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NightWatch 20100322


For the Night of 22 March 2010

North Korea: Update. Today, the Korean Central News Agency published the identification of an American citizen whom it has detained since late January for illegal border crossing.

"The organ concerned of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea decided to indict for trial Aijalon Mahli Gomes, male U.S. citizen, born on June 19, 1979 and residing in Boston, Massachusetts State (sic), who illegally entered the country as his crime has been confirmed."

Comment: Gomes entered North Korea by crossing the border from China on 25 January. He was reported in custody on 28 January by the news agency. Confirmation of his "crime" means he will be tried for illegal entry, not for espionage or subversion. It also sends the message that his release is negotiable, in the manner of former President Clinton's intervention last August to obtain the release of the two US reporters. This is an invitation for a high profile negotiator who is not an administration official.

North Korea-South Korea: Update. Major South Korean operators of now-suspended tours to a North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort said on 22 March they have decided to comply with Pyongyang's order that they gather in the communist country later this week or else see their properties at the mountain resort taken away, Yonhap and other news services reported.

Hyundai Asan Corporation, the organizer of the mountain tours, announced its officials plan to cross the border on Thursday, 25 March, to comply with the survey requirement, while the state-run Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) said it will send representatives a day earlier.

The government in Seoul plans to approve the visit to the North by the operator, if they decide to cross the border, ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said earlier in the day in a briefing. But he said South Korea maintains it will not allow the tours to resume until the North issues an official apology, agrees to a joint on-site investigation into the shooting death of a tourist at Mount Kumgang in July 2008 and guarantees full-scale safety measures for future tourists.

The North says that such safety measures were promised when its leader Kim Jong-il met with the chairwoman of Hyundai Asan last year and that its own probe shed enough light on the shooting. The North found the tourist had strayed outside the approved perimeter for tourists and thus was responsible for her own death when a guard shot her.

Note: Apologies are sometimes a ritual in the North-South dialogue and are not necessarily an obstacle. The North, for example, apologized to the South after one of its infiltration submarines was captured by the South and all its crew killed in December 1996.

The key point is that there is movement on economic cooperation. The North needs the South's help as a potential counter to increased Chinese influence.

China-North Korea: Belated report. (Note: Although this information is dated and most Korea hands already know about this development, media coverage missed a few points NightWatch judges are significant)

The Korea Times reported 8 March that China's northeastern Jilin Province has acquired the right to use North Korea's Rajin Port for 10 years, a news report said Monday. The report said an official of the province made public the agreement at China's National People's Congress Sunday, 7 March. The Congress sat between 5 and 14 March.

The lease gives China access to the Sea of Japan for the first time over a hundred years, when Japan, China and Russia were all empires. As a result, Yanji City in northeastern China will be able to export coal from Jilin to Japan and other nations via Rajin on the Sea of Japan, rather than using ports on the Yellow Sea.

Meanwhile, Japan's Sankei Shimbun said that North Korea has decided to fully open Rajin to foreign firms. A senior North Korean official recently visited the region and pledged that Pyongyang will fully open the city to foreign companies in six months, the newspaper reported.

Last month, Yonhap News reported that China had decided to invest about $10 billion in North Korea to revive its communist neighbor's faltering economy. Beijing will invest the money to build railroads, harbors and houses in the cash-strapped North through the latter's Taepung International Investment Group, a newly established international cooperation agency, the report said.

North Korea is also considering building economic development zones in and around the area with the support from Chinese investments, it said.

The Vancouver Sun reported today the North Korean government says Rajin can now accommodate eight vessels of 10,000 tons at the same time and five ships of 5,000 tons. The freight storage capacity is 100,000 tons and the freight transit capacity only about four million tons a year.

China has invested nearly $4 million in the past year to upgrade Pier No. 1, the object of its 10-year lease, and to construct a 40,000-square-metre warehouse. Future plans involving Chinese investment, according to North Korea, call for the construction of four new wharfs that will allow Rajin to berth 36 ships at once, including vessels of up to 200,000-ton capacity.

Comment: Rajin-Sonbong is one of four special economic zones that were supposed to be engines for national economic develop. The others are the two South Korean joint zones at Kaesong and Mount Kumgang and at Sinuiju in the northwest.

Rajin-Sonbong has been a special economic zone since 1995 but has never attracted foreign investors until now because it lacks infrastructure and creature comforts. China has not heretofore expressed any interest in the project, but has changed its investment strategy. As it has done in Afghanistan for the Aymak Copper Mine, China is committed to a large investment project in North Korea.

The economics are fairly obvious. China wants Japan to pay for the development of the northeastern Chinese provinces. In the process North Korea gets a windfall, though its economic needs far exceed the benefits from this project.

The decision has large strategic implications, not because Rajin will ever be a Chinese naval base, but because China is helping bail out the North on a scale it has not previously willing to risk. It is committed to the survival of a stable system and is investing resources to help manage stability. This seems to have higher priority than returning to Six Party Talks. The Chinese say it is strictly a contractual arrangement, indicating there is no political exchange of value or terms.

The North will not be isolated as long as China is using Rajin port. On the other hand, it will seek economic counterweights, which helps explain the urgency of its recent badgering of South Korea to revive its two special economic zones. As for Six Party Talks, stronger economic prospects will induce the North to raise the stakes and the price of admission for more talks.

Pakistan: Security. The Islamabad Police on Monday, 22 March, arrested four suspected terrorists, including a mastermind of several suicide bombings, and recovered suicide vests in the federal capital. The suspects intended to carry out terrorist attacks in the federal capital on 23 March, Acting Inspector General Islamabad Bin Yamin told reporters at a media briefing.

He said that one arrested terrorist, Noor Jehan, was a resident of Kurram Agency and had been involved in various acts of terrorism happened in the country. Three more terrorists were captured on his identification, Yamin said. The acting IG said that the arrested men had been personnel of the Frontier Corps and were involved in suicide bombings on the office of World Food Organization and Naval complex. He said that they wanted to kidnap Jordanian envoy besides other plans to target private and government offices.

Politics. The News reported today that Parliament is being asked this week to approve a number of major changes to the Constitution.

First, all those judges of the superior judiciary who would validate any future military coup, as a number did under Musharraf, will be tried for high treason, as they would be seen as abettors in the crime. No court including the Supreme Court and high courts shall validate acts of high treason, specifically overthrowing the elected government.

Second, the powers of the President to appoint the services chiefs and to dissolve the National Assembly are finally being proposed to be returned to the prime minister.

Under the new constitutional package, the attorney general will not be allowed to indulge in private practice or accept lucrative fees from individuals or firms so long as he holds the office.

The President will be stripped of the authority to remove or force judges into retirement because they oppose his decrees. This is intended to make the judiciary an equal branch of government with the Presidency.

One of the proposed changes makes it mandatory for the President to give his assent to any bill within ten days, instead of the existing thirty days, failing which the assent shall be deemed to have been given.

Several changes concern grounds for disqualification for running for Parliament. Most important, one that will be deleted is that which disqualifies a candidate simply because he criticized the Army or the judiciary. Disqualification will require a conviction in a court of law after a fair trial, not because of public speech.

Finally, the most unusual provision is that President General Ziaul Haq will be deleted from Pakistan's constitutional history when the 18th Amendment, to be moved in parliament in a few days, is passed.

Zia had himself declared President, while still serving as Chief of Army Staff, pursuant to a national referendum instead of pursuant to general elections.

The News published, "A new history is being written by our politicians as ruthless military dictator General Ziaul Haq will be stripped of his title of President of Pakistan, 22 years after his death in a plane crash. General Zia's election as the president of Pakistan through his infamous presidential referendum of December 19, 1984, will be deleted from the pages of the Constitution."

Comment: The passage of Constitutional Amendments, which the Parliament is empowered and is likely to do, will introduce the next episode in the continuing political drama. The drama has two themes: restore the normal and customary powers of Parliamentary government; protect the elected government and deter military coups. To these ends, the heads of the armed services will become de facto subordinates of the Prime Minister and the National Assembly. The Constitution will be restored to its form and substance as it was before the Musharraf coup in October 1999. Ziaul Haq will never have been President of Pakistan.

This is a study in democracy, righting itself.

Afghanistan: Forty Taliban militants and seven policemen have died in a battle in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Pajhwok news agency reported 22 March, citing an official. The official said government forces withdrew from the area, Shah Karez, which is important to the security of Musa Qala District.

Comment: The only significance of this is that it shows the ebb and flow dynamics of government and Taliban control. Musa Qala was cleared of Taliban by British forces in 2006 under an ill-advised truce and by US airborne forces in December 2007, but the Taliban are showing once again that losing battles is not losing the fight. They return. They also know they cannot hold Musa Qala against a rescue force, so they will leave and live to fight again.

Part of the problem is that police in any district of Afghanistan can be overwhelmed by a concerted large Taliban force. Police stay in their police station unless called out for some reason. Thus they are easily surrounded, get low on ammunition and often are allowed to run away after leaving their weapons behind. This happens repeatedly in district centers wherever the Taliban have a substantial presence.

If this small police force killed 40 Taliban, the government had a good day, but at the cost of some good men. The village will be retaken.

Politics. A senior delegation representing one of the main Afghan insurgent movements is in Kabul with a plan for peace talks with the Afghan government, according to a senior official in President Hamid Karzai's government, Reuters reported 22 March. The Hezb-i-Islami group sent a delegation headed by former Prime Minister Qutbuddin Helal, deputy to the group's leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the official said.

Note: This indicates Hekmatyar is preparing to split with the Taliban, apparently to ensure himself a seat at any table where power sharing is discussed.

End of NightWatch for 22 March.

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