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NightWatch 20110120


For the Night of 20 January 2011

Japan-China: Japan and China agreed Thursday (20 January) that the two countries' defense officials should contact each other swiftly in the event of a maritime incident. Defense and foreign affairs officials from both countries met at the 12th round of high-level security talks. The two sides also affirmed their intention to make efforts to conclude a bilateral pact on rescue operations in maritime accidents at an early time.

The 12th security dialogue was originally slated to be held in autumn last year, but it was postponed in the wake of the September incident near the Senkaku Islands in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japanese naval ship.

Comment: The agreement is a crisis management commitment to control escalation and limit damage and casualties. Neither side committed to avoid further incidents or even keep them contained, such as by refraining from asserting sovereignty claims by force. Nevertheless, it makes good media copy during President Hu Jintao's trip abroad, punctuating Chinese statesmanship.

North Korea-South Korea: North Korean media published the text of an open letter from the North Korean Minister of the People's Armed Forces to the South Korean Minister of National defense that was sent on 20 January, proposing military talks in early February. Excerpts of the media report follow.

Today, the Korean peninsula stands at the critical crossroads of war or peace. When the entire world is aspiring towards peace and stability, only on the Korean peninsula, military tension continues in the vicious circle of antagonism jealousy, confrontation, and clashes, and North-South relations are the worst in the history of their split.

Facing such a situation that runs counter to the desire of the nation and the demand of the era, our stance is that should a man be a fellow-countryman, he should feel responsibility whether he is in the North or the South, and whether he works in political circles or serves in the army.

It is the duty and mission of the army with guns to repel an outside force's invasion and intervention, defend its country, and safeguard its nation. Thereafter, on 20 January, the minister of People's Armed Forces of the DPRK NDC sent an open letter to the minister of the South Korean National Defense with the following contents in relation to the holding of high-level North-South military talks to dissolve tension on the Korean peninsula.

The letter contained specific contents, which include setting an agenda for the talks such as expressing views on the ship Ch'o'nan (Cheonan) incident and the Yo'np'yo'ng (Yeonpyeong) Island artillery battle and alleviating military tension on the Korean peninsula, and include the timing of the talks for within the first ten days of February as the agreed dates and the venue of the talks in a convenient place which both sides agree on, and setting at around late January the date of bilateral preliminary talks to discuss working-level issues related to the holding of North-South high-level military talks.

The South side should proactively respond to our military's efforts to alleviate the military tensions on the Korean peninsula and militarily guarantee the improvement of North-South relations.

South Korea accepted North Korea's offer. The Unification Ministry announced, "We will come to the high-level military talks, whose agenda should include the North's making a firm commitment to taking responsible measures concerning the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling on Yeonpyeong island." .The spokesperson for the Minister said the South also agreed to the North's proposal for working-level preparatory talks.

"As the North did not mention our demand as to denuclearization, we will also separately propose high-level government talks to verify their seriousness about denuclearization."

Comment: This is the third North Korean proposal for talks this month and the first to be accepted. The release of this proposal seems deliberately timed to pre-empt any Chinese undertakings with the US concerning North Korea by President Hu Jintao in Washington. The US announced its support for these talks. It is tonight's cautiously good news. More to follow.

China: For the record. Kanwa Information Center, an international defense news service registered in Canada, reported that China has nearly finished restoring the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, Varyag.

Varyag, a 65,000-ton ski-jump carrier, originally was built for the Soviet navy, but construction was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. China bought the ship in 1998 in unfinished condition and had it towed from the Black Sea to the port of Dalian, where it has been undergoing restoration and brought to completion. According to the report, the renovation process has included fixing the boilers, electricity, electronic systems, living quarters and installing engines. The hull and deck of the ship also are reported to have been refurbished.

Comment: The timing of the report relative to President Hu's visit to the US seems more than serendipitous because most of the information in the report has been reported by other sources and is contained in the Wikipedia article on this topic. News of a Chinese military technology breakthrough during an important visit matches the style of the leak of the first flight of the J-20 advanced fighter during Secretary Gates' visit to China.

The Chinese have renamed the ship Shi Lang, which is the name of a Chinese general who captured Taiwan in 1681. The first class of pilots have been in training for two years, half of the four year course of instruction. For the past five years China has been developing an illegal copy of the Russian Su-33, called the J-15, according to press reports, which should be nearly ready for a production run. The Shi Lang will be the training ship and trials should begin this year.

Tunisia: Update. The Tunisian army fired into the air to disperse protesters from the headquarters of former President Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR) in Tunis. The CDR has been disbanded but some demonstrators want the building razed. The state of emergency remains in effect.

The interim government met for the first time today. The session concluded with a number of decrees.

The government ordered a general amnesty for all political prisoners, reduction of the curfew everywhere except Tunis, and the reopening of schools and universities next Monday. It also agreed to recognize all previously banned political parties and declared three days of mourning for the 78 people killed during the recent uprising.

In his address, the interim president and former Speaker of the Parliament stressed the temporary character of this government, and determined its tasks to be:

- to make sure that all enterprises get back to normal business;

- to prepare for the forthcoming presidential elections.

Comment: The interim president and the prime minister both resigned from the RCD, in which both had been longstanding members. They directed other hold-over cabinet members to resign in today's cabinet session.

The political activities are almost surreal. The holdover political leaders apparently think a "do-over" will be sufficient to correct the authoritarian excesses of the past 23 years. Thus far Tunisians are acquiescing in this bizarre exercise. Meanwhile, the economic grievances that gave rise to street demonstrations remain unaddressed.

End of NightWatch for 20 January .

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