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NightWatch 20100608


For the Night of 8 June 2010

The Korea Confrontation

South Korea-North Korea: South Korea will complete the installation of loudspeakers on 9 June along the border with North Korea, although it was not yet decided when to resume anti-Pyongyang propaganda messages through them, according to the military, Yonhap reported 8 June. Installation of two loudspeakers was completed on 7 June and installations of others will be completed two days later, an official said. The timing of using the loudspeakers will be decided after considering the circumstances, he said.

Comment: Renewed anti-North Korean broadcasts are among the actions that a North Korean Corps Commander denounced last month. He warned that the broadcasts would provoke shooting incidents.

The challenge for the South Korean administration is that it is getting no traction behind its efforts to build international support for punishing North Korea for having torpedoed the patrol ship Cheonan. There is no sense of outrage over the murder of 46 South Korean sailors, not even in much of South Korea.

A shooting incident along the Demilitarized Zone would refocus world attention. The South's action to re-install the loudspeaker system indicates it is willing to bait the North into starting an incident. This is one of the shop-worn techniques both Koreas use when they try to internationalize a problem to their respective advantages.

Russia-South Korea: Russian naval experts decided that evidence linking North Korea to the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan is inconclusive, according to a source close to Russia's Main Staff of the Navy, Interfax-AVN reported 8 June. The specialists spent one week reviewing the evidence at South Korea's Pyeongtaek naval base and decided that the international commission's conclusions about North Korean involvement were "insufficiently solid." The four Russian experts will write and submit a report for the Russian leadership.

Comment: The Russians apparently engineered this leak to avoid surprise from the written report and recommendations that their experts will provide President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. It is damaging in multiple respects.

The Russians always have been spoilers in the Six Party Talks venue, participating because they are close geographically, unwilling and unable to contribute much, but willing to take cheap advantage of the pro-US allies. The North Koreans, as a result, are more comfortable working with the Russians precisely because they have no clout in Pyongyang.

The findings of the naval experts, as leaked, would be consistent with Russian spoiling tactics against US and Allied efforts to restrain North Korean proliferation. "Insufficiently solid" is not a category of evidence in any legal code in the world, but it shows that Russia is engaged in political gamesmanship. It is almost inviting a bribe. The "solidity" of the evidence might be directly proportionate to the benefits to Russia.

The expected Russian findings will go beyond being annoying, however, because they will encourage Chinese experts to demur to the evidence, again for political reasons. The Chinese do not want violent instability in northeast Asia. They also cannot be expected to make findings without taking into account "circumstances" or context … part of the legacy of sliding-scale justice systems in communist countries.

The impact on North Korea will serve to encourage obduracy and drive up the price for restraint in conventional or nuclear proliferation.

Finally, in South Korea all kinds of conspiracy theorists already are having a field day with scenarios about how the Cheonan sank, many blaming the US for wanting to create a crisis. The dead sailors seem to have no advocate and the patrol ship sank itself, apparently.

China-North Korea: China reported that a North Korean border guard shot and killed three people and injured a fourth on the Chinese side of the border. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said a North Korean border guard last Friday, 4 June, shot four Chinese residents in the northeastern border town of Dandong who apparently were attempting an illegal border crossing. China is taking the incident seriously and is investigating it, he said. Qin said China has formally complained to North Korea over the incident.

Comment: Security authorities authorize the border guards to shoot to kill mainly during periods of internal stress, as part of the process of isolating the country by tightening all entry points. This shooting is consistent with tightened border controls during past such episodes, such as during the death of Kim Il-sung. The timing of the incident - four days before the Supreme People's Assembly session on 7 June - suggests the government ordered tighter security for the session and the succession events it approved. The circumstantial behavioral evidence continues to strengthen the assessment that this session of the Supreme People's Assembly was very important, as well as unusual.

China-US: Special comment. The Washington Post today published a useful reminder about Chinese leadership suspicions of US intentions. It made a persuasive case that the old poisons of ancient Chinese hostility to outsiders endure today, attitudes well known to students of China. The Post article treated as a minor epiphany the notion that Chinese leaders might be paranoid about the US. It tended to isolate this attitude as resident mainly among the unreconstructed security apparatus.

The news in the article was not that Chinese paranoia endures, but rather the new assertiveness with which Chinese leaders and delegations announce their distrust which, in turn, indicates they have overcome the paranoia. The article contained the following paragraph towards the end.

"For years, China has opposed arms sales to Taiwan among other things, but we were never strong enough to do anything about it," said Cui Liru, the president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank run by the Ministry of State Security. "But our national strength has grown. And it is time that the United States pay attention.' "

This is the news, not the suspicion but the assertive, in-your-face manner in which Chinese leaders are conveying and manipulating it to advance Chinese interests and put the US on the defensive.

The Chinese have been suspicious that since the Reagan administration the US intended to encircl China with US allies and bases. US inroads in Central Asia, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, and even North Korea under the Clinton administration, plus continuing arms sales to Taiwan, easily justified the Chinese perception. Paranoid or not; deliberate or not, China was in fact being encircled by pro-US states, prior to 9/11.

At that time, no Chinese leaders would dare embarrass a US Secretary of Defense at a security conference in Singapore - an emigrant Chinese state -- about Chinese suspicions of US intentions. The Chinese also would not snub the US Secretary of Defense over visit planning.

The significant difference that the Post article missed is the boorish behavior of a Chinese rear admiral who harangued Secretary Gates in public and the Chinese government that treated Gates as a fifteenth century minor supplicant to the Central Kingdom in not finding time for his visit. It was political theater for the benefit of Asian states. It was deliberate, Chinese-style lesson teaching, or what is better known as behavioral modification training.

The Post article tended to imply that a cooperative relationship with China will require more US effort to overcome Chinese suspicions. That is precisely what the Chinese want the US to think so it will make more concessions to China. It is precisely the opposite of how the Chinese really think.  It is a manipulative stratagem. Chinese foreign, overseas economic and national security policies are more aggressive now than at any time in the past two centuries and are getting more abrasive. Now that aggressive impulse is being directed against the US, but in the form of assertions the Chinese are fearful and distrustful. China's behavior, not its words, are the best measures of its genuine intentions.

The Chinese behavior indicates their strategists and leaders want the US to be on the defensive because that serves China's interest in expanding its hegemony. The appropriate symmetrical US response might ask, "Why should the US trust China?", placing the burden of proof on China. The US can and will never persuade China to be less suspicious of the US because that is not what the struggle is about. The issue is strategic leadership in Asia, also known as hegemony, not trust.

Philippines: For the record. Benigno Aquino was named the winner of the Philippine presidential elections on 8 June, Breitbart reported. The announcement was made nearly a month after the election. Aquino received 15.2 million votes, or a little under 42 percent of the total votes cast.

Iran-UN: The BBC and other news services reported that a resolution to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran is ready for a vote by the UN Security Council. The final version expands a limited arms embargo, and toughens financial restrictions and shipping inspections.

The United Nations Security Council has agreed on sanctions against Iran, an unnamed Russian source said, Reuters reported 8 June. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the resolution "will provide a legal platform for individual nations to then take additional actions that go well beyond the resolution itself." A resolution could pass as early as 9 June, Gates added.

UN diplomats also expect the resolution to be adopted by as early as 9 June, even though some Security Council members may not support it. The exact timing of the vote depends on agreement on the annexes listing individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

States expected to abstain or vote against the resolution include Turkey and Brazil, but none have veto power. Turkish officials told the Iranian government that a United Nations Security Council resolution on new sanctions will likely be adopted despite Turkey and Brazil's efforts, Anatolia news agency reported 8 June.. Turkey advised Iran not to break ties with the West so that it would not lose its place at the negotiating table.

Lebanon: Hezbollah leaders, following the lead of HAMAS, rejected Iran's officer of escorts for future aid convoys to the Gaza Strip.

Comment: With Hezbollah joining the chorus, the evidence is clear that the Arabs do no want Persian meddling in Arab affairs, regardless of whether the Arabs are Shiites or Sunnis. The Palestinian problem is an Arab problem, to paraphrase Saudi King Abdallah. That is also a message for the Turks, who are basking in a temporary moment of glory that quickly will fade.

Israel-HAMAS: More than a week after the Israeli navy forcibly intercepted a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, the 10,000-ton cargo of the seven ships has yet to reach Palestinians. Israel and HAMAS blamed each other Tuesday for the aid not reaching its destination. HAMAS' spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said Israel should be blamed.

"The problem is with the Israeli occupation, which imposes its conditions and mechanisms as it wants, and not as the international organizations want," Barhoum said, apparently referring to the Israeli demand that only cement to be used only for specified, supervised projects be allowed into Gaza.

Egypt has decided to keep open indefinitely the border crossing points to the Gaza Strip, but is not allowing unrestricted shipment of building supplies that might be used to build fortifications.

Comment: The data about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza remain contradictory. The behavior of the HAMAS officials suggests there is no crisis or that they are monsters who are oblivious to the suffering of the people they are represented to take care of in order to make a political point.

End of NightWatch for 8 June.

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