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NightWatch 20101128

NightWatch

For the Night of 28 November 2010

The Korea Confrontation

Japan: Tokyo news outlets reported the Self-Defense Forces are conducting warning and surveillance activities of North Korea. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has put his Cabinet on standby to respond rapidly to any potential developments in North Korea.

On a Sunday morning TV program, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said that "all possible measures" are being taken to deal with unexpected developments. He also suggested that Japan will consider "additional measures," depending on the developments. "The possibility of a resumption of the six-party talks is getting slim, and our sanctions on North Korea have not made any progress," Fukuyama said. "We must consider if we need to introduce another approach."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara provided Kan updates about the Korean confrontation. "I instructed them to address the situation in a firm manner without lowering our guard," Kan told reporters.

Later on the 28th, Kan held a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku and other government officials apparently to discuss the confrontation, including North Korea's reaction to the start of the four-day US-ROK military exercises. The Cabinet has been ordered to stay in Tokyo until Wednesday, when the four-day joint military exercise ends, and to report to their ministries within the hour if an emergency situation develops.

Comment: Japanese response to the attack on the South Korean island has been strong consistently throughout the week. Japanese patience with North Korea's Stalinist behavior appears to be wearing thin. The Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary is the first to suggest that another approach might be needed with North Korea. Something that is not just talks and sanctions, but he did not clarify what he had in mind.

South Korea: South Korean President Lee Myung Bak told Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo that China must act fairly and more responsibly on North Korea, according to a statement released by the President's office. Lee also told Dai that South Korea would react strongly in the event of additional provocative actions by North Korea.

Comment: The only development that has prodded the Chinese to take action is the movement of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier task group into the Yellow Sea. China has been outspokenly critical of the movement and Allied exercises in the Yellow Sea, but has not expressed comparable concern about North Korean actions last week and since.

North Korea: South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported North Korea has moved some of its 122 mm multiple rocket launchers and opened more camouflaged artillery gates to coastal positions.

Satellite imagery detected that the North also moved SA-2 surface-to-air missiles to the coast and placed anti-ship cruise missiles on launch pads on the western coast. MiG-23 fighters reportedly are on alert at Hwangju Air Base, in southwestern North Korea. The North's Eighth Naval Command which covers offshore areas of South Hwanghae Province is at high readiness.

North Korean official media continued broadcasting threats of retaliation if North Korean territorial waters are violated during the exercise. One outlet said the southwest region was at "state of war readiness," the highest level in the North's readiness system. The Independent reported North Korean workers in the Russian Far East are being recalled to North Korea, but that report has not been corroborated by other sources.

Comment: The North has obtained the attention it sought and almost certainly expects to ride out the next four days of Allied exercises. It shows no signs of willingness to talk and surfaced two more justifications for the artillery and rocket attack last week, both blaming the South or the US. Its media did express regret for the civilian deaths, but accused South Korea of using civilians as shields for troops.

Tension is high and small incidents can lead to large reactions. That is why South Korea immediately notified North Korea on the 28th of a stray artillery round that was accidentally fired towards the Demilitarized Zone. The Panmunjom venue remains open for crisis management.

One of the complications in predicting North Korean responses about the offshore islands is that the North has a claim to the waters near the offshore islands that South Korea disputes. The North may be depended to respond based on its claim. It will shoot and is prepared for retaliation.

The US task group's location was reported far south of any North Korean claim. The North's equipment mostly is Vietnam War-vintage, but the North has a way of updating old systems, especially anti-ship cruise missiles, to extend their range and increase their lethality and possibly accuracy. The news reports did not identify the anti-ship systems on launch pads in the North's Eighth Naval Command.

China: China on Sunday proposed emergency talks to reduce tension. "The Chinese side, after careful deliberation, proposes emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the Six-Party Talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present," said Wu Dawei, Chinese special representative for the Korean Peninsula affairs.

Comment: North Korea has not accepted China's proposal. South Korea has called it premature. That raises a suspicion that the two Koreas are willing and prepared to engage in more exchanges of fire. Certainly the South Korean Marines are.

Other items

Burma: Curbs on freedom of speech announced Friday in an official gazette set a two-year prison term for any protest staged within the parliament compound. The laws, signed by junta chief General Than Shwe stipulate that parliamentarians will be allowed freedom of expression unless their speech endanger national security, the unity of the country or violate the constitution. They also provide a two-year prison term for those who stage protests in the parliament compound or physically assault a lawmaker on its premises. This is a study in democracy.

Special note: More than 250,000 diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies and consulates around the world obtained by WikiLeaks have begun to been released, The New York Times reported 28 November. The cables, some of which were written as recently as February, include candid views of world leaders, negotiations by embassies with foreign governments and assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

The documents were made available to The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian, and will be made public on the WikiLeaks website in several releases. Many were marked unclassified, and none were marked "top secret," though 11,000 were classified as "secret," about 9,000 were labeled so that they were not to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 were both secret and not to be shared with a foreign government. Many cables include names of confidential diplomatic sources, foreign lawmakers, military officers and reporters, and some included messages to protect the identities.

Comment: Most reports in a group of 250,000 reports are likely to be of little value. However, the volume is so large that it inevitably will contain thousands of highly insightful and embarrassingly confidential assessments.

Even based on a very small sample, NightWatch judges that this leak is vastly more damaging to the US national interests and security than the military reports leaked earlier. Tactical and operational military reports tend to have a short life span of relevance. Many State Department reports are entirely different in that they describe and evaluate leadership, political conditions in countries and other more durable issues plus conversations that are privileged for good reasons.

Every country with a diplomatic service produces reports of these kinds, as most Readers will know. That does not minimize the damage arising from the fact that the US will be seen as unable to be trusted with secrets, such as Arab states' concerns about Iran.

End of NightWatch for 28 November.

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