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NightWatch 20101018

NightWatch

For the Night of 18 October 2010

South Korea-North Korea: South and North Korea re-established their aviation hot line 18 October, following a proposal from Pyongyang, a South Korean official said. Control centers in Pyongyang and Inchon made a test call, a Unification Ministry spokesman said, adding the issue of using airspace is a separate matter to be reviewed by airline companies. North Korea gave no reason for the reconnection but Seoul agreed to do so to ease air traffic control, the spokesman said.

Comment: This is the latest in a series of steps in the direction of restoring contacts in bilateral relations as they existed before the sinking of the corvette Cheonan in March. This communications line links the air traffic control centers for the two capitals to obtain permission for South Korean commercial aircraft to use North Korean airspace. A test of the line was successful on 18 October but the airspace remains closed to South Korea, for now.

This line plus a naval hotline for offshore islands incidents and the Panmunjom hotline were severed in May over the sinking of the corvette Cheonan. The other two links remain cut.

The other significant conciliatory program is the resumption of Red Cross talks for family reunions. On 20 October, delegates are to finalize the list of 200 people who will take part in the new set of reunions later in October.

China-Japan: Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed regret Monday over anti-Japanese demonstrations that took place in at least five Chinese cities over the weekend in connection with the Senkaku Islands maritime dispute. ''We told the Chinese authorities the demonstrations were regrettable and strongly urge China to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and firms,'' Kan said at a session of the House of Councillors' Audit Committee.

Comment: The weekend demonstrations and vandalizing of Japanese restaurants, businesses and Japanese brand automobiles have renewed tension two weeks after Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met on 4 October during the Asia-Europe summit to improve relations. Last week in Hanoi the defense ministers also met to try repair contacts.

As a rule, Chinese student demonstrations are not spontaneous. They invariably prove to have received some form of official encouragement, if not backing. It is not clear what provoked the latest outbursts, but the demonstrations suggest some leadership group seems to believe China let Japan off too lightly over the 7 September ramming incident and the arrest of the Chinese fishing boat captain.

As noted before, the confrontation over the Senkakus has not ended.

Iran-Iraq: Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad said he hopes for a united, powerful and independent Iraq during a meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on 18 October, according to Fars News Agency. Ahmadi-Nejad said that he hopes Iraq can be restored and welfare returned to the people, adding that he will support the country. Strong bonds between the two nations will allow for independence and regional control, Ahmadi-Nejad said.

Comment: In the past week Ahmadi-Nejad has met with all of his regional allies, including those in Lebanon, Syria and now Iraq. He has had at least one phone conversation with Saudi King Abdallah, prior to the Lebanon trip. The overall impression is the Iranian leadership sensed a need to reinforce the alliance among the Arab Shiites and pro-Iranian allies.

Ahmadi-Nejad's comment about independence and regional control are directed at the US. "Independence" for Iraq in this context always means, "without the US." In his world view, the only two Shiite-led governments in the world are sufficient to control the Gulf region.

The most immediate impediment to Ahmadi-Nejad's grand vision is that al Maliki has failed to form a government seven months after elections. It is tempting to consider that al Maliki's visit might have been a trip to the woodshed for an attitude correction, but there is no reporting to confirm that.

End of NightWatch for 18 October.

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