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NightWatch 20120201

NightWatch

For the night of 1 February 2012

China-North Korea- South Korea: A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense dismissed as misinformation a report published by South Korean and Japanese media that the Chinese army is likely to advance into North Korea in case of a "contingency" on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese spokesman said it is "absolutely impossible."

North Korean media repeated statements by Chinese military experts who said the report is baseless and absurd because a Chinese troops' advance into Korea is impossible (sic). The North Korean media reported it is clear that some foreign media were pursuing an "ulterior purpose" in guessing the attitude of the Chinese army toward a "contingency" in North Korea. It reported that this can be illustrated by the misinformation that the situation on the DPRK border with China got strained and Chinese troops advanced into the DPRK.

Worse still, according to the North Korean media, some foreign media reported that there was a gunfight in an area along the Sino-North Korean border; that a plan for Sino-DPRK military drill was frustrated and China refused to sell its advanced fighter aircraft to the North Korea. 

Comment: The North Korean media is the first to mention and deny that a firefight took place between Chinese and North Korean border forces. The border is always uneasy. Exchanges of fire are probably more frequent than reported in open source media, suggesting a significant incident occurred that warranted reassuring press treatment.

As for the prospect of Chinese intervention in the event of instability in Pyongyang, this remains a sensitive issue for North Korea. Most old hands, however, consider Chinese intervention in North Korea in the event of a government collapse to be a foregone conclusion.

Chinese military planners would be irresponsible if they had no plan for a military response to stabilize conditions in Pyongyang in the event of a government collapse or a North Korean military revolt. Under some conditions, North Korean leaders under stress might even invite a Chinese intervention to save themselves, under the treaty of mutual friendship between China and North Korea. However, leaders in both countries play down that possibility. The South Korean and Japanese press hit a North Korean nerve in their coverage of this issue.

Japan:  Prosecutors indicted two executives of small trading houses in Nagoya and Tokyo on Wednesday on charges of exporting used personal computers to North Korea in violation of Japanese government trade sanctions.

Lee Mun Ryang in Nagoya, and Kaoru Morino in Tokyo allegedly exported used PCs and other items worth a total of 8.2 million yen to North Korea in June and December 2010, according to the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office.

The exported goods are believed to have been delivered to the Korea Computer Center, North Korea's governmental information technology research center set up by the late North Korean leader Kim Chong-il. Both Lee and Morino were quoted by prosecutors as saying they knew that the goods would be delivered to the KCC.

Japan has imposed a total ban on exports to North Korea since June 2009 over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Comment: The accused appear to be members of the large overseas Korean community that resides in Japan but maintains links to North Korea. The significance is that the Japanese action demonstrates that strict trade sanctions on the movement of high tech equipment are difficult to enforce in a timely fashion so as to halt or disrupt a targeted program.

Iraq: The al-Maliki government has welcomed the return of the Sunni Arab Al-Iraqiyah List Members of Parliament to parliament sessions and their resumption of their duties, according to a statement issued by the prime minister's media office. The statement also said that Prime Minister al-Maliki reemphasized that Al-Iraqiyah List's ministers should return to cabinet meetings so as to facilitate the ministries' operations and people's business.

Comment: Three al-Iraqiyah List ministers announced their resumption of duty at their ministries after meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki, thereby ending the Sunni boycott of the government. The return of the Sunni cabinet ministers eases tension in the Baghdad government and gives the Sunni ministers legitimacy in shaping or otherwise influencing government policy. Their return does not mean that the Sunni and Shiite Arab politicians have agreed to mend political fences or that the low level sectarian conflict has ended.

Russia-Syria:  For the record. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia intends to continue to fulfill its weapons sales contracts to Syria. "Yes, certainly, we continue supplying arms. We have signed contracts and they should be fulfilled," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Lavrov also said that Russian arms supplies do not contribute to the crisis in Syria. "The arms that we supply are not used against demonstrators," he stressed.

Russia-Syria-UN: Update. Russia's UN representative Ambassador Vitaliy Churkin said Russia will not allow the UN Security Council to adopt the text of a resolution on Syria which it considers to be unacceptable. "We will not allow any text to be adopted which we consider to be erroneous, and which will lead to an aggravation of the conflict. This is unambiguous; we're being honest about this."

Comment: The Russians want more balance in any resolution so that it calls for both the government and the opposition to stop shooting and begin a dialogue.

A key unanswered question is how does a disorganized opposition get ammunition? All the news videos show the opposition so-called fighters aimlessly emptying the magazines of their automatic weapons, usually AK's. How do they get resupplied? Feedback is invited.

Egypt: The People's Assembly (the lower house of parliament) will hold an emergency session on 2 February to discuss the violence that occurred immediately after the end of Al-Misri and Al-Ahli football clubs' match in Port Said Stadium.

Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Tantawi ordered two military transport aircraft to be sent to transport Al-Ahli's players, fans and injured back to Cairo, according to state-owned Cairo Nile News TV. The second-half of a football match between Al-Zamalik and Al-Isma'ili clubs was cancelled after the clashes in Port Said city.

Comment: Official sources reported 73 people died in the violence. This is the first order of business of the new parliament, after organizing itself, and might provide insights into its political outlook.

End of NightWatch for 1 February.

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