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NightWatch 20130917

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NightWatch

For the night of 17 September 2013

North Korea-South Korea: Milestone. North Korean TV aired the medal award ceremony at the Asian Cup Interclub Weightlifting Championship on Friday. Four South Korean junior weight lifters won medals, including a gold medal.

For the first time, North Korean TV identified the athletes as South Koreans, showed the South Korean national flag and played the South Korean national anthem, according to the Korea Weightlifting Federation in South Korea.

Japan: A special advisory panel of Japanese experts met at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office on 17 September to discuss whether to lift a self-imposed restriction on exercising the right of collective self-defense, Kyodo News reported.

Results of the talks have not been disclosed, but they were scheduled to cover which countries Japan would defend and where overseas its forces would be deployed for that purpose. They also were to discuss whether Self-Defense Forces should be permitted to participate in UN-led collective security operations.

Comment: Prime Minister Abe is an outspoken supporter of an enlarged and more modern interpretation of self-defense. Chinese aggressiveness in asserting China's claims of ownership to the Senkakus and the Ryukyus is the most important driver in a gradual shift in Japan's understanding of self-defense.

The panel of experts is expected to present its recommendations in favor of Abe's position by November. The Abe government is expected to adopt it without amending the Constitution. The government is averse to amending the Constitution because it would take up to five years, while the need for greater flexibility in responding to Chinese provocations is at hand. Moreover, adoption of a collective self-defense interpretation helps avoid accusations that Japan is rearming unilaterally.

Abe's vision of collective self-defense implies that Japanese strategic planners will consult with Southeast Asian counterparts more frequently and more seriously. At a minimum, Maritime Self-Defense Force ships will train more frequently and rigorously with Southeast Asian navies in defending island claims.

China-Japan: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Tuesday urged Japan to learn from history and adhere to peaceful development path, on the eve of the 82d anniversary of the beginning of Japan's invasion of China.

Wednesday is the 82nd anniversary of the "September 18 Incident," which marks the beginning of that invasion.

Hong told a routine press briefing that the Japanese militarists' invasion of its Asian neighbors brought disaster to these countries and peoples. He urged the Japanese to learn from history and adhere to the path of peaceful development with a responsible spirit as well as to abide by its statements on the invasion issue.

He said for historical reasons, Asian neighbors are extremely concerned about Japan's development in terms of politics and security and urged Japan to respect the concerns of countries in the region.

Japan should do more to contribute to regional peace and stability, stop creating or playing up tensions and making excuses for boosting military capacity or adjusting military policies, he added.

China has the ability and determination to safeguard its territorial sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, the spokesman stressed.

Comment: The timing of the Foreign Ministry comments could not have been better calculated - during a meeting in Japan to discuss collective self-defense. The Chinese remarks imply that China judges Japan has not learned the lessons from its defeat in World War II and has not changed.

Of course nothing could be farther from the truth in terms of stability in northeast and southeast Asia. China has become the agent of instability by vigorously asserting its claims to own Asian islands and waters plus by reorganizing its patrol assets to back those claims with force. Chinese leaders like to berate Japan for its history, but Japan is one of two Asian countries that can thwart Chinese leadership ambitions. The other is a unified Korea.

China-North Korea: Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi met with Kim Kye Gwan, First Vice Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Beijing on Tuesday. Kim is in China for an international workshop on the 10th anniversary of the Six Party talks.

According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported, Yang said, "The China-DPRK relationship is at a crucial stage that connects the past and the future. Both sides should keep up with the times, grasp opportunities and tackle challenges to advance the healthy, stable development of bilateral ties."

"The Six Party Talks are an effective mechanism for realizing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace and stability of the peninsula and Northeast Asia, as well as an important platform for relevant parties to improve relations. China hopes relevant parties make concerted efforts to strive for an early resumption of the Six Party Talks."

Kim said, "The DPRK-China friendship should carry on and bilateral ties should be strengthened. Six Party Talks are an important platform for achieving denuclearization of the peninsula. DPRK supports China's effort to restart the talks and is willing to keep in-depth communication with China."

Comment: The Xinhua account suggests no warmth and little progress. China continues to tutor North Korea, but North Korea is an obdurate and unwilling learner. For example, Yang linked the future of China-DPRK relations to the denuclearization talks, meaning North Korea's denuclearization. He instructed the North Koreans to keep up with the times.

In reply, Kim pleaded for a restoration of bilateral ties. That means that Kim was sent, in part, to try again to wheedle an invitation for Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing. He did not get it, at least on this record.

As for Kim's comment on denuclearization, he means that after US agrees to stop deploying nuclear-capable aircraft and ships to the Korean peninsula, North Korea might consider giving up its nuclear weapons.

Yang and Kim talked past each other on denuclearization. Nevertheless, North Korea will attend a new round of Six Party Talks, if only to placate China and get Kim Jong Un an invitation for a state visit.

China-Jordan: The Foreign Ministry also said that on Tuesday, Yang met with King of Jordan Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein on bilateral ties, the Syria situation and the Middle East peace process.

King Abdullah II is paying a state visit to China from 15 to 18 September, at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Comment: Jordan is looking for Chinese help with refugees and its economic burdens. China is in a position to advance its interests and influence because of the ripple effects of the Syria crisis, along with Russia. China has welcomed the UN inspection report on Syria, but has not commented about who executed the 21 August sarin attack.

Syria: Special note. The UN inspectors judged that one of the two rockets they examined was an M14 140mm rocket, which is fired from a BM-14 multiple rocket launcher. NightWatch checked the web today to try to determine whether the Syrian Arab Army still fields or keeps in inventory or storage BM-14s. The BM-14 is a an old system, a variation of the Soviet World War II BM-13 towed or truck-mounted, 16-round Katyusha multiple rocket launcher.

One reason for the search is that this weapon system is more than 70 years old and was replaced in most Soviet-equipped armies decades ago. Usually it was replaced by the BM-21 122-mm multiple rocket launcher. Syria can make these rockets.

A second reason for the search is that the BM-14 is an area saturation weapon. An army rocket unit usually would not fire it singly or in small numbers for a tactical mission. Each salvo should launch at least 16 rockets.

Global Security posts to the web detailed inventories of military equipment fielded by most national armies, including that of the Syrian army. Its charts show the Syrian army fields large numbers of BM-21s, but no BM-14s. They also show no rocket launcher that fires a rocket with a diameter of 330-mm. The UN inspectors found parts of such a rocket, but could not match it to any systems they knew. Our search found that Iran's Fajr-5 333-mm rocket is the closest in diameter, but it is 18 feet long.

Global Security's information might be incomplete and the numbers are estimates. However, the site has proven to be a reliable source of detailed military information. Its list of the types of major items of equipment that the Syrian army fields is reliable. The list does not include the BM-14.

The question for Feedback is where did the M-14 rocket come from? Who is still using this system in Syria? Does Syria still have stocks of long outdated rockets? Did the opposition capture any?

Russia: On Monday, President Putin announced that Russia is set to reopen a military base on the Arctic's Novosibirsk Islands, which it closed in 1993 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin pointed to efforts to create a northern coast global shipping route and to defend Arctic energy resources as reasons for reinstating operations on the base. The islands are off the coast of eastern Siberia.

Comment: Russia announced that it has begun patrolling the Arctic Ocean sea lanes which are now passable in summer months. The Northern Fleet flagship, the guided missile cruiser Peter the Great led a ten ship flotilla on a 2,000 mile patrol to the Islands, which arrived last Thursday. Russia announced they have returned to Siberia to stay. Russia also intends to rebuild airfields and other infrastructure in the Arctic region. Strategic air deployments to the Arctic might resume.

One reason is the Northern Sea Route cuts two weeks off shipping time and that cuts shipping costs to Europe. Another is that receding ice sheets have made exploitation of sea and seabed resources cost effective and practical.

End of NightWatch for 17 September.

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