Night Watch

Russia-North Korea: Russian President Putin has ratified an agreement to write off 90% of North Korea's outstanding debts. Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved the motion on 21 April.

According to RIA Novosti, North Korea currently owes Russia approximately US$11billion in Soviet era debts.

The remaining 10% is expected to be paid back in six month installments over the next 20 years.

Payment will be transferred from North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank to an account at the Russian Development Bank. Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told the media last month that funds received by the North may be channeled into the construction of a railway or natural gas pipeline connecting Russia to South Korea via the North.

Comment: Russian action on the North Korean debt is the high point in a new Russian outreach to the Koreas to counter US policy initiatives in Asia. The Russians and North Koreans tend to find each other whenever they are under pressure.

Between 28 and 30 April, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Trutnev visited North Korea and proposed three-way economic cooperation between North Korea, South Korea, and Russia to promote development of the Russian Far East. Trutnev is the highest ranking Russian to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un became leader.

The Russians would like to link South Korean railroads via eastern North Korea to the Trans Siberian Railway. Last month two freight trains tested successfully the 54km railroad section between the Russian station at Khasan and the North Korean port of Rason.

Vietnam-China: Since last weekend, Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been engaged in a confrontation near the Paracel Islands in the northern part of the South China Sea.

Chinese ships have intentionally rammed Vietnamese ships three times since 3 May and turned water cannons against the Vietnamese ships, according to Vietnamese officials. They told the press in Hanoi that China has deployed up to 80 ships, including seven military ships, to protect and to help install an oil rig.

The Vietnamese navy was trying to prevent the Chinese from setting up the rig because it is in an area both nations claim. During the daily Foreign Ministry briefing on Wednesday, Chinese officials said that the oil rig was within China's territorial waters. "The disruptive activities by the Vietnamese side are in violation of China's sovereign rights."

Night Watch

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