For the night of 14 January 2014
China-South China Sea: China continues to require that fishing craft from Southeast Asian nations that border the South China Sea must follow Chinese fishing regulations which are now in force.
Comment: The leaders of the regional states are finally coming to appreciate the significance - or audacity -- of the Chinese claim. The South China Sea is enormous, but China reportedly plans to enforce its claim by seizing and occupying the islands that are claimed by other states, one by one, according to one Chinese report over the weekend.
Collectively, the Southeast Asian states might pool their resources to confront China once or twice. However, without US naval backing and extensive support, those would be diminishing efforts that eventually would leave their states vulnerable to Chinese military pressure.
Without a nearly permanent US Navy presence in Southeast Asia, the Chinese claims will go unchallenged for all practical purposes. The regional fishing fleets will comply with the new Chinese rules.
China will not attack Spratly Island, the largest in the Spratly chain, because it is held by Chinese Nationalist soldiers from the Republic of China, on Taiwan, which asserts the same ownership claim as the People's Republic government in Beijing.
Thailand: Update. Prime Minister Yingluck insisted Tuesday she would not resign, which protestors continue to demand. The anti-government demonstrators blocked key roads in central Bangkok for a second day.
Comment: The demonstrators had pledged to 'shut down' the city of 12 million people. Nevertheless, life in most of Bangkok was unaffected, with school classes restarting, commuters heading to work and most businesses open.
Army sources said no casualties occurred during the demonstrations. The conditions for military intervention have eased.
Iraq: Sunni militants in Iraq executed coordinated attacks Tuesday near Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Police said the attacks destroyed two army tanks and captured a police station. Car bombs and shootings killed at least 24 people.
The Iraqi police reported that Sunni fighters recovered partial control of six neighborhoods in the southern and central parts of Ramadi.
Across the country, at least 65 people were killed and 80 were wounded in Iraq today.
Comment: The Maliki government said it will not attack Fallujah to avoid civilian casualties. The significance of today's fighting is that the militant withdrawal from Fallujah was not an admission of defeat, but an uncommonly cooperative response to local tribal leaders.
The composition of the Sunni fighters is blurred because of the increased involvement of local tribal militias. News accounts are not yet careful in identifying the Sunni fighters, but Sunnis not affiliated with al Qaida vowed they would resist government soldiers who attempted to enter Fallujah. That means it is not clear whether the Sunni fighters are Sunni militias opposed to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad or have some affiliation with terrorism.
Iraq is in no danger of being taken over by al-Qaida terrorists. However, it might be nearing a point of fragmentation. The Sunnis in Anbar Province and other areas of western Iraq appear to be pushing for greater local self-government. They do not appear willing to allow the Sunni areas to become safe havens for terrorism.
Egypt: Today was the first of two days of voting on the new draft constitution. Eleven people were killed in clashes involving supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Health Ministry said the deaths occurred in Cairo, the adjacent province of Giza and two provinces south of the capital, Bani Suef and Sohag. The statement said 28 people were wounded.
Comment: The overall level of violence appears low, but voter turnout was reportedly high. The new constitution essentially restores a regime similar to that under Mubarak, differing mainly in the personality of the military leader, General al-Sisi.
The new charter would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. It also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.
One important point is that al Sisi has not yet decided to run for the presidency and has not formed a civilian political party to legitimate an electoral victory. His stature would be best served by resisting the temptation to become a more public political figure. Western investors, in the current investment climate, are likely to judge stability under an elected civilian government backed by the army more attractive than under an overtly military-led government.
South Sudan: Update. Rebels tried to outflank government forces by moving to capture Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile state. One news source said the rebels had captured the town, but that report is unconfirmed.
End of NightWatch for 14 January.
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