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NightWatch 20110429


For the Night of 28 April 2011

China: For the record. China's National Bureau of Statistics released new census figures that Xinhua reported on 28 April. China's population increased to 1.37 billion, including about 1.34 billion people in mainland China. The new mainland population is 73.9 million more than during China's last census in 2000.

The mainland population living in urban areas totaled 665.57 million or about 49.68 percent of the total population, 13 percent higher than in 2000. The rural population was measured at 674.15 million. The population of the eastern mainland regions rose to 37.98 percent of the country's total, 2.41 percent higher than in 2000. The percentage of China's population 60 years old or older grew to 13.26 percent, while people below age 14 make up 16.6 percent.

Comment: The census information is difficult to grasp because of the numbers are so large. For example, in a population of 1.37 billion people, the smartest ten percent of the Chinese population totals 137,000,000 people, or a third of the total US population. The problem-solving potential is incalculable.

The most important numbers in the limited information reported by Xinhua are the near equal distribution between rural and urban populations. During the post-revolutionary period, Mao limited population growth and movement to the cities. For several decades after World War II, at least two-thirds of the population lived on farms or in rural areas. This appears to be the first time in Chinese history that the two population segments were so close to equal.

In an integrated global economy, however, a larger urban population is sustainable, but with a significant reduction in self-reliance. With the rural and urban populations at near parity, China's population is polarized. The modern urban sector has become a dependency of the global economy. That condition makes authoritarian political control inconsistent with the information requirements for competing in a global economy. At the point where the political structure acts as a break on economic growth, it will be changed.

Cambodia-Thailand: Update. Cambodian Colonel Suois Sothea said the Thai army fired artillery shells into Cambodia again on 29 April and engaged in small arms fire near the Ta Krabey temple, one of two involved in the latest border dispute.

Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said light clashes on 28 and 29 April had taken place, but blamed Cambodia for breaking the ceasefire, adding, local Cambodian units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did.

Earlier on the 28th news services reported Thailand and Cambodia reached a cease-fire agreement, according to a Cambodian government spokesman. The agreement was reached during a meeting at the border between Thai and Cambodian military commanders, the spokesman said, adding that both sides have agreed to reopen border checkpoints.

Thailand has not confirmed the cease-fire agreement.

India: An unnamed Indian defence official supposedly told a press service that India has short listed Dassault's Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon for a $12 billion fighter jet agreement that excludes American bidders. Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet are out of the running for India's expected purchase of 126 multi-role combat aircraft, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi said.

Comment: The 126 combat aircraft are the bridge force that will allow India to retire aging airframes while maintaining air combat capabilities until indigenous production of modern fighters is achieved. If the report is accurate, an important selection criterion appears to be compatibility with existing ground support infrastructure and systems. India's primary nuclear attack aircraft is French. Almost all of its fighters and combat aircraft support infrastructure are Russian.

Selection of the US fighters, which probably were preferred by many Indian Air Force pilots, would require major retooling, re-equipment, infrastructure and training costs plus adoption of US systems and doctrine. Despite such considerations, the Indians have decided to buy US military transport aircraft.

Pakistan: A third bomb attack on a navy bus in Karachi occurred on 28 April. Three people were killed and more than 20 others were injured.

Comment: After the attacks on the 27th, the Pakistani Taliban warned that they would continue to target Pakistani security forces. This is a new target set and these attacks will backfire against the Pakistani Taliban. Chief of Army Staff General Kayani may be faulted for a number of things, but he has restored the prestige of the armed forces, his primary mission in the aftermath of Musharraf.

Syria: Syrian army tanks entered the mountain city of Madaya, where security forces killed five people and arrested dozens of others, according to an activist source. International press reported that army tanks also entered the port of Latakia in northern Syria during the night of 27 April. Security personnel fired on protestors, wounding four. Jordanian sources reported sounds of shooting in Daraa in southwestern Syria.

Comment: Syria has tried to control information about the extent of the crackdown. The news leaks today tend to confirm the judgment that a nation-wide crackdown is in progress. The units are using the same pattern of tanks backing up security forces.

Palestinian Authority-Israel: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated on 28 April that peace negotiations with Israel would remain possible because the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would still be responsible for "handling politics," Reuters reported. Hamas does not belong to the PLO.

Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said his group does not plan to interrupt talks between Fatah and Israel, saying Fatah can "assume negotiating with Israel over trivialities." He said Hamas will not participate in peace negotiations or recognize Israel.

Comment: It is difficult to believe that Abbas takes seriously or expected anyone to believe what he said about the possibility of continuing peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians apparently are looking to Egypt to lead the movement for international recognition of Palestinian statehood. The conciliation and national unity agreement is a condition for international recognition.

Egypt: Egypt's new government will limit presidential powers and create a strong, active parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Yehia al-Gamal said 28 April. According to al-Gamal, Egypt will create a free market economy, and the state will impose social equality among all sections of the populace. In addition, municipal councils will be disbanded, and the ministers of manpower and finance will devise a way to ensure fair payment for civil servants.

Comment: Today's statement identified Gamal as a leader in and apparently an apologist for the unelected interim, caretaker government. Gamal stretches the truth in describing the powers of the president. The new constitution does not significantly limit the presidency. It does make the parliament more representative of the electorate, but creates a power struggle between the executive and the legislative branches of government.

The statement itself seems to betray a lack of understanding about representative, elective, accountable government. Gamal seems to be stating what the interim government intends to impose, regardless of elections. Presumably a strong parliament in a real democracy would have its own leaders who would determine the future policies and direction of the state.

Gamal's apparent approach to reform is directive, and that puts him in Mubarak's camp, however enlightened he thinks his programs are. His statement should reinforce concerns that the interim government's thinkers are overreaching their mandate as caretakers.

Egypt-Palestinian Authority: Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip will be opened and decisions will be made to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

Elaraby said the old Rafah crossing policy is disgraceful and he hopes Egypt will announce measures to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people within seven to 10 days. Preparations are under way to open the crossing to Palestinian passengers.

Egypt also will send a security delegation to the Gaza Strip to help settle and organize the internal security situation there as part of implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, an unnamed Egyptian security source said 28 April. Another source said the delegation would consist of specialists from various branches of the Egyptian armed forces, and the Egyptian intelligence service will oversee the delegation's operations.

Comment: The Egyptian caretaker government is spearheading a tidal shift in Middle Eastern politics. It has moved Egypt into the mainstream of Arab political causes by taking the Palestinian issue more seriously than prior Egyptian governments and by any other Arab government. Only Iran has supported the Palestinians so forthrightly. Iran has moved quickly to effect a strategic breakout with the new Egypt.

The opening of the Rafah crossing would mean that Israel would have no ally willing to control the flow of weapons and other supplies into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Items that had to be smuggled could then become trade goods. The prospects for peace, never very good, have gotten much worse in the past two weeks because of the strategic shift in the Egyptian government.

Libya: Update. Libyan rebels retook control of the Dehiba-Wazin crossing between Tunisia and Libya after clashes with Qadhafi's forces on 28 April. Earlier on the 28th the crossing had been re-captured by Qadhafi's forces.

Morocco: At least 14 people died and 23 were injured in a 28 April blast in Marrakech, Morocco, Al Jazeera and other news services reported.

One account said the blast apparently was caused by gas canisters catching fire in a cafe, which is at the Djemaa el-Fna square. All other accounts attributed the explosion to a suicide bomber, who chose to strike at the start of tourist season. More later.

End of NightWatch for 28 April.

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