such as the West Bank.

The juxta position of recognition proposals with the expected results is elegant. The Palestinians demand from the US what they will not give to Israel. The Israelis demand recognition from the Palestinians which they will not give but which is the chief Palestinian demand on the US. This circle of futility gives a sense of movement without moving at all.

End of NightWatch for 11 October.

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