For the Night of 16 September 2010
South Korea-North Korea: Separated family talks. A South Korean team met in Kaesong, North Korea, today in response to a North Korean invitation to restart reunions for families separated by the division of Korea after the Korean War. The South's chief delegate told the press, "It is an urgent task to help separated families reunite with their relatives. We must not put it off any longer."
The 14-strong delegation included two Red Cross officials and several members of South Korea's Unification ministry. Their agenda was to accept the North's proposal, discuss procedures and restore reunions as a regular event.
North Korea-US: Sinking of the Cheonan talks. A fifth round of colonel-level talks between North Korea and the United States was held in Panmunjom on 16 September, according to a report in the Korean Central News Agency.
The KCNA item differentiated the 16 September talks from the four prior sessions. It claimed talks had focused on the Cheonan incident, but a solution was delayed by the attitude of the U.S. forces. The 16 September session addressed forming a joint inspection group. The North Korean side pressed for the naming of the inspection group, the rank of each side's chief and the number of members of the group, with a goal to begin the investigation as soon as possible. The sixth round will be held at the end of September in Panmunjom.
Comment: This time last year, North Korea was closing nearly all joint ventures with the South, firing live artillery off the west coast, and blustering about the threat of war. After the sinking of the South Korean corvette, the North warned the situation was risking war.
Two apparently pivotal events have taken place: Kim Chong-il went to China and the North postponed the 3rd Party Conference because of Kim's health.
We can rely on longstanding Chinese interest in stability in northeast Asia to infer that the Chinese told Kim to ease tension because it is bad for business in northeast China and the region in general.
Chinese advice would provide a strong incentive for a tactical shift in North Korean policy in favor of limited engagement with South Korea and the US., esspecially were it tarted up with promises of aid and investment. But then, the Chinese have pressed these views on North Korea with almost no success since Kim succeeded his father in 1994.
The significance of the delay in the 3rd Party Conference is more opaque and would not seem conducive to more openness and engagement, unless Chang Song-taek, Kim's brother-in-law and the so-called regent for Kim Jong-eun, is directing the latest tactical shift. During his career, Chang has benefited directly from an atmosphere of less tension.
As with all periods of reduced tension, the North's old guard -- the surviving comrades-in-arms of Kim Il-sung - will expect tangible results from the capitalists. One hypothesis is that the stature of Chang and his ward would reach undisputed national leadership quality in the event any one of the recent initiatives made money for North Korea.
A policy challenge for the US and its Allies would be to decide whether their interests are served by providing assistance at this time, with the hope that it benefits Chang who has traveled widely in the West and Kim Jong-eun who was educated in Switzerland. In this scenario, aid would be rewarded by more talks, including nuclear talks, as suggested by former President Carter on 16 September. This is a confidence-building barter scenario.
A second view is that the North honors no agreements with its enemies because it is a communist country. All engagement overtures are transient and illusory. In this scenario, the easing of tension would be brief, never explained and followed by business as usual with a ratcheting up of tension, as it has countless times in the past. This is a
As attractive as engagement might seem, history is on the side of the skeptics.
A third alternative is that the leadership and succession are in such disarray that the North's leaders judge they must keep the peace until the issues are sorted out. In this scenario, all of the talks would be non-substantive, make no progress but will continue.
China-Sri Lanka: On 16 September, China and Sri Lanka agreed to enhance bilateral military cooperation. The announcement came during a meeting between General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army of China, and Sri Lankan Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Comment: The terms and value of the agreement are not yet known. Nevertheless, any new Chinese defense cooperation initiative with any South Asian country will draw the attention of the Indians. This reinforces China's defense connections with the country immediately south of India and in which India has strategic interests, albeit badly managed most of the time.
Following the near trebling of the armed forces to achieve victory over the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan Army requires a major overhaul, downsizing, retraining and re-equipment. It is significant about Sri Lankan leadership views of India that they turned to China. India, China and Pakistan all have helped Sri Lanka in fighting the Tigers.
For India, this will reinforce suspicions that China plans and intends to encircle India with client states.
Pakistan: Political note. The context of the following two items is that the local press has reported favorably about the military response to the epochal floods this rainy season. It also has contrasted the efficiency of the military response with the tardiness and inadequacy of the actions by the Gilani government.
This is selective coverage because Prime Minister Gilani authorized the use of the military for relief operations and is getting little credit for his decision. Flood relief operations have encouraged new respect for the armed forces and generated a still-developing sense that military government might be better than elected civilian government.
The Associated Press of Pakistan reported Prime Minister Gilani rejected rumors of government change and said the coalition government would protect democracy. He said any action will be taken through the parliament, adding that technocracy is unacceptable - a euphemism for military takeover.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz head, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said there is no danger of dictatorship in Pakistan and that martial law would not solve Pakistan's problems. He did say that some people were plotting conspiracies against democracy. Nawaz said change must be discussed, but it must be done within the constitution's boundaries.
Comment: Gilani and Nawaz Sharif are the most prominent political leaders in Pakistan. For both men to make statements dismissing political change at the hands of the military suggests the rumors have substance.
Pakistan's command structure and traditions require that the Chief of Army Staff must be involved in political plotting that has any chance of succeeding. However, the current Chief, General Kayani has been a staunch supporter of elected civilian government, while he concentrated on rebuilding the Pakistan Army's capabilities and discipline as well as on restoring civilian respect.
No public information indicates Kayani has changed his views, which helps explain why the Prime Minister extended him on active duty, essentially for the duration of the Gilani administration.
A military takeover would seem to be premature, so soon after the departure of Pervez Musharraf's administration in 2008. Nevertheless, the government's supposed inefficient response to the flooding has caused the political pendulum to begin to swing in favor of the "military party" in Pakistani politics.
The statements by Gilani and Nawaz Sharif bespeak their recognition that the shift has begun and represent their halting and unconvincing attempts to slow it. A statement dismissing the rumors by General Kayani is now due. If he fails to dismiss the rumors, then the rumors have substance.
Afghanistan: For the record. The Afghan Taliban called the 18 September parliamentary elections an American process and urged people to boycott the vote, according to a statement issued on 16 September. The Taliban said it took measures to foil the "illegitimate process" of elections across the country.
Comment: During the presidential elections, the Taliban staged 700 attacks in a single day. That is a useful benchmark for measuring the gravity of the threat. The US military command or a UN agency is expected to publicize attack data.
Somalia anti-piracy patrol. For the record. The INS Delhi, an Indian guided-missile destroyer, foiled a pirate attack for the fourth time in 10 days, the Indian Navy said on 16 September.
According to Indian press, the attempt occurred just south of Yemen. Forty Indians sailors were among the crew members on the merchant ships the INS Delhi was escorting. The pirates had a cache of arms, including a 7.62 mm rifle, six rocket propelled grenades and ammunition. The other foiled piracy attempts occurred on 5, 12 and 13 September.
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End of NightWatch for 16 September.
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