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North Korea Boosts Military Focus

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

North Korea: Update and comment. The Korean Central News Agency and other media report daily about the activities of the leader, Kim Jong Un. In the past four days Kim has visited only military installations or bases.


The media carry reports of up to three visits each day, all to army bases or installations. The reports glowingly describe Kim, who has never had any military training whatsoever, as guiding the final and most complex stages of annual winter training. He has guided everything from rocket firing to amphibious landings; from artillery to special operations forces attacks.

The country is engaged in nation-wide military training, which partially explains Kim's and the media's focus on the army. Nevertheless, by the behavioral standards of Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather, the concentration on army visits signifies extra security precautions as well as photo ops. Until a week ago, Kim  mixed military with civilian photo ops.

China-Russia: Chinese media reported today that last week China agreed to purchase 24 Su-35 and 4 modern diesel- electric submarines from Russia. Chinese official media claimed, "The Su-35 fighters can effectively reduce pressure on China's air defense before Chinese-made stealth fighters come online." Two of the submarines will be built in Russia and two in China, according to Chinese state TV. Most Chinese news outlets repeated the story.


"China and Russia are expected to cooperate further in developing military technology, including that for S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles, 117S large thrust engines and IL-476 large transport aircraft," according to the TV report.

Comment: The Su-35 is a fourth generation multi-role fighter. Discussions about a Chinese purchase of SU-35s have been intermittent for about 20 years. China originally tried to purchase 48 Su-35s, but Russia refused to make the sale because of China's record in not honoring Russian production rights.

Since then the Russians upgraded the Su-35 by 2005, but have sold none to foreign customers. Reportedly the Chinese are more interested in the 117S engines, but had to buy some Su-35s to get access to the engine. This is a significant breakthrough, if the agreement is as reported in the Chinese media.

China's Global Times 26 March edition reported the submarines are LADA-class submarines, which are follow-ons to the Russian KILO-class and can launch torpedoes and fire the SS-N-16 missile. The submarine reportedly can function in anti-surface ship or anti-submarine warfare roles and is useful for reconnaissance.


Special Update: Multiple Chinese media have been explicit that a new arms agreement has been signed. Russian media appear to be silent on this agreement, thus far.

One US press outlet reported that some Russian sources denied that a new arms agreement has been reached with China.  Russian media have carried positive coverage of President Xi's comments about strengthening relations with Russia, including cooperation with the armed forces, without specifics. More later.

Syria: The leader of the Free Syrian Army, which the West backs, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, was wounded seriously on 25 March by an explosive device attached to his car. One of his legs was blown off along with other wounds.

Comment: No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the second major blow to the leadership of the non-jihadist component of the Syrian opposition in two days. The demoralizing impact of Asaad's loss on the more moderate armed opposition fighting groups will match that of former President Khatib's resignation on the secular political opposition.

Egypt: Update. The chief prosecutor ordered the arrest of five prominent activists for their role in last Friday's clashes outside the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau in Cairo. They are charged with inciting aggression, which includes using cell phones and social media to organize the violent protests.


Comment: The arrests back up Mursi's warning yesterday that the government would take necessary measures against anyone who broke the law. The government has not arrested, however, any Muslim Brotherhood members involved in the clashes.

End of NightWatch


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