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NightWatch 20100920


For the Night of 20 September 2010

South Korea-North Korea: A convoy of South Korean trucks entered North Korea on Friday, carrying the first South Korean rice donations for North Korea in nearly three years. The nine trucks in the convoy carried 203 tons of rice that civic groups and opposition political parties in South Korea donated for the victims of flooding and to alleviate food shortages.

Comment: The larger significance of this convoy is that it is a medium the South has chosen to send the message that the South will not provoke the North during the Party Conference next week.

North Korea: Update. The Korean Central News Agency announced that the Workers' Party will hold a conference on 28 September to elect its supreme leadership.

Comment: The significance of the announcement is that it is the first to designate a date for convening the postponed 3rd Party Conference. Whatever delayed the Conference has now been resolved.

China-Japan: Update. Last week the Japanese court released the 14 Chinese crew members of the fishing boat that rammed Japanese coastal patrol ships. However, the Court also approved a 10-day extension of the captain's detention for further question, pending a decision whether to press charges.

In response, on 19 September China's Foreign Ministry said Japan's refusal to release the boat captain had caused "severe damage" to relations. The Ministry announced a suspension of ministerial and provincial-level contacts, halted talks on aviation issues and postponed a meeting to discuss coal.

"If Japan acts willfully, making mistake after mistake, China will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Japanese side," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a separate statement

The office of the Japanese Prime Minister said that China's decision to break off high-level government contacts was not expressed officially. It is "truly regrettable" if China did make such a decision, the spokesman said, adding that Japan calls for calm and prudent action by China not to further escalate the situation.

Comment: Chinese crisis managers have bungled this situation badly. They have committed China to back the actions of a fishing boat captain and escalated it into an international strategic confrontation in which China's position is not strong. In other words, China is letting the tail wag the dog.

Should the actions of the Chinese boat captain prove to be local and blameworthy under Japanese law, there would seem to be no justification for escalating the situation into an international confrontation.

On the other hand, if the captain acted under State orders, China deliberately is provoking Japan so as to assert dominance in the fishing boat confrontation and in northeast Asia, by extension. The Japanese will not back down to the Chinese.

Afghanistan: Comment: Concerning the parliamentary elections on 18 September, the Independent Election Commission reported a 40% turnout, claiming 3.6 million votes were cast out of 9.2 million eligible voters.

One commentator noted that prior to the election the Commission reported there were 11.4 million eligible voters which was more than 5 million fewer than were eligible to vote in the Presidential election a year ago.

Relative to the issue of corruption, the Commission itself manipulated data by attempting to put the best face on a farce. The actual voter turnout was at best between 20 and 30 per cent of registered and eligible voters. That means up to 80 percent of the eligible voters voted against the current regime, one way or another. In short, the low turnout nearly invalidates the vote and makes it a waste of time and resources, even as an exercise in democracy.

As for lessons learned for the government, it now knows the Western forces and the Afghanistan forces have less capability to secure a national election than they had a year ago, despite more forces.

The security situation has moved beyond the point where exercises in franchise without security have much significance, except maybe to some foreigners. The Afghans voted where the felt secure.  The other Afghans expressed their unique insight about the value of alien political notions without security by not voting.

The Taliban can take comfort in having disrupted a centerpiece of Western political strategy. Their tactics of intimidation worked far better than during the Presidential election. As the party in opposition, they won the election by showing that guns are more compelling that the right to vote.

This election data are the most objective yet for helping gauge the state of the insurgency and the durability of the government after a Western military drawdown.

Niger-France: France established an operational base with 80 troops in Niamey to try to locate seven hostages seized reportedly by Touaregs 16 September and moved to Mali, according to security and diplomatic services in the Sahel. The troops - probably special forces of some kind -- have the support of Breguet-Atlantique reconnaissance aircraft and are divided into five crews.

French sources said the Atlantique's have flown reconnaissance missions for 21 hours trying to locate the hostages. The hostages are thought to have been held in northeast Mali in a mountainous desert region close to Algeria.

Today, 20 September, the French Foreign Ministry said, "France has no evidence that seven hostages kidnapped in Niger remain alive." There has been no claim of responsibility, according to the ministry. France is in talks with Algeria, which is active in the campaign against militancy, a ministry spokesman said

Other sources claimed the Touaregs sell any French captives to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and will likely do so with their other recent captives, unless they decide to murder them.

Comment: The practice of selling humans as chattel

End of NightWatch for 20 September.

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