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NightWatch 20111129


For the night of 29 November 2011

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency announced on 24 November that it will launched a Chinese-language service on its web site. Chinese language broadcasts will begin on 1 December.

Comment: Since the end of the Korean War, the North's news agency has not carried a Chinese-language broadcast. The North never trusted the Chinese and had not reason to broadcast in Chinese language. The obvious implication of the latest statement is that North Korea expects a significant influx of Chinese tourists and, perhaps, business people, which would justify a Chinese-language broadcast. This is a tectonic and strategic shift.

Many readers might not know that for 40 years North Korea has been proud to be the last Stalinist regime. It always has favored Russia over China. The Korean Peoples' Army is a Soviet-style and equipped army, featuring powerful armor and artillery formations. North Korea never had a Chinese-style people's army.

Kim Il-sung denounced Deng Xiao-ping's adoption of capitalist economic policies and practices in China in the 1980s. A decade later he denounced the replacement of the Soviet Union by a non-communist Russia. Even so, North Korea always has considered Russia to be a counterweight to Chinese influence. That has now appears to have changed.

The Kim family evidently has decided to risk the future of North Korea on an economic and military partnership with China, for the first time since the Korean War, without Soviet mediation.

The new closeness of the Chinese-North Korean relationship coincides with the new US tilt towards Asia, a possible unintended and apparently unanticipated consequence. The good news is that China is not likely to allow North Korea to start a war for control of the Peninsula. The bad news is that China is acting as a guarantor of an independent North Korea.

A divided Korea is a relic of World War II. An incongruity in the long pageant of Asian history and a historic holdover that the Koreans, left alone, were in the process of correcting in 2000, before China started to assert its claim to regional hegemony. Now, the glacial movement towards a unified Korea is even slower, but not stopped because Asians will correct Asian history.

China: Update. China's aircraft carrier left port on Tuesday, 29 November, for its second round of sea trials, which might include test flights by carrier-borne aircraft. "China's aircraft carrier platform, after successfully completing its first sea trial in August, returned to the shipyard as planned for further refitting and testing," the defense ministry said in a statement. "The work has been carried out and it set sail again on November 29 to carry out relevant scientific and research experiment."

"Carrier-borne aircraft will possibly take off and land on the vessel for the first time, as these moves cannot be done in dockside tests," said Yin Zhuo, a retired navy rear admiral and military expert. He said an important component of the trial will be to test the steel cables used to catch the aircraft and decelerate them upon landing.

Comment: The press coverage is great propaganda for China. The ship is small and it is far from ready for naval duty. The Chinese official media emphasis on scientific research suggests this ship is a technology demonstrator to support the next generation of Chinese aircraft carriers, more than an agent of Chinese hegemony in Northeast and Southeast Asia. It also is a symbol of national pride and power for the masses.

Burma: Update. Secretary of State Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Burma this week, marking the first such visit in 50 years. Earlier, President Obama said he was sending Clinton to Burma in response to what he called "flickers of progress" from the new, nominally civilian Burmese government, which took office earlier this year after more than four decades of military rule.

A Burmese presidential aide said that recent developments in diplomatic ties could lead to the end of U.S. sanctions against Burma. The aide also cited exchanges of visits by officials from both countries.

Comment: The Burmese junta now realizes it tilted too far towards China. The termination of a major dam project is the strongest public indicator of a shift in priorities. A major infrastructure project with India also remains incomplete.

The Burmese leadership apparently calculates that acceptance of Indian and Chinese economic development implies political obligation. Thus, the new government looks to the US to complete the triangle in which the US is capable of blunting Chinese and Indian pressure on Burma, but too distant to interfere.

Pakistan-US: Comment: Relations have deteriorated in public. Pakistan will boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan. One or more border crossings have been closed, but this incident is much less significant than the US attack against Pakistan that resulted in the killing of bin Laden.

Pakistani sensitivity about the latest attack is a derivative of their failure to protect bin Laden. They look extremely inept in a rough neighborhood. The Indians and Iranians, no doubt, are drawing lessons.

Iran-UK: Dozens of Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran on 29 November, throwing documents out windows and taking down the British flag. Riot police clashed with the students.

Comment: The so-called students were protesting Britain's enactment of tighter sanctions. Whatever the students do, they always chant "Death" to the victim or target. That seems quite un-Islamic.

Syria-Russia: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia opposes implementing an arms embargo against Syria. Lavrov said the international community must abandon the politics of ultimatums and try to redirect Syria's situation into a political course, Interfax reported. Lavrov said the Syrian crisis can be solved by using the example of Yemen, RIA Novosti reported.

Comment: On the surface, Lavrov's analogy of Yemen with Syria is naïve and poorly drawn. Yemeni President Saleh's rule is primarily a personal and family issue. Yemen will not experience a fundamental change of politics after Saleh departs.

That is not the case with Syria, should the Alawite regime collapse. Syria would undergo fundamental and revolutionary and violent change.

Morocco: For the record. King Mohammed VI named Abdelilah Benkirane, the head of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, Morocco's new prime minister on 29 November. Benkirane is entrusted with forming a new government.

Comment: The King is true to his word.

End of NightWatch for 29 November.

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