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NightWatch 20120724

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NightWatch

For the night of 24 July 2012

China-North Korea: Senior officials from the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Workers' Party of Korea of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) met in Beijing on Tuesday, and vowed to further consolidate the two countries' friendship, according to Chinese media.

Zhou Yongkang, a Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee represented China. Ri Myong Su, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party and a member of the National Defense Commission led the North Korean delegation.

Zhou said the traditional friendship between the two countries -- created and cultivated by veteran revolutionaries of the two countries and two parties -- was their valuable treasure. Zhou asked Ri to convey "cordial greetings" to Kim Jong-un from General Secretary Hu Jintao and himself….

Ri echoed Zhou saying the DPRK side was ready to further enhance the friendly relations between the two countries, two parties, as well as the cooperation between the People's Security Department and China's Ministry of Public Security.

Prior to the meeting, State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu held talks with Ri on Tuesday morning.

Comment: This visit was significant for several reasons. Ri Myong-su, 74, is a four-star general and the Minister of the People's Security, the North's top cop. In addition he holds prestigious and influential posts in the North Korean Worker's Party Politburo and the Republic's National Defense Commission, where he is in charge of administration.

Ri often accompanied the late Kim Chong-il on visits around the country. However his military mentor was the late General Chang Song-u. Chang Song-u commanded the Pyongyang Security Command and the III Army Corps responsible for defense of the capital. He was the elder brother of Chang Song-taek who is the chief political advisor and uncle of Kim Jong-un. In other words, Ri is loyal to the Chang and Kim families.

Any successful military coup in North Korea would require the cooperation of the III Army Corps and the Pyongyang Defense Command. Only the most loyal generals command and staff these formations. Ri was one of them.

The timing of General Ri's visit to China relative to the leadership problems last week strongly suggests that China required a high level explanation of events. As the top cop talking to Chinese top cops, Ri is the man who would know the details and could relate the story with authority.

The attention to border security in the press statement points to another contentious issue in the relationship. Lax border controls has facilitated smuggling and illegal cross border trafficking between the two countries.

Kim Jong-un has reinforced border security, cracked down on cross border smuggling and has offered to regularize day labor in northeast China by contracting for 40,000 North Korean guest workers to work in China. North Korea has had contract labor arrangements in the past with Libya, Syria and Russia to earn hard currency. Almost all wages are paid directly to the North Korean government. China appears to be the driver in policing the border.

Finally, once again the language of the exchange of greetings continues to imply strain. Zhou passed "cordial greetings" from President Hu to Kim Jong-un. In diplomatic language, the word "cordial" always signifies distance and coolness in a relationship, with an innuendo of distrust.

China-South China Sea: China on Tuesday officially established the city of Sansha on Yongxing Island (Woody Island, south of Hainan) in the southernmost province of Hainan. Sansha is the capital of a new prefecture, which will contain about 3,500 permanent residents on Chinese claimed islands and administer about 3 million sq km of the South China Sea, its seabed, and all the islands, which also are claimed by every other nation on the South China Sea.

Sun Shaochi, vice-minister of civil affairs, announced the State Council's approval of the establishment of the city at today's ceremony. Luo Baoming, Party Chief of Hainan Province, said in a keynote speech that Sansha was established to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands ( the Chinese names for the various island groups in the South China Sea) and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea.

"The provincial government will be devoted to turning the city into an important base to safeguard China's sovereignty and serve marine resource development," he said. He said the main task now is to build up political power in Sansha to ensure efficient administration.

A ceremony to mark the city's establishment began on Tuesday morning in a square in front of the city government's main building, located on Yongxing Island, a part of the Xisha Islands and the largest island in the area.

The national flag was hoisted while the national anthem played after the signboards of the Sansha city's government and the city's committee of the Communist Party of China were unveiled. A military garrison was also established on Tuesday in the city.

Xiao Jie was elected on Monday the first mayor of the newly established city in the first session of the Sansha People's Congress, held on Yongxing Island.

Comment: The establishment of a prefecture for the islands and the sea represents the next step in China's strategy to make the South China Sea the internal waters of China.

The phase of diplomatic interaction and negotiations with the Southeast Asian countries has ended. China waited until after last week's fruitless meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia before establishing the new prefecture. The Association could not agree on a diplomatic path that might lead to resolution of the many disputes. So China acted unilaterally, ignoring the US, the Southeast Asians and the UN. That is an important and consistent trait of Chinese international relations style.

In making this region a prefecture, China is asserting the right to arrest trespassers and violators of sovereignty. The region has been incorporated into domestic administrative law. While the prefecture cannot now enforce its mandate, its establishment means China intends that it will obtain those capabilities in the future. More personnel, more resources, more bases and more ships of all types are destined for the new prefecture.

This will spark a limited arms race for patrol ships, but the ASEAN members will look to the US to protect their interests in sea and seabed resources. The US tilt to Asia appears too late to block the Chinese without risking naval confrontations and exchanges of fire.

NightWatch has reported on multiple occasions that the Chinese diplomacy was disconnected and incongruent with the actions of maritime and fisheries authorities and now national administration. Mild diplomatic language did not match the aggressive and belligerent practices of the maritime authorities. The action of the State Council in approving the new prefecture confirms what NightWatch Readers already new - the aggressive bullying was the real Chinese policy, not the diplomacy.

Because of the anti-secession statute, no Chinese leaders can agree to cede any territory or sea region claimed as Chinese without risking capital punishment. The administrative institutionalization process symbolized by today's ceremony at Sansha is irreversible unless the government in Beijing changes.

Pakistan-Afghanistan-US: This week three new issues emerged to complicate US and Afghan relations with Pakistan.

During the past week, news sources have reported sustained artillery shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan's Nuristan and Konar Provinces, which border the Pakistani tribal agencies. The Afghan government has complained, but the Pakistanis blame the Afghans for stirring up trouble.

Comment: Cross border mortar and rifle fire are common. Everyone has a gun and organized groups have mortars and/or machine guns. In Afghanistan these include some border guard units. In Pakistan, the militias in the tribal agencies, such as the Chitral Scouts and the Khyber Rifles, have some crew served weapons, including light mortars. Sometimes US special forces operating in the border region retaliate with mortar fire, when the Pakistanis shell or rocket them.

As a broad rule, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents have mortars and rockets but they have few rounds, which are hard to get. Thus they are not capable of sustained fire over a period of days, which has been taking place.

Artillery fire always means the Pakistan Army artillery is at work and represents an escalation of the normal exchanges. It almost always means that the regular artillery has been enlisted in the service of Pakistani intelligence to cover resupply and infiltration operations into Afghanistan or Kashmir, depending on the border.

Sometimes artillery fire is Pakistani retaliation for US drone attacks, and the Afghan forces invariably pay the price. That fire does not last five days. What makes this relevant is that Pakistan's head of intelligence told the US to stop the drone attacks, provide the targeting data to Pakistan and Pakistan will take care of the targets.

It is not clear just what is driving the fire, but it has reached the highest levels of the governments and the Pakistanis have not stopped. That means they are unhappy about something.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The second issue involves the large Afghan refugee population resident in western Pakistan. Pakistani officials say the government plans to cancel the refugee status of three million Afghans currently living in the country at the end of this year.

Comment: This is an enormously serious issue for Afghanistan and means the Pakistani government is applying social pressure on the Afghan government, the US and the international community, to at least rid Pakistan of this decade old burden. Pakistan has hosted more than five million Afghan refugees, who fled the Taliban and set up nearly permanent residence in Pakistani border camps,l supported by NGOs. Major sections of Karachi are populated by Pashtuns, many from Afghanistan

Under Musharraf, Pakistan returned several million refugees back to Afghanistan, creating a humanitarian crisis in two senses. Afghanistan had no accommodation for the refugees at that time. Wealthy Afghan land owners had confiscated the lands that the refugees had abandoned, under cover of law. They just took village lands and the provincial and central government condoned it.

An influx of three million refugees would pose serious burdens of accommodation, feeding and support. They cannot go home because their homes no longer exist. And they cannot stay in Pakistan. Pakistan is not happy about something.

NATO supply operations. Finally, despite the agreement to restore NATO's supply operations, thousands of containers remain on the docks and in truck parks in Karachi because Pakistani customs is creating obstacles, delays and paperwork. Pakistanis do not favor the supply agreement.

Comment: The government of Prime Minister Ashraf appears to be engaged in passive aggressive behavior to get the US to stop drone attacks; to placate mounting, outspoken political opposition to the NATO supply agreement; and to strengthen Pakistani influence in the Afghan endgame, on both sides. There probably are other issues, but Pakistani relations with the US are not even cordial. Pakistan has the advantage because it can apply pressure on the US and Afghanistan in so many, plausibly deniable ways.

Syria: Defected Syrian Brigadier General Manaf Tlass called on Syrians to unite and begin building a post-President Bashar al-Asad regime.

Comment: None of the fighters in Syria will pay much attention to Tlass. His father oversaw the destruction of Hama under Hafez al Asad and his brigade killed many Sunni opposition fighters. He and his sister in Paris apparently are trying to save the family fortune back in Syria. The Tlass family are not likely to be welcome by the people actually fighting and the time for their leadership role in Syria has passed. But he is useful for propaganda purposes.

Egypt: For the record. President Mursi and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces are discussing who to appoint as defense minister, according to newly appointed Prime Minister Hisham Kandil. Field Marshal Tantawi held the post, but Mursi is again testing his authority. He will lose, again.

Comment: Kandil was a minor minister in the transitional government and is an unknown with no apparent political clout. He will pose no challenge to Mursi, who apparently intends to run a presidential, vice a parliamentary,  government, just as Mubarak did.

End of NightWatch for 24 July.

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