South Korea-North Korea: Update. On 29 July, South Korea's unification ministry conveyed to North Korea via Panmunjom its final offer for talks about restarting operations at Kaesong. No date for a meeting was proposed.
Comment: After the failed talks last week, the North threatened to seize South Korean assets and base soldiers at Kaesong. The South wants the North to guarantee it will not suspend operations at the complex again.
North Korea-China: North Korea staged a large parade to celebrate the 60thanniversary of the Korean War Armistice. Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao took the salute with Kim Jong Un on the 27th and returned to China on the 28th.
According to Chinese scholar and North Korean expert Zhang Liangui who was interviewed by a Hong Kong-based Chinese press agency, the visit was a state-to-state visit because Li traveled in his government capacity. The scholar said the visit had multiple purposes, none of which were ideological.
Li restated Chinese policy positions to Kim in China's order of priority: denuclearization, safeguarding stability, and solving problems through dialogue and consultation. Li's primary purpose was to listen to Kim's response to each of these, according to the Zhang interview. Kim apparently did not mention denuclearization. Instead, he reportedly emphasized that because North Korea is striving to develop the economy and improve people's life, it needs a stable external environment.
According to the Zhang interview, Li interpreted this as asserting that North Korea wants a free hand to pursue its new policy line of economic and nuclear development together. Zhang said China will adjust its policy to reflect Kim's response, based on Li's report.
Comment: Zhang is an international strategy professor at the Central Party School. His opinions are not necessarily authoritative, but are usually well informed. Hong Kong media are used to communicate informally leadership thinking. This interview appears to be intended as a quick feedback report for the other members of the Six Party Talks.
Zhang's remarks confirm that Kim Jong Un has soured in 18 months a leadership relationship that his father and grandfather nurtured for 60 years. The other message is that China is handling the North Korea problem. It cannot prevent another North Korean nuclear test or missile launch, but it can visit upon the North severe consequences from disregarding Chinese policy priorities.
A key indicator of China's approach is whether the two exchange visits by military or security delegations through the end of the year.
China-Japan: Last week to show that a five-month merge and reorganization of four maritime law enforcement agencies was effective, China announced the activation of its new coast guard. It also sent four coast guard ships with the new red, white and blue logo to patrol waters off the Senkakus on Friday and "sternly declared (sic) Chinese sovereignty.
Comment: Whereas most maritime law enforcement ships were unarmed, the new Chinese coast guard is modeled after the US, South Korean and Japanese coast guards. Like them it will be a paramilitary maritime force with law enforcement authority and armed cutters.
The stated purpose of the merger of pre-existing agencies is to increase the capability of China to enforce its claims to contested islands, with force if necessary. Readers should expect more aggressive and coordinated patrols. This is an escalation move by China.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe just completed a trip to Southeast Asia to strengthen resistance to Chinese claims. In the Philippines on Saturday, Abe promised to provide 10 coast guard cutters to enhance Philippine maritime law enforcement capabilities.
India-Pakistan-Kashmir: Early Saturday Pakistani and Indian forces along the Line of Control in Kashmir exchanged fire. The Pakistan Army admitted one of its soldiers was killed by Indian gunfire. An Indian Army spokesman said Pakistanis fired first.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told the press that back-channel talks with India have been taking place. Pakistan proposed working level meetings on water disputes by mid-August, to be followed by higher level talks. India responded that it is considering the proposal.
Comment: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised to resume talks with India during the election campaign. True to recent practice, every time talks are about to make progress, some elements in Pakistan stage an incident in Kashmir that is aimed to stoke Pakistani nationalist sentiment and hostility to India. This was the pattern even when Musharraf was in charge in Pakistan. This time, the saboteurs seem to have failed.
Syria: Update. Syrian government forces, reportedly with support from Hizballah fighters, recovered the Khalid bin al-Waleed mosque in the city of Homs, according to government and rebel press outlets.
Comment: This is a major setback for the rebels because they controlled the area around the mosque for over a year. It was a symbol of the rebellion's success. Effective control of Homs would give the Asad government a relatively secure north-south corridor in western Syria and fracture the opposition.
Arab Spring countries.
Egypt: Starting Friday and continuing over the weekend in Egypt, 80 to over 120 members of the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Mursi demonstrators died in clashes in Cairo, Alexandria and other Nile Delta towns. The health ministry reported 792 people injured. The Brotherhood said 4,500 were wounded.
The interim president has authorized the prime minister to empower the military to make civilian arrests. A final showdown with the Muslim Brotherhood is emerging.
In north Sinai, Egyptian security forces began "Operation Desert Storm" against anti-government elements and tribes. The first official report is that government forces killed 10 militants and captured 20. According to al Ahram, the government estimates there are 500 active militants. The government has more than ten times that number.
Tunisia: A general strike in reaction to a political assassination last week emptied Tunis and grounded some commercial aircraft on Friday. On Saturday thousands protested against the Islamist-led government. Protests continued on Sunday resulting in clashes between pro- and anti-government groups. Anti-government groups have threatened to create an opposition counter-government.
Police clashed with anti-government protestors in Sidi Bouzid. This is the Tunisian town considered to be the birth place of the Arab Spring because it is where the first violent protests occurred in December 2010. The murdered opposition leader, Brahmi, came from Sidi Bouzid.
Libya: Protestors ransacked the Muslim Brotherhood offices in Tripoli in reaction to the killing of a prominent critic of the Brotherhood, who was shot dead on Friday.
In Benghazi about 1,200 inmates escaped from a prison on Saturday. On Sunday, two bombs detonated at justice ministry buildings. Thirteen people were reported injured.
The bombings were followed by demonstrations over the government's inability to provide security in Benghazi.
Comment: In all three countries, elected government has fallen short of popular expectations and failed to deliver on promises. The Islamists have proven able to win elections but not to govern. Their problem is that the conditions enabling elections were created by popular revolts supported by the armed forces. The direction the Islamists tried to move appears to have been rejected, mainly for non-performance.
The reflex for leadership change under conditions of violence is not spent. The people look impatient for improvements to living conditions. The so-called Arab Spring is sputtering, but the revolutionary impulse remains alive.
Mali: Sunday, 28 July, was presidential election day. No violence has been reported during this Watch, but no results are likely for days.
Many outside non-governmental groups complained that Mali was not prepared for elections, though the French government insisted they be held on the 28th. Eighty per cent of Malians are illiterate. Plus, the voting rolls have not been updated since 2009. One candidate wondered whether Mali would ever be ready for elections.
End of NightWatch
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