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NightWatch 20091116

NightWatch

For the Night of 16 November 2009

North Korea: Following up on its threat last week, the Korean Peoples Army activated a coast-based anti-ship cruise missile radar for an hour on the 15th in the southwest coast naval command, north of the Northern Limit Line. Prudently, the South Korean ships on patrol dispersed and moved out of missile range. The North deactivated the radar without incident.

For the record. Kimchi-making for winter has begun in the North. When November comes, the Korean people prepare kimchi for winter with care as "a big family event", calling it "food for half a year, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Kimchi-making corresponds with preparations for the Korean Peoples Army's winter training cycle which beings 1 December.

North Korea-South Korea: Despite the tension along the Northern Limit Line, the North Korean ship Geumbit (aka Kumpit) docked at Inchon Port on Saturday to unload 1,765 tons of silica sand today, according to the port authority, quoted by Xinhua, before departing.

This was Geumbit's second trip to Inchon this month. During the past two months, two other North Korean bulk cargo ships also regularly carry silica sand to Inchon under contracts with South Korean local construction companies.

The point of this item is to illustrate that Koreans are Koreans, ahead of ideological or political disagreements. Even when the navies are shooting at each other, the nations are always doing business with each other. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Korean national identity. Koreans always disagree, sometimes violently, but they always know they are Koreans first.

China-Thailand: Military officials from China and Thailand pledged to advance bilateral military ties during a meeting in Beijing, Xinhua reported 16 November. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie met with Kamthorn Phumpirun, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy. Both sides expressed hope to push forward the relationship between the two countries and two militaries.

The armed forces of China and Thailand have conducted productive cooperation and exchanges in defense and training, said Liang, adding that China is willing to work with Thailand for the in-depth and comprehensive development of their military ties.

For China, it is good strategy to cultivate military ties with all Southeast Asian countries. China has made significant progress. Thailand has no tradition of military ties with China, compared to those with the US.

The Thai willingness to cooperate militarily with China seems aimed at encouraging China to remain on the sidelines of any dispute with Cambodia, a Chinese client since before the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in November 1978. The Thai also have a refined sense of changes in strategic dominance.

Asian countries are taking charge of Asian security and not relying on outsiders. The election of the Democratic Party government in Japan is a manifestation of this fundamental impulse in Asia. The emergence of China as a "rising power" is another. The Thai sense it too. Every nation in Asia must come to terms with Chinese economic and military power now.

India-Nepal: The security talks scheduled to take place 17 November between Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Nepalese Home Minister Bhim Rawal have been postponed indefinitely "due to Nepal's internal situation," Nepalese Home Ministry spokesman Jai Mukund Khanal said today, IANS reported. The talks were to have concerned border security and joint counterterrorism efforts.

The Indian action implies doubt that the government in office will last long enough to keep its promises. Either a national unity power-sharing government will follow or the Maoists will continue to ensure the current political deadlock persists.

The issue currently hobbling the government, which is unable to meet its payroll, is parliamentary supremacy over the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy. Traditional parties that were royalist until the King abdicated in May 2008 want to limit parliamentary authority. The Maoists who won a plurality in the 2008 elections to the Constituent Assembly want parliamentary, civilian supremacy over the Army in particular.

The Maoists who had blocked Singha Durbar, the official seat of Nepal government, for two days last week have given the government time until 20 November to address their demands or else face a more violent agitation. In light of this threat, the Indians decided to postpone security talks.

India: For the record. Indian nuclear installations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra were placed on high alert after the 15 November arrest of a suspected Pakistani spy at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Zee News reported today. An intelligence advisory notice said Bhabha Atomic Research Centre near Mumbai (Bombay) may be a primary target; security has also been increased in the coastal states.

The arrest of a Pakistani is the significant point that risks another increase in tension.

Pakistan: Update. Another bomb exploded in Peshawar, making this the seventh straight day of bombings in that provincial capital.

Iran: Jahan News reported 16 November that a number of Tehran University students had staged a demonstration the same day to protest the execution of the Kordish political activist, Ehsan Fatahiyan, who was hanged on 11 November. According to Jahan News the number of demonstrators was "around 40" and "they were trying to encourage other students to take part in the demonstration."

The significance of this is that it shows the student opposition has no capability to protect their own members, much less effect political reform. The government of the ayatollahs is not at risk.

Israel- Palestine: Yesterday chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Palestinians would go to the UN Security Council to ask for recognition of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

UN recognition of Palestinian statehood is the latest Palestinian tactic to limit and, possibly, reverse Israeli settlement expansion. This explains the virtual cessation of rocket fire into Israel, which is an extraordinary act of self-discipline in its own right. Israel countered with a threat to annex more Palestinian territory.

The key point is that the absence of rocket attacks puts the lie to Palestinian claims that the movement, including Hamas in Gaza, cannot stop the rockets. Obviously, they can.

If the Palestinians rely on the Security Council, they have no chance of recognition because the US will veto any pro-Palestinian resolution.

Saudi Arabia: The Kingdom's top cleric, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, said Iran is supporting Yemeni militants, whose fight with Yemen's government has spilled over into Saudi territory, The Associated Press reported 16 November, citing Al-Watan newspaper. Al Sheikh said Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself against the militants, and he called Iran's collaboration with the Yemeni rebels "sin and aggression."

It is always useful to find clerics in a semi-literate population who will declare inconvenient or hostile political activities to be sinful. This conflation of religion with politics promotes escalation of border skirmishing into sectarian war.

Russia: Update. Russia plans to "invest more considerable funds" into its navy and to purchase new warships under a state armaments program to begin in 2010, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said 16 November aboard the Russian cruiser Varyag during his visit to Singapore, RIA Novosti reported. Medvedev said purchases of arms for the Russian navy and army would not be significantly impacted by the current economic crisis.

The curious point is that the Russian President is calling for rearmament when the US President is calling for control of proliferation. Medvedev promised that arms spending would not be affected by Russia's economic decline, but he is probably bluffing. Still, the Russians would like to take advantage of US over-extension in Iraq and Afghanistan so as to gain a leg up in strategic military capabilities in the next five to ten years.

Venezuela-Iran: Update. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro is expected to arrive in Tehran, Press TV reported 16 November. Venezuelan Ambassador to Iran Velasquez said Maduro will work on details of Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad's upcoming visit to Venezuela. Velasquez said the Venezuelan minister of industries and sciences and an oil delegation will accompany Maduro.

If Chavez can find a way to annoy the US, he will follow that path until Venezuelans tire of his antics and remove him, if they still can. Angus Reid Associates have published findings of credible Venezuelan polls that show that Venezuelans already have reached the limits of their tolerance of Chavez' non-stop confrontation politics.

Honduras: Deposed President Manuel Zelaya said last night in a letter to US President Barack Obama that as of now, come what may, he will not accept any agreement to return as president of the republic because that would cover up the coup d'état that toppled him on 28 June.

At last, a refreshing soupcon of candor from Zelaya - a concession that Micheletti beat him. However, the last thing Zelaya wants is for the US to take him at his word. It looks like he got some terrible advice about how to handle Chicago politicians.

For the US, the best strategy would be to take Zelaya at his word and trust to the wisdom of Honduran voters on 29 November. That is what the US promised it would do.

End of NightWatch for 16 November.

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