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Tension Escalates between Japan and China

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Japan-China: Three Chinese maritime surveillance boats and a fishing boat entered the waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands on 4 March. Crew on the surveillance boats told Japanese patrol boat crew members that the islands belong to China, according to a report by the Japanese crew.


On Monday, 4 March, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying was asked by a Japanese reporter whether China would take further strong steps against Japan on the issue of the disputed islands.

She said many Chinese people think the government should take tougher measures against provocative actions. Fu restated China's official position of finding a common ground through dialogue.

However, she described the islands' nationalization by Japan (last year) as a provocation, and justified China's intensifying activities in waters near the islands. She quoted a Chinese proverb that says it is impolite not to respond to another's act.

Comment: Vice Minister Fu is the newly appointed spokesperson for the congress, which opens on 5 March. Her most important statement is the explanation that the Chinese judge that Japan's action to make the islands national property represented an escalation move, to which China has been responding aggressively with increased air and sea patrols.

Actually, the frequency and proximity of at-sea encounters have increased steadily with China's emergence as a "rising power" in the past seven years. A violent incident is almost unavoidable, through misadventure if not deliberation.

Neither Japan nor China is prepared to back down. Both have reinforced their claims by enacting legislation or by executive action. At this time, there is no basis to expect either nation will abide by a judgment on its claim by any entity. That creates the condition for an escalation of the encounters, eventually leading to a test of strength, but not in the next several weeks for certain because of the National People's Congress.


China: The National People's Congress opened in Beijing during this Watch. In a report on the state of the nation, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao gave his administration a mixed review in achieving greater income equality, reducing corruption and sustaining high economic growth. Wen warned about the disparity between the urban elites and the rural population and about the dangers of unbalanced economic growth. He said, "Social strains are clearly increasing."

Comment: The Congress will last two weeks and it will essentially rubber-stamp decisions already made in prior Party meetings. General Secretary Xi Jinping will be elected President, replacing Hu Jintao. Li Keqiang will be elected Premier, replacing Wen Jiabao.

Chinese authorities released a copy of Wen's speech and a budget report prior to the opening.

According to the budget report Chinese defense spending will increase by 10.7 percent in 2013, to $119 billion.

Concerning defense, Wen said, "We should accelerate modernization of national defense and the armed forces so as to strengthen China's defense and military capabilities…We should resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and ensure its peaceful development."

Comment: China is the world's second largest defense spender, after the US, and the announced figure does not include Chinese spending on defense research and development, arms procurement and defense industrial activities. US defense expenditures totaled $677.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2012, compared with $699.1 billion in 2011, according to Bloomberg News.


The increase in defense spending provides the clearest answer to the Japanese reporter's question about what to expect in the East and South China Seas this year: more and more aggressive encounters.

China-Iran: Update. On 4 March, Iran's "24th Naval Battle Group" arrived and docked at China's Zhangjiagang Port for the first time, after an 11,000 km (6,835 miles) voyage. The battle group consists of a destroyer and a support ship, according to Rear Admiral Sayyari, the navy commander.

Egypt: The security headquarters in the city of Port Said was set on fire on 4 March in a second day of clashes between police and protesters. The fire started on the ground floor of the building as protesters gathered in the streets nearby.

Earlier, thousands of people joined a funeral procession for three civilians killed in overnight clashes, which also left three policemen dead

Five people were killed in clashes in Port Said on 4 March, an Egyptian army official said. At least 400 people have been injured in the fighting.

Comment: The government ordered the military to intervene in Port Said on Sunday to stop the clashes between thousands of protesters and police. Reportedly, the local army leadership tried to place soldiers between the protestors and the police to act as a human barrier. That gave rise to reports that the army sided with the protestors and fired on police.

An army spokesman said that the army did not fire at police, but simply wanted to stop clashes between security forces and protesters. NightWatch judges the likelihood of wider army intervention is zero at this time. The present army leadershp remains responsive to civilian government orders.


End of NightWatch


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