North Korea: During the past week, foreign media have reported a worsening of the electric power supply in Pyongyang. Electricity is supplied for three hours a day.
Comment: Almost all commentators attribute the power outages in mid-winter to the construction surge to make North Korea appear to be a rich and prosperous nation in honor of Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday. Apparently, power distribution is a zero-sum enterprise. Power diverted to support new construction apparently subtracts from power for offices and residences. Construction of a new power station is part of the rich and prosperous campaign.
Power shortages have been chronic for years. They are among the many problems Kim Chong-il never managed to fix.
China-Japan: Chinese military involvement is necessary to support diplomatic claims over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference said on 2 February.
Comment: The Political Consultative Conference is a quasi-official organ. Member statements do not convey state policy, but they do convey the sense of the political elite.
China-Europe: China could contribute more to the European Financial Stability Fund and the European Stability Mechanism, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said during a 2 February visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Wen said the stability of the financial system, the euro and economic growth is very important, and affects China as well as Europe.
Comment: Wen's statement signifies that Chinese officials have changed their attitude towards the European financial crisis. Previously, they declined to consider helping Europe. Apparently, efforts to mitigate the effects of the European financial crisis on Chinese trade have not prospered as quickly as the Chinese hoped.
The media reports do not indicate Chinese have made a decision to support the European Financial Stability Fund. It remains doubtful that the Chinese will provide much help because the prospects of a short term return on investment are vanishingly small.
Pakistan: Pakistan's Supreme Court said today that it will indict Prime Minister Gilani for contempt on 13 February for his refusal to pursue corruption cases against President Zardari. Gilani appeared before the court on 19 January and was exempted from his next appearance. However the court summoned the PM again after deciding that he has committed contempt by not reopening cases against Zardari,
Comment: Zardari and his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, were convicted of corruption by a court in Switzerland, where they have stashed their ill-gotten gain. Switzerland suspended judicial consideration of Zardari's appeal of his sentence after Musharraf excused the convictions as part of his national reconciliation order. The Supreme Court has found Musharraf acted outside his constitutional authority and has demanded the government resume the prosecution of Zardari. The government, led by Prime Minister Gilani, has declined to follow the Court's order.
As president of Pakistan, Zardari would be immune from prosecution, but the Court's order affects his status and qualification for office before he became president. If Musharraf's reconciliation order was unconstitutional, as the Court has ruled, then Zardari was constitutionally barred from the presidency because of his criminal conviction.
The Supreme Court, with the quiet support of the Pakistan Army, appears determined to have Zardari removed from office because he has crossed both institutions. There is no likelihood of a military coup at this time, but the Court's action will hobble the government. A conviction of Gilani for contempt would create another political crisis.
Iran: Update. As a warning to speculators, several money changers working on the streets of central Tehran have been arrested by undercover police officers pretending to be desperate to purchase foreign currency.
In addition, the chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, threatened Wednesday to seek the death penalty for major speculators. Speaking about the disruption in the foreign-exchange markets, he warned that "depending on the importance of their crimes, some of the economic corrupted can face execution."
Imported products such as steel, iPhones and wheat have doubled in price, with traders changing price tags by the hour to keep up with the rial's plunging value.
Comment: The oil sanctions, not yet fully in effect, appear less significant than the run on the currency because of the sanctions on Iran's central bank. The increasingly integrated global economy maximizes the effects of banking sanctions. Execution would seem to be a stiff penalty for money speculation, but not in Iran.
Somalia: For the record. India, China and Japan have begun coordinated naval patrols off the Horn of Africa with the assistance of counter-piracy mechanism Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE), Indian navy sources said. This is the first time that these three have coordinated in this fashion, though all have been engaged in anti-piracy operations for several years.
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