Tunisia: The Tunisian government announced yesterday it was setting up crisis cells after the United States warned that al-Qaida in the African Maghreb (AQIM) was seeking to establish a base in the country.
“We have launched the creation of crisis cells to monitor terrorist activities on the border (with Libya and Algeria) and in the interior, faced with the rise of the militant movement and the existence of recruitment networks,” Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou told Parliament.
He said those cells would be under the control of Tunisia’s Supreme Security Council and would also gather information on networks enrolling young Tunisians to fight in Syria.
Comment: This looks like an intelligence operation rather than combat. Reaction by the Tunisian Islamist parties should indicate whether the Tunisians are taking seriously the US warning.
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.
China-North Korea: China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in February, Reuters reported, citing customs data. It marks the first time since early 2007 that no deliveries were made.
Comment: China exports crude by means of a pipeline to North Korea’s west coast refinery at Sinuiju. The pipeline has a throughput capacity of 1 million tons per year, but in the past few years it has carried about 500,000 tons, or just under 42,000 tons per month.
No other steady source of crude has been reported since before the end of the Warsaw Pact. Russian Far East companies send some crude to North Korea to have it refined at the east coast refinery and shipped back to the Far East, usually paying the North Koreans in kind.
The lack of Chinese crude supplies in February implies that North Korea has had to draw on fuel stocks to sustain the nationwide training. This is a chronic, strategic and systemic vulnerability of North Korea. China can make North Korea stop.
If China exports no crude in March, North Korean national readiness will have been degraded significantly because of the extra demands on supplies of food and fuel that are not being replaced. Whatever provocation North Korea plans must take place before the fuel runs low and the civilians begin to rebel or desert their mobilization stations. Contacts along the China border say the exercises will last until the US and South Korean exercises end.
China-North Korea: President Xi Jinping has sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressing that the two countries are “friendly neighbors,” according to the Korean Central News Agency on 21 March.
Cyprus: For the record. Cypriot lawmakers 19 March overwhelmingly rejected an EU bailout proposal that would have required a tax on deposits in the country’s banks. Thousands of demonstrators burst into cheers and applause as their MPs on Tuesday voted down the EU bailout plan aimed at rescuing Cyprus from bankruptcy.
The Finance Minister flew to Moscow to seek Russian assistance to prevent insolvency by Cypriot banks. EU officials reportedly are stunned that the EU bailout scheme was rejected because it would have been paid mainly by Russian depositors in Cypriot banks.
Comment: The action of parliament averted widespread street disorders, at least for now. The Russians or Russian firms have several options for recapitalizing Cyprus as a banking center. If they decline, however, Cypriot banks would not be able to cover deposits, according to analysis in the Financial Times. Cyprus might eventually become the first EU member to be ejected, but for now Nicosia is not burning.
Meanwhile leaders in other European states with weak economies reassured bank depositors that they deposits were “sacred.”
Cyprus: Comment. International press outlets have provided detailed reporting on the so-called tax Cypriot leaders have proposed imposing on bank deposits to help pay for an international bailout. Cyprus is the fifth European Union country to request a bailout. The issues are complex and not relevant to this brief discussion.
NightWatch sees three threats in the situation.First is the breakdown of public confidence in the government and public financial institutions.That is already manifest in the run on ATMs. Banks on Cyprus were closed on the 18th, but the run on the banks should continue when they open on the 19th. There will not be enough cash to service the customers. Civil disorders should be expected.
The breakdown in confidence feeds the second threat which is the breakdown in respect for law and order. Cyprus is one step away from widespread rioting and a serious breakdown in public order. Rioting is likely when ordinary citizens conclude that they are powerless to protect what they have earned and no amount of effort on their part ensures their property rights.
The third threat is that the fear of losing everything will spread to other countries.
China: The National People’s Congress ended on the 17th with a press conference by Premier Li Keqiang. Before the closing, however, President Xi Jinping delivered his first address to the Congress. The central theme was The Chinese Dream.
Eight of the 17 paragraphs of the text were devoted to, or carried forward the application of, the dream. One of them reiterated the guidance Xi gave to the People’s Liberation Army delegates on the 11th: obey the party, win wars and behave well.
Xi introduced the dream immediately after four paragraphs of thanks and preamble. The concluding, sentence of the second paragraph of the introduction is significant.
“Today, our people’s republic is standing on the East of the world with a spirited posture.”
Comment: The point is that Xi did not describe China’s posture as rising, but as standing. The period of rising has ended.
After the fourth paragraph of introduction, Xi began the discussion and for the Chinese dream.
China: During this Watch, Xi Jinping has been elected President of China.
Xinhua reported on 13 March that “The Chinese Dream” is a new hot topic among Chinese and has drawn international attention from scholars and foreign policy experts.
“China’s new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping said during a museum tour last November the Chinese dream meant for him the ‘great renewal of the Chinese nation.’ He has pledged to pursue the shared Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” Xinhua reported.
Comment: For the benefit and support of the billion plus Chinese, sophisticated national strategies are always reduced to easy-to-remember slogans or motivational statements. This was a trait of Soviet communism. The North Koreans have refined it into something they consider an art form.
“The Chinese dream” is being introduced on the margins of the National People’s Congress (NPC) as the new strategic concept that replaces “China’s peaceful rise.”
Today’s Wall Street Journal contains an insightful and detailed article on the background and some of the implications of the new strategic concept. The publicity it is receiving in Xinhua and on the web site of the NPC indicates “The Chinese Dream” is the concept that will guide Xi Jinping’s tenure as Party General Secretary and President.
Comment: The Journal article establishes that idea of The Chinese Dream is not necessarily new and not only applicable to international affairs. It has many domestic implications as well.
What is new is that Xi appears to be making it the theme of his term of office. It implies that he and the collective leadership judge that the period of China’s rise is over. They perceive a new situation.
This is a strategic inflection point for China. The rise will be replaced by pursuit of “The Chinese Dream” of national renewal or rejuvenation.