North Korea-China: Gunmen wearing North Korean military uniforms released a Chinese fishing boat Tuesday, 21 May, after holding its crew for two weeks, beating up the captain and stealing the boat's fuel, the boat's owner said. He also said that the hijackers did not get the 600,000 yuan ($100,000) ransom they had demanded.
Comment: The North Korean navy is responsible for generating much of its operating income. It does this through fishing, coastal shipping, smuggling, providing protection and through piracy of Chinese and South Korean fishing boats and attempting to get a ransom. There are no pirates in North Korea that are not connected to the navy.
This is another of the many annoyances with which the Chinese and South Koreans cope. In many of its external economic transactions, North Korea acts as a rogue and criminal enterprise.
Diplomacy. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that "Choe Ryong Hae, Director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, left Pyongyang on Wednesday, 22 May, by air to visit the People's Republic of China as a special envoy of Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and first chairman of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK."
Comment: Vice Marshal Choe is the first special envoy whom Kim Jong Un has sent anywhere. His trip also is the first diplomatic mission since North Korean began the confrontation in March. Such a visit is long overdue. The North infrequently announces visits by senior military officers for any reason.
Vice Marshal Choe reportedly is close to Kim Jong Un. That is the significance of the public designation as a special envoy. He frequently accompanies Kim on military visits. His position and responsibilities suggest that the topics for discussion will include the changes in strategic environment in northeast Asia as the result of North Korean behavior during the recent confrontation.
The last time North Korea was publicly so far out of step with Chinese strategic objectives is when Deng Xiaoping instituted the socialist market economy and other reforms in China in the 1980's.
Iraq: Update. A single bombing attack was reported on 21 May, killing seven people. The surge in attacks has abated.
Yesterday, Sunni tribal leaders called for all out confrontation with the government or creation of a Sunni autonomous region in the western governates of Iraq. Prime Minister al Maliki said he would consider the demand provided it were done legally.
Syria: A Free Syrian Army colonel spokesman based in Turkey said in a televised statement on 20 May, "Communities inhabited by Shiite Muslims and President Bashar al-Asad's Alawite minority will be 'wiped off the map' if the strategic city of al-Qusair in central Syria falls to government troops. We don't want this to happen, but it will be a reality imposed on everyone."
Comment: The Free Syrian Army is the group backed by the West and Saudi Arabia.
End of NightWatch
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