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NightWatch 20101021


For the Night of 21 October 2010

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea renewed its proposal for a non-governmental dialogue with the South to honor their 2000 summit agreement, suggesting via fax that the sides "make contact at an appropriate timing," South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In Taek stated, according to a Yonhap report on 21 October. Taek said he would look into the details of the proposal and decide whether the government would allow such a meeting.

North Korea also might be preparing for another nuclear test or a nuclear-related test in North Hamgyong Province. Reports of increased activity detected by US imagining satellites and South Korean reports of "brisk movement" of people and vehicles at Punggye Ri - the site of the North's 2006 nuclear tests -- are the bases for the latest spike in concern about potential nuclear activity.

Activity to repair a tunnel that collapsed after two earlier nuclear tests will take approximately three months, unidentified US sources said.

Comment: The two news reports above present the typical carrot and stick approach to policy-related information about North Korea. Both may be accepted as accurate on their face.

The North's time-honored practice, since the time of Kim Il-sung, is to make a gesture of conciliation backed by activity indicating the North remains powerful and dangerous. The obvious message is that conciliation does not signify weakness or vulnerability that can be exploited.

The poverty of science in North Korea almost certainly requires more nuclear testing for a usable warhead and especially for progress towards miniaturization. The 2006 tests were not fully successful, by most accounts.

The poverty of leadership probably requires some sensational grand gesture that Kim Chong-un can claim as validating his leadership, however severe the backlash. The kid needs something he can claim is his idea.

The absolute economic poverty of the North should inform the Pyongyang leadership that they cannot bear the backlash of more sanctions and increased hostility from the West or the welcoming embrace of the hated and dreaded Chinese.

NightWatch predictions: Will there be real nuclear test? No, certainly not before 2011. Will there be some other sensational action, nuclear-related, ballistic missile, or provocative? Yes, between now and 2011.

Japan's reaction: The Japanese government has obtained no information suggesting North Korea is preparing for another nuclear test, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said on 21 October. The government is aware of the report published by South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo but presently has no facts to substantiate the report's allegations, Sengoku said. Likewise, the South Korean government has received no indications North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test, an unnamed South Korean Foreign Ministry official said, Kyodo reported.

Japan-China: Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara is promoting ill will, a Chinese diplomat stated on October 21. The diplomat refused to confirm whether Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at an Asian summit in Hanoi on 28 October, Reuters reported.

Beijing holds Tokyo responsible for a suitable atmosphere for the meeting, the diplomat said, adding that Japan and China should take practical steps to show sincerity in improved relations rather than increase tensions.

Senkakus confrontation: China's dispatching of law enforcement ships to waters off the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands was done in accordance with its laws and needs, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on 21 October, Xinhua reported. The waters are traditional Chinese fishing areas, and China has always sent law enforcement vessels to protect its fishermen, the spokesman added.

Comment: China has confirmed the deployment of a law enforcement ship to the contested area. China is deliberately keeping the confrontation with Japan active. China wants to win this.

China and Rare Earth Elements: China's new Five-Year Program will fail to bring any rapid change in export quotas for rare earth elements (REE), Chinese Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Sun Zhenyu said, Reuters reported. He also said China's REE reserves were depleting quickly and that Beijing must conserve them. According to Sun, China's reserves have fallen from 33 percent of the world's total in 1996 to 30 percent presently, and that they will last only for another 15-20 years. He urged other nations to begin developing their own REE reserves.

China-Japan: Japan's stockpile of rare earth elements (REE), if China does not restart REE exporting, could empty by March or April 2011, said Yoshikatsu Nakayama, Japanese vice-minister of the economy, trade and industry, Agence France-Presse reported on 21 October.

China-Germany: German companies have been told by Chinese officials to increase their investments in China if they wish to continue to receive rare earth elements (REE) and two other elements China mines, tungsten and antimony, The New York Times reported on 21 October, citing a spokeswoman for the German engineering federation.

On 21 October, unidentified German industry officials said that Chinese customs officials were for the fourth day blocking the final paperwork approval necessary for REE to be exported to Germany. The officials said China is still exporting REE that had paperwork approved before 18 October.

Comment: The Chinese appear to be using rare earth elements exports for testing economic pressure tactics against potential rivals or adversaries. Rare earth elements are used in many high technology applications.

Saudi Arabia-US: The US confirmed the sale of $60 billion in modern arms to Saudi Arabia, with surprisingly little explanation for such a large sale. The arms sales seem to envision a future time, apparently, in which the Saudis and Israelis will be the only reliable US allies in the Middle East, capable of blocking expansion of Iranian power and influence to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

More on this later.

End of NightWatch for 21 October.

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