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North Korea: Late on Wednesday, the special conference of the Workers' Party of Korea voted Kim Jong-un first secretary of the Party. His father Kim Chong-il is the eternal "general secretary "of the Party and his grandfather Kim Il-sung is the eternal president of North Korea.

Comment: The new Kim has all but one of his father's positions. He has not yet been named Chairman of the National Defense Commission, which is the de facto head of government and state. He is a Vice Chairman, one of several, but not the First Vice Chairman. Kim Jong-un's military minders might decide to have Kim Chong-il remain as the eternal chairman and keep his son as a vice chairman.

The only thing that is certain is that the inner military leadership has control of the country in ways not seen under either Kim Il-sung or Kim Chong-il. Stalin might have charged the North Korean Workers' Party with "Bonapartism a communist heresy that brought down Marshal Zhukov after World War II.

Note: In a communist system, the armed forces are always subordinate to the Party. The worst offense a general can make is to challenge the communist party leadership. This is the offense known as Bonapartism - military challenge of the Party leadership.

North Korean understanding of communism is so shallow that, in addition to establishing a family dynasty, the current leader and his father have extolled "sangun," the policy of placing the military first above all other state interests. They have made Bonapartism a North Korean virtue, provided the vice marshals and generals support the Kim family and its extravagances.

In communist theory, the sangun policy is an abomination, also described as counter-revolutionary. The irony is that the late Kim Il-sung needed two decades in the1950's and 1960's of non-stop military purges to force the North Korean armed forces to pledge loyalty and obedience to the Workers' Party. His son undid that achievement within three months of his father's death in 1994, out of fear of assassination by the military. Kim Jung-un looks like a hostage of the vice marshals.

South Korea: President Lee's New Frontier Party (NFP) won 152 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly, giving his party a majority. The main opposition Democratic United Party won 127 seats and the smaller United Progress Party won 13, the election commission said on its website. The remaining eight seats are held by a minor party and independents.

Turnout for the election was smaller than expected at 54.3 percent. The National Election Commission had predicted a participation rate of 56.9 percent, buoyed by younger voters, but they failed to vote.

Comment: The electoral result assures that a conservative and pro-US majority in the National Assembly will name the assembly speaker and control legislation.

The economy was the primary issue. It has not achieved the annual 7 percent growth rate promised by Lee, but achieved 3.2 percent growth, despite a recession in Europe and a lagging recovery in the US. The opposition should have had an edge, based on the economic numbers. The timing of North Korea's space launch announcement and the leaked reports of preparations for a North Korean nuclear detonation appear to have persuaded a majority of the voters that the South Korean government needs to maintain a tough stance against North Korea, giving the NFP a victory.

China: Some 100,000 residents and students demonstrated in Wansheng District, Chongqing Municipality in southwest China on 11April in protest of the recent merger of the district into Qijiang County, the opposition website Molihua.org reported. More than 1,000 police were deployed to quell the demonstrations, which began 10 April.

Comment: The timing of the demonstration suggests it is somehow connected to the dismissal in disgrace of Bo Xilai, the former Party strong man in Chongjing. If so, that implies that a variation of strongman regional politics remains alive and well in communist China. A demonstration involving 100,000 people cannot take place without local official support.

The Philippines-China: The Philippine government Wednesday said its newest warship is locked in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance vessels in a fresh dispute over fishing rights in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Ships from the two states engaged each other after the Philippine vessel-a former US Coast Guard cutter provided by the US Navy-attempted to arrest the crew of several Chinese fishing boats who were anchored at Scarborough Shoal, off the Philippines' northwest coast. Both the Philippines and China claim the Shoal.

The Philippine government said Chinese surveillance ships intervened to prevent any arrests, leading to the standoff, and that Filipino sailors who inspected the Chinese ships on Tuesday found illegally collected corals and live sharks in one of the fishing boats.

Comment: The only significance of the issue is that China continues its assertive and intrusive maritime practices. The Southeast Asian states and their allies need to confront and protest the Chinese ships whenever they find them so as to deny any Chinese claim of an abandoned claim, implied consent or right of past practice.

Afghanistan: Special comment. Yes, the Taliban have begun a spring offensive. Yesterday a NATO spokesman denied the Taliban had begun a spring offensive. Today, a news report contradicted the NATO spokesman, citing a surge of attacks in the past 48 hours.

The number of clashes and IED incidents in February was the lowest in years ofr a single month, but fighting in March more than doubled the rate in February. The pace for April is so high that it will result in yet another doubling, if the Taliban sustain it. That would make April 2012 the single worst month for violent clashes of all kinds since the US intervention began in late 2001.  More than 55% of the security incidents are instigated by the Taliban. 

The data available to NightWatch are insufficiently granular for an assessment of each of the 400 districts in Afghanistan, as has been the NightWatch custom. However, it is adequate to show that the bulk of the fighting remains confined to the 12 Pashtun provinces of eastern and southern Afghanistan and that lower levels of fighting are occurring in an additional 10 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

The area near Kabul and the central mountain provinces are the most secure. Security around Kabul remains a high priority for the government and NATO, so a disproportionate number of NATO forces remain constantly on patrol. The central mountains are populated by the Hazara peoples who despise the Pashtun and especially the Taliban who persecuted them prior to the US intervention.

The data show that the US military surge in 2011 succeeded in reducing the number of security incidents per month, but had little lasting effect. The south and east remain the areas under greatest stress, with the Taliban instigating more than half of the combat actions.

Turkey: For the record. Prime Minister Erdogan on 11 April suggested he might invoke NATO's Article 5 in order to protect Turkey's border against Syrian military attacks, Today's Zaman reported. Article Five states that an attack on any NATO member is considered an attack on all members.

Comment: This is a trial balloon by Erdogan to try to gauge NATO's stomach for another intervention campaign, like that in Libya. This might draw the attention of some US legislators, but Europe's economic problems are on the verge of a severe worsening. NATO members lack the money to finance another excursion this is likely to have very mixed results, such as those in Libya.

Syria:  For the record.  In a letter from the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the government agreed to end all military fighting throughout Syria as of 6 a.m. April 12, UN envoy Kofi Annan's spokesman said 11 April. The government said its forces would retaliate if fired upon.

Sudan-South Sudan: The Sudanese Government has stopped all forms of negotiations with South Sudan and has declared that Sudan is now in state of war and vowed to retaliate by all legitimate means to the aggression launched by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) against Higlig earlier this week.

The National Assembly and the Council of States at a joint session yesterday declared general mobilization, discontinuation of talks with South Sudan and the immediate withdrawal of Sudan's negotiators in the wake of the South Sudan-backed aggression.

Sudanese Defense Minister, General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, addressing an urgent question at the joint session of the two Houses, confirmed the combat readiness of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and other organized troops to repulse the South Sudan-backed aggression launched by the so-called Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), adding the SRF and some opposition parties are seeking to destabilize the country by stirring chaos and inciting sedition to overthrow the regime in Khartoum.

Comment: The fight involves autonomy for two regions of southern Sudan that border South Sudan, in central and east central parts of the Sudanese border. The issue is fundamentally economic, namely, control of oil resources in disputed border areas.

It is not clear what general mobilization means for Sudan. Conventionally it means all eligible civilians and all reservists must report for military duty immediately. It is costly to national economic health and difficult to manage by any country.

It probably signifies Sudan's determination to retain control of the remaining oil fields in the south, not yet under control of South Sudan, and to use force to assert its claims in the disputed border territories.

End of NightWatch

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