North Korea: Oddbits from North Korea. Kim Jong Un's birthday is 8 January, but it will not be a national holiday, as most people expected. Instead, it is now expected to be the start of the annual compost and night soil gathering campaign in support of the spring harvest. Kim reportedly said that his birthday was not such a big deal.
Comment: Apparently, Kim's advisors have not instructed him well on the economics of national holidays. The late Kim Jong Il proliferated national holidays because the central food distribution system closes all its outlets on national holidays so that the food workers get a holiday along with everyone else.
On national holidays, families are responsible for providing their own rations, in the inimical North Korean counter-intuitive logic. That saves the government millions of North Korean won every year, which is why Kim created holidays.
On normal work days, the central supply system is responsible for worker rations. Kim might be properly humble in deference to his father and grandfather, but he showed he has no insight about economic management of a socialist state. In most sectors, North Korea profits when the people do not work.
Follow-up to Kim's New Year's speech. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported a senior-level event in Pyongyang in support of Kim Jong Un's speech. The mass rally took place in Kim Il-song Square on 6 January. Its purpose was to inspire the people to carry out the tasks set forth by supreme leader Kim Jong Un in his New Year's address.
The senior officials of the Workers' Party and the North Korean government attended in the kickoff of the nationwide study sessions that will follow and which are mandatory. North Koreans in every sector of national life will spend much of January studying Kim's speech.
Daily NK sources claim that January is one of the worst times of the year, depending on the length of the leader's speech. Kim Jong Un gave an almost incoherent, but lengthy speech. The speech must be memorized by all Party cadre and all workers for participation in the ideological study sessions. The Party cadre at every level of national endeavor, including collecting night soil, will drill the workers on the content of the address.
The New Year's speech or editorial is supposed to provide clear guidance about the top tasks for the year. Kim failed in that responsibility.According to Daily NK sources, workers in North Korea said that this year's study sessions will be difficult because Kim's speech contained few specifics and rambled so badly that no one knows what the national priorities are for 2015.
China: On 5 January, a new supply ship set sail from Hainan Island for Sansha in the Paracel Islands on its maiden voyage to China's island territories in the South China Sea. Sansha City on Woody Island is the prefecture center for China's South China Sea territories which fall within the administration of Hainan Province.
The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the ship Sansha I is the largest and most advanced ship to supply the islets in the South China Sea, helping with efforts to defend China's "blue territory" and protecting its interests.
"The Sansha I can cover all of the South China Sea and reach more islets and reefs in the remote Zhongsha and Nansha groups," said Feng Wenhai, vice mayor of Sansha City. (Note: Zhongsha includes the Scarborough Shoal. Nansha is the Chinese term for the Spratly Islands.)
Xinhua reported that SanshaIis 122 meters long and 21 meters wide and displaces 7,800 tons. It is a rollon-rolloff ship that can accommodate up to 456 people and carry 20 standard containers. It can cover 6,000 nautical miles without docking and has a top speed of 19 knots. It has a helicopter pad to help in rescue missions.
Comment: China has built a small government town on Woody Island. Its survival depends on regular resupply. The city of Sansha reportedly has four desalinization plants for fresh water, a hotel for tourists, a bar and a café plus a military-grade airstrip. Chinese engineers have steadily enlarged and consolidated the island through reclamation projects. It is the center of Chinese administration of its South China Sea territories.
The significance of the new, more efficient and faster supply ship is that it shows that the Chinese government is serious about enforcing its claim to most of the South China Sea, outlined in the red dotted lines. China rejects international mediation and compromises over conflicting sovereignty claims. Unlike other claimants China continues to take physical actions that demonstrate that it is the rightful and capable owner of a large sea area, its islands and its sea bed resources.
India-Pakistan: Security conditions in the southern portion of Jammu and Kashmir State have deteriorated since 31 December. At least ten people have died from the cross border shelling in the Jammu region of the state. Supposedly thousands of Pakistanis or Indians have fled the cross border shelling.
Comment: Most Western news services link the deterioration in security to the forthcoming visit to South Asia by the US Secretary of State. During the past 20 years, visits by high level US and UK dignitaries invariably seem to prompt a surge in pointless and feckless cross border violence.
Since the dignitaries always visit both countries, it is difficult to understand the message that the instability and exchanges of fire on the border are supposed to be sending and who is sending what message.
A Brilliant Reader reported that Pakistan has prepared 60-man groups of terrorists for infiltration into southern Jammu and Kashmir State. The shelling by Pakistani Rangers provides cover for the infiltrators. The militants' mission supposedly is to execute attacks that will embarrass the Indian and the Pakistani governments during Secretary Kerry's visit to India and to Pakistan this weekend. The counter-fire by the Indian Border Security Forces indicates the Indians know what the Pakistanis are up to and are firing back to prevent it.
There is negligible risk of escalation of the border exchanges. Their political significance also is trivial, exaggerated by international media.
Saudi Arabia: Feedback from several Brilliant Readers pointed out the incongruity of a brigadier general and a colonel being present at the location of a fairly minor border infiltration. Numerous Web searches failed to find a satisfactory explanation. Comments from Readers are invited.
Libya: Correction: Last August the al-Thinni government was forced to leave Tripoli. It relocated to and set up operations in Tobruk in easern Libya.
End of NightWatch
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