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NightWatch 20100528


For the Night of 28 May 2010

The Korean situation

Japan: The government said it will lower the maximum amount of money that may be remitted to North Korea to 3 million yen (approximately $33,000) from the current 10 million yen as an additional sanction against Pyongyang, Kyodo reported 28 May. The parliament also enacted into law a bill to enable the Japan Coast Guard and customs authorities to inspect ships suspected of carrying banned cargo such as nuclear- or missiles-related materials to and from North Korea. The legislation will allow Japan to take specific action based on a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last June.

South Korea: Despite the rise in tension, the government in Seoul assesses there is no chance the situation will lead to war, but is deeply concerned that North Korea might resort to terrorist attacks against civilians, according to a high ranking South Korean official, Reuters reported 28 May.

North Korea will never use the option of full scale war, simply out of national interest, the South Korean official stated. He added that, although both sides are careful not to push too far, Seoul is ready to send in troops if there is what he called "extreme provocation" by the North.

South Korea-China: South Korea asked China to send a team of experts to check the findings of the multinational investigation that concluded North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan. Beijing has not responded yet to the offer, Yonhap reported 28 May.

South Korea provided China with data that is objective and scientific, and proposed that their experts hold discussions with South Korea, according to a senior government official. China must be studying various things, as it cannot deny facts, he said, adding that Seoul hopes Beijing will make its position known soon.

               North Korea: The National Defense Commission (NDC), chaired by leader Kim Chong-Il, held a rare press conference on Friday and denied Pyongyang's involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, according to official North Korean media. Major General Pak Rim Su, director of the policy department of the NDC, said the North does not have a 130-tonne "Salmon-class" submarine, which the South says torpedoed its 1,200-ton corvette, the Cheonan, in the Yellow Sea. "We don't have anything like a 130-tonne Salmon-class submersible," Pak was quoted by Pyongyang's Chungang TV as telling reporters.

Pak disputed the South Korean evidence item-by-item, rejected the findings of the investigation and insisted the North had nothing to do with the sinking. He blamed the South for fabricating the sinking.

China: Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Seoul today said China "will not protect" whoever sank a South Korean warship in March. "China objects to and condemns any act that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," Wen was quoted as saying after the talks in Seoul. "The Chinese government will decide its position by objectively and fairly judging what is right and wrong about the incident while respecting the international probe and responses to it by each nation."

Comment: In addition to the press conference, the North also published a highly detailed military commentary and the General Staff again demanded that a North Korean team inspect the evidence in the South. The three statements signify the leadership in the North has slowed, if not stopped, the military escalation, at least for a few days.

Debating the issue and the evidence in public indicates the North walked its position back from headlong crisis escalation. This implies that cooler heads pointed out that the North had begun to escalate without defending itself from the South's charges.

International pressure is building on North Korea, spurred by Chinese Prime Minister Wen's statement. The Chinese repeatedly and openly have made clear their overarching interest in peace and stability in northeast Asia, including to the North Koreans.

This incident probably is especially annoying after Kim's recent visit to Beijing. The Chinese may be expected to remind the North Koreans that they do not have a blank check and are the subordinate and dependent party in the bilateral relationship. They will not permit North Korea to collapse, if possible, but they also will not make correct the chronic mismanagement by the Kim family. Without China, North Korea can start a war, but not sustain its army beyond the opening artillery salvos and missile strikes.

Thailand: The military and police increased their surveillance of people in the country's north, The Associated Press reported 28 May. Intelligence officials have information suggesting protesters moved underground and could be planning violent retaliation in their strongholds, said an army spokesperson.

Comment: The behavioral response of the security forces means the Thai authorities judge the intelligence reports to be credible. The insurrection that ex-prime minister Thaksin urged his followers to undertake remains a threat.

India: The death toll in the train collision in eastern India has gone up to 71, a railways spokesman said. At least 149 people were injured when two trains collided after one was derailed by what officials said was an act of sabotage by Maoist insurgents.

The Calcutta-Mumbai passenger train derailed overnight in West Bengal where a section of track had been removed. Carriages and passengers were thrown in front of a cargo train travelling in the opposite direction. Officials expect the death toll to rise further.

Comment: This attack shows the Maoists are getting bolder and Indian security remains lax.

Ukraine: Ukraine will not join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) bloc because it contradicts the country's non-alignment policy, Foreign Minister Hryshchenko said 28 May, RIA Novosti reported, citing the weekly Ukrainian 2000. Hryshchenko also said the center of the bloc is in Central Asia, too far away from Ukraine. Ukraine has stopped seeking NATO membership and has "opened the prospects for partnership and cooperation with Russia," he said.

Comment: Hryshchenko's understanding of non-alignment is rather superficial or perhaps convenient for the pro-Russian government.

End of NightWatch for 28 May.

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