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Russia and China Strengthen Ties

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

China-Russia: Xinhua published today a summary of President Xi Jinping's remarks for different audiences in Moscow.

"During talks with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Friday, Chinese President Xi stressed that China and Russia are each other's major and most important strategic cooperative partners, and both accord priority to deepening their comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in their overall diplomatic agenda and foreign policy," according to Xinhua.


"When meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday, the Chinese leader said that in recent years, the China-Russia relationship has withstood the tests of changing international circumstances and made substantial progress."

"He added that there is a greater need now for the two nations to deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination as the world has seen continuous profound changes."

Xi told Medvedev the visit "far exceeded my expectations." Chinese media reported President Xi is the first foreign leader allowed to visit the Russian Armed Forces Operational Command Center, according to China's Global Times.

Comment: Xi has spoken about the 'new situation." His visit to Moscow has helped clarify that the Chinese leadership perceives Russia as China's strategic partner in the "new situation." Coping with changes in the world is a persistent theme in Xi's remarks on foreign affairs, whether at the National People's Congress or during his Moscow visit. It is a prominent theme in the coverage of President Xi's remarks by Chinese official media.

The US has been urging China to play a steadily larger role in international relations since the time of Deng Xiaoping. Early in his presidency, Xi is showing that China now is prepared to play that role, but with Russia.

At the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. Xi's most important remarks were made to Russian foreign affairs scholars, Russian students of Chinese, and analysts. He essentially challenged US and Western leadership. (NightWatch added the emphasis to the Xinhua report.)

"Speaking to an audience at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Saturday, Xi said Russia and China, as each other's biggest neighbors, have a lot in common on national development."

"He said the China-Russia relationship is the most important one in the world and also the best one between major powers, noting that a high-level and strong China-Russia relationship is not only in the interests of both countries, but also serves as an important guarantee of international strategic balance and world peace and stability.


Comment: Even allowing for hyperbole, these statements signify that the Chinese leadership has concluded that China and Russia are the guarantors of strategic balance in the new situation -- presumably against the US and its allies. They also are the guarantors of world peace and stability, which by implication they judge the US does not promote. This is a very China- centric world view that anticipates the end of the era of US world dominance in the foreseeable future.

His statements, as carried in English translation in Chinese official media, portend that the US may expect to encounter pushback from China on key issues. On strategic issues, Xi's statements imply a predisposition to side with Russia against the US in order to maintain strategic balance. On regional issues -- such as Syria and Iran and even North Korea, they imply a warning that China will not cooperate with the US if cooperation jeopardizes peace and stability from China's perspective.

It is not clear from Russian coverage that the Moscow leadership is fully in step with the Chinese leaders, but President Putin said the two countries hold a similar stance on many major issues and enjoy extensive common interests and bright cooperation prospects.

Xi and Putin signed a joint statement on "deepening the bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership,"which  laid out the priorities of future bilateral cooperation and called for a "new type of great-power relations in the international arena." Russia and China also reached agreement on energy and defense ties.

Xi's next stops. Xi spent Sunday in Tanzania where he signed 16 economic agreements.

Just before this Watch, Xi arrived in South Africa to discuss trade and attend a two-day summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Durban on 26 and 27 March. On the 29th he will visit the Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) before returning to China.

Comment: Sub-Saharan African leaders are suspicious that in dealing with China they have traded one form of colonialism for Chinese economic exploitation.


In a written statement, Xi assured the Tanzanians of China's friendship with all African states, whether rich or poor.

Pakistan: Former President and Chief of Army Staff retired General Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan on Sunday after more than four years in exile. He said has returned to "save" Pakistan. He intends to stand for election to the National Assembly in the 11 May elections.

Comment: Musharraf went into exile primarily because he was indicted for treason for suspending the constitution in 2007 and for other crimes, in other words, to avoid arrest. He resigned in 2008 under threat of impeachment and fled the country.

He made a special bail arrangement to prevent arrest on arrival in Pakistan this weekend. He has a messianic vision of his ability to reverse Pakistan's law and order and economic decline. Also, all senior officers in the Pakistan Army are his promotees, including Chief of Army Staff General Kayani.

If past is prologue, Musharraf will begin reaching out to the Islamic parties, who joined his political coalition in the 2002 general elections when he was president. Nevertheless, the Pakistani Taliban fear him which explains their threat to assassinate him.

Musharraf also is a polarizing figure for the secular political elite. The former ruling Pakistan People's Party despises him because of his suspected involvement in Bhutto's murder. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), a leading opposition party, despises him because in October 1999 then-General Musharraf overthrew then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup.

His return virtually ensures there will be violent instability during the political campaign from clashes between Musharraf supporters and supporters from other parties.

Caretaker government announced. On 24 March, the Election Commission appointed 84-year old former chief justice of the high court of Baluchistan Province and politician Mir Hazar Khan Khoso to the post of caretaker Prime Minister.

Comment: His primary tasks are to ensure smooth, transparent elections and to maintain law and order during the campaign and voting.


Syria: The President of the US-backed Syrian National Coalition, Moaz Khatib resigned Sunday. In a statement he said, "I had promised our great people, and I pledged to God that I will resign if some red lines are crossed, and thus, today I am fulfilling my pledge and announce my resignation from the Syrian Opposition Coalition so that I can work freely as this is not viable in official institutions."

The Free Syrian Army immediately announced that it would not recognize nor follow the prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, whom Khatib's coalition appointed last week because he is a Syrian expatriate who has made a fortune in Texas for the past 30 years.

Comment: The Syrian National Coalition is a government in exile.  It asked Khatib to stay on, indicating a crisis might be averted for a while. Nevertheless, this is a public manifestation of a continuing, bitter leadership dispute between Syrian Sunni opposition leaders who recently fled Syria and the Syrian expatriates and exiles in Europe and the US. Khatib fled from Damascus last year.

Only the Islamists and jihadists seem to have the discipline to impose order and sharia in the areas under their immediate control.

Lebanon: Update. The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati collapsed on Friday ostensibly over an election law and an extension of a key security official, whom Hezbollah distrusts because he is a Sunni. President Michel Suleiman accepted his resignation on Saturday. Occasional clashes were reported in Tripoli for three days.

Comment: Mikati's government is a victim of the Syrian conflict which has polarized the major parties and sects so as to paralyze the government. Mikati tried to keep Lebanon neutral, but neither the Sunni parties nor Hezbollah will permit that. Prior to Hezbollah's overt political ascendancy two years ago, the Lebanese of all confessions and sects were adroit at keeping Lebanon uninvolved in regional fights. Hezbollah's emergence as a power broker in Beirut has changed that.

Egypt: On Friday, clashes occurred in Cairo near the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood between Brotherhood supporters and opponents. More than 200 people were injured.


President Mursi said today, "What happened on Friday are criminal acts that have nothing to do with the 25 January Revolution….Freedom of assembly is a constitutional right, but aggression against citizens and properties is punishable by law….Incitement to violence is a criminal act." He warned, "I will not tolerate any violation of the law, whether committed by opponents or supporters."

The Egyptian Army's positions. "We will not protect the Guidance Bureau because it is not our responsibility," an army source reportedly said. According to a press account, several sources have revealed that army commanders refused a proposal by the "presidency" to protect the headquarters of the Brotherhood Organization, particularly the Guidance Bureau, in Cairo.

The commanders also informed the presidency that the Armed Forces will not protect the Brotherhood premises no matter what happens and that protecting headquarters is the mission of police not the army.

The Armed Forces will not take sides with one party against the other and if they will be deployed in streets, it will be to separate protesters and to protect sovereign and vital establishments not the Brotherhood headquarters.

The sources pointed out that the Armed Forces, at this stage, only have a public presence in the Suez Canal cities and there are no plans to expand their deployment to other areas.

The sources also said that Armed Forces units in the various governorates (provinces) are in a state of emergency since the incidents on 22 March and that they monitor the internal situation. Reportedly, they are prepared to intervene if incidents threatening the Egyptian national security take place or in the event of violations of Egypt's sovereignty or of civil war throughout the republic.

Comment: There is no way to confirm in open source materials that the Army refused a presidential request for support last Friday. However, the Army leadership has issued at least two statements to the Mursi government warning of their concern about internal security conditions. They reinforce the credibility of the statement that the Army is on increased alert against a breakdown of civil order and is prepared to intervene.


If the information on the Army's refusal to respond is accurate, President Mursi does not have control of the armed forces and cannot depend on it to respond to any orders he gives to the chain of command.

Mursi must rely on the police to maintain order and for protection. They are notoriously corrupt and unsympathetic to the Brotherhood, whom they harassed for decades.

Central African Republic (CAR): For the record. President Francois Bozize fled Bangui before Seleka rebels seized control of the city on 24 March. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia declared himself interim president. Rebel forces cut power and water to the town, where looting has occurred. A company of French soldiers controls the international airport. Bozize 's location is not known.

Comment: The Seleka (seleka means union in the Sango language) are rebel soldiers who were supposed to have been integrated into the armed forces under a 2007 peace agreement, among other provisions. In essence, this is the latest round in a longstanding tribal rebellion.

In December 2012 Seleka accused the government of failing to keep its promises and of harassing their tribes. They began an offensive that steadily advanced towards Bangui, but agreed to halt operations and a truce after Chadian and other African forces intervened. The truce called for release of political prisoners and for foreign forces to depart. The Seleka rebels were not required to surrender captured towns.

They renewed offensive operations on 22 March, but the reasons are not yet clear. One account states that the Seleka rebels opposed South African military training assistance for CAR soldiers. At least nine South African military trainers were killed in Bangui, according to the South African government, trying to prevent the Seleka takeover.

News services reported that France has 250 soldiers stationed in CAR. The Hollande government sent another 300 from Gabon to protect some 1,200 French citizens and the embassy. They have not intervened except to keep the airport secure and functioning. France made it clear last December that it would not save Bozize.


Cyprus: Update. The government announced agreement on a bailout deal with the EU. The country's second-largest bank, mostly government owned, will "be wound down"; Cyprus will get bailout money and small insured depositors will be protected. Nevertheless, banks will remain closed so expect protests.

End of NightWatch


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