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NightWatch 20100729

NightWatch

For the Night of 29 July 2010

North Korea-UN Command: Update. North Korea and the United Nations Command are scheduled to hold their next colonel-level talks at 10:00 a.m. local time on 30 July at Panmunjom, the U.N. Command said in a statement on 29 July, The Associated Press reported. The meeting should have begun during this Watch.

North Korea-China: North Korea signed a new accord on economic and technical cooperation with China on 2 9 July, Agence France-Presse reported. The accord was signed in Pyongyang between North Korea's Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam and Chinese Ambassador to Pyongyang Liu Hongcai, the Korean Central News Agency said.

Comment: The theme running through nearly all recent reports of Chinese interactions with North Korea is economics. The Chinese are tightening the economic controls they have over North Korea. The object is to ensure stability so that deranged stunts by the Kim family do not upset the careful plans of the new economic mandarins in Beijing, specifically as they relate to development in Northeast China.

Thus China is engaged in the kind of economic subversion that South Korea has been attempting since 2000, with mixed results. The difference is that the Chinese are bigger and have more resources to bring to bear. North Korea is more desperate now than in 2000 and more suspicious of the administration in Seoul. The North appears to be selling its patrimony little by little and that is probably good for stability.

If Chinese ownership of North Korea, Inc., continues to widen, it might come to mean that key decisions about stability on the northern part of the peninsula will be made in China, more than in Pyongyang. The leadership transition process underway and the internal economic collapse together provide the best opportunity in two life-times for China to insert itself in North Korean affairs with any prospect of getting away with it.

Republic of China, aka the Government on Taiwan-South China Sea: Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 29 July restated Taiwan's sovereignty over several groups of disputed islands in the South China Sea, the Central News Agency reported. The Ministry issued a press release that no matter the perspective -- history, international law or geography -- the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank and the waters surrounding them, along with their seabeds and subsoils, are Taiwan's territory.

The Republic of China, which exists ex officio and de facto on Taiwan, is the immediate successor to all the lands, islands and interests of the Chinese Empire, including those in the South China Sea to the coast of Borneo. It replaced the Imperial government before the Chinese communists existed.

Nevertheless, both mainland and Taiwan Chinese governments consider the islands and seabed of the South China Sea to be Chinese. They disagree about which government has the superior right to rule all the Chinese and all their territories, islands and seabed areas.

Vietnam-China-US: Vietnamese Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh urged greater transparency militarily with China, the South China Morning Post reported 29 July. He said his country would never threaten or use force to gain its interests, and would not accept a solution that involves the same.

When asked whether Vietnam had recently received a threat from China, he responded that it was a question for Beijing. He said better relations with the United States and Russia, as well as China, are possible, adding that all nations are attempting to develop peaceful relations

Comment: The Vietnamese comrades are attempting to engage in political triangulation again. Based on General Nguyen's remark, apparently China has warned Vietnam to limit its ties to the US. Even the French have become more deeply involved in Vietnam, acting as a spoiler in Vietnam's triangular diplomacy.

The Russians are outliers with little to offer for free, except the ability to act as an occasional buffer between Vietnam and China or the US. The Chinese and the US are the antagonists. The Vietnamese government and party remain split between the pro-China and pro-US factions. Geography favors the pro-China faction in all policy disputes.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: The Pakistani "Foreign Office" released a statement 29 July that Pakistan does not understand why Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked NATO forces to attack possible terrorist havens inside Pakistan and has asked Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan to seek clarification, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The spokesman said Pakistan and Afghanistan have been working together for the past two years to combat terrorism.

Comment: It is premature to draw conclusions, but one of the casualties of Wikileaks might be the Afghanistan tilt towards Pakistan. There is little enough trust between the leaders and members of the two nations without the added stress of unconfirmed and undated examples of mistrust from an earlier time.

One problem with press treatment of the leaked reports is that it tends to ignore the dates. None are contemporary. They cover a five year span. Thus, things Karzai might have said three or more years ago have long since been overtaken by more recent events. In current events analysis, even a year is a life time.

It is always important to look for the date of the information whenever a news outlet runs a story based on the leaked documents. If there is no date, be suspicious that the news writer is spinning the story to relate year old information to the present. The latest date of information for the Wikileaks documents is 2009.

Syria-Saudi Arabia: The Syrian Foreign Ministry released a statement 29 July that Syria and Saudi Arabia are independent states and know best how to handle events in their countries' region without external interference, CBS News reported. It added that the United States has no duty or right to determine Syria's relationship with other countries in the region.

Comment: The statement was Syria's official riposte to US Assistant Secretary of State Crowley's 28 July remarks that Syria should listen to Saudi King Abdullah and distance itself from Iran, and play a more active role in easing tensions in the region. King Abdullah arrived today from Egypt as the latest leg of his travel to Arab states. Lebanon is the next stop.

Somehow one would think the US would learn to let Arabs handle Arab diplomacy, especially when King Abdullah is leading the effort. Arabs speak Arabic to each other and are familiar with desert culture, not to mention Islam. King Abdullah's efforts to forge an anti-Iran and more unified Sunni Arabic bloc are always degraded by State Department cheerleading, nattering and badgering, as today. The King does not require US help in talking to Arabs.

The repetition of today's events has been so frequent that it is not clear that the US wants the King to succeed. That is because when an ally's action supports US interests, even obliquely, prudence suggests the ally be allowed to succeed unhindered by damaging public encouragement.

Silence usually is the better part of wisdom, especially when accompanied by obvious cultural ignorance. One would think that the State Department press office is under no obligation to say stupid things that might undermine useful diplomacy by the Saudi King.

Syria-Saudi Arabia-Lebanon: Syria and Saudi Arabia pledged to support efforts to stabilize Lebanon and preserve its security and unity, Reuters reported 29 July. A joint statement from Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar al Asad also called for better inter-Arab relations, praised Turkey's support for the Palestinians and called for the formation of a government in Iraq to preserve the nation's Arab identity and security.

Comment: The King has undertaken another strenuous trip through Arab lands to build an Arab front that blocks Iranian influence in Syria and inroads in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Syrian Alawites, the Sunni Palestinians of Hamas and the Shiite Arabs of Lebanese Hezbollah have afforded the Persians unprecedented access to Arab lands and business.

The Saudi King continues to try to limit or reverse the damage to what passes for Arab unity from Iranian subversion. Thus far his energies have been misspent. His initiatives have not weakened Iranian influence in any of the three target entities.

End of NightWatch for 29 July.

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