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NightWatch 20100201


For the Night of 1 February 2010

North Korea-South Korea: Today's discussions about the future of the joint industrial park at Kaesong apparently made little progress, according to a report in Yonhap. The South's delegation raised the issue of artillery firing off the west coast last week, but the North dismissed it as an scheduled military exercise.

Buried in the Yonhap report is the real reason for limited progress. The South balked at a North Korean requirement for higher wages for the North Korean workers. Chosun Ilbo reported on 2 February that the North wants workers' pay to be increased from $57 per month to $100 per month. Pay was one of the issues that caused the North to close the joint industrial zone in May 2009

The South insists that higher worker productivity justifies higher pay and conditions productivity increases on infrastructure improvements and relaxation of border crossing restrictions. The Unification Ministry said the talks were supposed to be about communications, travel, customs and workers' accommodations.

The North evidently views the complex as a potential money pump that has not met expectations, except for the South Korean entrepreneurs. At $57 per month per worker, the South Korean companies were gouging the North and had labor costs half those of comparable operations using Chinese workers.

The North has not abandoned negotiations, reflected in a more reasonable monthly wage rate. In June 2009, the North demanded $300 per month per worker. The next step is for working level military delegations to address the border crossing issues. The good news is the dialogue continues and the North acts as if it really needs the income.

Update. A South Korean television newscast reported today that the Republic of Korea Defense Ministry has formed a special task force to prepare for a North-South summit meeting at an unspecified date this year (2010). Officials in neither North or South Korea have confirmed preparations for a summit, but the rumors and reports have persisted without denials for more than half a year. The key agenda item reportedly is a peace agreement.

Security: Yonhap reported today that North Korea announced five more "no sail" zones on 31 January. The additional zones include west coast areas off North Pyongan Province, which borders China, and east coast areas off North Hamgyong Province, which borders Russia, according to the report.

South Korea expects short range missile launches. All 'No sail" zone restrictions are to end on 29 March, with the end of this winter's training cycle.

China-US: Comment. Chinese media, academics and some officials continue the denunciations of US arms sales to Taiwan. Some western analysts have interpreted Chinese statements about substantive retaliation for the arms sales as containing implications for US diplomacy. The Chinese did say that China has no reason to support US interests when the US does not support Chinese interests.

NightWatch continues to judge the diplomacy angle is exaggerated. The US and China have no congruent interests in Iran or North Korea that can be proven from actual results of more than ten years of talks. China has hosted Six Party Talks, but never delivered North Korea, as some supposed.

On Iran, Russia has been more cooperative than China and Russia has not been cooperative at all. Regarding nuclear and conventional weapons proliferation, China does not share the American lexicon as to what those ideas mean, based on Chinese actions and arms sales.

The domain for substantive Chinese actions might lie in international finance. Chinese official media have reported that as of November 2009 China owns more than $780 billion in US debt. China will lose an economic warfare battle with the United States and the Chinese bankers know that.

Nevertheless, the Chinese media continue to threaten, "a tooth for a tooth." Some US defense contractors are more likely to suffer Chinese wrath than US diplomats. Curiously and probably not surprisingly, Chinese analysts are playing down the impact of the arms sales on cross Strait ties.

Pakistan: Taliban militants in Pakistan plan to give proof within days that the militant group's leader, Hakeemullah Mehsud, is still alive, saying Mehsud is "doing well" and calling reports of his death "government propaganda," The Associated Press reported 1 February, citing an aide to Mehsud.

Iran: President Ahmadi-nejad told a cabinet meeting yesterday that Iran will deliver a harsh blow to the "global arrogance" on this year's anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. The 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution is 11 February.

"The Islamic Revolution opened a window to liberty for the human race, which was trapped in the dead ends of materialism….If the Islamic Revolution had not occurred, liberalism and Marxism would have crushed all human dignity in their power-seeking and money-grubbing claws. Nothing would have remained of human and spiritual principles."

Ahmadi-nejad said that in the three decades of its history, the Islamic Revolution had inspired some great developments in the world. (Note: Iran takes credit for the election of the pro-Islamist AKP government in Turkey.)

Readers should expect Iran to unveil new weapons, technology or space systems on the 11th.

Terrorism: For the record. According to Australia's Herald Sun and the UK's The Mail, the UK's intelligence service MI5 has found evidence that al-Qaida is planning to use a new tactic in its terror campaign by surgically inserting explosives inside terrorists.

The explosive would be pentaerythritol tetranitrate, known as PETN, and would be placed in a plastic sachet inside the bomber's body. The area of insertion would be stitched up like a normal operation incision and allowed to heal.

The report stated the sachet would be detonated with an injection of triacetone triperoxide, administered with syringes that could be smuggled onto planes disguised as a diabetic's insulin kit.

The move could be an effective way to get incendiary devices past new body scanners at airports,

PETN was the explosive used by the Christmas Day bomber from Nigeria. The ghoulish nature of the report fades when one remembers these people would be suicide bombers.

End of NightWatch for 1 February.

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