Night Watch

North Korea-Japan: North Korea and Japan agreed to hold working-level Red Cross talks starting on 3 March in China. The talks reportedly were arranged at North Korea's initiative and will be attended by both Red Cross and diplomatic officials from the two sides.

The agenda is expected to concern the remains of Japanese servicemen lost in North Korea during WWII, and also might include discussion of Japanese civilians abducted by North Korean intelligence agents in the mid-1970's and early 1980's.

Comment: The talks next week will be the first formal bilateral contacts since 2012. Japan's insistence that the North account for kidnapped citizens has been a stumbling block to improved relations for decades. More recently the North's nuclear and long range rocket tests have increased tension and incurred increased Japanese sanctions.

South Korean experts judge that the North's need for hard currency and investments is such that it is willing to deal with an arch-enemy - Japan - in order to ease its economic stress and avoid instability. In this analysis, the North's outreach to South Korea and now to Japan is a subterfuge that exploits deeply felt bilateral issues so as to obtain economic assistance while bypassing international economic sanctions. The Korean family reunions were part of this scheme.

Of all North Korea's neighbors, Japan is the most likely to see through the North's flimsy scam. Concerning some issues involving China and North Korea, Japanese leaders have become prickly.

Thailand: The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra rejected the opposition's offer to hold one-on-one talks on national TV stations in exchange for an end to anti-government protests.

Comment: The rejection was almost inevitable because it would have invested the opposition leader with political stature he had not earned through elections or past office. It resets the political standoff, increases tension again and portends more anti-government demonstrations.

Ukraine: In the past two days, events moved quickly again; this time in Crimea. The first reports of separatist actions indicated armed men without identifying insignia seized the airport at Simferopol, the regional capital. Russian news reports said Russian soldiers seized the airport that serves Sevastopol, the location of the Russian navy base.


Night Watch

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