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Japan in Mobile Scud Scrap

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea-China: Japanese media reported on 13 June that Japan has evidence that a Chinese company exported to North Korea vehicles capable of transporting and launching missiles. If confirmed it could be a violation of UN sanctions. China called the reports inaccurate, and denied violating any UN restriction.

Comment: Apparently the Japanese media are unaware of the irony in this report. At least half of the North Korean Scud launchers are built upon heavy duty Japanese trucks used in drilling that the North Koreans converted into Transporter-Erector-Launchers, or TELs. Almost all ballistic missile support vehicles shown in North Korean sales brochures are vans made in Japan, usually used but refurbished and filled with electronic equipment also made in Japan, but converted to monitoring, guiding and tracking North Korean ballistic missiles.

Possibly up to half of all North Korean army motor transport trucks are Japanese made, based on vehicles displayed in North Korean parade footage. Compasses and other electronic equipment found on North Korean infiltration submarines have proven to have been made in Japan. Japan was one of the sources of titanium duplex stainless steel tubing used in the Yongbyon reactor when it was operational. None of these sales by Japanese companies violates UN sanctions because the materials serve legitimate civilian purposes.

Chinese companies, like their Japanese counterparts, probably have sold heavy duty mining vehicles to North Korea. Mining is one of the basic enterprises at which the North Koreans excel so they have a legitimate use for heavy duty trucks. The possibility that some would be diverted to other uses does not make the initial sale illicit or a violation of anything. The significance of the Japanese report seems to be a complaint that the Chinese have taken over the Japanese dual-use trade.

The Japanese are the last people on earth to criticize the Chinese. Japanese companies have been major suppliers of dual-use equipment that ended up in the inventories of the North Korean armed forces. Without thousands of Japanese trucks, the North Korean army would be an army of foot soldiers, literally. Its mobile ballistic missile capability would consist of a single Scud firing unit of  50-year old Soviet-built MAZ TELs, instead of multiple units built on Japanese truck chassis.

China-Japan-India: The Indian Navy task group that exercised with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces last week made a port call at Shanghai, China, for the first time in six years. Four ships, led by the guided missile destroyer INS Rana and carrying 1,400 sailors, pulled up at Shanghai's cruise ship dock on Wednesday.

Comment: Gushing media reports about building confidence are as inane as they seem. Port calls are about naval business. Both India and China know the Indians are using a show of cordiality to gather hydrographic information about Chinese waters and port conditions over time. For their part, the Chinese are taking a good look at some of India's most modern and capable fleet units.

For old timers, the fact that the Indian Navy regularly sends surface combatants and probably submarines to northeast Asia is impressive. The UK Royal Navy established the Indian Navy as an escort force to ensure the safety of Imperial naval forces and convoys operating in the Indian Ocean, between theaters, in World War II. The Indians have moved far beyond those initial modest goals.

Bangladesh-Burma: Update. The Bangladesh government has rejected pleas from the United Nations and other groups to admit Rohingya Muslims displaced by sectarian clashes in Myanmar. Border forces continue to turn away refugee boats.

Comment: Officially Bangladesh will act to maintain proper relations with Burma. But that begs the question from whom are the Rohingya getting their weapons and, more importantly, their ammunition. If the uprising persists, despite Burmese army efforts to suppress it, that would signify the Bangladeshis are pursuing a two-tiered policy. Officially they provide no haven for refugees. Unofficially they cannot prevent their people from supporting their co-religionists. More on this later.

Syria: Syrian rebels have been armed with heavy weapons smuggled across the borders with Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq during the short-lived ceasefire. The rebels acknowledge their new weaponry will not suffice to overthrow the Asad regime, but their improved capabilities might have contributed to the Free Syrian Army's renunciation of the Annan peace plan.

Comment:  Damascus remains the prize and the best measure of rebel strength. The rebels have yet to sustain attacks there. In May the only significant attack was a twin suicide bombing that killed 55 and injured 372. Not trivial.

In June to date, the only significant attack occurred on 8 June. Some 600 Free Syrian Army fighters attacked in five different suburbs of Damascus, accomplishing virtually nothing beyond the destruction of the fighting force, according to rebel and government media accounts.

Nevertheless, May appears to have been the month for rearming by the rebels. As of this Watch, the center in Damascus holds. The rebels have no territory that they are capable of defending and using as a base.

A new Pan-Arab radio station has begun broadcasting with the avowed purpose of providing more balanced news coverage of the security situation in Syria than is provided by al Jazeera and other news outlets.

Note to Readers: Western governments and media have deplored Russia's honoring arms contracts with Syria. The Russian arms are not gifts, are most likely financed by Iran, and the Russians have a clear sense of their interests and how they would be affected by the fall of the Alawite government. The Chinese do as well. Both have invested much treasure and energy in containing Islamic fundamentalism in their countries and in those of their allies.

In contrast, the US appears to be supporting Islamic fundamentalists in Syria. The US State Department, for inexplicable reasons, admitted that the US is providing "non-lethal aid" to the Free Syrian Army. In these situations, US humanitarian aid usually is a gift that is sold to obtain for money to buy weapons. Everyone knows the charade. There is no moral high ground.

NightWatch invites comments from Readers about what US interests are being advanced by supporting Sunni fundamentalists, whom the US is fighting everywhere else in the Middle East ... aside from siding with Saudi Arabia against Iran. The US policy of supporting the rebels puts Israel at increased risk. Plus the Egyptian situation has shown that the Islamists acknowledge no debt of gratitude to the US for any amount of support.

The US sided with Pakistan against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the outcome led to the Taliban whom the US is now fighting. There seems to be a cautionary lesson in that experience that is being ignored.

France-Greece: French President Francois Hollande said that if Greek voters decide to move away from Greece's existing bailout commitments in the 17 June election, other countries in the eurozone will want to end Greece's membership in the bloc.

Comment: The NightWatch hypothesis is that the Greeks will play on German pride to renegotiate the terms of the last bailout and stay in the eurozone. In other words, the Greek leaders appear to agree that they can continue their state policy of extortion against the eurozone members indefinitely without conforming to austerity requirements. If Greece leaves the eurozone, the most likely reason would be that the other members have tired of the extortion and kicked it out. Much will depend on the outcome of the 17 June election.

Tunisia: For the record. Calm returned to Tunisia on Wednesday, 13 June, after days of riots by radical Islamists across the country left 65 members of the security forces injured and led to 165 arrests. Ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafists attacked an art gallery Sunday for an exhibition they said insulted Islam.

Comments: The Salafists - devout fundamentalist Musims -- are testing their strength against a government they say has betrayed the revolution. There will be more clashes.

End of NightWatch for 13 June.

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