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NightWatch 20100421


For the Night of 21 April 2010

Japan-China: The Japanese government lodged an official protest with China through diplomatic channels over a 21 April when a Chinese naval helicopter flew within 90 meters of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer Asayuki, Kyodo reported, citing the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The destroyer was on patrol off Okinawa prefecture. The ministry called the incident a dangerous act for the navigation of the vessel.

Comment: In April, Chinese naval assets have been assertive in areas of Japanese waters.

8 April  A Chinese aircraft took photographs of the JMSDF destroyer Suzunami;

10 April  Eight Chinese surface ships and two submarines sailed between Okinawa and Miyako Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

Apparently, the Chinese are gathering intelligence on the ships, sea areas, reaction times and capabilities of one of China's naval competitors. In addition, they are asserting themselves as the dominant  regional naval power in Northeast Asia. Both Japan and South Korea have good reason to challenge the Chinese and would have the support of the Indian Navy as well as the US Navy.

South Korea: A South Korean activist told Agence France-Presse on 21 April that he has learned that many North Korean soldiers believe the South Korean patrol ship which sank last month was attacked in a premeditated military operation approved by leader Kim Chong-Il.

"Despite Pyongyang's denial, many North Korean soldiers believe a torpedo sank the ship," Choi Sung-Yong, a campaigner for the return of South Koreans abducted by North Korea. The officer said Kim gave an order to exact revenge for a sea skirmish last November, in which the South Korean navy left a North Korean patrol boat on fire, killing one and injuring three North Korean sailors.

The North vowed to take "merciless" military action to protect its version of the Yellow Sea border. Choi said 13 commandos using a small submarine appeared to have launched a torpedo.

Comment: Choi is reputed to have the access he claims, but there is no way to corroborate his report in open sources. However, the North Korean torpedo attack explanation for the sinking was first suggested by the South Korean Defense Minister. It has become the most accepted theory of the case.

Choi's sources also accurately describe North Korean tactics and use of midget submarines or submersible vehicles. If the attack occurred in this fashion, it was "merciless," as the North threatened.

Such an attack would appear to be part of the continuing dispute over the sea boundary, which both nations have chosen to keep localized to this point. The South Koreans have many options for retaliation so as to even the score and still keep this a localized contest, if President Lee chooses. The timing suggests both sides expect a significant increase in tension for this and economic reasons.

The most extraordinary aspect of the sinking is Kim Chong-il's blatant exploitation of China to provide cover for this atrocity.

North Korean media reported in detail how Kim received, wined and dined the newly appointed Chinese ambassador at the time of the sinking. Kim apparently intended all along to implicate China as condoning the North Korean commando operation, by association. Such crass behavior ought to evoke some kind of Chinese reprimand of North Korea and should strain their relations.

US diplomats should ensure that their Chinese counterparts are aware that China appears to have been duped into providing diplomatic cover for the North Korean commando attack, if the torpedo attack account is accurate, which seems increasingly to be the case.

North Korea: Today the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a Memorandum of the Foreign Ministry on nuclear issues. The official statement made several points.

In asserting North Korea's willingness to cooperate in international initiatives to control nuclear proliferation, the North associated itself with the world's nuclear powers as an equal. It also insisted it be recognized as such.

Concerning de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula, the North asserted equality with the United States in requiring mutual verifiability. The Memorandum also noted that the North Korean regime requires nuclear weapons because of the absence of a peace treaty. This is why, the memo explains, North Korea was exercising its last and only option by reacting to "nukes with nukes."

This memorandum resets the North Korean baseline for any future nuclear talks.

North Korea-Iran: For the record. Iran's deputy foreign minister for Asia and Oceania, Ali Fathollahi, is due to arrive in North Korean on 21 April. He visited China prior to North Korea.

The Deputy Foreign Minister indicated that his visit was intended to facilitate a forthcoming visit to Iran by North Korea's President of the Supreme People's Assembly (the president of North Korea) Kim Yong-nam. Kim is expected to visit Iran during the summer.

The only significance of this report is to highlight the level of official contacts. Iran would have no ballistic missile program but for North Korea.

Thailand: Red Shirt protestors in northeastern Thailand, some 275 miles from Bangkok, captured a train carrying around 70 soldiers and military equipment on 21 April. Negotiations are under way to release the train.

The Red Shirts said the soldiers were reinforcements for a crackdown on protesters in Bangkok. The Royal Thai Army said the soldiers were headed to southern provinces as part of a regular rotation.

In Bangkok, The Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) set up by the government will not allow the anti-government Red Shirt protesters to move the protest to other locations, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, CRES spokesman said.

The Army is taking incremental steps to contain the protestors. Thus far the measures have worked to avoid a violent confrontation. The Army's stand appears to be creating conditions for power sharing talks. One news service reported the Red Shirts have adopted a more flexible position regarding talking with the Abhisit administration and the urgency of new parliamentary elections.

Note: The developments in Thailand are primarily a study in democracy. The political turmoil is an occasional inconvenience to American tourists and official travelers. It does not represent a tdirect hreat to the state or to US national interests related to Thailand.

It provides insight as to whether a state is capable of accommodating the implications of democracy. The Red Shirts represent a plurality of Thai voters. The Abhisit administration, backed by the Yellow Shirts, represents a powerful and rich minority that used legitimate parliamentary negotiations and political tactics to become the ruling coalition.

Both groups have electoral legitimacy, but the Red Shirts have been slow to compromise much. Both resorted to extra-legal tactics, such as street demonstrations, to have their way. The Army, royal family, the Bangkok business interests which are often connected to the royal household, and the King still determine the government, more than the outcome of voting.

Based on vote counts, Thaksin and his followers should still be the government. The power elites in Bangkok show by their actions that they think their fortunes should not depend on the will of a majority of the voters, especially in rural constituencies. This is a fundamental issue in electoral politics everywhere, including India, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. For now numbers continue to appear less important  than clout in Thai politics, but the struggle continues.

Afghanistan: Coalition forces on early 21 April recaptured Gazab District, reputed to be a Taliban stronghold in Uruzgan Province for some five years, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. Dutch, Czech and Australian troops are responsible for Uruzgan under the command of the International Security Assistance Force.

The significance of this report is to remind Readers that only a few of the 44 nations that make up the Coalition have rules of engagement that permit offensive operations. The Dutch, Czechs and Australians are among them.  The US and UK bear the largest burden of the counterinsurgency, but a few other allies make significant contributions that seldom get reported.

Kyrgyzstan- Russia: Interfax reported today that Moscow considers the interim government of Kyrgyzstan as a legitimate authority de-facto. "As for the existing authority in Kyrgyzstan, namely the interim government, this government is currently going through a process of legitimization, through proper legal procedures," an official source said as quoted by Interfax.

Ukraine-Russia: Prime Minister Yanukovych and Russian President Medvedev signed an agreement for extending Russian naval access to Sevastopol for 25 years, reversing the policy of the Yushchenko administration.

"We consider this matter in the context of formation of a European security system. We understand that the Black Sea Fleet will be one of the factors of security for the countries of the Black Sea region," Yanukovych said at a joint news conference with Russian President Medvedev in Kharkiv today.

Yanukovych said that Ukraine supports the Russian president's initiative on considering the concept of a European collective security system. According to Yanukovych, Ukraine is ready to take an active part in this matter as a state that is not a member of any military blocs.

Medvedev said, "Today's meeting is unscheduled but very important, because we really have to take several important steps towards strengthening our relations, move them from the ordinary category into the partnership category, and bring back their quality as strategic relations, relations between two very close countries.

Yanukovych said his country will receive aid from Russia in the form of about $40 billion worth of natural gas over the next 10 years, Interfax reported 20 April.

Russia has moved swiftly to bring Ukraine back into the Russian fold, using a combination of soft power tools. It is using similar techniques to re-absorb Kyrgyzstan.

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: Six pirates have been arrested after they launched an attack on a French military supply ship by mistake off the coast of Somalia, the EU's naval force said Wednesday. The attack occurred on 19 April.

"The pirates, mistaking the FS Somme's silhouette for that of a merchant vessel, opened fire on the French ship. FS Somme responded with warning shots, causing the two pirate skiffs to flee," EUNAVFOR said in a statement.

"The mother ship was captured less than half an hour later with two pirates on board, and her fuel and pirate paraphernalia (weapons and grappling lines) were seized. The mother ship was destroyed and sank.

"FS Somme then gave chase to the skiff which was apprehended with a further four pirates on board. The skiff and the six pirates are now being held on board FS Somme," it said.

So why are French naval ships consistently misidentified as targets for pirates? Feedback is invited.

End of NightWatch for 21 April.

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