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NightWatch 20140703

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For the night of 3 July 2014

South Korea-China: South Korean President Park and Chinese President Xi met for summit talks in Seoul today. Press coverage indicates security and trade dominated the meeting.

According to Xinhua, Xi said, "All parties concerned should jointly and properly manage and control the situation, avoid causing tension, prevent the situation from losing control, and creating no more stirs."

Xi told Park that China upholds an objective and impartial position on the Korean Peninsula issue, and is firmly committed to pushing for a nuclear-free Peninsula, maintaining the peace and stability on the Peninsula, and resolving the issue through dialogue and consultation.

"We hold that the concerns of all sides should be treated in a balanced way, and a synchronized and equivalent method should be sought to bring the nuclear issue on Korean peninsula into a sustainable, irreversible and effective settlement process," Xi said.

Comment: This was a significant event in northeast Asian history because it is the first time a Chinese president visited South Korea before visiting North Korea. Plus South Korean President Park already has visited China, but Kim Jong Un has not, despite his repeated pleas for an invitation.

President Xi varies the language in his statements of Chinese policy towards the Korean Peninsula, but the underlying message is consistent: no war, no instability and talks. In that respect, the meeting broke no new ground in international security policy.

Xi's description of China's position as objective and impartial, however, confirms that the Chinese leadership persists in keeping distance between China and North Korea. Chinese press no longer describes the relationship as being "as close lips and teeth." That is the traditional formula, which was used as recently as 16 months ago.

China took a middle position on the issue of resuming Six Party Talks on denuclearization. While firmly supporting the goal of a nuclear-free Peninsula, Xi called on all parties to work towards resuming the talks. He made no promises to exert pressure on North Korea.

As for economic and trade cooperation, Xi said the two sides should further expand mutual beneficial cooperation in this field.

To raise the bilateral trade volume to $300 billion by 2015, he said the two countries should nurture new cooperation growth points in fields such as new energy, telecommunications, intelligent manufacturing, among others. He invited Korean investment in central and western China.

Comment: Xi's most innovative economic proposal was to set up a clearance service for Chinese currency in South Korea to facilitate trade and investment. He also wants to complete free trade talks by the end of the year.

Chinese economic linkages promote the peace, but they also perpetuate division. Xi repeated the words of supporting peaceful reunification, but China does nothing to accelerate its achievement. China's economic and political actions actually reinforce the status quo and keep South Korea as a rich source of trade and investment, an updated version of an Asian tributary state. China's long term strategic interests are not served by a unified, rich and powerful Korea, despite the charm offensive and the temperate language.

President Park and her team seem to appreciate the hard core of Chinese policy because, at one point, she mentioned President Xi's Chinese Dream in the context of her own Korean Dream. The two dreams are not compatible.

North Korea-Japan: Japan announced it has eased some of its sanctions against North Korea and will resume humanitarian aid in return for North Korea's continuing cooperation in settling abduction cases from 33 years ago. North Korea announced it will immediately restart the investigation, including with participation by a member of the National Defense Commission.

Comment: In 2002, the late Kim Chong-il declared the investigation closed. The breakthrough with Japan came a month ago, when North Korea informed Prime Minister Abe's government that it agreed to reopen the investigation. The announcements evidently were timed by North Korea to serve as a media counter-point to the media coverage of the Chinese-South Korean summit.

European Union-Afghanistan: On 3 July, the European Union (EU) called for a more extensive investigation into allegations of irregularities in Afghanistan's presidential election. The EU statement said there were "highly worrying indications of potentially widespread fraud."

Comment: EU intervention might be the unforeseen-but-hoped-for device that lets the Afghan election commission off the hook for conducting and paying for an investigation and for taking the blame for declaring a final election result that could lead to rioting.

Iraq: The armed forces spokesman, General Ata, said that an Iraqi mechanized infantry division that had been routed from its base at Tikrit last month by the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had returned. He said Tikrit is back in government hands. ISIL's media outlet disputed the claim, but its statement lacked any corroborating details.

Comment: Only minor clashes and casualties are being reported this week. ISIL is overextended, but the Iraqi forces are not yet capable of exploiting ISIL's vulnerability. ISIL fighters probably could mass for a surge terrorist effort, but the movement appears unable to seize and hold new ground.

In Syria, news services reported ISIL fighters have captured a Syrian oil field in eastern Syria, without a fight. Capturing oil fields makes for good headlines, but the military significance is questionable.

The Kurds. Today, Mas'ud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, asked the region's parliament to form a committee in order to hold a referendum on the independence of the Kurdistan Region from Iraq.

In a speech he delivered to parliament, Barzani said that, as a first step, he suggested expediting the endorsement of the draft law to form the independent high electoral commission in Kurdistan. As for the second step, he said it is to start making the preparations for holding a referendum on the right of self-determination.

Comment: Barzani's action already is generating enormous pressure to have it rejected by parliament. If a referendum goes forward, it portends the end of Iraq as it exists. Barzani insists the ISIL invasion has created a new situation that justifies Kurdish independence. He says there is no going back.

There is an odd symmetry in principle in the announcement of the Islamic State, Barzani's Kurdish referendum, Crimea's secession and the attempted secession by the eastern Ukrainians. The details are obviously different, but the principle is that people want old boundaries redrawn.

In its latest manifestation, the process of political breakdown and reconstruction began after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Prior to that, the process was highly active in the early 1960s when the European nations divested themselves of their colonial empires in Africa. The process continues.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia reportedly has decided to send 30,000 troops to reinforce its border with Iraq. News reports said an Iraqi officer ordered 2,500 Iraqi soldiers to abandon their border positions. Iraqi general Ata denied the reports of another mass departure.

Comment: The Saudis have not set the record straight by denying the reports of reinforcements. Reliable information about the status of Iraqi border forces is not available. If it is confirmed that the Iraqis have vacated the border, it would appear to be a repeat of the force collapse at Mosul.

Israel: Tuesday night, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired at least 20 rockets at Sderot and other locations in southern Israel. Most of them landed harmlessly in desert country. Two hit buildings, but no one was injured.

Most Israeli analysts judge that the firing was in retaliation for the murder of a Palestinian teenager that caused riots in East Jerusalem. That murder was apparently a vigilante operation in retaliation for the three murdered Jewish youths.

Israeli leaders said they were in communication with Hamas and had urged it to calm the situation in the Gaza Strip. Open sources reported that Israel moved some ground forces closer to the Gaza Strip, but the government minimized the military movement.

Comment: The timing of the firings at night and their inaccuracy indicate the Palestinian militants most likely were making a statement, rather than trying to escalate the tension.

On the surface, it appears that the revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager and the riots upset Israel's plans to punish Hamas. The Israeli communication to Hamas appears intended to enable Hamas to clarify its intentions: reduce tension by halting the rocket firings or continue the firings and invite Israeli military action.

Ukraine: President Poroshenko appointed a new defense minister, Colonel General (3-star) Valeriy Heletey, and a new Chief of the General Staff today. Poroshenko spoke angrily to parliament about the years of decay and corruption that left the forces unable to deal effectively with the eastern secession.

In introducing Heletey, Poroshenko said the new minister would work night and day to restore the armed forces.

In his brief speech to parliament after the vote, Heletey vowed to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity and recover Crimea: "I am convinced that Ukraine will win. Believe me, there will be a victory parade: in Ukraine's Sevastopol."

Comment: Heletey is a police officer with a meteoric career. In the last 18 months he was promoted from colonel to colonel general. He has led some of the anti-terrorism operations in eastern Ukraine. According to retired Ukrainian officials, he is not well respected by the professional military because he was promoted for his loyalty over his competence.

Diplomacy. Ceasefire talks are to set to begin on Friday or Saturday, but the Ukrainians do not appear trustworthy. Heletey's remarks, with Poroshenko in attendance, appear to destroy the credibility of Ukraine's negotiating position.

Security. Open sources reported multiple skirmishes in eastern Ukraine, which indicate the Kyiv regime's offensive continues, but is sputtering. They also reported eyewitnesses said they observed additional convoys of armored vehicles arriving in eastern Ukraine from Russia. This crisis is not heading towards resolution.

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End of NightWatch for 3 July.

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