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

LDESP PACOM News Update – November 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.

Lashing back at criticism from Beijing, the Dalai Lama on 13 November said China needs to thoroughly investigate the causes of self-immolations by Tibetans and blamed “narrow-minded Communist officials” for seeing Buddhist culture as a threat. The Dalai Lama also called on foreign media and members of Japan’s parliament to visit Tibet – though such trips are severely restricted – to see that what is happening there does not go ignored. (…)The Dalai Lama was speaking to a group of Japanese lawmakers that included opposition party head Shinzo Abe, an outspoken China hawk seen by many as the top contender to become the country’s next prime minister. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing has lodged a protest with Japan following the Dalai Lama’s visit. (…) Hong had launched a new salvo at the Dalai Lama on 12 November, claiming he was taking Japan’s side in an ongoing territorial dispute and calling him a separatist who is aligning with Japanese right-wingers. (…) Tibet support groups overseas say the increase in protests in recent days is meant to highlight Tibetan unhappiness with Chinese rule as the country’s leaders hand over power to younger successors at a party congress in Beijing. (Huffington Post)
China will not allow foreign observers into restive Tibet to probe human rights abuses, an official said on 9 November, dismissing mounting international pressure for an independent investigation in the troubled mountainous region. (…) At least eight of the self-immolations had been reported in the Tibet Autonomous Region, a province-level administrative area under the central government. The rest occurred in Tibetan-populated areas of other provinces in southwestern China. The United Nations’ most senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, urged China to allow independent human rights monitors to visit Tibet and address deep-rooted frustrations. But a top Chinese-appointed official said this would not happen. (…) China has branded the self-immolators “terrorists” and criminals and has blamed exiled Tibetans and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for inciting them, charges he denies. (Reuters)
China’s leaders have renewed pledges to boost the economy over the next 10 years during meetings in early November in Beijing. But the economic challenges China’s incoming leaders face are much more difficult than the challenges their predecessors faced a decade ago. China’s aspirations for its economy over the next decade have come up repeatedly at the National Party Congress, in discussions on the sidelines of the meeting and in state media’s coverage of the event. It also figured prominently in the opening speech of outgoing President Hu Jintao. In his address, Hu mentioned the economy 104 times in a wide range of contexts. Economic development was mentioned more than a dozen times, as was former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s catchphrase “gaige kaifang,” or, “reform and opening up.” And while the risks China’s economy is facing were not mentioned as much, they were not ignored. Hu’s most direct comment on the challenges the country faces came when he said the opportunities and risks China face are not like anything before. China’s economy is slowing to its slowest growth rate in more than a decade. And although the projected year-on-year growth rate of around 7.5 percent remains enviable to many countries, that is nearly half of what it was just five years ago. (Voice of America)
China’s exports rose at the fastest pace in five months in October, adding to signs of a rebound in the world’s second-biggest economy after industrial output and retail sales exceeded forecasts. Overseas shipments increased 11.6 percent from a year earlier, the Beijing-based customs administration said in a statement on 9 November. That compared with the 10 percent estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists and 9.9 percent in September. Imports rose 2.4 percent, the same pace as the previous month. The trade surplus widened to $32 billion, the biggest in almost four years. China’s transition to a new generation of Communist Party leaders, which began in Beijing in early November, may be smoothed by the reversal of a slowdown that started in 2011’s first quarter. The September-October pickup in export growth shows the economy is starting to stabilize. (…) Industrial production, fixed-asset investment and retail sales accelerated in October, government reports showed on 9 November, signaling that economic growth will exceed Premier Wen Jiabao’s 7.5 percent target for his last year in office. China is confident it will achieve expansion by the end of 2012 of at least 7.5 percent, Zhang Ping, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said. (Bloomberg)
China’s new yuan loans unexpectedly fell in October from a year earlier and money supply rose less than forecast, damping signs the world’s second-biggest economy is recovering after a seven-quarter slowdown. Banks extended 505.2 billion yuan ($81.1 billion) of local- currency loans, down 14 percent from a year earlier, data from the Beijing-based People’s Bank of China showed on 12 November. The median estimate was 590 billion yuan in a Bloomberg News survey. M2, the broadest measure of money supply, increased 14.1 percent, compared with a median forecast of 14.5 percent. (…) The reports show weaker-than-forecast credit expansion may limit a rebound in economic growth as the ruling Communist Party holds a congress in Beijing to anoint new leaders. Central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said the nation is still dealing with the effects of five years of financial crisis abroad, adding to official cautions on the outlook even after gains in exports and industrial output. (…) Analysts’ estimates for new loans ranged from 550 billion yuan to 801.6 billion yuan. (…) The central bank refrained from further cuts, preferring to manage the amount of cash in the financial system using reverse repurchase agreements and other instruments to keep money-market interest rates steady. (Bloomberg)
China unveiled 50 new orders for its COMAC C919 passenger jet at the opening of the country’s main air show and promised to assist in the rebirth of one of the most famous names in aviation — defunct U.S. carrier Eastern Air Lines. Potentially worth several billion dollars, the orders for China’s first commercial passenger jet dominated the first day of the China Airshow, held every two years in the southern city of Zhuhai, along with fresh evidence of China’s military ambitions. The C919 is designed to challenge Airbus (EAD.PA) and Boeing (BA.N) in the largest segment of the $100 billion annual jetliner market. (…) However, Western analysts say it will be some time before the aircraft, due to make its maiden flight in 2014, proves both its technical worth and its financial viability. (…) In a surprise move, the state manufacturer also announced tentative purchase plans by investors said to be planning to resurrect U.S.-based Eastern Air Lines, which went bankrupt in 1991. (…) The announcement puzzled several delegates, including some who had done business with the original Eastern, who said little had been heard about the re-invented airline’s plans or its leadership. (Reuters)
China has test flown a second model of a prototype stealth fighter, aviation experts said, in a sign of its aircraft industry’s growing sophistication. Photos posted to the Internet on 1 November showed the radar-avoiding aircraft airborne near the northeastern city of Shenyang with its landing gear still down. (…) Ross Babbage of Australia’s Kokoda Foundation and Greg Waldron of Flightglobal magazine in Singapore said the plane known as the J-31 appeared to be a smaller version of the J-20 prototype that was tested in 2011 in the southwestern city of Chengdu. While both planes feature stealth design features, their true capabilities in terms of sensors, radar-absorbing coatings, and other key factors remain unknown. It isn’t known when, or if, either plane will go into production. (…)The smaller and nimbler J-31 appeared intended for a fighter-interceptor role similar to the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter, while the heavier J-20 would target airfields, warships and other ground targets, he said. The technical barriers and development costs for such aircraft are enormous and the U.S. has struggled for years to deliver on their potential. Another major challenge for China is developing engines for its fighters that are reliable and capable enough for such cutting-edge aircraft, Babbage said. China remains overwhelmingly reliant on Russia for engines for its latest J-10, J-11, and J-15 models, the last two of which were developed from Russian Sukhoi fighter-bombers. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
China appears to be within two years of deploying submarine-launched nuclear weapons, adding a new leg to its nuclear arsenal that should lead to arms-reduction talks, a draft report by a congressionally mandated U.S. commission says. China in the meantime remains “the most threatening” power in cyberspace and presents the largest challenge to U.S. supply chain integrity, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in a draft of its 2012 report to the U.S. Congress. China is alone among the original nuclear weapons states to be expanding its nuclear forces, the report said. The others are the United States, Russia, Britain and France. Beijing is “on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs,” the report says. China has had a largely symbolic ballistic missile submarine capability for decades but is only now set to establish a “near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent,” the draft said. (…) China is party to many major international pacts and regimes regarding nuclear weapons and materials. But it remains outside of key arms limitation and control conventions, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in April 2010 and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (…) Beijing already has deployed two of as many as five of a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The JIN-class boat is due to carry the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile with an estimated range of about 7,400 km. (Reuters)
With Barack Obama successfully defending his presidency in the U.S. election and a new leadership of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) soon to be elected, it is the right time for the Obama Administration to rethink its policy on China. More than three decades have passed since the normalization of China-U.S. relations, which have witnessed significant progress in all fields, including politics, economy, anti-terrorism efforts, and people-to-people exchanges. Relations between the two countries have become one of the most important in the world, and to some extent, this relationship can help best decide the future of the world order.The momentum of China’s development seems to be continuing, as the country has shown more certainty in politics with the upcoming election of a new CPC leadership, and its continued adherence to the guiding policy of reform and opening up. The increased political stability will safeguard the country’s further development. (…) Hu Jintao reiterated on 8 November that the country will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, and continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit and strive to uphold world peace and promote common development. Cooperation between the two countries can help the international community to maintain world order and face up to common challenges like terrorism, climate change, the economic turbulence, among others. (Xinhua)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has upheld its decision that China’s tariffs on imports of certain US steel products were illegal. Beijing had imposed duties on a particular kind of US steel, alleging that its makers were being given subsidies by the US government. The WTO ruled against the tariffs in June, a decision it upheld saying that China had failed to prove its charges. The case is the latest in a series of trade conflicts between the countries. (BBC)
China has lashed out at a US newspaper report that premier Wen Jiabao’s family has amassed vast wealth worth at least $2.7bn (£1.68bn), censoring the New York Times website and questioning the paper’s motivations. The story said Wen, widely seen as the humane face of China’s top leadership, was not directly linked to the holdings. But the association with such a fortune was in stark contrast to the man-of-the-people image he has cultivated. A foreign ministry spokesman said the report “blackens China’s name and has ulterior motives”. Censors blocked the paper’s Chinese language website, at least partially obstructed access to its main site, and banned microblog searches for New York Times in English and Chinese. (…) The detailed account, based on company and regulatory filings, said several of Wen’s relatives had become extremely wealthy since his ascent to the top leadership, controlling assets whose total worth is more than the GDP of Burundi. In many cases their holdings were obscured by layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, colleagues or business partners. The report is damaging not only to Wen, but also to the Communist party. (…) There has been a spate of revelations about wealth amassed by people around other senior figures. (The Guardian)
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged Indian people to help her country achieve democracy. On 14 November she held a landmark meeting with Indian PM Manmohan Singh as part of her first visit to India in almost 40 years. On 16 November she will visit the college she attended in Delhi when her mother was Burma’s ambassador to India. Her trip comes two years after elections in Burma that formally ended military rule. In 2011, a nominally civilian government led by President Thein Sein was sworn in and has since implemented a series of economic and political reforms. Ms Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader who spent many years under house arrest, was released shortly after the November 2010 polls in Burma. Her party has now rejoined the political process and secured a small presence in parliament after winning by-elections in April 2012. But Ms Suu Kyi cautioned India against being too optimistic over the recent political changes in Burma. “We have not yet achieved the goal of democracy and we are still trying and we hope that… the people of India will stand by us and walk by us as we proceed along the path that they were able to proceed down many years before us,” she said. The Burmese opposition leader spoke of her regret that India began to engage with Burma’s military rulers in the 1990s after initially supporting the struggle for democracy. (BBC)
Police in southeastern Bangladesh have detained five Rohingya Muslims who fled deadly communal clashes in neighbouring Myanmar, an officer said on 11 November. Mohammad Ismail, a police chief of Satkania in the district of Chittagong, said that the male detainees, aged between 25 and 45, were charged with illegal entry. (…) Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar in past decades to escape persecution, often heading to Bangladesh, and recent outbreaks of violence, in June and October, triggered another exodus. Border guards said at least 800 Rohingya who tried to cross into Bangladesh over river or land borders have been turned away in recent weeks. After the June sectarian clashes in western Myanmar, Bangladesh river patrol teams turned back at least 16 boats carrying Rohingya, most of them women and children. The move drew criticism from the United Nations and rights groups, but Bangladesh said it would not accept any new refugees as it was already burdened with an estimated 300,000 Rohingya living in its southeast. Myanmar’s 800,000 stateless Rohingya are viewed by the UN as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. (AFP)
The south-eastern coast of India has been hit by Cyclone Nilam, with wind speeds reaching 100km/h. Nearly 4,000 people have been evacuated to escape the storm which is buffeting the city of Chennai. Several trees have been uprooted, but so far there have been no injuries. At least 4,000 people in displacement camps in nearby Sri Lanka have been affected by flooding. But the worst of the storm failed to hit Sri Lankan territory directly. As it heads west, Cyclone Nilam is now hitting the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and the town of Pondicherry. Schools, colleges and cargo operations at the port in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s state capital, have been shut. Fishermen in both states have also been warned not to venture out to sea. (…) Authorities in the two states were put on alert ahead of the storm for at least 24 hours. (BBC)
India’s prime minister has pledged to follow up his recent burst of economic reforms with more measures to restart stalled infrastructure projects, attract foreign investment and reverse the slowdown in Asia’s third-biggest economy. Manmohan Singh defended plans to attract capital from abroad, while admitting that India’s precarious public finances needed more international money to plug a growing gap between imports and exports. (…) After a period of inaction, investors have been heartened by announcements by Mr Singh and Palaniappan Chidambaram, his newly appointed finance minister that they are moving to allow greater foreign investment in sectors including airlines, retail and pensions. India’s economy is projected to grow about 5.5 per cent in the next financial year, although Mr Singh says the country can return to average growth above 8 per cent over the next five years, if more reforms are introduced. Infrastructure would be one area of priority, with government planning $1tn in fresh spending; including what the prime minister described as a range of “iconic projects”, such as elevated rail lines in Mumbai, the financial capital, alongside two ports and eight airport developments. (CNN, Financial Times)
India’s governing coalition announced a reshuffled cabinet on 28 October in yet another effort to shake off nearly a year of paralysis and prepare for elections that may come sooner than their scheduled date in 2014. The appointments also suggested that the governing United Progressive Alliance will continue to confront charges of corruption and nepotism that have embroiled some of its most prominent members in controversy. The government’s new foreign minister, for example, is Salman Khurshid, who has been accused along with his wife of diverting funds from a charity for disabled persons. Mr. Khurshid has angrily denied the charges. Wealthy and urbane, Mr. Khurshid is a Muslim, which could prove helpful in India’s efforts to improve relations with neighboring Pakistan. Until recently, Mr. Khurshid was the government’s law minister. Perhaps the most surprising part of the announcement was that Rahul Gandhi, the son of the current Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and the heir apparent in the family that played a crucial role in India politics since independence, was not among those named to new positions. The younger Mr. Gandhi’s ascent into a leadership position in the government has long been expected.
India unveiled a road map to curb its budget deficit to the least in nine years by 2017, a move seen as a bid to persuade the central bank to cut interest rates in its monetary policy review on 30 October. The government will gradually reduce fiscal deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product in the 12 months through March 2017 starting from 5.3 percent in 2012 that began on 1 April, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a briefing in New Delhi on 29 October to outline a fiscal consolidation path. He reiterated the goal of raising money from the sale of shares in state companies and an auction of telecom permits. (…) India began an overhaul of economic policy in September, including fuel-subsidy curbs to pare a deficit that has put the nation’s investment-grade credit rating at risk. The central bank, due to announce its interest-rate decision tomorrow, has signaled that curbing the shortfall would boost room for a reduction in borrowing costs to revive growth. (Bloomberg)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged Indian companies on 12 November to invest in his country, and India’s leader said economic development in the war-torn nation would contribute to stability in the region. (…) Karzai’s five-day visit is viewed as a bid to shore up security in the faction-ridden region before the planned departure of most NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014. India has invested more than $2 billion in Afghan infrastructure, including highways and hospitals and rural electricity projects. New Delhi is hoping to gain some influence in the country after 2014, when Afghan forces become responsible for the entire country’s security. (Fox News, Associated Press)
Boeing Co. appears set to get about $2.4 billion in military contracts from India, with a senior official saying that the country’s the U.S. Company’s Chinook and Apache helicopters, and that commercial negotiations will begin soon. India plans to buy a total of 15 Chinook CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters and 22 AH-64D Block III Apache helicopters, the official said. He added that Boeing’s twin-rotor Chinook was chosen recently as the preferred bidder over Russia-based MiL Moscow Helicopter Plant’s Mi-26, while the Apache was selected over the Mi-28. Another person familiar with the matter said the Chinook deal is likely to be worth about $1.0 billion and the Apache contract around $1.4 billion. The potential deals will mark a major shift for India toward diversifying its defense purchases and moving away from its decades-long reliance on Russia. India already operates Mi-26 helicopters. (WSJ)
Pakistan registered a strong protest with Afghanistan’s ambassador over unprovoked cross-border shelling by the Afghan troops that killed at least four people on 11 November. The incident came just as a delegation of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council was preparing to travel to Islamabad to meet Pakistani political and military leaders for talks on peace in their war torn country. Four civilians were killed in Nez Naarai village, in Shawal area of South Waziristan, when “Afghan forces fired mortar shells from across the border,” a security official based in Peshawar told a foreign news agency. Another official said the victims were collecting wood and were hit by the mortar shells as they loaded it into a vehicle. Two children were among those killed, he added. (…) The PM said that there is consensus in Pakistan that both Afghanistan and Pakistan should work together for peace in the region. Salahuddin thanked the prime minister for inviting the High Peace Council to Pakistan. (The Nation)
Pakistan is already cracking down on the Haqqani network and does not need to impose extra measures following the group’s addition to the U.N.’s blacklist, a government spokesman said on 6 November. The U.N. Security Council’s Taliban sanctions committee on 5 November added the Pakistan-based group, accused of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, to its sanctions list. The action obliges all U.N. members to implement an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo for the Haqqani network. (…) The United States designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization in September; a move the group’s commanders said proved Washington was not sincere about peace efforts in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis, a group allied with the Afghan Taliban, are the most experienced fighters in Afghanistan and are blamed for some of the boldest attacks, including one on embassies and parliament in Kabul in April that lasted 18 hours. U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of supporting the network, an allegation Islamabad denies. (Reuters)
Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a significant policy shift that could prove crucial to U.S.-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighboring country. The target of the diplomatic push has mainly been non-Pashtun political leaders who have been at odds with Pakistan for years because of the country’s historical support for the Afghan Taliban, a Pashtun movement. Many of the leaders fought against the Taliban when the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990s with Pakistan’s help, and have accused Islamabad of maintaining support for the insurgents following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 — allegations denied by the government. Many experts agree that Pakistan continues to see the Taliban as an ally, albeit a shaky one, in countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But they also say Islamabad no longer believes the insurgents can take over the country or wants them to, a common misperception in the West. (Fox News, Associated Press)
A Taliban suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with explosives into a compound housing a paramilitary force in Pakistan’s largest city on 8 November, killing three officers and wounding 20. The attack underlined the deteriorating security in Karachi, the sprawling port city of 18 million people that is the nation’s economic hub. Violence has escalated in recent years in the city as armed groups fight for control of land and resources, and militant groups like the Taliban have used the chaos to consolidate their foothold. (…) Taliban militants are known to operate inside the city and have targeted security officials and buildings in the past. Half a dozen Taliban militants attacked a major naval base in Karachi in May 2011, killing at least 10 people and destroying two US-supplied surveillance aircraft. In September 2011, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside the home of a senior police officer tasked with cracking down on militants in Karachi. At least eight people died, although the officer survived. Karachi is the capital of Sindh province in southern Pakistan. It lies on the Arabian Sea and is the country’s wealthiest city, though beset by escalating violence. (CSM, Associated Press)
It’s the latest cruel tactic in the Pakistani Taliban’s battle to stop girls and women from getting an education: acid thrown in their faces to scar them for life and deter others from following in their footsteps. (…) The Pakistani Taliban have taken responsibility for the attack in threatening pamphlets distributed around the city. (…) The Pakistani Taiban’s violent campaign to stop girls from getting an education was brought to international attention early in October when gunmen in the Swat Valley attacked another van, this time carrying schoolgirl education activist Malala Yousufzai. She is in a British hospital recovering from a gunshot to the head. (…) Acid throwing is frequently used as a weapon in Pakistan to punish women for acts that allegedly bring dishonor to the family, or just to enact revenge. Another recent acid attack in Pakistan resulted in the death of a 15-year-old girl, Anwasha. She was allegedly attacked by her parents for engaging in illicit relations with a boy, according to Tahir Ayub, a senior police official. The 15-year-old girl suffered severe burns on her face and chest, but her parents initially refused to get her medical help, Ayub said. She was eventually taken to a hospital a day later and died from her injuries. (CNN)
A boat carrying about 110 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from neighboring Myanmar sank in the Bay of Bengal on 7 November as they were heading to Malaysia and about half of them were missing, a Bangladeshi border force officer said. The boat went down in rough seas off Teknaf, the country’s southernmost town, on the Bay of Bengal, Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammad Jahid of the border guards force said. (…) Jahid said search operations were proceeding for the others. No bodies had been recovered yet. (…) It was the second such accident in 10 days. A boat carrying about 130 people sank off Myanmar on 28 October and only a handful of people were rescued, Jahid said. (…) Bangladeshis and members of Myanmar’s Rohingya community, who face persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, often make the perilous journey by sea to Southeast Asia in search of work. The stream of Rohingyas trying to leave Myanmar has intensified in 2012 because of violence between the Muslim community in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and Buddhists. (Reuters)
A court in Bangladesh has jailed 723 border guards for their role in a bloody mutiny in 2009. The court said the verdict was the final one in a series of mass trials conducted by the military. Nearly 6,000 people have now been jailed for the mutiny over pay and conditions, which left 74 people dead. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the trials, saying a number of suspects died in custody and others were beaten and tortured. The military has described the HRW claim as baseless, saying that a number of suspects died of heart attacks or other natural causes. (BBC)
China is ready to deepen the good-neighborly and mutually-beneficial cooperative ties with Bangladesh, a senior Communist Party of China (CPC) leader said here on 21 October. Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC, made the remarks during a meeting with Bangladeshi President Zillur Rahman. (…) For his part, Rahman said the Bangladesh-China relations are of crucial importance. Li’s visit would certainly deepen the friendship between the two countries and elevate the bilateral ties to a new high, he said. The Bangladeshi president thanked China for its timely and generous support for Bangladesh in the early stage of the country’s development as well as in recent years when China is undergoing fast growth. It helps to connect the hearts of the Bangladeshi people and the Chinese people, Rahman said. Rahman also praised the CPC leadership in China’s development, wishing a more successful future for China. He expressed hope that Bangladesh will continue to receive economic and technological assistance from China as the South Asian country implements its “Digital Bangladesh” strategy. (Xinhaunet)
Sri Lanka’s bar association will ask President Mahinda Rajapaksa to reconsider an impeachment bid against the country’s chief justice, the association’s leader said on 10 November. The statement followed a rare general meeting of the legal association that discussed threats to the independence of the judiciary and adopted the resolution. Bar association president Wijedasa Rajapaksa, who has no relation to the president, said the body held a general meeting on 10 November for the first time in nearly 24 years. The association joined local and international opposition to the impeachment, which comes amid allegations that the attempt is politically motivated. The United States has expressed concern over the move and asked Sri Lanka to refrain from infringing judicial independence. Opposition politicians and the country’s powerful Buddhist monks have all opposed the move. Sri Lanka’s government has been accused of undermining the judiciary and concentrating power in President Rajapaksa’s hands. (The Washington Post, Associated Press)
Seven tents that each hold about 40 men will be flown to the island as immigration officials grapple with the rush of boats that followed the government’s announcement asylum-seekers who arrived after 13 August could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island. On 9 November, there were 2423 asylum-seekers on Christmas Island. The number of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers opting to go home rather than to Nauru has reached almost 300, and men who returned home from Christmas Island boarded the first of four planes headed for Colombo in coming days. But boats continue to arrive faster than detainees can be flown out, and the Immigration Department has been forced to contemplate options of last resort. (The Australian)
Sri Lanka’s capital is being provided $300 million in Asian Development Bank loans for water and sewage system upgrades as parts of Colombo have a water- supply distribution network that’s more than a century old. The assistance was approved by ADB’s board to back a $400 million government investment program to improve water and sanitation across metropolitan Colombo, prevent sewer blockages and reduce water leaks and losses, the bank said. The ADB has extended funds for water supply and sanitation works in Sri Lanka since 1986. This assistance is to fund new sewage connections, construct two wastewater treatment plants and seeks 100 percent sewer network coverage in Colombo by 2020. (Bloomberg)
Malaysia will introduce rules governing initial public offerings of business trusts by December as it seeks to extend a wave of share sales that saw the country surpass Hong Kong and Singapore in IPOs during 2012. Companies including toll road operators and power producers are ideal candidates for setting up business trusts as investors roiled by Europe’s debt crisis seek stable returns, said Eugene Wong, executive director of corporate finance and investments at Malaysia’s Securities Commission. Kuala Lumpur has been home to three of Asia’s four biggest IPOs in 2012 as proceeds more than tripled from 2011 to 21.1 billion ringgit ($6.9 billion), data compiled by Bloomberg show. Business trusts, a structure through which companies have raised more than $9 billion in Singapore since 2004, may help Malaysia draw more offerings, according to Wong. (…) Business trusts pool cash-generating assets and typically distribute a large portion of profits as payouts, making them similar to real estate investment trusts. They also comply with Islamic laws, Wong said. Shariah-compliant trusts prohibit income from investments in gambling, financial services based on interest payments, hotels and bars. (Bloomberg)
Malaysia can store 5.2 million metric tons of palm oil, according to Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok, puncturing speculation that capacity may be fully used after holdings advanced to a record. (…) Reserves of palm oil increased to the all-time high of 2.48 million tons in October, according to data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. That was the third straight increase in monthly holdings, and 46 percent above the level in June. Production was 2 million tons, a monthly record, according to board data. (…) The export-tax changes announced in Malaysia may be negative for planters as they may get a lower average selling price, while they may benefit refining companies, according to HwangDBS. The issue of remaining space “is urgent as there may not be any spare storage capacity,” it said. (…) In Indonesia, the largest producer, there is storage capacity for about 4 million tons, Deputy Trade Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi told reporters on 12 October. Of that total amount, about 70 percent to 75 percent is being used. (Bloomberg)
Indonesia’s growth may accelerate to the fastest pace since before the Asian financial crisis in 2013 on investment and infrastructure spending, even as the faltering global economy may cause expansion to miss a government target, according to the vice finance minister. (…) Indonesia’s growth has outperformed every major Asian economy after China in 2012 as the world’s fourth-most populous nation lures investment. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to build more highways, airports and ports to improve infrastructure and meet a growth target of an average 6.6 percent by the end of his second term in 2014. (Bloomberg)
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is claiming a first in regional diplomacy, after securing a joint meeting with the leaders of Indonesia and East Timor. It is the first time the three countries’ leaders have met together and comes just over a decade after Australia played a key role in East Timor gaining independence from Indonesia. Indonesia occupied East Timor for more than 20 years and the two countries have had at-times violent and bloody shared history. Ms Gillard said her meeting with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao focused on the countries cooperating on infrastructure. (…) The Prime Minister says the pair discussed a range of issues including economic opportunities and people smuggling but that no additional measures were discussed in preventing asylum seekers getting on dangerous boats. (ABC News)
The Indonesian counterterrorism police conducted a series of raids in late-October leading to the arrests of 11 people accused of planning terrorist attacks on several high-profile targets, including the American Embassy here. A police spokesman said that those arrested were part of a relatively new group, the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society, also known as Hasmi, and that it had been plotting to attack the embassy in Jakarta; the United States Consulate in Surabaya in eastern Java; a plaza in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; and a Jakarta building that houses the Indonesian headquarters of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, the American mining giant. The captives include Abu Hanifa, who is suspected of leading the group, and more suspects might be at large, said the police spokesman, Boy Rafli Amar. The police were continuing their investigation, but Mr. Rafli said the plot appeared to have been in its early stages. (…) The raids, which took place in four cities across the main island of Java, uncovered a completed bomb, explosive materials and bomb-making manuals, Mr. Rafli said. He said he believed the group had also been learning to build bombs through the Internet. The police had been monitoring the group since the beginning of 2012, but had moved to make arrests only once they were certain the suspects were working to build bombs, Mr. Rafli said. (New York Times)
Indonesia may boost the average minimum wage by as much as 50 percent in 2013 as labor groups demand higher pay amid economic growth that has exceeded 6 percent for eight straight quarters. (…) The government may raise the lowest required compensation to 2 million rupiah ($208) a month, Industry Minister Mohamad S. Hidayat said on 12 November in Jakarta. That would be an average, he said, as living costs vary among provinces. (…) Indonesia’s minimum wage is among the highest in the world relative to average salaries at 65 percent. (…) The Jakarta administration is considering increasing the monthly minimum wage to almost 2 million rupiah after labor groups rallied in October to demand higher pay. (Bloomberg)
Singapore’s manufacturing activity contracted for a fourth consecutive month in October as orders fell further, a business survey showed, bucking the tepid signs of improvement in other parts of Asia. Singapore’s Purchasing Managers index (PMI) slipped deeper into negative territory in October, dropping to 48.3 points from September’s 48.7 points, the Singapore Institute of Purchasing & Materials Management (SIPMM) said on 5 November. A PMI reading below 50 shows activity is contracting. “The dip in the overall PMI was attributed to a further decline in new orders, new export orders as well as production output,” SIPMM said in a statement. “Employment continued to contract for its 16th consecutive month,” the institute added. The drop in Singapore’s PMI reading contrasts with Hong Kong, where a PMI compiled by HSBC rebounded to positive territory in October as output and employment increased. (Reuters)
Singapore Airlines Ltd. (SIA) posted a worse-than-estimated 54 percent drop in quarterly profit after losses at its cargo unit tripled. (…) Losses at the cargo unit jumped to S$50 million amid a global trade slowdown and rising competition from Middle East carriers. The airline, the world’s second-largest by market value, said it will further reduce cargo capacity by parking one of its 13 Boeing Co. 747 freighters for more than a year. (…) Singapore Airlines agreed to buy a 10 percent stake in Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. (VAH) for $105 million. The company is facing rising competition on Australia- Europe routes from fast-growing Gulf airlines led by Emirates. In 2012, Singapore Air also formed long-haul budget unit Scoot. (Bloomberg)
Singapore’s economy will grow at below-potential levels for a second year in 2013 even as a tight labor market and rising costs of goods and services add to inflationary pressures, the central bank said. (…) The central bank, which uses its exchange rate to manage inflation, unexpectedly held off from slowing the currency’s appreciation in October even after the economy contracted last quarter. The International Monetary Fund cut its projections for global expansion for 2012 and 2013, saying it sees “alarmingly high” risks of a steeper slowdown. (…) Singapore, located at the southern end of the 600-mile (965-kilometer) Malacca Strait and home to one of the world’s busiest container ports, has remained vulnerable to fluctuations in overseas demand for manufactured goods even as the government boosts the financial services and tourism industries to reduce reliance on exports. (…) The government has made it more expensive for companies to hire overseas workers by raising levies, increasing salary thresholds and requiring better educational qualifications for some categories of foreigners. (Bloomberg)
The tiny, landlocked country of Laos is pushing ahead with a controversial project to dam the lower reaches of the Mekong River, signaling that years of consultations with neighboring countries have reached their end. The effort is part of what Laos’s deputy energy minister said is a plan to triple hydroelectric production and sell power to neighbors by building up to 10 more plants on the Mekong, despite neighbors’ fears that the Xayaburi project alone would destroy the vital Southeast Asian waterway and damage the lives of as many as 60 million people. Laos invited dignitaries, investors and journalists to a ceremony on 7 November at the remote Xayaburi Dam site to announce that it has redesigned the project to meet objections of critics. (…) Some $100 million has already been poured into preparatory construction, according to Viraphonh Viravong, the deputy minister of energy and mines. Engineers haven’t yet built on the Mekong itself, and say they won’t until the project enters its later stages several years from now. Laos, with gross domestic product of $7 billion, rudimentary industry and few resources besides minerals and timber, wants to build the $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam to help vault itself upward from the status of one of the world’s least-developed countries. (WSJ)
China and Laos pledged to further boost cooperation in various sectors to tackle challenges and benefit the people of both countries, as Premier Wen Jiabao met his Laotian counterpart and the country’s president in the capital Vientiane on 6 November. Experts said that the cooperation between China and Laos has been enhanced in recent years and the growth in ties is expected to continue. (…) Laos hopes to expand cooperation with China in trade and culture, deepen exchanges in all levels between the two peoples and further learn from China in state governance, Thongsing said. Like China, Laos is conducting industrialization reform, and the two countries have similar histories and cultures, so China’s development experience can help Laos, said Song Yinghui, a researcher on Southeast Asian studies with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. (China Daily)
Two prominent Vietnamese musicians have become the latest activists to be jailed for spreading songs that are critical of the Chinese government. Despite strict censorship spanning decades, composers in Vietnam have rarely been prosecuted for the content of their music. However the work of Vo Minh Tri, better known under his pen name Viet Khang, and Tran Vu Anh Binh crossed the line. At a court in Ho Chi Minh City on 30 October, activists say the two became the first musicians in recent memory to be given jail terms for their music. Khang was sentenced to four years in jail and two under house arrest, while Binh was jailed for six years, also with two years house arrest. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said an overseas opposition group had claimed Binh was a member. He said the group claimed Binh wrote songs supporting dissidents and supporting the anti-China protests. (Voice of America)
Two people were killed and thousands of homes damaged as Vietnam’s coast was lashed by Typhoon Son-Tinh, authorities said on 29 October, after the storm caused deadly landslides and floods in the Philippines. (…) Strong winds destroyed large tracts of crops, brought down power lines and ripped the roofs off houses after Son-Tinh, which has been downgraded to a tropical depression, made landfall in the north of the country (…) The wind also felled a 180-metre television tower, the tallest in northern Vietnam, in Nam Dinh City, according to state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper. Vietnam is hit by an average of eight to 10 tropical storms every year, often causing heavy material and human losses. More than 50,000 people were evacuated in preparation for the bad weather, while authorities imposed a sea ban in some areas and dozens of domestic flights were cancelled. (AFP News)
Vietnam said 7 November it has agreed with foreign investors to begin construction of a long-delayed oil refinery, while also stepping up plans to build the country’s first nuclear power plant jointly with its Soviet-era ally, Russia. The projects move ahead as confidence in Vietnam’s economy has been rocked amid surging inflation, corruption scandals and a banking sector threatened by bad debts, mostly to the country’s vast state-owned sector. The developing Asian nation until recently was seen as a darling among global investors, but they have increasingly turned their back on the country, whose economic growth is forecast to slow to 5.2% in 2012, the weakest in 13 years. Plans to build Vietnam’s second oil refinery, which comes with a price tag of between $8 billion and $10 billion, have been hampered for years due to financing issues between the Vietnamese government and the two main partners, Japan’s Idemitsu Kosan and Kuwait Petroleum. Banks had been unwilling to lend to the project without underwriting from the Vietnamese government, but talks intensified after the government agreed to help underwrite some of the project in August. (Hydrocarbon Processing)
The United States on 16 November reaffirmed its military ties with the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, a former Khmer Rouge commander, but Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also warned the country about its long record of human rights abuses. After attending a regional security conference and a separate meeting with Gen. Tea Banh, Cambodia’s defense minister, Mr. Panetta said he wanted to emphasize the support of the United States “for the protection of human rights, of civilian oversight of the military, of respect for the rule of law and for the right of full and fair participation in the political process.” Mr. Panetta was in Cambodia as part of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia that seeks to bolster military, economic and diplomatic relationships in the region and serve as a counterweight to China’s rising influence. His visit came four days ahead of a planned trip here by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama, who will be the first sitting American president to visit the country. The trips have triggered criticism from human rights groups, who say the administration, in its rush to make strategic friends in the region, is ignoring the record of people like Mr. Hun Sen, who has a bloody, decades-long history of crushing political dissent. A Human Rights Watch report released this week recounted numerous killings of labor leaders, journalists and opposition leaders in Cambodia over the last 20 years. Cambodia has long and close ties to China, but United States Special Forces are now providing counterterrorism training to the Cambodian military and the two countries also conduct small-scale joint exercises. Still, the defense relationship is in the early stages and Mr. Panetta’s aides said the Pentagon remained wary of stepping up the military relationship with Mr. Hun Sen’s government. (New York Times)
Cambodia’s government has approved a controversial hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Mekong River. The joint venture involves Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese investment of $781m (£488m) and is due to be completed within five years. The project in northern Stung Treng province is known as Lower Sesan 2. Environmental campaigners say the dam will damage the river’s biodiversity and devastate the livelihoods and homes of thousands of people. A government statement said the approval came after eight years of study into the possible environmental and social consequences. It said Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered new homes to be built for an unspecified number of families who would be resettled for the project. Activist Meach Mean, of the 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN), estimated that more than 50,000 people would be affected by the dam. He called on the government to organise a public forum to discuss concerns before going ahead. (…) Although hydroelectric dams allow countries to generate vast amounts of electricity, they also threaten massive changes to the ecosystem across the Mekong basin. (BBC)
The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group signed a peace deal on 15 October that serves as a roadmap to forming a new autonomous region in the south, a step towards ending more than 40 years of conflict. President Benigno Aquino and Ebrahim Murad, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), held one-on-one talks before the signing of the landmark framework agreement. Before the meeting, Murad, a first-time visitor to the presidential palace in Manila, handed Aquino a miniature gong, which he ritually sounded. (…) Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has facilitated the start-stop negotiations since March 2001, was present at the signing along with foreign dignitaries and international aid agencies that helped in the peace process. (…) Aquino is expected to issue an executive order shortly to form a 15-member transition commission that will formulate new legislation by 2015 to create a new Muslim local government for the “Bangsamoro”, the name given by the Moro tribes for their homeland. A plebiscite later in Muslim-dominated areas in the south will determine the shape and size of the new Bangsamoro area. The new autonomous government will have greater political powers and more control over resources, including minerals, oil and natural gas than the existing Muslim-governed entity. Currency, postal services, defence and foreign policy will remain under the central government in Manila. The agreement did not give details of the power-sharing arrangement between the national government and the Bangsamoro. But it guarantees rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims, unlike a 2008 deal that was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. (Reuters)
Three Philippine Marines were killed and 10 wounded on 28 October in a clash with Al Qaeda-linked militants who hold several foreign hostages, the military said. The troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 were deployed to a remote village on the southern island of Jolo to check intelligence reports about the presence there of Abu Sayyaf gunmen and their captives. “The troops conducted a combat patrol to verify the reported presence of the kidnap victims in the area when they caught up with the Abu Sayyaf group, resulting in the encounter,” said regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang. He said three were killed and military helicopters evacuated the 10 injured. (Strait Times)
The vice mayor of a southern Philippine city has offered a $121,000 reward for the decapitated head of the alleged leader of a gang of car thieves. Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, known for being tough on criminals, told a news conference in Davao on 46 October that he would give 2 million pesos ($48,400) if suspect Ryan Yu is arrested and 4 million pesos ($96,800) if he’s killed. He said he’d add another 1 million pesos ($24,200) if Yu’s decapitated head is delivered to him “on ice.” Davao police Chief Ronald de la Rosa said that he had received text messages from people seeking assurances the reward offer was real. He said they should cooperate with police. Human rights commission chairman Loretta Rosales said 26 October that Duterte violated the law by passing a sentence on Yu without due process. (…) Duterte said the offer was prompted by the recent discovery of a compound where cars allegedly stolen by Yu’s gang were being stored, adding the offer was open to anyone or any group, including Muslim and communist rebels. (Fox News, Associated Press)
Myanmar released prisoners on 15 November in a goodwill gesture ahead of a historic visit to the former military state by U.S. President Barack Obama, but activists and the main opposition party said there seemed to be no political detainees among them. State media said early in the day that 452 prisoners would be freed with the “intent to help promote goodwill and the bilateral relationship”. A Home Ministry official said some “prisoners of conscience” would be among them. However, the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said that was not the case. “It’s so disappointing that none of those freed today are political prisoners,” said senior party official Naing Naing, himself a former detainee. Myanmar has released about 800 political prisoners as part of a dramatic reform program over the past year and a half but it is believed to be still holding several hundred. The prisoners released on 15 November included people who had been jailed for deserting the army or committing some other military offence, Naing Naing said. “Maybe these people are political prisoners by their yardstick.” (Reuters)
An earthquake struck near Myanmar’s new capital of Naypyitaw on 13 November, state television reported, but there were no immediate reports of damage, while the death toll from a weekend quake to its north rose to 26, according to an aid organization. (…) According to the International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC), 26 people died as a result of that 6.8 magnitude quake and its aftershocks. Another 231 were injured and hundreds of buildings were damaged. (…) The military regime was condemned by humanitarian agencies in 2008 for initially refusing international help to cope with Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 people. (Chicago Tribune)
Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has risen for the sixth consecutive year despite a state eradication campaign, a United Nations report said on 31 October, throwing doubt on government assertions the problem would be over by 2014. Unprecedented eradication efforts managed to destroy almost 24,000 hectares (59,280 acres) of poppy fields in the 2012 season, running from the autumn 2011 to early summer 2012, more than triple the previous year’s total. But the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said land used for cultivation in Myanmar, the world’s second top producer of opium after Afghanistan, still increased 17 percent to its highest level in eight years. Myanmar is forecast to produce 690 tonnes of opium in 2011/12 according to the report, up from 610 tonnes – about 10 percent of the world’s opium – the previous year, the UNODC said. Afghanistan produces around 90 percent. Land in the Burmese part of the Golden Triangle – a lawless region of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos home to vast drug trafficking operations – is scarce and many poor farmers opt to use it for poppies, which earn them 19 times more per hectare than rice, according to the UNODC report. Four out of every ten households surveyed in poppy-growing villages grew the crop themselves, but other households participated in the cultivation and harvesting, making it vital to the economies of whole communities. Production of opium is closely linked to ethnic insurgencies inside Myanmar, said Gary Lewis, UNODC regional representative. (Reuters)
Authorities have ordered people in strife-torn western Myanmar to surrender guns, swords and other weapons to the police within three days or face legal action. The 31 October announcement in the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that some groups of people in Rakhine state had used swords and firearms during recent deadly confrontations between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities. The government said it had evidence that certain individuals and organizations had instigated the violence. It said 89 people were killed, 136 were injured and more than 32,000 made homeless when more than 5,000 houses were burned down from 21-30 October. It did not report any new clashes. (…) Many displaced Rohingya, at least hundreds, are also thought to be trying to flee by boat to neighboring Bangladesh, which tries to keep them out and houses previous refugees in camps. Many try to use Bangladesh as a springboard for dangerous sea voyages in an effort to immigrate illegally to countries such as Malaysia and Australia. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
Thousands of Buddhist monks marched in Myanmar’s two biggest cities on 15 October to protest against efforts by the world’s biggest Islamic body to help Rohingya Muslims involved in deadly communal clashes in June. The monks, a potent political force in the predominantly Buddhist country, denounced plans by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to set up a liaison office in northwest Rakhine state, where violence erupted in June between ethnic Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingyas. Just hours after the monks dispersed, President Thein Sein’s office announced it would not permit an OIC representation in Myanmar. It was not immediately clear if the announcement was linked to the protests or had been planned in advance. (Chicago Tribune)


Senior delegations from the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand met on 18 October at the Pentagon to conduct the United States — Thailand Defense Strategic Talks.  The Defense Strategic Talks are the two allies’ premier forum for coordinating security policies and consulting on a wide array of security issues. These discussions reflect enduring American and Thai commitment to cooperation and consultation on security issues based on shared priorities and mutual respect.  Both nations resolved to continue strengthening the alliance as a true 21st century partnership that aims to promote a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region and contribute to global stability. The U.S. delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert.  The Thai delegation was led by the Permanent Secretary of Defense General Thanongsak Apirakyothin.  Both delegations reaffirmed the importance of bilateral and multilateral interoperability and readiness. The U.S. and Thai delegations look forward to next steps for the alliance, including their commitment to continue senior defense dialogues and future senior defense official visits. (Department of Defense)
On 10 November, Thailand Ministry of Tourism and Sports finally put its signature on an Asean Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on tourism professionals. Tourism Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa attended the signing ceremony along with delegates from other Asean member states, who welcomed the move. Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Secretary-General declared that tourism would be a key driver to ASEAN economic prosperity as it is promoted as a single destination. Currently, tourism accounts for 5 per cent of the bloc’s gross domestic product, welcoming 82 million international travellers in 2011.Tourism generates jobs for approximately 10 million of people with nearly another 25 million indirectly involved. Thailand’s signature has been delayed for many years due to legal but also political hurdles. From a legal point of view, any international agreement that will bring about changes in Thailand must be approved by Thailand’s Parliament, according to the country’s constitution. However, political instability has delayed the process of agreeing to the new pact. There was also another hidden agenda behind the delay. Thailand remains relatively protectionist for its economy and opening up 32 job positions to any foreign national from the ASEAN is seen as a threat to local employment. The MRA on tourism professionals is ASEAN sixth agreement along with medicine, nursing, dentistry, engineering, and architectural services. The list of the job positions are then mutually recognized under the Asean Minimum Competency Standards. (Travel Daily)
Ministers from Myanmar and Thailand met on 7 November to show their support for the struggling multibillion-dollar Dawei economic zone in Myanmar and to look for ways to drum up more private sector interest. (…) The $50 billion, 250 sq km (100 sq mile) complex was planned to include a deep-sea port, steel mills, refineries, a petrochemical complex and power plants. However, Italian-Thai Development Pcl, Thailand’s largest construction firm and the parent of Dawei Development Co, has struggled to find the $8.5 billion needed to finance infrastructure and utilities under the first phase. (…) Thailand and Myanmar agreed to set up joint committees overseeing infrastructure projects, including a 132-km (83-mile) road stretching from Dawei to the Thai border, plus water and energy needs. Another committee will advise businesses on Myanmar’s new foreign investment law. A follow-up meeting will be held in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, in December. (Reuters)
The United States will challenge Thailand over its rice subsidies at a World Trade Organization committee meeting on 14 November, fearful that a government-sponsored crop could land up on the world market and depress prices, hurting U.S. exporters. Thailand’s purchases of rice at high prices are expected to raise output but they have also been blamed for a slump in rice exports, threatening to dethrone Thailand as the top exporter in favour of India or Vietnam. Thailand has said it is determined to remain the top exporter, causing the USA Rice Federation to worry that the stocks bought by the government will be released onto the world market at a loss. The U.S. rice industry group has urged the U.S. Trade Representative to take action against the Thai scheme, alleging that it acts as an export subsidy prohibited by the WTO.
South Korea on 25 October kicked off an annual, large-scale military exercise aimed at countering threats from North Korea at a time of heightened cross-border tensions. The week-long military manoeuvres will involve 240,000 army, navy, air force and Marine Corps personnel, along with police officers, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). About 500 US soldiers will also take part in the exercise, which Pyongyang had condemned in the past as tantamount to “a war of aggression”. (…) 2012’s Hoguk exercise has been enlarged “to prepare for provocations by North Korea and an all-out war, considering the recent security situations,” the JCS said. It will feature drills against infiltration, regional provocation as well as full-scale conflict. With South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in December, tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen steadily in recent months. Pyongyang was particularly enraged by a recent US-South Korea agreement to almost triple the range of the South’s missile systems to 800 kilometres (500 miles) to cover the whole of North Korea. (Channel News Asia)
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament 16 November, paving the way for elections in which his ruling party will likely give way to a weak coalition government divided over how to solve the nation’s myriad problems. Elections are set for 16 December. If Noda’s center-left party loses, the economically sputtering country will get its seventh prime minister in six and a half years. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which led Japan for most of the post-World War II era, is in the best position to take over. The timing of the election likely pre-empts moves by more conservative challengers, including former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, to build electoral support. (…)”What’s at stake in the upcoming elections is whether Japan’s future is going to move forward or backward,” Noda declared to fellow leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan. “It is going to be a crucial election to determine the fate of Japan.”The DPJ, in power for three years, has grown unpopular largely because of its handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and its recent doubling of the sales tax. Noda’s most likely successor is LDP head and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He resigned as Japan’s leader in 2007 after a year in office, citing health problems he says are no longer an issue. “I will do my utmost to end the political chaos and stalled economy,” Abe told reporters. “I will take the lead to make that happen.” The path to elections was laid suddenly on 14 November during a debate between Abe and Noda. Noda abruptly said he would dissolve parliament if the opposition would agree to key reforms, including a deficit financing bill and electoral reforms, and Abe jumped at the chance. (Fox News, Associated Press)
The militaries of the United States and Japan began an enormous joint drill on 5 November, though leaving out a key part of the exercise that might have angered China. Japan’s Defense Ministry said 37,000 Japanese and 10,000 American military personnel would be taking part in the 12-day drill, which involves United States Navy ships transporting Japanese troops. The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said the drill, near Okinawa, was not aimed at a specific country. But the Japanese government canceled a joint amphibious landing on a remote island in what experts described as an effort not to provoke China, which is locked in an emotional dispute with Japan over control of uninhabited islands near Okinawa in the East China Sea. The friction has been intensifying for months. (New York Times)
Japan and the United States have agreed to discuss updating 15-year-old guidelines on their security alliance in view of China’s growing military presence in the region. After meeting high-level US officials, Japan’s Senior vice Defence Minister, Akihisa Nagashima, told Japanese media in Washington on 9 November that the two countries had “agreed to deepen Japan-US strategic consultations”. Mr. Nagashima said the two countries were oriented “in the same direction” on Tokyo’s proposal to revise guidelines on Japan-US defense cooperation, which were introduced in 1997 with a focus on possible conflict on the Korean peninsula. (…) Mr. Nagashima was speaking after separate meetings with US Deputy Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell. In Washington the two sides confirmed they would discuss reviewing their defense roles in the face of China’s military build-up and its naval expansion, formulating joint plans and promoting joint use of defense bases, Mr. Nagashima was quoted as saying. He said the US had assured him that the Obama administration’s focus on Asia would only increase during its second term. (Australia Network)
Japanese industrial electronics maker Hitachi is taking over Britain’s Horizon nuclear project to build four to six new nuclear power stations, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said on 30 October. Hitachi said that it expected to complete the deal at the end of November and that it hoped to have the first 1,300 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant operational by the mid-2020s. (…) Hitachi said that British companies Babcock International and Rolls-Royce had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to join Hitachi in Horizon. (…)The German companies formed the Horizon Nuclear Power joint venture in 2009 but decided to sell following Germany’s nuclear exit after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. Hitachi said it expected over 60 percent of the value chain of its British nuclear power plants to be spent on local materials, personnel and services. (Reuters)
The Bank of Japan (BOJ) took additional monetary easing action as a drop in exports and output forced it to lower its economic outlook. It also issued a joint statement with the government stressing a commitment to fight deflation. The central bank’s policy board decided on 30 October to increase the BOJ’s asset purchases to ¥91 trillion ($1.14 trillion) from ¥80 trillion and to introduce a new lending facility designed to stimulate loans by banks. The fresh measures marked the first time since May 2003 that the BOJ has taken easing steps two months in a row. The bank said it took action to keep Japan’s economic policy on the path “to sustainable growth with price stability.” The BOJ also downgraded its assessment of the economy, noting declines in exports and output, key drivers of the country’s economic growth. “Japan’s economy has been weakening somewhat,” it said in a statement, compared with its previous description of economic activity as “leveling off more or less.” (…) The government’s move in lare October to compile an emergency stimulus package valued at ¥422.6 billion also was seen as adding pressure on the BOJ to move in sync to shore up the economy. In the statement, the BOJ calls on the government to take steps to strengthen Japan’s growth potential, while the government says it “strongly expects” the BOJ to continue powerful easing until deflation is overcome. The report also says the BOJ will regularly report its outlook on prices to a ministers’ meeting on deflation. (WSJ)
Japan on 26 October approved a US$5.3 billion cash injection to boost the stuttering economy, a move likely to add pressure for more central bank measures with a general election looming on the horizon. In a package that earmarked cash for the coastguard amid an island dispute with China, the cabinet agreed the 422.6 billion yen in emergency spending, with money to be coming mainly from reserve funds rather than new debt. The relatively small aid package was expected to add pressure on the Bank of Japan to extend its 80 trillion yen asset-purchase scheme (…) It also highlighted growing stress on Japan’s national budget after Tokyo said in September it would suspend 5.0 trillion yen in spending due to a political row that has left the government facing a cash crunch that could see it run out of money within months. The opposition wants Noda to set a date for elections before approving a bond-issuance bill needed to help pay for about 40 per cent of Tokyo’s spending in the fiscal year to March. Under the package announced on 26 October, more than 260 billion yen will be for regions hit hard by 2011’s quake-tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis. About 17 billion yen will be used to beef up Japan’s coastguard at a time of heightened tensions over the ownership of an East China Sea island chain believed to sit atop natural resources. (Channel News Asia)
The 105-storey hotel which dominates the skyline of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, may open in 2013, 26 years after construction began. The pyramid-shaped building has become known as the “Hotel of Doom”. The chief executive of the Kempinski group, which will manage the Ryugyong hotel, said only 150 rooms on the top floors, would be used as a hotel. Reto Wittwer said shops, restaurants and offices would eventually open on the lower levels. Construction on the building began in 1987. It is the 47th tallest building in the world, at 330m (1,100ft), and has the fifth greatest number of floors, 105. (…) It is reported to have spent $180m (£112m) on finishing the hotel’s facade. (BBC)
North Korea’s U.N. delegation declared on 2 November that it was proud of Pyongyang’s social system and human rights record and rejected as baseless a U.N. monitor’s report that described appalling human rights abuses in the reclusive country. Pyongyang was reacting to a report to the U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on rights issues, from U.N. special reporter on North Korea Marzuki Darusman that described “a wide range of human rights violations.” Among the abuses Darusman referred to in his annual report on North Korea were the alleged “extensive use of political prison camps, poor prison conditions and prisoners being subjected to forced labor, torture and corporal punishment.” North Korean delegate Kim Song read a statement to the committee, which includes all 193 U.N. member states, which said: “My delegation totally and categorically rejects the … groundless allegations.” (…)U.S., Japanese, EU and other delegations gave statements criticizing Pyongyang’s rights record. Darusman reiterated his concerns about North Korean prison camps, which he told the committee held between 150,000 and 200,000 prisoners. China and other countries complained about the practice of adopting General Assembly resolutions that single out countries for their records on human rights. (Reuters)
Recent satellite images show that North Korea has been conducting tests at a rocket launch site, says a US academic organisation. The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said its analysis of images “indicates that North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles”. (…)The tests appear to have involved “liquid-fuelled, first stage engines” for either North Korea’s existing satellite launch vehicle, or a new long-range missile first seen during a military parade in 2012, the institute said. There had also been indications of construction activity on the rocket site’s upper gantry platform “required for future launches of long-range rockets”, it said. The report suggested North Korea could be planning test activities once both the US and South Korean presidential elections are finished. The South Korean poll takes place in December. (BBC)
South Korea is set to resume Iranian oil imports in October after crude cargoes were halted by EU sanctions in the previous two months, with shipments transported under Iranian insurance cover to avoid sanctions targeting Tehran’s nuclear program. The north Asian country’s overall crude oil imports fell 2.8 percent in September from a year ago to 78.36 million barrels, or 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed on 22 October. The world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil and one of Iran’s biggest oil customers, imported 38.77 million barrels of crude oil from Iran in the first nine months of 2012, down 41.3 percent year on year, KNOC said. South Korean refiners have resumed imports of Iranian crude oil for October arrivals, with imports seen at about 6 million barrels per month, or 200,000 bpd, representing a return to full contracted volume. (Reuters)
South Korea’s main nuclear power supervisor extended an investigation into forged safety certificates for reactor components to three more facilities on 6 November, a day after shutting down two reactors. South Korea generates 30 percent of its electricity from 23 nuclear reactors at state-owned plants, and the government warned of the potential for unprecedented power shortages as the shutdowns eat into the country’s thin spare capacity. (…) The three additional reactors under investigation are still running. The two reactors already shut down will remain closed until the parts are replaced. (…) The two shut reactors, each able to supply 1,000 MW, were found to have components with certificates purportedly from U.S. and Canadian regulators that had been forged by the suppliers of the parts. (…) Government officials said South Korea would take measures to cut power consumption rather than hiking imports of alternative fuels to feed additional electricity generation. (Reuters)
Two of South Korea’s presidential candidates on 8 November laid out competing visions for dealing with North Korea, though both said they wanted more dialogue with Pyongyang than occurred over the five-year term of the departing president. Park Geun-hye, the nominee from the ruling conservative party, said she would try to build trust with North Korea’s authoritarian regime by reopening communications, providing humanitarian assistance and economic and cultural exchanges. She said she would include some incentives that President Lee Myung-bak conditioned on steps by Pyongyang to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons in a search for reciprocity that upset North Korean leaders. Ahn Cheol-soo, a professor running as an independent candidate, laid out no conditions for offering assistance to North Korea and suggested his main goal would be to restore a relationship that, without mentioning Mr. Lee directly, he portrayed as disrupted by Mr. Lee’s policies. (…) North Korea had no immediate reaction to the proposals of the candidates. It is unclear whether Mr. Ahn will see the race through to the Dec. 19 vote. He met with the nominee from the Democratic United Party, Moon Jae-in, in early-November and agreed that they should unite their campaigns with one of them dropping out. They didn’t decide who or how, however. At a meeting with foreign correspondents, Ms. Park also said she would continue the South Korean military’s involvement in several peacekeeping missions around the world and expand its status as a provider of aid to developing countries. (Wall Street Journal)
Democracy campaigners are criticizing talks that have raised the prospect of a resumption of defense ties between Australia and Burma. The Australian prime minister has met with Burmese President Thein Sein at the Asia Europe Summit in Laos. Burma Campaign Australia says it was inappropriate for Gillard to discuss defense ties given the “ongoing violation of human rights” by the Burmese military. For the first time in almost 30 years, an Australian prime minister has held talks with the president of Burma, Thein Sein. Attending the Asia Europe Summit in Laos, Julia Gillard raised Australia’s concerns about the continuing human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Burma. She also praised the Burmese authorities for their adoption of democratic reforms. In April, 2012, Burma conducted parliament by-elections, which were endorsed by Australia. (Voice of America)
The Opposition has accused Labor of plumbing new depths of hypocrisy over moves to excise the entire mainland from Australia’s migration zone as part of efforts to stop asylum seeker boats. The change would strip away any legal advantage asylum seekers get from reaching the mainland compared with those who are taken directly to Christmas Island. The idea is one of the 25 recommendations put forward by the expert panel on asylum seekers, which the Government has already committed to introducing. (…) According to the expert panel, led by former Defence Force Chief Angus Houston, the move to excise the mainland would complement offshore processing arrangements in Nauru and Manus Island. (…) MPs from Labor’s Left faction, who have voiced concerns about the move in the past, concede there is not much they can do about the change given they have previously endorsed the Houston report’s findings. But the Greens are vowing to fight the legislation, arguing it undermines the right of refugees to seek asylum in Australia.
A hunger strike by asylum seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru has entered a fifth day, weeks after Australia re-opened its processing camp there. A refugee advocate said that about 300 people were refusing food. A government spokesman said numbers were fluctuating and some meals were being eaten. A “small number” had been treated for dehydration and heat exhaustion, the immigration department spokesman said. Australia reintroduced its offshore processing policy in September. (…) Since the camp on Nauru was reopened in early September, more than 370 asylum seekers – mostly from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan – have been transferred there. They are currently living in tents while more permanent structures are built. Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said the protesters wanted Nauru to be closed and processing of their asylum claims to start. (…) The senior Department of Immigration official on Nauru had met the protesters on 4 November to hear their concerns, the spokesman said, but had made it clear protest action would not affect decisions on cases. In the past, detainees on Nauru conducted multiple hunger strikes in protest at both the length of their detention and the conditions in which they lived. In recent days both Labor and the opposition have suggested that asylum seekers will have to spend as long as five years in camps while their claims are processed. (BBC)
Tokelau has become the first territory able to meet all its electricity needs with solar power, officials say. The South Pacific territory – comprising the three atolls of Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo – had been dependent on diesel to generate electricity. New Zealand, which administers Tokelau, funded a $7m (£4.3m) solar project. Project co-ordinator, and PowerSmart MD, Mike Basset-Smith said that the move represented a “milestone of huge importance” for Tokelau, as it would now be able to spend more on social welfare. The remote islands of Tokelau lie between New Zealand and Hawaii. Most of the 1,500 islanders live by subsistence farming, with thousands of others choosing to settle in New Zealand or neighbouring Samoa. (BBC)

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