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NightWatch 20110109


For the Night of 9 January 2011

Japan-South Korea: South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-chin and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa met in Seoul on 10 January for talks aimed at exploring closer military cooperation. The two men are expected to exchange views on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its bombardment of a South Korean island in November last year.

The talks also are likely to focus on separate agreements on sharing military information and cooperation in exchanging military goods and services such as food, fuel and transportation during peacetime operations such as peacekeeping and disaster rescue efforts.

Comment: Despite generational Korean hatred of Japan, the "emergence" of China and North Korean provocations are driving ancient enemies -- now Northeast Asia's strongest democracies -- together. At this stage, the path towards a military alliance remains long, but would be shortened by more bone-headed North Korean and Chinese actions.

Japan and South Korea have the most modern conventional forces in Asia and have the capability to bring them to bear decisively in a conflict much faster than North Korea or China. China has the world's largest armed forces supported by the weakest logistics and transport systems of all modern armed forces, except North Korea.

South Korea-North Korea: Update. This weekend, South Korean authorities said they will review North Korea's latest proposal for discussions about easing tensions on the peninsula after having rejected an earlier offer, a South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said 8 January. In the proposal, North Korea suggested discussions on resuming joint operations at the Mt. Kumgang resort and the Kaesong industrial complex by the end of January or early February.

South Korea-United Arab Emirates: South Korea's Army held a send-off ceremony on 10 January for about 130 elite special forces troops who are to deploy to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to help train the its special forces, officials said.

The deployment to the UAE, set for Tuesday, follows by a month a decision by the National Assembly. It is tangentially related to a successful bid by a South Korean consortium for a US$20 billion deal in late 2009 to build nuclear reactors in the oil-rich country.

President Lee Myung-bak called the deployment an opportunity to contribute to South Korea's national interest and international peace. "For the Republic of Korea, this dispatch is a new model of military cooperation aimed at sharing our training experience with the United Arab Emirates in a non-conflict region," Lee said in a speech read by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-chin at the ceremony.

Lee said the dispatch will "significantly help solidify our energy security and expand trade in the Middle East."

The main roles for the Korean special forces will be to educate and train their UAE counterparts, engaging in joint exercises and protecting South Korean citizens in case of emergencies, officials said. The Korean contingent will not be tasked with protecting South Korean workers, who will begin construction of the nuclear power plants early this year.

The unit "Akh," meaning brother in Arabic, will be based in the eastern region of Al Ain for two years. An advance team of 10 troops arrived there last month ahead of the main deployment.

Comment: The key point is that South Korea is using its military expertise to "solidify" its "energy security." That also explains its willingness to cooperate with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. South Korean interests in the Middle East and South Asia are practical.

As for UAE acceptance of a South Korean bid to build nuclear reactors, most Readers will not know that South Korea relies on its four nuclear power plants for about 45% of electricity consumption, making it one of the most advanced states in relying on nuclear energy in the world. That is why it is building plants in the UAE and Jordan, is marketing in China, Turkey, India and Indonesia and would have built two light water nuclear power plants in North Korea.

China-US: Special note. Defense Secretary Gates already has had his first meetings with his Chinese counterparts.

A silly set of propaganda stunts has preceded the visit. The Chinese leaked images of a supposedly advanced aircraft that can taxi but not fly. The US leaked that it is altering US defense policy to counter Chinese weapons that do not work. Hmm… wonder who is winning.

Comment: The Chinese media is controlled so its leaks are understandable. The US media's infinite capacity for gullibility and suspension of common sense is bewildering.

Pakistan: For the record. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people gathered in Karachi to rally against a proposed amendment to blasphemy laws that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death, police stated.

Demonstrators supported the killer of Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer. A banner said in Urdu that "Mumtaz Qadri is not a murderer, he is a hero. " Another stated, "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the dignity of the Prophet Mohammad."

Comment: The most telling detail about the strength of Islamist extremists from last week's murder  is that none of the so-called moderates or secular leaders of Pakistan attended the funeral of Salman Taseer. Pakistan is lost to the modern world.  This occurred during the reign of Zia ul-haq. No internal actions or outside intervention has slowed the Islamist cultural infection.  Military government actually has made it worse, but elected civilian government is failing to stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism among the electorate.

Southern Sudan: Update. The referendum will last for a week so no results are available.

Meanwhile two rebel groups clashed with the Southern Sudanese military on 8 January, the day before the referendum, resulting in at least nine deaths, a Southern Sudanese army spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, forces loyal to rebel leader Gatluak Gai attacked the Southern Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) in Unity state, an oil-rich area bordering northern Sudan. In addition, clashes between men commanded by militia leader David Yauyau and the SPLA broke out in Jonglei state. One civilian was among those killed in the Jonglei clash.

Comment: The Khartoum government continues to profess its support for an independent southern Sudan, but the weekend clashes are an ominous portent about stability after the referendum results are certified.

Tunisia: Update. At least 20 people were killed in clashes with police in two cities over the weekend. Six people were killed and six were wounded in Tala on the 8th, after security forces opened fire on protesters. Similar clashes in the Kasserine region resulted in 14 deaths after police opened fire on the crowd.

The government defended police action as "legitimate self-defense" and said three police officers were seriously wounded. Witnesses said police fired weapons after using water cannons to disperse a crowd that threw stones and petrol bombs at police and set fire to a government building.

Algeria: At least three Algerians have died and hundreds have been injured in four days of protests over housing shortages, rising food prices and failing economic policies that only three months ago won praise by the International Monetary Fund and other Western financial institutions.

After an emergency meeting on Saturday, the government announced it will reduce tax and import duties on some staples -- cooking oil and sugar -- in a bid to end clashes between police and rioters protesting food prices. The government also decided to increase the availability of wheat for consumer purchases.

Algeria is the world's sixth largest natural gas producer after Russia, the United States, Canada, Iran, and Norway. It provides Europe with 20 per cent of its gas needs.

Comment: International commentators have focused on corruption and authoritarian governments as responsible for the recent civil disorders. A longer view of the history of these countries shows that prices for staples are far more important factors in internal stability than clean government or greater civil freedoms.

The IMF is notorious for prescribing economic austerity measures that benefit bankers, but impoverish workers. Nothing has changed.

Niger-France: For the record. The two French nationals who were abducted from a restaurant in the Nigerien capital of Niamey were executed by their abductors, despite rescue attempts by French forces and Nigerien forces.

The hostages were found dead at the Niger-Mali border after French troops clashed with the kidnappers, all of whom were ultimately killed, French Defense Minister Alain Juppe said.

The French Foreign Ministry announced on 9 January that the entire Sahel region is considered not safe for French citizens. French nationals are considered "hostages of choice," the ministry stated on its website, adding that citizens should be vigilant at all times and avoid traveling in the region.

The Sahel spans Africa's Atlantic coast in the west and the Red Sea in the east and is usually considered to include Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Northern Nigeria.

French Defense Minister Alain Juppe will go to Niger on 10 January to meet "Nigerien authorities and the French community" in Niger, said an official in the defense ministry. Juppe cancelled a visit to Gabon to make the urgent trip to Niger, the official added.

Comment: The announcement that the Sahel is unsafe could produce a major economic setback to the countries in the region because it means that French businesses, which dominate the region, cannot count on French security assistance in the event of trouble. The sweeping nature of the announcement suggests France is not satisfied with local cooperation in countering terrorist depredations against French citizens.

End of NightWatch for 9 January .

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