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NightWatch 20120523

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For the night of 23 May 2012

South Korea-North Korea: North Korea's human rights abuses should be dealt with more urgently than its nuclear or missile programs, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said Wednesday. Lee made the comment when he met a group of US lawmakers including Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said presidential spokeswoman Lee Miyon.

Comment: It is not clear whether and how much the government in Seoul is committed to pursuing human rights abuses in North Korea, but it is a vulnerability that the North is not well prepared to counter quickly. The nuclear and missile programs are long established issues for debate about which North Korea has well defined positions.

Human rights abuses can be of a different order, if the South Korean policy strategists get creative. The usual complaint against North Korea is that it has a large system of prisons for political prisoners and their family members who usually are worked to death.

A more telling accusation is that North Korea cannot feed its population, manifest in reports of executions for cannibalism. North Korea also has an insufficient supply of basic medicines, including aspirin. Health care in North Korea is not a government responsibility outside the large cities.

A carefully crafted pressure campaign on these and similar issues stands a good chance of catching the North off guard, skirts military concerns, and establishes a basis for dialogue. The North Koreans care for their children, sick and aged populations as much as any other Asian society and culture. All of these populations are under stress because of famine or near famine conditions plus the chronic lack of health care resources.

North Korea: North Korea appears to be technically ready to carry out a third nuclear test, an unnamed South Korean official said 23 May. Pyongyang will use its political judgment in deciding whether to conduct the test, the official said.

Comment: There is little context for this South Korean leak in open source materials. Last month the senior Chinese Leadership made it absolutely clear to a visiting North Korean Party official that no Chinese strategic interests are served by another North Korean nuclear test.

The limited but important political behavioral indicators suggest a North Korean nuclear test is not likely at this time.

China-Philippines: Update. China has deployed more ships to Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. As of Monday night, there were five Chinese government ships -- up from three -- and 16 fishing boats in the area, the Philippine foreign department said.

Egypt: On the first day of the presidential elections, the huge turnout persuaded election officials to extend voting hours. At the close of this Watch, no reports of early returns are available.The election proceeded with no serious security incidents reported. Results are expected on Sunday.

End of NightWatch for 23 May.

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