Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP PACOM News Update – October 2012


The PACOM update includes news coverage from Pakistan to the Pacific Islands. As with all LDESP news briefs, the information contained within the PACOM update is to increase situational awareness. The PACOM update focuses on issues concerning South Asia, South East Asia, North East Asia, China, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, including articles central to transpacific security and stability, as well as political and economic issues that may impact the region and U.S national interests in the region.

Disclaimer: Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles, commentaries, and featured topics do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.

Of the more than USD7.5 billion in economic losses recorded in Asia, China sustained much of that loss as two separate flood events affected several provinces. The most costly occurred during a six-day stretch, in which the Ministry of Civil Affairs confirmed economic losses of at least CNY31.1 billion (USD4.92 billion) across six provinces.
In Pakistan, at least 442 people have been killed and 2,912 others injured following persistent heavy rains and flooding that began in mid-August. The National Disaster Management Authority reported that more than 407,138 homes and at least 444,580 hectares (1.1 million acres) of crops have been damaged or destroyed. Damage to agriculture and infrastructure alone was listed at PKR250 billion (USD2.64 billion). Seasonal monsoon flooding was also recorded in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia during September. In India, at least 56 people died after floods inundated roughly 400,000 homes. (…) Typhoon Sanba caused economic losses of JPY950 million (USD12.2 million) in Japan and KRW389 billion (USD389 million) in South Korea, while Typhoon Jelawat killed two people in Japan, where the system made landfall and damaged at least 3,800 homes and structures. (PR News)
Hundreds of Buddhist monks and lay supporters have marched in Sri Lanka’s capital to condemn recent attacks on Buddhists in Muslim-majority Bangladesh and demand legal action against the perpetrators. About 800 people staged a sit-in at a large park in Colombo on 4 October and then marched to the Bangladesh Embassy, where they handed over a letter asking for protection for Bangladeshi Buddhists. Organizers of the protest urged Bangladesh to rebuild all the temples and homes destroyed in the attacks. At least 10 temples and 40 homes were burned, looted or vandalized in Bangladesh’s southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh’s government has arrested about 300 suspects and pledged to provide security for minority Buddhists. Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s state religion. (The Daily Star)
Villagers and fishermen from around the controversial Kudankulam nuclear plant in India’s Tamil Nadu state are once again taking to the sea to protest against the fuelling of the plant. The organizers said hundreds of boats carrying protesters would gather at 500 meters from the plant. In September, hundreds of activists and locals had formed a human chain in the sea near the plant. They fear a disaster similar to the one at Japan’s Fukushima plant in 2011. But India’s government says the plant meets the highest safety standards and in September, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the anti-nuclear protesters to stop fuel being loaded into the plant. (…) Opponents of the plant say that it is located in an area which was badly affected by the 2004 Asian tsunami. The government is keen on pushing ahead with the project, which is seen as critical to India’s energy needs. (…) People living close to the site have long been opposed to the joint Indo-Russian project. But businesses in the state, which suffers from power shortages, have welcomed it. (BBC)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released the latest editions of two flagship report cards on the global economy—the World Economic Outlook and the Fiscal Monitor. The data strewn across these two reports on the state of the Indian economy make for grim reading. (…) India has seen the worst deterioration in its economic prospects since July 2012. (…) The new IMF Fiscal Monitor shows that India will have one of the highest levels of fiscal deficits in the world, at 9.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). Japan is the only major economy that does worse. (…) The high fiscal and current account deficits indicate serious macroeconomic imbalances that could put the Indian economy at risk in case there is another global shock. (Live Mint, Wall Street Journal)
One of India’s most prominent anti-corruption campaigners launched a new political party on 02 October, aiming to tap into a rich seam of public anger against the graft-tainted government. Arvind Kejriwal said the formation of his party would mark a new chapter in the struggle against a “bribe-taking culture” and pledged to field candidates at a general election due in 2014. (…) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been rocked by a string of graft accusations, including revelations that officials pocketed millions of dollars when awarding tenders for telecoms and coal-mining ventures. (…) Kejriwal, a former civil servant, co-founded a group called India against Corruption (IAC), which caused huge embarrassment for the Congress-led coalition government when another leader Anna Hazare went on hunger strike.  Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests organized by IAC. Although the movement has since largely fizzled out, disquiet about levels of corruption was fuelled during summer 2012 by a scandal over the allocation of lucrative mining rights. (Telegraph)
Shops and markets were closed and traders stopped trains in parts of India on 20 September in protests against federal reforms to open the nation’s $500 billion retail sector to global supermarket chains. In New Delhi, traders marched through the streets, shouting “no FDI in retail” slogans, a reference to foreign direct investment. The protests are a backlash against the Indian government’s announcement allowing foreign retailers to own a 51% stake in joint ventures in India, which is Asia’s third-largest economy. (…) India’s Hindu nationalist main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party vowed it would press for a rollback of the retail liberalization program. (CNN)
India’s advanced communication satellite GSAT-10 was successfully launched on 09 September on board Ariane-5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. At 3,400 kg at lift-off, GSAT-10 is the heaviest built by Bangalore-headquartered Indian Space Research Organization. (…) Shivakumar said GSAT-10 would give an impetus to the ‘communication revolution’ in India. (Times of India)
More than two million people in Assam in North-East India have been forced to leave their homes after rising floods left almost two thousand villages under water. Eighteen people have died in the tragedy and many more are missing as rescue teams have been hampered by poor weather. According to government disaster management officials more than 400,000 in the state are living in temporary relief shelters. Several hundred thousand homes have been destroyed. The floods were caused by driving monsoon rains and fast-rising water levels in five of the state’s main rivers, including the biggest of them, the Brahmaputra, which has risen beyond its danger level. Government relief teams have been dropping food supplies to stranded villages but some families have said they fear starvation because relief has yet to reach them. (The Telegraph)
The Taliban’s attempt to kill a 14-year-old girl, famous for speaking out against the Islamic militants and their attacks on girls’ education, has triggered a wave of national revulsion in Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck while she sat with classmates on a school bus as it prepared to drive students home after morning classes in Mingora, a city in the Swat valley. (…) A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility on behalf of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani offshoot of the Taliban movement. (…) The Taliban had previously announced the girl was on their “hit list” because of her backing for “the imposition of secular government” in Swat. With the country’s boisterous news channels turning their attention to detailed discussions of the incident, leaders of all the mainstream parties issued statements harshly condemning the incident. (…)The attack led alarmed locals to raise doubts about government claims that the military has completely dismantled the militants’ operation in Swat. (The Guardian)
The issue was raised on 11 October during a meeting of the Transit Trade Coordination Authority – a body established to settle disputes arising out of implementation of bilateral transit trade treaty. According to officials of the Afghanistan embassy, Pakistan was restricting its cargo to Peshawar, which was a violation of the treaty. Article 3 of the treaty stipulates that there will be freedom of transit through the territory of each contracting party via predetermined routes. Under the APTTA – an improved version of the 1963 bilateral treaty – Afghanistan’s cargo can go up to Wagah border and to Karachi seaports – Karachi Port and Bin Qasim Port. The officials said that unlike Pakistan the Afghan authorities were allowing the Pakistani cargo to go to any point. The Afghan people were putting pressure on the government to review its decision of giving free access to Pakistan’s cargo until Islamabad resolves the issue, said the officials, suggesting that Kabul may also retaliate. The justification the Pakistani authorities had given was that they have not yet prepared the mechanism to regulate the cargo movement, said the consulate officials. (The Express Tribune)
Pakistan on 11 October again protested with the United States over the successive drone strikes in the last two days, saying the attacks were clear violation of its sovereignty and the international law. (…) At least 16 people were killed on 11 October when US drones targeted the compound of a militant commander believed to have links with the Haqqani network in Orakzai agency. (Pakistan Today)
Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed five people in the country’s northwest, near the border with Afghanistan. Intelligence officials say the drone fired four missiles on a suspected militant compound in the North Waziristan tribal agency. The identities of those killed are not yet known, but the region is a stronghold of the al-Qaida linked Haqqani network and the Taliban. Pakistan has repeatedly criticized drone attacks as illegal and a violation of its sovereignty, but U.S. officials say the strikes are an important tool in defeating the insurgents. The attack comes just days after Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan led a convoy of some 500 vehicles in an unprecedented march toward Taliban territory to protest CIA-led drone strikes. The Haqqani network is blamed for a number of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including assaults in 2011 on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, NATO headquarters, and a coalition base. The U.S. has been pressing Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, but the Pakistani army has said its forces are stretched too thin to target militants in the tribal agency. (Voice of America)
Makeshift roadblocks, security threats and warnings from Pakistan’s army forced Imran Khan to abandon his unprecedented attempt to lead a cavalcade of anti-drone protesters deep into the country’s restive tribal belt on 7 October. Leading a convoy of thousands, the former cricketer was within striking distance of South Waziristan, where the CIA uses remote-controlled planes in the fight against Islamist militants, when he abruptly turned back. Later Khan said he had changed plan because of warnings from the army and the risk of becoming stuck after the military-imposed curfew. Addressing an impromptu rally of his supporters, he said the convoy had still been a huge success because he had gone to areas his political rivals “can only look at on maps”. (The Guardian)
In the often ill-tempered war of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Afghans have just taken a new tack: outlawing Pakistani words. The Afghan government has banned Pakistani newspapers from eastern Afghanistan. Granted, that is an area where only 29 percent of the population can read, but it was at least a symbolic smack in the mouth. Afghan police officers at the two countries’ notoriously porous border crossings began seizing copies of a dozen Pakistani daily newspapers, in English, Pashto and Urdu. (…) Intermedia Pakistan, an aid group that specializes in news media development, recently conducted an analysis of how Afghanistan is portrayed in the Pakistani news media. Its executive director, Adnan Rehmat, said there was a strong pro-Taliban bias after the 2001 invasion by the United States, but the bias shifted after homegrown Pakistani Taliban militants took up arms. Even so, the deep suspicions between the two countries are reflected in the press. (…) The civilian government wields indirect influence over newspapers through its large advertising budget, while the powerful military prevails on major news media companies to stick to the official line on national security issues, especially on Afghanistan and India. Even mainstream Pakistani papers give prominence to conspiratorial, and occasionally extremist, views. (New York Times)
Monsoon rains and flooding killed more than 400 people across Pakistan during the rainy season, authorities said. Pakistan suffers every year from flooding caused by massive monsoon rains that sweep across the country late in the summer and caused rivers and streams to overflow. The National Disaster Management Authority said 422 people have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been injured during the season of heavy rains. About five million people have been affected by the resulting floods, according to statistics that were posted on the authority’s website. Sindh province in southeastern Pakistan was the hardest hit with 239 deaths. (…) As Pakistan struggles with another natural disaster, the country is also trying to suppress a violent insurgency in the northwest. (ABC News)
A Pakistani cabinet minister offered a $100,000 reward on 22 September for the death of the person behind the anti-Islam video made in the United States that has roiled Muslims around the world, even suggesting that Taliban and Al Qaeda militants could carry out the killing. Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the federal railways minister, said at a news conference in the northwestern city of Peshawar that he would personally finance a bounty aimed at the maker of a crude, low-budget video that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Bilour acknowledged that incitement to murder was illegal, but said he was “ready to be hanged in the name of the Prophet Muhammad.” And he invited the Taliban and Al Qaeda to be “partners in this noble deed,” according to news reports. The incendiary statements came a day after violent protests paralyzed Pakistan’s largest cities, leaving 23 people dead and more than 200 injured, and invited fresh criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis. (New York Times)
A violent tropical storm pounded coastal districts in southeast Bangladesh on 11 October, killing at least 23 people, police and local administrators said. More than 1,000 fishermen who were fishing in the deep sea were still missing, the officials said. Communications have been severely disrupted in the districts. Small islands of southeast Noakhali district, some 200 kilometers from capital, Dhaka, were the worst affected areas, and at least 16 people were killed there, a district administrative chief, Mohammad Sirajul Islam, told CNN. (CNN)
Authorities in Bangladesh have ordered security officials to remain alert around official camps of Rohingya Muslims following the attacks on minority Buddhists and their temples in the area. About 1,000 Buddhist families fled their villages after rioters burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes and looted shops in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Koran. The Facebook user was quoted in local media as saying someone else mistakenly tagged the photo to his profile. Authorities are investigating. Some 28,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar live in two official camps in the southern Cox’s Bazar district, but tens of thousands of others are scattered around the region. (…) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is blaming Islamic radicals and activists in the political opposition. “In primary investigations, we have found that organized radical Islamic groups attacked the houses and places of worship,” Alamgir told reporters after a visit to the scene on 30 September. (…) Buddhists make up less than 1 per cent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, and followers of the two religions usually coexist peacefully. Some of the Buddhist families displaced by the attacks took shelter at the homes of Muslim neighbors, and on 1 October, many Muslim families offered food to the victims. (The Spec, Associated Press)
Police in Dhaka clashed with hundreds of protesters raising slogans against the anti-Islam film. In Bangladesh, police fired tear gas and used batons on 22 September to disperse the stone-throwing protesters, who were from about a dozen Islamic groups. The protesters burned several vehicles, including a police van, witnesses said. Dozens of protesters were arrested at the demonstration and inside the nearby National Press Club, where participants took refuge, a Dhaka Metropolitan Police official said on condition of anonymity in line with police policy. Police and witnesses said scores of people were injured. The clash erupted when authorities attempted to halt the demonstration, police said. The protesters announced a nationwide general strike on 23 September to protest the police action. In Pakistan, protests continued with more than 1,500 people, including women and children, rallying in the capital. (Daily News, Associated Press)
Bangladesh Police Fired Tear Gas as Garment Workers Riot

Nearly 100,000 Bangladeshi textile workers went on a strike on 16 September demanding reduced working hours. Textile workers in Bangladesh work from 10-16 a day making as low as $37. Bangladeshi garment workers set fire to signs on a street during a clash at Narayanganj, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Dhaka. Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of garment workers as they rioted in a key industrial area outside Dhaka, demanding a reduction in working hours. The workers left their factories and joined the protest, torching a police post and four police vehicles at Narayanganj, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the capital, authorities said. A rumor over a killing of a worker at a factory at Adamjee Export Processing Zone, where plants sew clothing for leading international chains, sparked the protest, forcing the zone’s scores of factories to draw shutters. It later became a full-blown riot — the worst since June when hundreds of factories closed their shops for more than a week — as laborers demanded shorter work hours, workplace security and other benefits. (Daily News, AFP)

On 9 October, Sri Lanka announced it would raise defense spending by over 25 percent in 2013; more than three years after security forces ended a decades-long separatist war with Tamil rebels. Figures presented in parliament showed the government allocating 289.5 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) for the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development, compared to estimate spending of 231 billion rupees in 2012. There was no immediate explanation for the sharp 25.32 percent increase in spending, but the government has maintained that it needs to keep the defense budget high to repay installments on arms purchased during the fighting. The government’s overall spending rises to 2.52 trillion rupees in 2013, up 13.5 percent compared to estimated total spending of 2.22 trillion rupees in 2012. It expects the economy to grow by around 6.5 percent in 2012 after recording growth of over eight percent in 2011. Troops crushed Tamil Tiger guerrillas in May 2009, ending one of Asia’s longest-running ethnic conflicts that claimed up to 100,000 lives since 1972, according to UN estimates. President Mahinda Rajapakse, who holds both the finance and defense portfolios, is due to unveil the full 2013 budget on 8 November, when he is expected to announce how he will raise money to meet state expenses. (Channel News Asia, AFP)


The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, famed for seeking “happiness” for its citizens, is aiming to become the first nation in the world to turn its home-grown food and farmers 100 percent organic. The tiny Buddhist-majority nation wedged between China and India has an unusual and some say enviable approach to economic development, centered on protecting the environment and focusing on mental well-being. Its development model measuring “Gross National Happiness” instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been discussed at the United Nations and has been publicly backed by leaders from Britain and France, among others. (…) Overwhelmingly forested, no more than three percent of the country’s land area is used for growing crops, says Gyamtsho, with the majority of farmers already organic and reliant on rotting leaves or compost as a natural fertilizer. (AFP)


Police in the Maldives arrested former President Mohamed Nasheed on 8 October after he twice failed to appear before a court to face charges that he illegally ordered the arrest of a judge while in office. Nasheed, who has said the military ousted him in a coup earlier in 2012, was arrested while campaigning for 2013’s elections. His arrest could trigger protests by his supporters who have previously clashed with police in the Indian Ocean archipelago and who say the charges against him are politically motivated. (…) The charge against Nasheed carries a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment or banishment to a remote island. (…) Nasheed was a democracy activist and political prisoner before becoming president in the Maldives’s first multiparty election in 2008. He resigned as president in February after losing the support of the military and police during widespread protests triggered by the secret arrest of a senior judge. He insisted that he was ousted in a coup and was forced to sign his resignation at gunpoint, but an inquiry commission concluded that he left office legally. He was charged in July with illegally ordering the judge’s arrest. (The Washington Post, Associated Press)
A member of the Maldives parliament has been stabbed to death near his home. Dr Afrasheem Ali – whose party is a member of the governing coalition in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation – was attacked early on 2 October. His murder comes at a time of political turmoil. On 1 October, the trial of the former president had to be postponed after he defied a court order and left the capital by boat. Police say they are yet to establish a motive for the killing. President Mohamed Waheed called it a “remorseless and foul act” and the president’s media secretary sent out a text describing the murdered MP as the “strongest critic” of ex-President Mohamed Nasheed.  Diplomatic sources said, however, that they did not know of any animosity between Mr. Nasheed and the victim, reports the BBC’s Charles Haviland in Male. (…) Dr Ali was found dead by his wife outside their block of flats, having been stabbed four times in the back of the head and with wounds to his chest and neck. He belonged to the party of another former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoon, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years from 1978. (BBC)
Growing Islamisation could lead to the banning of spas, same-sex beaches and alcohol from holiday resorts in the Maldives, the country’s former president believes. Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader, who was ousted on 7 February, said the influence of hardliners in the current coalition government, led by the former vice-president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, and including the Islamic Adhaalath Party, could have a dramatic impact on the future of tourism in the archipelago. “I think that is the direction we are going,” he said in an interview with Telegraph Travel. “They are talking about alcohol-free resorts, about getting non-drinking tourists to come in from Iran. I can easily imagine holidaymakers being prosecuted for kissing in public, as in some Muslim countries.” Referring to a recent campaign by the ministry of Islamic affairs aimed at strengthening “Islamic values”, he said: “Public dancing, singing and spas have been banned in Malé [the capital city]. But un-Islamic behaviour is un-Islamic behaviour whether it is in Malé or in a resort. (Telegraph)
The currencies of China, Malaysia and Thailand are undervalued relative to the economies’ medium-term fundamentals, and the countries should focus on fiscal policy to support growth, the International Monetary Fund said on 08 October. In its World Economic Outlook, the IMF said that while foreign-exchange movements since the global financial crisis had been consistent with demand rebalancing, gains in currencies of nations with external surpluses had halted over the past eight months. It warned that continued accumulation of international reserves was contributing to global imbalances and associated weaknesses, and said these were likely to remain above desirable levels unless governments take decisive action. And the IMF argued that the policies that would “most effectively lower global imbalances and related vulnerabilities” would also serve the countries’ domestic interests. (…)While inflation rates in emerging Asia have been low or falling, in China and India credit has expanded rapidly, and in Indonesia and to some extent Malaysia, credit growth is still quick. Property prices are also booming in some of those markets. In addition, China, Malaysia and Thailand’s currencies are undervalued relative to the countries’ medium-term fundamentals, the IMF said. (The Wall Street Journal)
After months of negotiations and failed promises, a proposed multi-billion dollar Myanmar port and special economic zone that could transform Southeast Asian trade appears back on track. Thai banks aim to keep the project afloat with short-term loans until an expected Japanese loan of up to $3.2 billion can be secured, officials and sources familiar with negotiations told Reuters. Thailand’s largest construction firm, Italian-Thai Development Pcl ITD.BK, signed a deal in 2010 to build a deep-sea port and Special Economic Zone SEZ.L in southern Myanmar’s coastal Dawei into Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex. But the project foundered, as the Thai builder failed to secure $8.5 billion to finance construction of its first phase — roads, utilities and a port.
Underlining Dawei’s strategic importance, Japan and Thailand have since intervened to rescue the project. (…)In the Dawei region, many worry about the potential environmental toll and health risks from a project that would be four times bigger than Thailand’s largest industrial estate, Map Ta Phut, where pollution between 1996 and 2009 may have contributed to at least 2,000 cancer-related deaths, according to environmental activists who sought legal action to halt the estate in 2009. (…)Once infrastructure is in place, Italian-Thai plans to allocate 17 percent of the complex to heavy industries including steel, petrochemicals and oil. It expects construction of the 400 megawatt plant to take at least four years to set up. Gas and hydropower plant are expected to follow. (Reuters)
Malaysia and Singapore are engaged in a strategic twin-pronged alliance to penetrate the global market in creative content industries, said Information Communication and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Kamaruddin Siaraf. He said the cooperation by the creative industries of the two countries was timely as they shared common interests, cultures, traditions, languages and race. (…)Kamaruddin is leading a Malaysian delegation comprising 40 creative content companies to the four-day exhibition which ends on 11 October. (…)MDA assistant chief executive officer Yeo Chun Cheng said it was crucial for Singapore and Malaysia’s media industries to grow in tandem and collaborate in media projects, together with the interest of penetrating the global market. (Bernama News)
Indonesian and Laos governments signed a bilateral aviation agreement in Jakarta on 03 October, which will allow for the establishment of direct airline services between Jakarta and Vientiane. “The agreement will create many benefits for both countries, especially in the economic and tourism sectors. It will also bring the people of Indonesia and Laos closer, strengthening friendship between the two ASEAN countries,” Transportation Ministry’s air transportation director Djoko Murjatmodjo said after the signing of the agreement. He hoped that the Jakarta–Vientiane route could be opened by the end of 2013. In addition, he said that the ministry has recently signed a bilateral air agreement with other ASEAN countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam in order to make the Southeast Asia region smaller. “ASEAN is currently enjoying economic growth and this is the perfect time to connect one city to another in this region,” he added. Besides ASEAN, Indonesia would increase flight slots to Korea and Australia in 2013. (The Jakarta Post)
Vietnam is proposing to allow foreigners to take full ownership of some joint-stock companies and set up wholly owned securities firms in an effort to bolster the stock market. Overseas companies can acquire as much as 100 percent of the registered capital of brokerages, up from the current maximum of 49 percent, or establish wholly owned securities firms if they have been operating in the banking and insurance industries for two years and posted a profit in the most recent two years, according to a draft measure posted on the State Securities Commission’s website. (…) Public joint-stock companies are enterprises that either has shares listed on exchange have already sold shares to the public or have shares that are owned by at least 100 investors and have registered capital of at least 10 billion dong ($478,000). (Bloomberg)
A Vietnamese court issued jail sentences ranging from four to 12 years on 24 September to three bloggers who wrote about human rights abuses, corruption and foreign policy, intensifying a crackdown on citizens’ use of the Internet to criticize the government. The cases are particularly high-profile examples of the Communist government’s attempts to stifle challenges to its authority on the Internet, which has emerged as a major avenue for dissent in the country of 87 million people. (Bloomberg)
Indonesia and Japan have agreed on a master plan for the construction of roads, railways, airports and other strategic infrastructure in Jakarta and its neighboring cities. A steering committee tasked with drafting the master plan concluded its third meeting in Tokyo on 09 October, announcing 45 projects with the total value of investment required estimated to reach Rp 410 trillion (US$43 billion). (…) The priority projects will include the construction of Jakarta’s Mass Rapid Transit system, Cilamaya International Airport, the expansion of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, the creation of a new academic research cluster and the development of the city’s sewage system. As one of the most populated cities in the world, Jakarta is struggling to accommodate growing demand for basic infrastructure. The capital has a population of 10,187,595, equal to 15,427 people per square kilometer. (…) Approximately 55 percent of the total investment needed to make the master plan materialize would come from private investors, said Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa, who represented Indonesia at the meeting in Tokyo. (Jakarta Post)
On 10 October, Indonesian Police warned of a possible terrorist threat targeting dignitaries planning to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings, raising the country’s security alert to its highest level. Reports involving the “certain movement” of terrorists have been received, said Bali Police Brig. Gen. I Ketut Untung Yoga Ana. He said security had been tightened at all entry points to the resort island prior to the ceremony, and that snipers will be placed around memorial sites. (…) A ceremony will be held at a park in Jimbaran followed by a ground-zero memorial in Kuta. (…) After a massive crackdown on Muslim extremists, terrorist attacks aimed at foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government. (CBS News)
Tens of thousands of factory workers took part in a national strike across Indonesia on 03 October, demanding higher wages, greater social security and an end to employers’ use of temporary contracts to circumvent the country’s strict labor laws. Trade unions claimed that more than 2 million workers would go on strike in 80 industrial estates in 24 cities, although the figures have not been verified. In the capital, Jakarta, 15,000 police and security officers were deployed to protect key buildings and transport routes. (…) Many factories in Indonesia’s industrial heartland around Jakarta closed for the day as trade unionists gave fiery speeches at rallies attended by thousands of uniformed workers. (…) High quality global journalism requires investment. (…)  Although Indonesia’s economy, south-east Asia’s biggest, has grown rapidly over the last decade, social inequality has also risen. Meanwhile, trade unions have become increasingly combative, threatening to undermine attempts by the government to turn Indonesia into a key regional manufacturing hub. (Financial Times)
An Indonesian antiterrorist squad arrested 10 suspected Islamist militants and seized a stash of improvised bombs, police said, as worries grow over home-grown militants’ plans to strike local security forces and government officials. (…) Two suspects were arrested in Solo town in central Java on 20 September after investigators were tipped off about their location from other members of a militant cell that already had surrendered. National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said that interrogations of those suspects led investigators to arrest six other suspects in Solo, and a ninth suspect was arrested in West Kalimantan, on Borneo island. A 10th suspect, Joko Partit, the brother of a terrorist suspect shot dead by police in 2009, was arrested in Solo on 21 September. Television footage showed heavily armed police carefully removing explosive components from various locations in Solo. (Wall Street Journal, Associate Press)
A passenger ferry collided with a ship believed to be carrying liquefied natural gas and sank west of Indonesia’s main island on 26 September, killing at least eight people, officials said. More than 210 passengers and crew were rescued, said Heru Purwanto, an official at Bakauheni port on southern Sumatra Island. More than 80 survivors have been hospitalized, including at least one who was in critical condition. (…) There was no immediate word on the cause of the collision, or whether the South African-flagged vessel carrying the liquefied natural gas was damaged. An expert team has been deployed to check for natural gas leaks in the carrier, but there have so far been no reports. (…) Ferries are a major source of transportation in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 17,000 islands and a population of 240 million. Sea accidents are common due to overcrowding and poor safety standards. (Wall Street Journal, Associated Press)
Malaysia will discuss possible changes to its crude palm oil export tax regime in a meeting on 12 October, and the country may consider limiting plantation expansion to support falling prices, a government minister said on 8 October. (…) Malaysia, the world’s second biggest producer of the edible oil after Indonesia, delayed taking a decision on a proposal to cut crude palm oil export taxes to 8-10 percent from 23 percent as the cabinet needed more time to study the plan. “The Malaysian cabinet will discuss the changes on palm oil export tax structure on 12 October,” said Bernard Dompok, Malaysia’s plantation industries and commodities minister, following talks with Indonesia’s agriculture minister in Jakarta. Palm oil markets have been waiting for Malaysia to come up with a strategy to counter top producer Indonesia’s move in 2011 to cut export taxes of refined palm oil and boost margins for its downstream processing industry. In order to help prevent further declines in palm oil prices, both countries agreed to work together to manage supplies and work on environmental issues. (Reuters)
The recent raids on companies suspected of operating illegal investment schemes using gold were conducted in the interest of protecting investors as well as the public at large from falling victims to the illegal schemes. In a joint statement on 10 October, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Royal Malaysia Police and Bank Negara Malaysia said based on surveillance and examination conducted on these companies, it has been discovered that these companies are operating schemes that are believed to be not sustainable to provide the promised high monthly returns, nor would they be able to provide the buy-back guarantee of gold. “Such schemes are not sustainable because the returns promised are not funded through gold trading, but from the monies invested into such schemes. “The investigations have also revealed that the amount of assets and monies held by these companies do not commensurate with the amount collected from their investors,” the agencies said. The statement added that prior to the joint raids, it has been noticed that these companies have delayed in returning gold or money to the investors within the stipulated time as promised. (The Malaysian Insider)
Cambodia has threatened legal action against two U.S.-funded radio stations, accusing them of favoring opposition parties and promoting U.S. foreign policy (…) Representatives of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) were called to a closed-door meeting on October 10.The government complained about their coverage of border demarcation issues with Vietnam and the jailing of a broadcaster and land rights campaigner for “secessionism”. (Reuters)
At least 14 Cambodian people were killed by flash floods that have been hitting some provinces in the country since September, according to the report of Cambodian Red Cross on 03 October. Among the dead, 9 were in Banteay Meanchey province bordering Thailand, 4 in central Kampong Thom and 1 in northwestern Siem Reap, said the report. Keo Vy, chief of the Cabinet of National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), said that flash floods have hit about 8 provinces including Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Takeo, Pailin, Kampong Chhnang and Preah Sihanouk. “Banteay Meanchey province is suffering the worst from the floods,” he told Xinhua over telephone. Some 14,100 families have been affected including 4,060 families were evacuated to higher grounds, he said. (Xinhuanet)
A Cambodian court jailed a 71-year-old radio broadcaster and land-rights campaigner for 20 years on 01 October after finding him guilty of leading an anti-state rebellion, a verdict condemned by activists as a further crackdown on human rights. Three judges in the Phnom Penh court convicted Sonando, who has joint Cambodian-French citizenship, and 13 others of inciting villagers in eastern Kratie province to rebel against the government. Sonando, a long-time rights campaigner and critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, stood accused of inciting villagers to take up arms and of aiming to recruit up to a million people to topple the government, charges his supporters say were trumped up. Hun Sen urged in a nationally broadcast speech in June that Sonando be arrested for masterminding “a plot to overthrow the government and attempting to establish a state within a state”. Sonando, the head of Beehive Radio, had pleaded not guilty. The number of land disputes in Cambodia has exploded in recent years as the economy grows rapidly and companies move to exploit natural resources such as rubber, sugar, and minerals. (Reuters)
Six Cambodian farmers have died after their truck hit an old anti-tank mine believed to have been planted during fighting between the army and Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the 1980s, police said. Two others were seriously injured in the blast in northwest Battambang province on 30 September; according to local police Chief Khum Soy, who said the victims were aged from 17 to 56. “They were on their way home from the market when they ran over the anti-tank mine,” he said. Nearly three decades of civil war have left Cambodia one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. In 2011, leftover landmines and other unexploded ordnance killed 43 people and caused 168 injuries including 33 amputations, according to official statistics. The Khmer Rouge, which oversaw the deaths of up to two million people through starvation, overwork, torture or execution, were driven from power in 1979.  They fought government forces until the communist movement collapsed in the late 1990s. (ABC News)
In the first nine months of the 2012, we have seen the killing of Cambodia’s leading environmental activist, a journalist and a 14-year-old girl whose community faced eviction. We’ve also seen the conviction of 13 land activists for legitimate protests; a judicial move against one of the country’s most respected human rights activists; the harassment of politically active monks; and the arrest of an independent radio station owner on charges of secessionism. And these are just the most outlandish and publicized incidents. As disparate as these cases may seem, there is a common thread that runs through each of them: conflict over natural resources. (…)Cambodia is in the grip of a land-grabbing crisis that has seen more than 2m hectares (5m acres) of land transferred mostly from subsistence farmers to agribusiness. And as good land becomes scarce, the battle for it is becoming increasingly intense. An estimated 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes since 2003. This massive transfer of natural resources has been accomplished mostly through Cambodia’s economic land concession (ELC) scheme, in which the government leases large plots of land to companies that agree to farm them. (…) The land grab is creating an underclass of landless citizens who have no stake in society and nothing left to lose. (The Guardian)
The Philippine government has reached a framework peace agreement with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, President Benigno Aquino says. The deal follows long negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end a 40-year conflict that has cost more than 120,000 lives. It provides for a new autonomous region in the south, where Muslims are a majority in a mainly Catholic country. The MILF is “very happy” with the deal, a spokesman was quoted as saying.  The agreement was reached after talks in Malaysia and is expected to be signed formally on 15 October in the Philippine capital, Manila. (…) Correspondents say the agreement marks a major breakthrough, though previous peace efforts have broken down and negotiations with the MILF over the last 15 years were interrupted by violence. The Philippine government’s chief negotiator Marvic Leonen told the BBC that the new peace deal has more political support than previous agreements, after the negotiation panel held more than 100 consultations with Muslims, Christians, and local and regional governments. (…) The draft agreement would give the leaders of the Bangsamoro more political and economic powers, promises the people a “just and equitable share” of the region’s abundant natural resources, and pledges to address the needs of poverty-stricken communities. It also provides for the MILF to “undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces” and says both sides would work for “reduction and control of firearms and the disbandment of private armies and other armed groups”. (…) The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands, with a population of about 95 million. It has faced separatist movements in Mindanao, where the MILF is based, and in Jolo, home to the radical Islamist Abu Sayyaf group, which is reputedly linked to al-Qaeda. (BBC)
The Philippine Supreme Court on 09 October suspended implementation of the country’s anti-cybercrime law while it decides whether certain provisions violate civil liberties. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the court issued a temporary restraining order stopping the government from enforcing the law signed by President Benigno Aquino III in September. The law took effect early October but there has been no report of anyone being charged with violating it. (…) The law aims to combat Internet crimes such as hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. (…) Journalists and rights groups oppose the law because it also makes online libel a crime, with double the normal penalty, and because it blocks access to websites deemed to violate the law. They fear such provisions will be used by politicians to silence critics, and say the law also violates freedom of expression and due process. (Huffington Post)
Myanmar President Thein Sein agreed with his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-Bak to negotiate an investment guarantee pact, during talks which focused on economic ties. The two leaders signed a framework agreement on aid for Myanmar and agreed to strengthen cooperation in energy and resources development, infrastructure and construction, Lee’s office said in a statement. They also pledged cooperation in gas development and power plant projects in Myanmar. In early October, a South Korean consortium signed a deal to build a 500,000-kilowatt power plant and electricity transmission networks by 2015 in Yangon’s Tharkayta Township. Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — has been emerging from international isolation with sweeping democratic reforms since Thein Sein came to power after decades of military rule. The reforms have made Myanmar an attractive destination for investment. It has one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and big deposits of iron ore, zinc, nickel and other minerals. (…) Myanmar had close ties with North Korea for decades. But during his visit Lee secured an undertaking from Thein Sein that his government would refrain from further weapons purchases from Pyongyang. (AFP News)
A suspected Burmese warlord and five other men have admitted murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River at a trial in China, state media report.  Two Chinese cargo ships with 13 dead crew members were discovered on the Thai side of the river in October 2011. Naw Kham is believed to be one of the most powerful warlords in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma.  Operating in a lawless region known for drugs and smuggling, he was regarded as untouchable for more than a decade. However, in April 2012 he was captured in Burma and was taken the following month to China along with the five other men on Chinese charges of murder, drug-trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking. The court in Kunming will announce the sentences against the six at a later date. Chinese pressure forced the authorities in the other three countries to act, the BBC’s South-East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, reports from Bangkok.  However, much about this case is still unclear, our correspondent adds. Nine Thai soldiers have also been accused of involvement in the killings and their case is still under investigation. (BBC)
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi declared her willingness on 08 October to serve as president, and her party’s intention to amend the constitution to allow her to do so. Suu Kyi said it is her duty as leader of the National League for Democracy party to be willing to take the executive office if that is what the people want. Myanmar’s next election is in 2015. (…) Responding to a question, she said a clause in the constitution that effectively bars her from the job is one of several her party wants to change. Suu Kyi returned from a 17-day trip in the United States, where she was feted as a hero of democracy. Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein also visited the U.S. in September. Thein Sein, a former general, has launched a series of political reforms since taking office in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. (…) Suu Kyi’s party still wants to change several clauses in the constitution. Some give the military enough unelected seats in parliament to effectively bar constitutional change. Another bars anyone from the presidency whose parent, spouse or child enjoys the privileges of being the citizen of another country. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and the couple had two sons, who live outside of Myanmar. (Associated Press)
The authorities in Burma are carrying out a secret program of ethnic cleansing of stateless Muslims, demolishing their communities and bulldozing historic mosques.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled the western port of Sittwe after bloody conflict with Buddhist members of the Rakhine ethnic group. The state authorities, supported by the national government, have taken advantage of the unrest to flatten Muslim neighborhoods, forcibly close Muslim-owned shops and demolish mosques, making it impossible for the displaced Rohingya to return to their homes. The ethnic cleansing has taken place under the noses of UN aid workers, who are tending to the estimated 70,000 displaced people in Rakhine State, but who say they know nothing of the destruction of the mosques. Sittwe has been riven by ethnic conflict since late May, when reports that a Buddhist girl had been raped by three Rohingya men spread through Rakhine State. (The Australian News, The Times)
The World Trade Organization is poised to accept Laos, the smallest economy in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the last one outside the global trading club. The terms of Laos’s membership were agreed to early October by a working party on its accession, and now must be endorsed by all 157 members of the WTO, according to a posting on the Geneva-based group’s website. Vietnam was the last member of ASEAN to join the WTO, in January 2007. Laotian accession further bolsters the association’s international position, as China and the U.S. compete for influence in the region and Myanmar moves away from decades of political isolation. (…) The membership package is scheduled to go to the WTO’s General Council for formal approval on 26 October. Laos’s National Assembly will probably complete ratification in December, according to Lao Minister of Industry and Commerce Nam Viyaketh. (…)Laos committed to maximum import tariffs on goods that average almost 19 percent. In services, the country made market- access pledges in 10 industries, according to the WTO. (Bloomberg)
Potentially billions of dollars of tax is being withheld from the government of East Timor by some of the world’s richest oil and gas companies operating in the Timor Sea, Four Corners has revealed. The amount owing to East Timor, or Timor Leste as it is known in the country, could be as much as $3US 3 billion, once interest and penalties are added to the unpaid taxes. (…)A forensic audit of tax payments over the past 18 months has found what the government claims are multiple underpayments of tax by the resource companies. These companies include the US oil giant ConocoPhillips and Australia’s own Woodside Petroleum. (…)Several of the companies involved are appealing in the Dili District Court against the tax reassessments of the East Timorese government. (ABC News)


Armed separatist groups in Thailand’s southern border provinces have renewed attacks on teachers and schools in a campaign of terror that has heightened fear among the population, Human Rights Watch said. On 01 October, separatist insurgents shot dead a teacher, Komsan Chomyong, from Ban Bor Ngor elementary school who was traveling through an insurgent-controlled area in Ra Ngae district, Narathiwat province. On 24 September, alleged insurgents detonated a bomb at the entrance of Batu Mitrapap 66 School in Bacho district of Narathiwat, where a meeting of school directors was being held, wounding directors Kordir Laemaenae and Ma Durama. (…) Students have frequently been killed and wounded in insurgent attacks targeting security personnel assigned to provide safe passage to and from school, or protecting the school grounds. For example, two students from Romklao School were injured by shrapnel when their school bus was hit by an explosion in Narathiwat’s Yi Ngor district on 27 September. (Human Rights Watch)
Recently, leaders in Beijing are calling the barren islands “China’s sacred territory since ancient times,” and in Tokyo they’re calling them “clearly an inherent territory of Japan.” But for generations of humbler folk on both sides, the islands have meant one thing: fish. The Chinese name for the island group, Diaoyu, means “catch fish.” The Japanese name for the largest island, Uotsuri, means “fish catch.” (…) But all the tiny islands themselves have ever been good for is albatross feathers (for the fashion trade) and a Japanese-owned fish-processing plant that operated for the first 40 years of the past century. Japan bases its claim to the islands, which it calls the Senkaku, on a cabinet decision in January 1895 whereby because there was no trace of anyone else controlling them they were deemed “terra nullius,” nobody else’s, and Tokyo incorporated them into its territory. China disputes that claim, pointing to 15th-century accounts of sea voyages by Chinese envoys and a 17th-century map of China’s sea defenses, among other documents, to show that “the Diaoyu islands were first discovered, named, and exploited by the Chinese,” in the words of a Foreign Ministry statement. (Christian Science Monitor)
The spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said Luo Zhaohui, who leads the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, met 11 October with Shinsuke Sugiyama, the director general of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau at the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Mr. Fujimura was confirming a statement issued by the Japanese ministry that revealed the meeting. (…) The talks appeared to signal a willingness by the nations to at least begin discussing their often highly emotional disagreement over control of the island group, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. According to the ministry’s statement, the diplomats “exchanged opinions” on the dispute and held preparatory talks for a higher-level meeting between the two nations to take place at an unspecified date. While neither the Japanese nor the Chinese government offered much additional detail, the meeting offered the first glimpse of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at cooling down a heated territorial dispute that has set the two Asian powers increasingly at odds. The fact that the meeting took place at all seemed to signal that the two nations wanted to pull back from a confrontation that has led to violent street protests in China and games of cat-and-mouse between their patrol ships on the high seas. (New York Times)
Chinese officials are worried that the growing relationship between India and Japan, its main rival, is meant to contain and counter it. This revelation comes from two Chinese experts at a time when China is engaged in a serious conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. (…) As its dispute with Japan escalates, China seems worried India will throw its weight in favor of Tokyo. (…) The Chinese foreign ministry had earlier accused India of trying to counter balance China when ONGC entered into oil exploration along with a Vietnamese company in an Island that China claims as its own. (Times of India)
Japan and South Korea will not renew a $57 billion currency swap facility designed to protect their economies against financial crisis, a decision they said was not related to a territorial dispute that has cast a chill over ties between the neighbors. Officials from both countries were quick to stress the decision not to extend the facility, set up last October as concerns mounted about the U.S. budget deficit and Greece’s possible default, was made purely on economic grounds. However, it may raise questions about the network of bilateral swaps many Asian countries have set up if the agreements could be seen to come under pressure due to a diplomatic stand-off. (…) The value of bilateral currency swap arrangements between the two will return to $13 billion at the end of the October from $70 billion, South Korea’s central bank said in a statement. (…) A political row broke out between Seoul and Tokyo in August after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited islands that both countries claim sovereignty over. (Reuters)
South Korea expects a record 100,000 Chinese tourists during a weeklong holiday starting on 01 October as vacationers switch plans because of a consumer boycott of Japanese goods and travel. The protests have been sparked by Japan’s move to nationalize disputed islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. (…) Chinese travel agents have canceled Japan tours and China Southern Airlines Co. and Japan Airlines Co. have cut flights because of a demand slump. More than 40 percent of Chinese holidays booked in Japan during the weeklong vacation could be canceled, with many travelers instead going to South Korea or Southeast Asia (…) Chinese visitor numbers to South Korea during early October’s vacation may climb 36 percent from 2011, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. Leisure stocks rose on the forecast. (Bloomberg)
A North Korean soldier killed two of his officers before crossing the heavily mined border into South Korea on 06 October, South Korea’s defense ministry and media reports said. Defections across the Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone dividing the two Koreas, are rare as the 250 km-long (155 miles) land border is heavily armed and tightly guarded. A defense ministry official confirmed a North Korean had defected across the land border, but provided no further details. Local media quoted a statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying the North Korean soldier crossed the western section of the border at around noon. The North Korean claimed that he shot dead his platoon and squad chiefs while on guard duty shortly before his border crossing, according to the reports. The unnamed defector was being questioned by authorities. (…) Hundreds of North Koreans flee each year across its northern border with China and most make their way to the South, with more than 20,000 having found refuge in the wealthy capitalist neighbor.
North Korea says it has missiles that can hit the US mainland, in a statement two days after South Korea unveiled a missile deal with the US. The statement said US bases in “Japan, Guam and the US mainland” were within its “scope of strike”. It follows Seoul’s announcement on 07 October that it would almost triple the range of its own missile system. Pyongyang is thought to be working on a long-range missile, but two recent rocket tests ended in failure. North Korea routinely issues strong rhetoric against Seoul and Washington. But the Communist state does possess an array of short- and medium-range missiles, as well as artillery pointed towards South Korea (BBC)
Japan’s new tax on carbon emissions will cost utilities about 80 billion yen ($1.02 billion) annually from 2016, adding to their already high costs of running power stations after the Fukushima crisis shut most of the country’s nuclear plants, a government backed think-tank said. Japan will gradually phase in the tax on oil, natural gas and coal over the next five years, in a move that will hit the balance sheets of businesses from refineries and power plants to factories and gas stations. The tax will be added to existing levies already imposed on fossil fuels, and will generate about 260 billion yen in additional revenue annually from April 2016, the Ministry of Finance says. (…)Utilities have mostly funded their energy purchases through debt, and have avoided passing on the cost to consumers, except for Tepco which was nationalized in 2012, but the new taxes could force a change of heart. (Reuters)
In an abrupt turnabout, the Japanese government on 19 September stopped short of formally adopting the goal it announced just in mid-September — to phase out nuclear power by 2040 — after the plan drew intense opposition from business groups and communities whose economies depend on local nuclear power plants. (…) The cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said it would “take into consideration” the 2040 goal, but formally endorsed only a vague promise to “engage in debate with local governments and international society and to gain public understanding” in deciding Japan’s economic future in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Energy policy will be developed “with flexibility, based on tireless verification and re-examination,” the cabinet’s resolution read. (…) Japan got about 30 percent of its electricity from 54 reactors across the country — and planned to increase its reliance to 50 percent — before damage from a powerful tsunami in March 2011 led to multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and vast radiation leaks. All but two of the plants remain closed. (New York Times)
China’s stocks rose, capping a second week of gains for the benchmark index, as falling U.S. jobless claims bolstered the outlook for exports and publishing companies jumped after Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (…) China Construction Bank Corp., the nation’s second-largest lender by assets, led banks higher after officials at the top four lenders said they are resisting government pressure to lower borrowing costs to maintain the profitability of lending operations. Shanghai Xinhua Media Co. surged by 10 percent on speculation Mo’s award will spur book sales. (…) The People’s Bank of China said in a statement China’s new local-currency lending was 623.2 billion yuan in September. The median estimate of 32 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for loans of 700 billion yuan. (…) China’s biggest banks are limiting discounts for their best corporate clients to 10 percent of the benchmark lending rate, the officials said, asking not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak publicly. The central bank in July began allowing lenders to offer credit at 30 percent less than the benchmark rates. Keeping borrowing costs high may blunt efforts to revive growth that has decelerated for six straight quarters in the world’s second-largest economy. (Bloomberg)
Copper consumption in China will contract this year for the first time since 2008 as demand falters and inventories climb in the largest user, before rebounding in 2013, according to Simon Hunt Strategic Services. (…) Consumption will drop about 8.5 percent to 5.6 million metric tons in 2012. (…) China’s slowdown this year “has been significant,” the World Bank said in a report on 7 October, citing declining external demand and a property-market correction. (…) China imported 2.39 million tons of refined metal in the first eight months, up from 1.51 million tons in 2011, according to Bloomberg calculations based on customs data. Global demand exceeded output by 129,000 tons in the first half of 2012, the World Bureau of Metal Statistics said on 16 August. (…) Growth in China’s economy slowed to a three-year-low of 7.6 percent in the second quarter. The government is trying to prevent expansion from slipping below a 7.5 percent target set in March, which would be the weakest since 1990. (Bloomberg)
China’s economic slowdown is getting worse with manufacturing activity contracting for an 11th consecutive month as demand weakens in the face of global uncertainty, according to a key private-sector report. The monthly HSBC purchasing managers’ index rose to 47.9 in September, a mild improvement from the previous month, but still below the 50-point divide that indicates the expansion-contracting line. The shrinking demand from US and European markets for Chinese exports will increase the pressure on Australian mining companies, which have already seen a sharp slump in prices and demand for key commodities such as iron ore and coal. It comes as the Australian nickel-mining industry waits to see whether the board of Swiss mining giant Xstrata tonight accepts the amended terms of a $30 billion-plus takeover offer from nickel trader Glencore International. But it is China with new export orders falling at their fastest rate since 2009 that is the biggest concern for Australian policy setters at the Reserve Bank monthly board meeting to decide on interest rates. (Herald Sun)
China’s first aircraft carrier has entered into service, the defense ministry says. The 300m (990ft) Liaoning – named after the province where it was refitted – is a refurbished Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine. For now the carrier has no operational aircraft and will be used for training. But China says the vessel, which has undergone extensive sea trials, will increase its capacity to defend state interests.  China’s Premier Wen Jiabao said the ship would have “a mighty and deep significance”. It would be “a cause for patriotic passion”, he said at a ceremony attended by top Chinese leaders at Dalian Port. (…) The delivery of the aircraft carrier comes at a time when Japan and other countries in the region have expressed concern at China’s growing naval strength. (…) The official commissioning of the country’s first aircraft carrier signals China’s status as a rising power, says the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas in Beijing. The country’s Communist leaders are spending billions modernizing their armed forces so they can project military power far beyond China’s borders. But China does not yet have a fleet of aircraft or pilots ready for carrier operations. So the Liaoning will be used to test and train them, a task that will probably take several years. (BBC)
A US House Intelligence Committee has warned that US companies should avoid doing business with China’s two leading technology firms because they pose a national security threat to the country. The panel, in a report to be issued on 15 October, says US regulators should block mergers and acquisitions by Huawei Technologies Ltd and ZTE Corp, who are among the world’s leading suppliers of telecommunications equipment. Reflecting US concern over cyber-attacks traced to China, the report also recommends that US government computer systems not include any components from the two companies because that could pose espionage risks. (…)The recommendations are the result of a year-long probe, including a congressional hearing in September in which senior Chinese executives of both companies testified, and denied posing a security threat. A US executive of one of the companies said the firm co-operated with investigators, and defended its business record. (Al Jazeera)
China and Afghanistan have signed a range of security and economic agreements during a visit to Kabul by top Chinese official Zhou Yongkang. China’s domestic security chief, is the most senior Chinese official to visit the country for almost 50 years. One of the agreements involves China helping train the Afghan police force. Afghan neighbours are seeking to expand their influence in the country ahead of the pullout of US-led troops from the country in 2014, analysts say.  China wants to increase investments in Afghanistan’s resources sector. China has been investing in Afghanistan’s mineral sector for several years, as it searches for mineral resources in different parts of the world. A Chinese state-owned mining company has invested in a copper mine in the eastern province of Logar, although work to excavate a 7th-Century Buddhist site has slowed work on the mine. In 2011, China also won approval for oil exploration and extraction in the Amu Darya river basin. (BBC)
Chinese Nobel Literature Prize winner Mo Yan unexpectedly called for the release of jailed compatriot Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, having come under fire from rights activists for not speaking up for him. (…) Mo, who was once so destitute he ate tree bark and weeds to survive, is the first Chinese national to win the $1.2 million literature prize, awarded by the Swedish Academy. (…) China, long used to wringing its hands at perceived snubs or insults by the Nobel organizers, has worked its propaganda machine into overtime to hail Mo’s win as a breakthrough for the entire nation, and recognition of its place as a great country. (…) Senior Communist Party official and China’s propaganda chief Li Changchun congratulated Mo, state media reported, saying he hoped “Chinese writers will focus on the country’s people in their writing and create more excellent works that will stand the test of history”. But the mention of Liu by Mo, a vice-chairman of the government-backed Chinese Writers’ Association, could make things awkward for the Chinese authorities, who jailed Liu for 11 years in 2009 for inciting subversion of state power. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated government criticism of Liu’s award, saying it amounted to “grave meddling in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty”. (Reuters)
Just after announcing that Bo Xilai would be expelled from the Chinese Communist Party, Party mouthpieces also announced that the Party’s 18th National Congress would be held on 8 November. The date had been under tight wraps for months, with constant speculation in the domestic and international media about when it would be held. (…) The Congress will see a significant overhaul of the Party’s top leadership, ushering in Xi Jinping, as General Secretary of the Party, and Li Keqiang as state premier. Many other personnel changes at the top will also be made, a matter that has led to heated politicking inside the Party’s opaque system in preceding months. (The Epoch Times)
China for the first time suggested that fallen Communist Party official Bo Xilai rebuked his police chief in late January for telling him that his wife was suspected of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. An account of the confrontation from the state-run Xinhua news agency indicated that Mr. Bo could be facing harsh sanctions—and possibly criminal charges—as party chieftains try to wind up the scandal surrounding him ahead of a once-a-decade leadership change this fall. Xinhua published a lengthy report giving the first official explanation of how and why Wang Lijun, the former police chief of Chongqing city, fled to a U.S. consulate on 06 February, triggering China’s worst political crisis in decades. (…) It is the latest sign that the party leadership may be leaning toward a harsher penalty for Mr. Bo, who was once considered a front-runner for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee—the top decision-making body (…) Another indication is that during Mr. Wang’s trial, which finished on 18 September, prosecutors said he should be treated leniently because of the key role he played in helping to convict Ms. Gu. She was given a suspended death sentence, which is typically commuted to life in prison. (…) Mr. Bo was fired from his party posts and placed under investigation for unspecified “serious disciplinary violations” in April, but Chinese officials have yet to announce whether he, too, will face criminal charges. (Wall Street Journal)
Typhoon Sanba pummeled South Korea on 17 September, uprooting trees, shutting down flights and ferry services and unleashing torrential rains that left at least one person dead in a landslide. The third major typhoon to hit the Korean peninsula in two months, Sanba made landfall in the southern port of Yeosu shortly before midday (0300 GMT), packing winds of around 137 kilometers (85 miles) per hour. Heavy rains across the country triggered landslides that killed a 53-year-old woman in the southeastern county of Seongju and injured two people in nearby Gyeongju city, according to the National Emergency Management Agency. Moving at around 35 kilometers per hour, the typhoon had pounded the South Korean island of Jeju, leaving 10,000 homes without power and damaging roads. As it crossed southwestern Japan on 16 September, the typhoon had claimed one life and cut power to 100,000 households. Severe storm alerts issued in southern regions earlier on 17 September were expanded to whole of South Korea in the afternoon, with flood warnings in some coastal areas. A Korea Meteorological Administration spokesman said the maximum wind speed had decreased to around 110 kilometers per hour by early evening as the typhoon moved further inland. (…) Thousands of residents in areas deemed vulnerable have been taken to shelters or advised to evacuate while schools remained closed in many areas. Major dams across the country discharged water to control their water levels and all national parks were declared off-limits as a precautionary measure. (AFP News)
South Korean refiner Hyundai Oilbank has loaded a cargo of crude in Iran for delivery in late October, a company source said, while a cargo for refiner SK Energy arrived in early October as Seoul resumes imports following a two-month gap. The north Asian country has restarted Iranian oil imports of about 6 million barrels per month, or 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of full contracted volumes, after a way was found to get around a European Union ban on insurance cover. The cargoes are being transported under Iranian insurance cover to avoid sanctions, refining and government sources said. (…)A spokesman at SK Energy’s parent firm, SK Innovation, said its first Iranian cargo for October arrived at the port of Ulsan on 02 October. (…)The resumption of imports is unlikely to hinder South Korea’s bid to extend a U.S. sanction waiver in December as imports are still down sharply from 2011. (…) South Korea Energy’s term deals with Iran in 2012 are to import two Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) of crude per month, or 4 million barrels, while Hyundai Oilbank imports one VLCC, according to an economy ministry source. (Reuters)
South Korea said on 07 October that it would nearly triple the range of its ballistic missiles, allowing it to strike all parts of North Korea and a sliver of China, under a new deal with the United States. The bilateral agreement, coming after nearly two years of negotiations, frees Seoul to develop and use significantly more-muscular missile technology at a time of steady concern about the belligerent North. (…) Under the new deal, South Korea can extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers (497 miles), up from the previous 300 kilometers (186 miles). That means that the South could conceivably strike even the northernmost tip of North Korea, as well as parts of northeast China. In addition, the deal allows greater load weights for South Korean unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones. Such vehicles are commonly used for surveillance but could also be used in combat. (Washington Post)
South Korea is the latest nation to join the drone club, after announcing that it’s developed its own unmanned offensive drone as part of its ongoing game of cat-and-mouse with North Korea. (…) If based on Yeonpyeong Island, which was shelled by North Korean artillery in November 2010, the drone could take out the nearest enemy batteries within four minutes. It’s also able to chase after the hovercraft landing vehicles that North Korea might use in an invasion and sink them if necessary, even at speeds of up to 80kmh. It’s been built by Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd, a state-funded defense company, with development ongoing since January 2011 in collaboration with Hanyang and Konkuk Universities in Seoul. South Korea has been making efforts to improve its air force in recent years, as its current aircraft are relatively outdated compared to those of neighboring China, with many craft dating from the Cold War era. There’s also added urgency to upgrade its capabilities in the run up to the US handing over responsibility for wartime operational control in the region to South Korea in 2015. It’s also started a process to acquire high-tech high-altitude surveillance drones like the Boeing Phantom Eye in an effort to keep an eye on North Korean troop movements near the border between the two countries, along with several of Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd’s other (non-combat, low-altitude) drone, the RQ-101. In August, a South Korean defense official claimed that the current military budget for developing new drones stands at W500 billion (£276 billion).
Russia and North Korea have signed a deal to write off nearly all of the isolated Asian country’s $11 billion Soviet-era debt, the Russian Finance Ministry said on 09 October. The agreement forgives 90% of the old debt with the remaining $1 billion to be used as part of a “debt-for-aid” program that will develop energy, health care and educational projects in North Korea and will be repaid over the course of 20 years, the ministry said. The $11 billion figure was reached by using the Soviet conversion rate of 67 kopecks to the dollar, the ministry said, which at today’s exchange rate would make the debt just $238 million. Russia has reached similar agreements over the years with many former Soviet-clients in larger part because there was little chance the loans would ever be repaid. (Wall Street Journal)
Japanese and Taiwanese ships shot water cannon at each other on 25 September in the latest confrontation over tiny islands in the East China Sea, as Japan met with another rival, China, in an effort to tamp down tensions. About 40 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 patrol boats entered waters near the islands on 25 September, briefly triggering an exchange of water cannon fire with Japanese coast guard ships. Coast guard officials said the Taiwanese vessels had ignored warnings to get out of their territory, and the Taiwanese ships pulled back after being fired upon. (…) It was Taiwan’s first foray into the waters around the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, since the Japanese government purchased some of them from private owners in early September. China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo. (Huffington Post)

Australia has approved legislation allowing an offshore processing camp in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to begin receiving asylum seekers. On 10 October, the Senate passed the bill formally designating Manus Island an asylum camp. Leaders from both nations say Manus can start taking asylum seekers in weeks. (…) The move – recommended by an expert panel – came in response to a rising number of asylum seekers arriving by boat. The government says offshore processing – which began again in Nauru in September – is aimed at deterring people from making the dangerous journey across the sea to Australia. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says it will be able to accommodate about 600 asylum seekers, starting “within weeks”, (…) while boats were continuing to arrive, some people had decided to return home – a sign the policy was working. (BBC)
Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on 10 October, bringing the country a small step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy use targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften. The Greenough River Solar project, just outside the small town of Walkaway in Western Australia State, is a joint-venture between Western Australian state-owned Verve Energy and U.S. conglomerate General Electric. It is expected to generate 10 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 homes. (…)Australia has committed to getting 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2020 but big coal and gas-based utilities are arguing for generation targets to be cut. The plant is General Electric’s first investment in Australian renewable energy, and plans are already underway to eventually expand it to 40 megawatts. (…) Australia currently gets about 10 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy, about two-thirds of which comes from hydro power. (Reuters)
Australia has been singled out as the money-laundering destination of choice for corrupt Papua New Guinea politicians and officials. The head of PNG’s anti-corruption taskforce says stolen government funds are being washed clean in Australia, and authorities here are doing little to stop it. Sam Koim, who leads PNG’s Task Force Sweep, says his job gets all the more difficult when ill-gotten gains disappear south to Australia. (…) Mr. Koim estimates half of the PNG government’s annual budget is lost to fraud and corruption through a “mobocracy” of unscrupulous politicians, public servants, lawyers and business people. He believes tens of millions of dollars of that loss has been sent to Australia, with Cairns the most popular spot to clean dirty money. Mr. Koim says six PNG politicians, who he cannot name because of ongoing investigations, have bought million-dollar properties in the city. (ABC News)

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