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NightWatch 20110504


For the Night of 4 May 2011

South Korea-China: A plan to establish a military hotline between Seoul and Beijing in August will be made official when South Korean Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan Jin visits Beijing at the end of May, a military official said, JoonAng Ilbo reported 4 May.

The hotline will prevent accidental military confrontation in the Yellow Sea and allow the two countries to exchange information about unidentified aircraft, the official said, adding that each country's military also agreed to establish a major-level exchange program to study at their respective armed services academy for one year. The exchange program was agreed upon after South Korea promised to stop a similar one it had with Taiwan, the official said.

Comment: The South Korean security relationship with China has been developing at a measured pace for about a decade. This is the latest milestone in the relationship but comes at the cost of severing a tie to the Chinese government on Taiwan.

South Korea exists in a rough neighborhood in which geography mandates a strategic relationship with both of the nearest large states - Russia and China. Most North Korean defectors exit through China, but China refuses to maintain refugee camps on its side of the Yalu River. Thus, South Korea is compelled to maintain ties to China for this reason if no other.

The North Koreans practice piracy by seizing Chinese fishing ships and holding them for ransom. The ransom is used to support the coastal military commands because the naval budget is never sufficient. North Korean piracy is another reason for China and South Korea to coordinate military action, to restrain North Korea.

The academy exchange agreement is interesting as a long term potential aid to understanding and coordination. Every South Korean military initiative with China tends to balance an element of China's relationship with North Korea.

China, North Korea and South Korea all are manipulating each other, in various fashions. None trusts the others.

Cambodia-Thailand: Update. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said all evacuees from the recent border clashes with Thailand have returned home and weapons fire between the two countries had ceased overnight 3 May. That was the first night without exchanges of fire since 22 April.

A mutual trust between the Thai and Cambodian commanders has been established through the successful cease-fire, Hun Sen said. Hun Sen will lead a delegation to attend the 18th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on 7 and 8 May in Jakarta, Indonesia, to discuss a range of issues, especially the border situation with Thailand, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Comment: The Thai are still acting tough regarding the border dispute, so more exchanges of fire might yet occur, but probably not during the ASEAN summit.

Syria: Thirty Republican Guard tanks have been deployed around Damascus, Al Arabiya reported 4 May. Tanks and armored vehicles deployed near Rastan, north of Damascus, witnesses said. Elsewhere, Wednesday apparently was the day of student activism. More than 100 students held a brief sit-in at the university in Daraa. Security forces fired tear gas at 1,500 student protestors at Aleppo University to disperse them. A candlelight protest was held in Qamishli, in northeastern Syria, but also was dispersed by police.

Comment: The crackdown continues. Some 2,843 people are confirmed as detained, although protestors say the total could be nearer to 8,000. The figure of 8,000 would put this crackdown in the same category of the Hama suppression 30 years ago.

Libya: A car explosion on 3 May in Benghazi was an accident, a senior insurgent spokesman said, Reuters reported May 4. The explosion occurred meters from rebel headquarters and the square where uprisings often occur. Ten people were injured, seven of whom suffered minor injuries, the rebel National Transitional Council spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, the owner of the car had dynamite attached to a fuse in the car, and it accidentally exploded. The owner of the car came forward with this information, and the investigation is continuing, the spokesman said.

Comment: The accident story is just not credible.

Morocco: Update. Two suspects involved in the cafe bombing in Marrakech are reportedly members of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to French sources close to the investigation. The sources said the bomb bore the signature of AQIM and was detonated by telephone. Investigators are trying to verify the phone details.

End of NightWatch for 4 May.

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