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NightWatch 20100829


For the Night of 29 August 2010

North Korea-China: North Korean Leader Kim Chong Il remained in northeast China on 29 August visiting the city of Harbin. Initial news reports from northeast Asia asserted Kim's train was bound for Pyongyang. Instead, The train left Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province, which borders North Korea, the evening of the 28th and went south to Harbin to visit a plant.

During this Watch, Japanese media reported hotel closures and tightened security at the Dandong border crossing site, the usual signs that North Korean leadership train's arrival is expected.

Comment: The proximity of this visit to the Party general meeting in early September is the basis for the inference that Kim's visit is related to the process of introducing his third son to the Chinese leadership and showing him around and off.

The visit appears too short to have moved other outstanding issues, including flood relief along the Yalu and the Six Party Talks. The brevity and location of the visit to Chinese areas near North Korea support those analyses that the visit also served the strategic goal of quieting the international environment before and during the Party plenum.

One commentary assessed that also was the primary aim in the North's handling in such low key fashion former President Carter's visit to obtain the release of the captive American. Aside from Six Party talks, there are now no potentially disruptive issues between the US and North Korea, such as an American in a North Korean jail.

The trip to China during the Carter visit also conveys a clear statement of North Korean foreign policy priorities. China is more important than the US.

These assessments imply that for the next two weeks, tension should ease and provocations are unlikely. However, the North may be expected to respond in prickly fashion to any actions by the US or South Korea that it perceives as a provocation, just to show that its inward focus does not signify weakness or inability to respond swiftly. China will be in overwatch position. The message from North Korea is, "leave us alone."

China-Burma (Myanmar): Xinhua reported two Chinese navy ships from the 5th Escort Task Group -- the Caohu and Guanhzhou - called at Myanmar's Thilawa Port on 29 August. The visit is to last five days to promote good relations.

Comment: This is the first time Chinese naval ships have called at a port in Burma. It also is a direct challenge to Indian naval dominance of the Indian Ocean region.

Afghanistan: Today, 29 August, the Washington Post published a well-documented article indicating that policy disagreements between the Afghanistan government and the US Command may have moved beyond easy repair.

The article recounts a meeting between Mohammad Umer Daudzai, Chief of Staff to President Karzai, and General Petraeus last week.

Daudzai told his interviewer, "I said, 'General Petraeus, winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans is not the job of a soldier. That's the job of an Afghan,' "

"We need to review our strategy, our code of conduct, so that Afghans believe that this is a sovereign state and President Karzai is the ultimate decision maker in this country... We are in the last stage, the last chance of winning this war. So we cannot afford to spend a lot of time on accusations and counter-accusations."

"We want, as part of that review, for the international forces to gradually take distance from the daily life of people….Because people are getting tired with the way they are behaved with….That's not their job. . . . That's the Afghan police job," he said.

"Or in the rush hour, going into the market with these heavy cars, not letting anybody overtake them. Or on the main highways, they go on the wrong day. Like, for instance, on New Year's Day, everybody goes out for a picnic, then you see a huge NATO convoy comes on that day and blocks the whole road. … This is what we mean by taking distance from their lives."

Comment: The issues are complex and the implications are difficult to discern. For example, the centerpiece of the NATO's counterinsurgency strategy is local engagement. The message from Karzai's chief of staff is that NATO's local engagement builds respect for NATO not for the Afghan government.

If Daudzai speaks for Karzai, as seems to be the case, the NATO strategy lacks the backing of the Afghan government. The message is that the Afghan leadership perceives the NATO strategy and its manner of implementation as a threat to the Afghan government.

This is an Afghan version of the sovereignty issue in Iraq among the Sunni Arabs of the Awakening in al Anbar Province. The disagreement appears to be about basic principles, though it likely will be papered over later this week. Certainly, one of the enduring recruitment themes of the Taliban is to join fight to drive foreign soldiers from Christian countries out of Afghanistan.

As a footnote, Daudzai also made a classic comment by an official in an American client state. In refuting charges that key officials of the government palace are on the CIA payroll, Daudzai said,

"Of course, people are paid by the United States. The whole government is paid, one way or the other, by the United States."

Nonetheless, he insisted none are paid by the CIA. The accuracy of his assertion, of course, depends on the definition of "paid".

End of NightWatch for 29 August.

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