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NightWatch 20110106

NightWatch

For the Night of 6 January 2011

South Korea: A Unification Ministry official said today, 6 January, that South Korea has dismissed North Korea's offer of unconditional talks. The official described the North's joint statement and talks proposal as "propaganda," He said it was not expressed in the correct and appropriate format and is similar to joint statements broadcast in the past.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States is open to talks, adding there must be context and actions by the North to indicate they are prepared to have a serious, sustained and constructive dialogue. He said appropriate signals to this effect would be assurance that there will be no further provocations and demonstrations of a willingness to move forward on the North's commitment to the 2005 joint statement.

Comment: The South Korean and US statements would seem to close the door to talks soon. The Allied demand is for behavior … action … that shows commitment to ending nuclear weapons programs.

Nevertheless, the US special envoy, now in Asia, in the company of Chinese interlocutors said this week that he expected a resumption of six party nuclear talks "soon." Ambassador Bosworth has provided no basis for his apparent optimism. More importantly, nothing in the public record indicates the US believes North Korea has taken any actions to justify a resumption of talks.

What's odd is that Bosworth thinks talks are coming soon, but the US and South Korean governments rejected North Korea's offer of talks because the North has done nothing to satisfy Bosworth's lists of conditions.

There will be talks because diplomats always believe that talks keep nations from engaging in provocations. However, with respect to North Korea, that belief is completely unfounded.

China: Xinhua reported on 6 January that China has added two surveillance patrol ships to the China Maritime Surveillance Force in its North Sea fleet, based in Qingdao. The 1,000 and 1,500 metric ton-class ships will be used to prevent the illegal use of Chinese waters, damage to the environment, resources and infrastructure, and violations of Chinese maritime interests, according to Fang Jianmeng, head of the North Sea branch of the State Oceanic Administration.

Comment: The ships also will be used to challenge and provoke the Japanese in disputed island areas.

China: special comment. US media made much of the internet postings of a JF-20 fifth generation fighter taxiing at the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation factory. Naval intelligence was quoted as asserting the Chinese have made faster progress than the Intelligence Community predicted. The latest assessment is the Chinese will have an operational fighter by 2017, compared to an intelligence estimate of 2020 that the Secretary of Defense briefed to  Congress.

The Chinese are ahead of the US intelligence estimates in several prototypes, including use of ballistic missiles to attack aircraft carriers. The Chinese always seem to move fast on the easy aspects of technology. But they have trouble making usable jet engines, so they buy them from the Russians.

They have been working on the anti-carrier ballistic missile for a decade or more, but experts say they still have not integrated over-the-horizon radars signals with command and control satellites and missile launch systems to make a workable threat to carriers. Ballistic missiles have trouble hitting tmoving targets that also zig-zag.

Thus it is difficult to evaluate just what is the significance of cell-phone images of an advanced airframe that taxis on a runway, but does not fly. The images show a new fighter that looks a bit clunky and underwhelming and might be a deception.  The security breach is suspiciously convenient. Still, it behooves the last super power to maintain its edge in fifth generation fighter aircraft, as a prudent precaution.

Pakistan: The continuation of the political crisis was manifest in the government's decision to reverse a fuel price increase. Prime Minister Gilani restored prices to the 31 December levels, a 9 % rollback. Gilani made the move to blunt an opposition threat of a no confidence vote unless fuels price increases were reversed.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded a roll back of fuel prices, a commitment to cut government spending by 30% and dismissal of officials accused of graft within 72 hours or face an opposition vote of confidence motion in the National Assembly as to the viability of the Gilani minority government. Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in opposition, gave the government 45 days to show progress in cutting government spending.

Comment: Nawaz is grandstanding, awaiting his turn to replace Gilani as the next prime minister of Pakistan. Gilani's actions show that the Pakistan People's Party government is weak. Gilani is attempting to buy time by acceding to the demand to roll back fuel prices, which will probably lead to shortages because the lower prices are uneconomic.

The political crisis is now merging into a larger economic crisis that Sharif hopes to exploit. The main problem with a government led by Sharif is that the Pakistan Army despises him. The outlook is for continuing leadership instability.

Pakistan appears to be heading towards another interlude of military government, as a relief from the non-stop political wrangling. The prospect of another Sharif government is enough by itself to prompt a military takeover, as it did in 1999 when Musharraf overthrew the government of Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan Army is not likely to tolerate another government by Nawaz Sharif.

Venezuela: The new parliament convened with the first substantial opposition party representation in five years. Although President Chavez' party still holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly, it no longer has a two-thirds majority. Chavez's party now has 98 seats; the opposition won 65 seats in the 26 September.

Opposition politicians have complained that a decree of powers given to Chavez by the outgoing parliament seriously curtails their powers. The decree gives Chavez the power to pass some laws without parliament for the next 18 months.

Comment: This is a study in democracy. A lame duck parliament attempted to hobble its successor. In giving legislative powers to the President, it voted its own institution out of office and made it irrelevant. The new parliament needs to repeal the grant of authority to Chavez and restore is autonomy.

The actions of the outgoing parliament manifest a willful and fundamental disregard for democracy. Venezuelans are smarter than that.

End of NightWatch for 6 January.

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