For the night of 9 May 2013
North Korea: Missile update. The latest story leaked to Inside The Ring is that the two Musudan intermediate range ballistic missiles have returned to storage after all. Some analysts attribute this action to Chinese pressure on North Korea.
Comment: North Korean apparently stood down the missiles and returned them to storage when it stood down the entire armed forces from high combat readiness on 30 April.
China-North Korea: Update. China's Foreign Ministry declined Wednesday, 8 May, to confirm the Bank of China's closure of the account of the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank. In response to a question at Wednesday's news conference, Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, "For specifics, please refer it to competent Chinese authorities."
Sources of the Daily NK reported that since 7 May, "other Chinese state banking entities including China Construction Bank have apparently ceased business dealings with North Korean financial entities as well. The banks did so in accordance with guidance handed down by the China Banking Regulatory Commission, and as such is actually a policy of the Chinese government."
Comment: If the Chinese are exerting economic pressure against North Korea as punishment for refusing to listen to guidance, some reaction by North Korea should become evident soon. Such action would represent a strategic change in China's relationship with North Korea. More on this later.
China-Japan: The official newspaper, the People's Daily, on Wednesday published an article advocating a review of Japanese sovereignty over the Ryuku Islands which include Okinawa.
The authors of the article, two scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Ryukyus were a tributary state of China before Japan annexed the islands in the 1879.
"Unresolved problems relating to the Ryukyu Islands have reached the time for reconsideration," wrote Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang, citing post-World War II declarations that required Japan to return Chinese territory. The article also repeated Chinese government arguments for China's historical claims to the Diaoyu/Senkakus.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeatedly refused to give a direct answer when asked whether Beijing considers the Ryukyu chain a part of Japan at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.
"Academics have long paid attention to the history of Okinawa and Ryukyus... but the Diaoyu islands are China's inherent territory, and have never been part of the Ryukyus or Okinawa," she said.
Comment: China supposedly abandoned its claims to the Ryukyus after the Qing dynasty forces were defeated by the Japanese Meiji forces in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and 1895.
Everything published in the People's Daily has official approval by someone in authority. The Chinese government has not asserted a claim to the Ryukus as official policy. However, some people in the leadership are floating this idea, probably to gauge reaction to it for future use against Japan and the US.
Chinese leaders perceive no inconsistency in stating their support for regional stability while asserting claims of sovereignty against Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Ownership claims based on historic tributary relationships would call into question national boundaries throughout Asia.
Syria: Syria is back on the Internet. The government blamed the rebels for the disruption, but the rebels lack the capability and motive to remove Syria from the Internet.
Status of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Opposition fighters. In an interview with a US news service, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, defector General Salim Idriss admitted that the opposition is divided and lacks the ability to overthrow the Syrian government.
General Salim Idriss leads the Supreme Military Command. He blames his inability to create a chain of command on the predominance of untrained civilians with no military experience in the fighting groups. He also blamed the lack of Western arms.
FSA defections. The British newspaper The Guardian published an article about defections from the FSA to the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra. According to The Guardian, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently.
Comment: The motives for defection include religion, effectiveness, pay and steady arms supplies. A separate news outlet reported that US trainers of FSA recruits are urging them to fight al-Nusra to prevent a jihadist victory in Syria.
At this point, neither group can defeat the Asad government, but al Nusra appears stronger than the FSA and more appealing to young Arabs.
Russia-Syria: Multiple news services reported that Israel has asked Russia to cancel an imminent sale of an advanced air defense missile system to Syria. Unnamed Israeli officials reportedly said Israel shared information with the United States in hopes of persuading Russia to halt the planned deal to provide S-300 air defense missiles.
Comment: In 2010 Syria signed a contract with Russia to buy the S-300 system, but the status of that contract is unclear. An Israeli newspaper in 2011 claimed the system had already been delivered to Syria by Russian ship. However, a Russian media report in June 2012 said the Russians canceled the deal.
One analysis speculated that the Israeli air attacks prompted reports of imminent delivery of the system. Another view is that discussion of creating a NATO no-fly zone over Syria prompted the new reports. The consistent theme is that Russia continues to stand with Syria against NATO intervention.
Hezbollah-Syria: Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on 9 May that Syria would supply Hezbollah with more advanced weapons in response to Israel's recent airstrikes near Damascus.
Nasrallah said the weapons are more sophisticated than any Hezbollah has ever obtained, and that Hezbollah was prepared to use the weapons against Israel. He also said Hezbollah was prepared to help any armed group seeking to take over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Comment: Allies of Syria have made strong stands this week to shift Arab attention to Israel and to warn the West against greater involvement in Syria. The thinly veiled warning is that the Syrian rebellion will lead to a regional war.
End of NightWatch for 9 May.
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