For the night of 31 March 2014
China-Korea: At today's press conference in Beijing, the Foreign Ministry spokesman was asked about China's reaction to the North Korean Foreign Ministry reference to nuclear weapons and to yesterday's coastal artillery shelling across the Northern Limit Line, off the west coast of Korea. He said that China judges that tension is increasing on the Korean peninsula and that China is worried. He repeated the now standard Chinese advice to remain calm, not escalate tension, maintain peace and stability and solve problems through negotiations.
Philippines-China: Over the weekend, a Philippine commercial cargo ship delivering supplies to a Philippine Marine squad on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands group west of Palawan Island encountered two Chinese patrol ships. The Chinese name for the shoal is the Ren'ai Reef. The Philippine ship carried a media film crew who captured and broadcast the confrontation at sea.
The Chinese warned the Philippine ship away and moved their ships to block the Philippine ship from reaching the eight Marines, who rotate duty on a rust-bucket ship deliberately run aground to show the Philippine flag. The Philippine ship captain outmaneuvered the Chinese and delivered the supplies. This generated a diplomatic confrontation.
Today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman replied to a question.
"Following the Philippines' announcement on 29 March of delivering supplies to the "grounded" warship on Ren'ai Reef (Second Thomas Shoal), Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario announced on the 30th that the Philippines had filed a case on that day with the international arbitration tribunal regarding the disputes between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea. Does the Chinese side have any comment?"
"Regarding the Philippines' announcement… I already reiterated the Chinese side's solemn position of not accepting or participating in the arbitration immediately after that."
"Regarding the issue of Ren'ai Reef, I want to point out that the Philippine side's organization of a press event in the waters around Ren'ai Reef the day before the submission of its arbitration case was absolutely a deliberately planned act with the aim of further hyping up the Ren'ai Reef issue, building momentum for the Philippine side in pursuing international arbitration, and serving the Philippine side's attempt to illegally occupy the Chinese territory of Ren'ai Reef…. "
"The Chinese side will never allow the Philippine side to occupy Ren'ai Reef in any way, nor will it ever allow the Philippine side's attempt to build facilities on Ren'ai Reef in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to succeed. The Philippine side will surely bear the consequences of its provocative acts."
Comment: The Philippine Marines received supplies; no shots were fired this time; and international news media were eyewitnesses to Chinese behavior at sea. As usual the Chinese blame all other claimants of bad faith for failing to recognize China's sovereignty. The Chinese position rules out arbitration or negotiations of any kind that do not start with acceptance of Chinese sovereignty of the South China Sea.
The key point is the threat that China will never allow the Philippines to occupy the reef in any way or to build on the reef. That implies China will dismantle any structures and eventually will find a way to remove the Philippine Marines.
The Chinese description of Philippine assertions of sovereignty as "provocations" means that China will blame the Philippines for any loss of life or property destruction if shooting occurs. China's position is that it is responding with restraint to provocations, which implies that restraint has limits. Eventually, there will be shooting.
Taiwan: On 30 March, more than 100,000 people protested the China-Taiwan trade services agreement. This demonstration was the climax of 12 days of increasing protests over a rather arcane agreement.
Student demonstrations began on 17 March when the Legislative Yuan began, after a nine-month delay, to review the agreement which was made in June 2013. That day a small group of student protestors attacked the Legislative Yuan compound.
On the 23rd, a group of student protestors attacked and occupied briefly the Executive Yuan after President Ma Ying-jeou presented an explanation of the law. During the police eviction of the protestors, some 150 people were injured.
The students are protesting the agreement, with the encouragement of university professors, because it appears to extend Chinese influence in Taiwan as part of a backroom deal.
On its face the agreement is hardly something to stir patriotic impulses. According to its terms, China agrees to open 80 service sectors to Taiwan and Taiwan will open 64 service sectors to China. Of these 64 sectors, 27 have been opened in the last two to five years, including food and beverages, car rental, traditional Chinese medicine wholesaling, and book wholesaling and retailing.
The Legislative Yuan has held 16 public hearings on the agreement since it was signed in June 2013. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), and other agencies have jointly organized over 100 forums to explain the agreement to the public.
In short, the agreement means that China and Taiwan are continuing to increase trade and service arrangements, a long slow process. Taiwan actually benefits more than China from the agreement because it will obtain more and newer business opportunities in China than China will get in return in Taiwan.
The student demands sidestep the real issues. For the record, they are:
1. Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang must invalidate parliament's 17 March announcement regarding the agreement.
2. President Ma must facilitate public negotiations and reject the agreement.
3. President Ma must promise that a bill governing cross-Strait negotiations would be passed during the current legislative session and the Ma administration could not negotiate or sign any agreement with
China until the bill becomes a law.
The students appear to be acting on the advice of their professors, some of whom have blogged strongly against the agreement. The student demands are far from stirring and seem somewhat contradictory. They imply that such an agreement would be satisfactory if it had been reached more transparently. That is not what they intend and not what the protestors fear.
The real issue is that young people on Taiwan fear that their political leaders are incrementally ceding Taiwan independence by using economic devices that tie the two economies together. They fear that China will absorb Taiwan and convert it into another Hong Kong. They also suspect the political leaders want this.
This issue gets little international press coverage because it is complex. The government in Beijing and the government in Taipei both claim to be the rightful government of all of China and both consider Taiwan a Chinese province. The facts show that Taiwan acts like an independent country, but the day Taiwan's leaders declare Taiwan is an independent republic that will be the day China begins military preparations to invade Taiwan by force to prevent secession by a Chinese province.
The students, professors and many others want no changes in Taiwan's much more open society and culture as the result of closer economic linkages with China. They recognize that economic integration is a threat to Taiwan's autonomy, but they do not express it artfully. There will be more demonstrations and some violent clashes.
Pakistan: Former president Musharraf appeared before the Special Court today, escorted by 100 or more commandos. Musharraf is a former commander of the Pakistan Army's special forces unit.
The Court charged Musharraf with five counts of treason, making him the first former chief of army staff to be so accused. The principle charge is that he unlawfully suspended the constitution in November 2007 to institute emergency rule.
He pleaded not guilty and has always claimed that the charges against him are politically motivated. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Comment: The next step in the proceedings will occur on 15 April.
The Court also decided that Musharraf could travel if the government, meaning Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, allowed. The court order stated: "Unless an accused is in custody, a criminal court cannot restrict his movement. He can work for gain anywhere and get medical treatment at a medical facility of his choice." Musharraf is not in custody.
Up to now the Information Ministry has maintained that Musharraf could not leave because he faced a trial for treason. Today, the Court pushed the decision on Musharraf's freedom of movement back to the cabinet.
What this suggests is no branch of government wants Musharraf to go to trial. They seem to prefer that he just leave. But now that decision is up to the prime minister, where it belongs.
Russia-Germany: During a call on Monday, Russian President Putin informed German Chancellor Merkel about a limited withdrawal of forces that he had ordered. "On top of that, the two discussed further possible steps to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and Transdniestria. They agreed to stay in close contact."
The Russian Defense Ministry announced, "A battalion of the 15th Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade of the Central Military District has completed field deployment to the Kadamovskiy firing range in Rostov on Don Region and is starting a march to the place of its permanent deployment in Samara Region."
Comment: The Germans seem willing to understand and accept Crimea's integration with Russia.
The troop withdrawal is actually quite limited. Ukrainian defense officials said it signified little because it is driven by the conscription cycle in Russia, which begins on 1 April. In their opinion it has nothing to do with Crimea or the threat to the Ukraine.
What it does show is that the Russian force buildup near Ukraine required military units from bases far outside the western military district. The home base of this battalion is almost 800 miles away from Ukraine, in central military district. That fact reinforces the judgment that the move to recover Crimea was long and well planned.
Crimea. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin made a surprise visit to Crimea today. Medvedev pledged to dedicate funds to improve power supplies, water lines and education. He also announced that Russia will make Crimea a special economic zone, with tax breaks and stream-lined bureaucratic rules in order to attract foreign investors and tourism.
Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin tweeted a photo of himself upon his arrival with the words 'Crimea is ours, and that's that'.
Finally, the Russian General Staff announced that it has exempted Crimea and the city of Sevastopol from the spring conscription cycle that begins on 1 April.
Comment: The blogosphere carried multiple images and videos of Russian military equipment, including tanks, arriving in Crimea from across the Kerch Strait. It looks like a new buildup is taking place, but in Crimea. That could be a more subtle and sinister reason for Putin's willingness to make a token troop withdrawal.
Ukraine: Military. The Ukrainian armed forces main command center confirmed today that the number of Russian troops near the eastern border of Ukraine has decreased. It said the exact number of armed Russians on the border is difficult to estimate, but it is certainly less than 10,000 servicemen.
Political developments. Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector, announced today that he will run for president as a self-nominated candidate.
In eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk regional council demanded that a new Ukrainian constitution be adopted that would grant Russian the status of a second state language and which would stipulate holding local referenda.
The demand is outlined in the official address of the Donetsk regional council to the Ukrainian parliament, posted on the Donetsk council website.
"The consolidation of joint efforts by constructive members of society, aimed at achieving political stability, preservation of civil peace and understanding is only possible if the Supreme Council passes a new edition of the constitution and a number of urgent laws," the address read.
Comment: The timing of the two events after Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's press conference yesterday is noteworthy. Using general terms, Lavrov almost foretold both events -- the political rise of the ultra-nationalists and the demand for greater regional autonomy by Ukraine's regions.
End of NightWatch for 31 March.
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