For the night of 18 December 2013
China-US: Comment: By now every Reader knows that on 5 December the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, had a confrontation with a Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy ship. The Cowpens was observing the new Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning, on its maiden voyage during a naval drill, according to the Chinese..
Both ships and their escorts were operating in international waters, as the US defines them. The USS Cowpens got close to the Chinese task group and was ordered to move away. A Chinese ship manuevered to ram the US cruiser, but the US cruiser moved off.
Analytical commentary has tended to see the confrontation as an example of new Chinese aggressiveness in protecting their territorial and airspace claims along the coast.
The NightWatch perspective is that China's response to the USS Cowpens' surveillance is consistent with past Chinese behavior to prevent surveillance of high value assets. It is not new nor excessive. The incident provides no basis for concluding China has become more aggressive than in the recent past in trying to prevent US intelligence collection against its high value naval assets. Thus, this is not related to China's declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that covers the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
China has been sensitive about US naval surface and aerial surveillance of China's high value naval assets since China began acquiring high value assets. That began most notably when China acquired its Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia in 1999. These three ships were the most advanced in China's inventory. China consistently has tried to prevent US Navy intelligence collectors from collecting their electronic characteristics.
China also tried to prevent US surveillance of sensitive naval facility construction, which resulted in China's downing of a US Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft on Hainan Island in April 2001.
What is new is China's willingness to engage in public discussion of the latest confrontation. A Chinese admiral said this week that China will block US surveillance when it perceives it needs to do so. Thus, actions to prevent surveillance will continue as before, appropriate to the target of US interest. Chinese press coverage of actions to fend off the US Navy will be more exaggerated and more blunt.
India-US: A diplomatic confrontation has developed between the US and India over the poor treatment of an Indian national maid who works for an Indian diplomat in New York.
In the course of the dispute, the deputy consul general, a female, was arrested outside her child's school for lying on a visa application and subjected to a New York strip-search and held in a police lock-up.
The Indian government is furious and retaliated to this breach of diplomatic protocol by removing security barricades from the US Embassy in New Delhi. The US State Department denies the deputy consul general has full diplomatic immunity.
Comment: All of the facts are not known in public news reporting. The specific issue appears to involve the application of American standards of fair treatment and pay to foreign nationals working in the US, relative to those of the country of origin, even when those foreign nationals work in a foreign diplomatic enclave.
The basic question is whether US laws cover Indian nationals working in an Indian diplomatic compound. Some officials in New York think they do, but the government of India wonders what the US authorities are thinking to jeopardize strategic relations over a consular dispute
India handles disputes with the US in a variety of ways, most of which are discreet. Normally, Indian leaders consider US relations far too important to be burdened by sensational local disputes. This time appears to be different, but the reasons are not clear.
The clear message from Indian behavior is that there are large consequences arising from seemingly small actions. US actions in New York of behalf of an Indian housemaid have put in jeopardy the safety of the US Embassy staff in New Delhi.
India is the only country in South Asia that is committed to secular, elected government that shares most of the values that the US holds. The message from New Delhi is that US priorities are not in order.
Afghanistan: Follow-up comment: After reviewing the actual accomplishments of President Karzai's diplomacy, the conclusion is inescapable that Afghanistan can expect no significant help from anyone, after US and NATO forces withdraw.
Neither Iran nor India is willing to provide the support the Karzai government requires to remain in power. That realization almost certainly will propel Karzai to sign the US agreement, eventually, as the only safeguard available to his government. Afghanistan's neighbors will not or cannot help, even with the best of wishes.
Iran: For the record. Iran and the six world powers will resume talks in Geneva on Thursday, 19 December, about how to implement a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
Comment: Most mainstream press coverage tends to treat the talks on the 19th as a discrete event. In fact, it is a continuation of working-level talks that have been taking place almost continuously in Vienna. Whatever emerges in Geneva will be the result of the continuous talks. There are few surprises among the interlocutors.
Syria: Update. For four days, a variety of Syrian aircraft have been bombing neighborhoods of Aleppo in northern Syria. The bombing have included helicopters dropping barrel bombs on rebel strongpoints in Aleppo. Rebel sources claim 135 people have been killed
Comment: The air attacks suggest that government forces are preparing a major offensive to capture portions of Aleppo. It is not clear when such an offensive will begin.
Helicopter bombings tend to be used against known, specific targets. That indicates the Syrians know the locations of key targets in Aleppo and probably are trying to decapitate the opposition in the neighborhoods that have been attacked. When the air attacks stop, a ground attack is likely to follow.
Egypt: For the record. On 19 December the government intends to charge Mursi with conspiring with foreign groups to commit acts of violence, in other words, supporting terrorism. Mursi and 35 others have been accused of conspiring with Hamas, Hizballah and Iran's Revolution Guards to destabilize Egypt after Mursi's overthrow last July.
Comment: The latest charges apparently arose from Mursi's behavior after he was overthrown. They relate to the surge in unrest in Sinai. These are much more serious than those arising from misdeeds when Mursi was president.
End of NightWatch for 18 December.
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