For the night of 20 May 2014
China-North Korea: Today at a routine press conference, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman conveyed China's condolences to North Korea over the collapse of the 23-story building in Pyongyang. "We extend our deep condolences to those killed in the accident and our heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured. China and the DPRK are friendly neighboring countries. We hope and believe that the aftermath of the relevant accident will be handled appropriately under the DPRK Government's leadership."
Comment: Use of the daily press conference as the channel for conveying condolences is a manifestation of the general decline in relations between China and North Korea. The description of North Korea as a "friendly neighboring country" indicates the Chinese leadership considers the relationship to be on the same level as China's relationships with its Southeast Asian neighbors and India.
China-Russia: Putin's visit to China. Russian President Putin's held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai today. The featured topics were bilateral trade, a new gas pipeline, military cooperation and international affairs.
The men signed 40 agreements and declarations, covering a wide range of industries, but not gas. A Chinese spokesman said there will be a gas agreement, but not yet.
The two Presidents also attended the start of a joint Russian-Chinese naval exercise in the East China Sea. The exercise will last until 26 May and will feature the most advanced weapons of both nations, according to official publicity. Putin said bilateral military cooperation would only increase.
In a statement, Putin said that Russian and Chinese positions on international affairs largely coincide. Their joint statement said, "The parties agree that there is no room for use-of-force scenarios in the region. All existing problems should be resolved at the negotiating table."
"The two sides have agreed to coordinate and cooperate closely in the interests of forming effective institutions of peace and security. Russia and China hope that all parties will join efforts to resume six-party nuclear disarmament talks and achieve a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula."
Putin said he considered Russia-China cooperation to be at an all-time high.
Comment: While the focus was on bilateral cooperation, the audience was clearly the US and its allies. An unusual confluence of events is driving Russia and China closer together. US and Western allied support for the Kyiv regime in Ukraine largely is responsible for Russia's closer economic embrace of China.
US and Asian allied opposition to Chinese maritime claims has had the same effect on China. Globalization plus a common border between two continent-size nations afford them the ability to work together to mitigate the worst effects of sanctions or US containment actions without changing their policies.
The assertion that "there is no room for use-of-force scenarios" is risible. Russia used force in Crimea and China is using force in the Spratly Islands and the Senkakus. The rules have not changed. There will be more force used.
The language of the joint statement about Korean nuclear disarmament displays mild general concern about nuclear disarmament. It does not imply the two states have special concern about a North Korean nuclear test. A nuclear detonation would concern them both, but the statement does not address that.
China-Vietnam: Update. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the four ships China sent to Vietnam have evacuated 3,553 Chinese staff members of the China Metallurgical Group Corporation and other companies from the Vietnamese port of Vung Ang.
He said China earlier sent a medical chartered plane and two commercial chartered flights to Ha Tinh Province in Vietnam to fly back 307 lightly and badly injured personnel from companies that had been attacked.
Vietnamese authorities announced they indicted more than 750 people for their participation in anti-China violence.
Comment: The Chinese oil rig continues to drill. Vietnam's economy will be the loser from the rioting.
Thailand: General Prayuth held a meeting with senior government officials earlier on the 20th to explain a kinder, gentler version of martial law. He said no curfew is in effect and the government continues to function.
He also said one of the army's roles is to act as mediator between the political factions. He plans a meeting with the parties to resolve differences. He told the press that "If I call them, they will come."
Comment: The underlying differences are so fundamental and so rooted in Thai political culture that General Prayuth has no chance of resolving them. However, army intervention might stop the street violence that has interfered with tourism and sapped economic vitality. That depends on the political maneuvering.
What is not yet clear is which leaders of the Bangkok political and business elites and the royal family are sponsoring the military intervention. The behind the scenes maneuvering and agreements are critical to maintaining civil order.
Prayuth has positioned the army as the political-military referee, but sometimes the contending sides riot despite the referee, or even against the referee. Such a scenario could compel the army to fire on Thai citizens, as in past martial law episodes. This intervention could backfire, unless key political leaders on both sides accept it.
Ukraine: Several pro-Russia press outlets reported that Kyiv regime forces are pushing operations against the eastern separatists. In and around the town of Slovyansk, National Guard servicemen reportedly shelled the village of Semenivka; the Slovyansk railway station; and the center of the city. "An unexploded piece of ordnance landed on a balcony of the block of flats at 26 Korolev Street," one report said.
The city was said to be very tense and the confrontation between the Ukrainian forces and Slovyansk militia is continuing.
Comment: Reports on the security situation are spotty. Limited information indicates that the Kyiv regime is trying to break the separatist control in as many towns as it can before the 25 May presidential election.
Libya: The High National Elections Commission announced 25 June as the date for the parliamentary elections.
Fighting reportedly continues in Benghazi, but there are few combat situation reports.
Comment: The designation of an early date for elections is supposed to help normalize the political situation and put pressure on General Hifter to stop his operations. Libya cannot arrange general elections in such a short time. More importantly, Hifter 's operations are about eliminating Islamists and killing terrorists. Hifter knows that the Islamists use democracy to legitimate their control and empower their imposition of Islamic law and observances. The announcement will have no effect on his operations.
End of NightWatch for 20 May.
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