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NightWatch 20101223

NightWatch

For the Night of 22 December 2010

North Korea: Kim Chong-Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean Peoples' Army, provided field guidance to the Huichon Youth Electrical Complex and the construction site of the Huichon Power Station. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) broadcast details of the guidance visits on 22 December, though the dates of Kim's inspection visits are never provided.

Comment: The announcement is important for several reasons. AQ review of KCNA broadcasts this week shows that the only date on which KCNA did not broadcast a public appearance by Kim was 20 December, the day of the South Korean artillery exercise on Yeonpyeong Island.

KCNA resumed broadcasting real or feigned Kim appearances on 21 December, as well as those mentioned above. This reinforces the conclusion that the North Korean leadership does not seek a crisis.

The second part of the visit report mentions that troops are being used to build a dam that will create hydro-electric power. Kim praised the "soldier-builders" working at the power station at Huichon. He attributed its rapid pace of construction to the labor of the soldiers, who are enabling the power station to be completed ahead of time, naturally.

About a quarter of the North's electricity comes from hydro-electric power stations. The use of soldiers in civilian economic projects is a common North Korean practice to achieve artificially and needlessly ambitious economic objectives, such as prosperity by 2012.

The significance is that soldiers building dams or other infrastructure projects are soldiers who are not combat ready.

Military. The Daily NK published an article on 16 December reporting the creation of the 10th Army Corps in the Korean People's Army, with responsibility for the security and order in Yanggang Province in north eastern North Korea, bordering China

The 10th Corps is a rear area force that is not remotely comparable in combat power to the 4th, 2nd, 5th and 1st Army Corps that are based just north of the Demilitarized Zone from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan.

What is significant about the 10th Army Corps is that it faces China and backs up the 9th Army Corps which faces both China and Russia. The press statements about the new Army Corps are explicit that the 10th Corps' mission includes defending against a Chinese incursion.

Yanggang is the called the "roof" of North Korea because of its mountainous topography. The Yalu River forms the border that separates it from China. An Army Corps in Yanggang has no easy way to reach, much less reinforce the Demilitarized Zone to the south, but it on the heights above the Yalu, facing China.

The creation of the 10th Corps at this time indicates the North remains suspicious of Chinese intentions, despite increased economic integration.

North Korea-US: North Korea and the United States have resumed contact through North Korea's U.N. mission in New York, a diplomatic source said Wednesday. The "New York channel" of unofficial dialogue between the two sides is back in operation after suspension following the North's deadly shelling of the South's Yeonpyeong Island last month, the source said on condition of anonymity.

"I understand that the two sides are having contact as the channel has recently been restored," the source said, adding that the restoration of the dialogue channel can be seen as part of Washington's "two-track" strategy of dealing with the North with both pressure and dialogue.

Comment: To put this two-track business in some perspective, during the Clinton administration and the Agreed Framework, the US had more than a dozen different venues for talks with North Korean officials about a variety of topics.

There were no nuclear tests and one long range ballistic missile test. The Yongbyon reactor was shut down and under IAEA seals and surveillance cameras with US and UN inspectors resident at Yongbyon. US and UN observers monitored the spent fuel pond at Yongbyon. KEDO, a US and South Korean consortium, had hundreds of South Koreans working with thousands of North Koreans to build GE model light water reactors to supply electric power, mainly to South Korea.

The US had regular US military POW/MIA teams working with the Korean People's Army teams investigating leads for the 8,000 American soldiers who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

The North offered to dismantle its long range ballistic missile program and stop supporting the Pakistani and Iranian programs, if the US would buy it. Secretary of State Albright visited Pyongyang and President Clinton was planning a visit. North Korea was looking to rent a property for an embassy in Washington, D.C. and the US was doing the same in Pyongyang. In 2000, the President of South Korea met the General Secretary of North Korea in Pyongyang for the first time ever.

However, North Korea was still exploring uranium enrichment and had reprocessed one core of spent fuel from the Yongbyon reactor into plutonium for nuclear warheads, enough for one or two. The Six Party Talks venue did not exist because there were at least 12 venues for talks. And the conventional wisdom was the North never kept its promises.

Under the Bush 43 administration, the only channel was the Six Party Talks; the Agreed Framework was terminated. The North conducted two nuclear tests and two long range ballistic missile tests. It ejected US and UN inspectors and resumed operation of the Yongbyon reactor which burned three or more cores of spent fuel that were reprocessed into plutonium. The North increased its inventory of fissile material, which is now assessed to be enough to make up to 12 nuclear warheads. It also proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, which provoked an Israeli air attack. It continued to provide missile support to both Iran and Pakistan.

China-Taiwan: Senior envoys from China and Taiwan on 22 December signed agreement to cooperate in the development of new drugs and on health and medical care.

China's Chen Yunlin and Taiwan's Chiang Ping-kun -- heads of the quasi-governmental organizations for cross Strait affairs from China and Taiwan -- signed the pacts in Taibei, Taiwan. It is the 15th commercial agreement the two sides have struck in two and a half years.

Comment: There is no tension across the Taiwan Strait. That is tonight's good news.

Pakistan: The National Assembly has approved the 19th amendment bill to the country's constitution, KUNA reported Dec. 22. One amendment in the bill gives the prime minister a say in judge appointments and increases the number of judges on the Judicial Commission from two to four. Other amendments provide for an eight-member parliamentary committee to approve judges, which would send its approval or rejection to the prime minister, rather than the president.

Comment: The new bill is a potpourri of modifications to other provisions of the Constitution, which the parliament is empowered to effect. This bill terminates the arbitrary practice of Pakistani military dictators, such as Musharraf, to appoint judges at their discretion regardless of competence or training.

For example, Musharraf dismissed Chief Justice Chaudhry after the Supreme Court ruled that Musharraf acted unconstitutionally in declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution in 2007. Musharraf simply appointed a new Chief Justice without consulting anyone.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan has lobbied for two years to establish a regular, constitutional process for appointing judges that protects the independence of the judiciary while including review and oversight by the parliament and final approval by the prime minister. This has now been accomplished. It is one of the last acts of the parliament to inter Musharraf's abuses of power and use the law and the Constitution to try to ensure they may never be repeated.

North Waziristan: Prime Minister Gilani is considering convening an All Parties Conference (APC) in an effort to reach consensus before launching the military operation in North Waziristan, Pakistani newspaper Khabrain reported 22 December, citing unnamed sources. The APC would not convene until mid-January, the sources said, because of the political crisis.

Comment: US military leaders believe that North Waziristan is the linchpin for the Afghanistan insurgency. Increased Pakistani control of that tribal agency supposedly would produce peace in Afghanistan. This is a dubious argument at best because North Waziristan is not located to be a main supply route to the hundreds of indigenous Afghan Pashtun groups who fight against the central government in Kabul and is backers.

The political crisis in Pakistan is the unraveling of the governing political coalition, led by the Pakistan People's Party. The Gilani government's trouble in securing new coalition partners is a small blessing because it postpones any urgent need for the government to deal with North Waziristan.

The NightWatch view is that the North Waziristan campaign is the latest in a series of magic words and slogans whose mastery will produce victory in Afghanistan. Looking at the numbers and capabilities, Pakistan can do more to control North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. However, the Pakistan Army sees no profit in such an operation. It is hostile to the US and the US military below the rank of brigadier and even senior officers resent US pressure and the implications of military incompetence.

The biggest risk is that once begun, such an operation could incite a tribal uprising. The British never won a single campaign in Waziristan in the colonial era and the Pakistan Army is the repository of lessons learned during British colonial rule.

Readers might wonder why the Prime Minister is involved in what is essentially a security operation. The reason is that such an operation could cause the government to fall because its coalition collapsed. Alternatively it might spark a military overthrow of the civilian government, again, on the grounds of betraying national security.

Venezuela: For the record. Incoming opposition legislators called a "coup d'etat" the new laws that suppress press freedoms and grant President Hugo Chavez sweeping new powers.

The calls came after laws were pushed through Venezuela's National Assembly by the ruling Socialist Party just weeks before a new assembly, in which pro-Chavez legislators lose their supermajority, takes office on 5 January. The measures include granting the president temporary power to decree laws, restricting Internet content and broadcast media freedoms, and punishing legislators who switch parties.

"We energetically condemn the coup d'etat that is taking place by the regime," read a statement from the 67 opposition legislators set to take office in January. They believe that supporters of Chavez, a key ally of Communist Cuba, "intend to implant a communist system in Venezuela through a totalitarian and militarized state."

The statement called on the Venezuelan people "to unite, to reject and peacefully activate themselves" against the "absolute concentration of power in the hands of the president of the republic."

This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 22 December.

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