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

LDESP PACOM News Update – December 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.

Days after it signaled that an upcoming launch might be delayed, North Korea fired a long-range rocket, heightening regional concerns about its growing ability to threaten its neighbors. North Korean state media said it had launched a weather satellite, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, confirmed that the rocket appeared to have successfully put an object into orbit. The launch, which allowed Pyongyang to test its ballistic-missile capability in defiance of U.N. restrictions, angered the U.S. and its Northeast Asian allies. The White House called the launch “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.” South Korea Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan called the launch “a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world,” the Yonhap News Agency reported, while Japan called it “intolerable.” The U.N. Security Council passed resolutions banning North Korea from such launches after its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. (…) Unlike a similar attempt in April, which exploded shortly into its flight, stages of the Unha 3 rocket launched 12 December landed in the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean Peninsula, and 300 km east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, Japanese officials said. That would make it North Korea’s most successful missile flight to date, and a worrying sign that it has resolved technical flaws that have plagued earlier launches. (…) China, North Korea’s neighbor and only significant ally, had said it was “concerned” about North Korea’s launch plan but refrained from condemning it beforehand, saying it hopes “all parties concerned can exercise calmness.” (…) The launch coincides with events in North Korea marking the first anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il on 17 December. (World Time)
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator and U.S. citizen, has been detained in North Korea for more than a month, U.S. officials said on 11 December, CNN reports. According to CNN, U.S. officials do not believe that Bae, who has been affiliated with a Protestant religious group, is being mistreated. The Swedish government, which acts as the protecting power for the U.S. in North Korea, is trying to get him released, an official said. The U.S. State Department would not confirm or deny the reports of Bae’s detention, citing “privacy considerations,” South Korea’s Yonhap News reported. Bae, 44, entered the North Korean port city of Rajin on 3 November along with five other tourists for a five-day trip, South Korean media reported. The Kookmin Ilbo newspaper quoted an anonymous source that said Bae was allegedly detained after one of the tourists was found to be in possession of “computer hard disk” that may have contained sensitive information. (Huffington Post, CNN)

Some investors are worried that South Korea is about to vanish—and it has nothing to do with tanks or communism. This fall, investment giant Vanguard Group made a relatively arcane business decision, switching the benchmark tracked by one of its most popular exchange-traded funds, the Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets ETF, from MSCI’s version to that of a rival FTSE. The company said it was simply looking to lower its licensing fees. But because those two index providers classify emerging markets differently, South Korea, one of the biggest emerging-markets success stories of the past decade with an average annual return of 13%, could be bumped from the fund’s portfolio. Judgment in some quarters was swift: Investors yanked $900 million from the fund in November, even as other emerging-markets ETFs had inflows. Vanguard Principal Joel Dickson acknowledges the company’s move prompted “some pushback” from customers, but says the new licensing deal lowers costs. He adds that investors who still want exposure to South Korea can buy Vanguard’s developed-markets ETF. The controversy has its roots in the esoteric details of indexing. FTSE and MSCI use nearly identical methods to design indexes, weighting stocks based on their market value. But South Korea is a sticking point. The country’s economy—boosted by household name brands like consumer-electronics giant Samsung and car maker Hyundai—has left experts divided over whether it still qualifies as an emerging market like China and Brazil. (…) South Korea’s success means it looms large next to developing countries. Korean stocks represent about 15% of Vanguard’s ETF and other popular funds like iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index ETF (US:EEM) that track the same benchmark, more than any other country other than China. (Market Watch)
A joint venture group led by South Korean contractors got a $960 million loan to help finance a subsea road tunnel in Istanbul. The 18-year deal, signed in Ankara, is the longest for a project financing in Turkey, according to Sule Kilic, deputy general manager at UniCredit SpA (UCG)’s Turkish unit, which helped arrange the transaction. The $1.3 billion project, incorporating a 14.6-kilometer (9.1-mile) road with a 5.4-kilometer stretch of tunnel under the Bosporus strait’s sea bed, will ease car traffic on two suspension bridges joining the city’s European and Asian sides serving more than 12 million people in Turkey’s biggest city. About 120,000 vehicles will travel through the road daily. The group set up a joint venture called Avrasya Tuneli Isletme Insaat & Yatirim AS, or Atas, in 2010 to implement the project and operate the tunnel for 26 years, according to the project’s website. The construction is expected to be completed by 2017, Kilic said. (Bloomberg)
It’s the $6 trillion question: how to jolt Japan out of its 20-year economic slump. The dozen or so parties vying in a 16 December parliamentary election all agree the world’s third-largest economy needs a jump-start, now that it has slid back into recession for the fifth time in 15 years. They are at odds, however, over how to achieve enduring growth. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is poised to head the government again if his Liberal Democratic Party does as well most polls are forecasting, favors forcing the central bank to do whatever it takes to meet an inflation target, of perhaps 2 percent, to break the economy out of a spiral of falling prices known as deflation.(…) More than 20 years after its “miracle economy” bubble burst, Japan seems trapped in a vicious circle of sinking prices and weak demand as sluggish growth forces businesses to slash prices and frugal-minded consumers put off spending. (…)Like the U.S. and other rich economies, Japan faces the hard choice of either spending its way deeper into debt, which already amounts to more than 220 percent of its 500 trillion yen ($6.1 trillion) GDP, or slashing spending and seeing the economy falter further. (World Time, Associated Press)
Japan’s machinery orders rose for the first time in three months, a sign that companies may expect the world’s third largest economy to return to growth in 2013. Orders, an indicator of capital spending, climbed 2.6 percent in October from November, the Cabinet Office said. The median estimate of 25 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a 3 percent increase. Large orders can cause volatile results. (…) Komatsu Ltd. (6301) the world’s second-biggest maker of construction and mining equipment, plans to spend as much as 50 billion yen ($606 million) over the next three years to improve efficiency at four domestic plants, Hiroshi Ishihara, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based company said on 11 December. (Bloomberg)
Japan’s second-largest telecom company, KDDI, announced the formation of a new affiliate company in Myanmar. The country’s rapid political reforms this year have led to an influx of companies set up, or return to doing business within its borders. KDDI Myanmar, as its tentatively called, will begin operations in January 2013, and has been jointly established by the Japanese company and its subsidiary in Singapore. KDDI says that the new offices in Myanmar will be the company’s 100th overseas location. But while in Japan KDDI offers a number of services, most notably cellular and data plans, in Myanmar they will only focus on business clients. (…) This new overseas establishment will also provide a big advantage to other Japanese companies entering the Myanmar market, as KDDI touts that it will offer “Japanese-quality” network construction and infrastructure, as well as support from Japanese citizens or proficient speakers of the language. KDDI joins the wave of Japanese firms eyeing growth in the small Asian country. (Japan Daily Press)
The highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Japan said a spate of incidents involving U.S. troops there has hurt their ability to respond to a crisis in the region. (…) In October, two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested on suspicion of raping a local woman in the southern prefecture of Okinawa. That was followed by a series of less serious, but embarrassing, infractions also involving American servicemen—some in violation of a curfew imposed by the U.S. commander. In response, he said the two countries are considering such countermeasures as joint U.S.-Japanese patrols and a “hotline” in Okinawa for reporting troop misbehavior to U.S. military law enforcement officials. (…) But Gen. Angelella said he opposed reopening the status of forces agreement, an accord on the legal jurisdictions for American troops that has long been a lightning rod for anti-U.S. base activists. (…) The U.S. and Japan have been conducting a series of joint military drills in recent weeks. In early December, the two countries agreed to review their defense-cooperation guidelines. Those discussions, which may give Japan’s military an even greater role in regional security, mark the first time in 15 years the basic operating rules of the alliance have subject to revision. Experts say that reflects a new sense of shared threat from China, especially in the wake of recent saber-rattling by Beijing. (Wall Street Journal)

In a rarely seen event, Chinese officials in Beijing allowed a group of around 300 demonstrators to participate in a protest against the building of a high-speed railway from the capital to the northeastern city of Shenyang. Protests in China, particularly in the political capital, are taken very seriously by police and officials. Demonstrations of any kind typically end in arrests and sometimes injury before activist groups get a chance to cause any real disruption. However, Reuters reported a group of Beijing residents congregated on 9 December for a rally against new plans for the high-speed rail line because of the excess noise and electromagnetic radiation the new tracks and power lines would bring to their eastern Beijing suburb. (…) Images from the protests on Chinese media suggest the protests were less peaceful than initially described as physical contact between protestors and police officials was made. Though police presence was still comparatively subdued at the scene, some protesters were confronted by plain-clothed policemen (…) A report published on the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s site said the Beijing-Shenyang high-speed rail had garnered the support of 37.27 percent of the local residents, a number that some protesters believe is inaccurate. (International Business Times, Reuters)
A Roman Catholic bishop who stunned congregants and Communist Party officials last July when he renounced his government position during his consecration has been stripped of his religious title, according to two Catholic Web sites that cited contacts in the Chinese church. Thaddeus Ma Daqin, 45, the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, has been under house arrest since he told a crowd of more than 1,000 people that he was resigning from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the party-run bureaucracy that oversees the religious life of the nation’s 12 million Catholics, nearly half of whom are thought to practice in underground churches. While not unexpected, the revocation by the Chinese Catholic Bishops Council is likely to aggravate tensions between Beijing and the Vatican, which have been at loggerheads over the ordination of bishops. (New York Times)
China’s online censors appeared to be relaxing their grip on 10 December as millions of internet users in the country suddenly found themselves able to search online for information about Communist Party leaders and even to post criticism. (…) In the past, anybody trying to search on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, for information about officials such as President Hu Jintao or his successor Xi Jinping, would get a simple message: “According to related laws and regulations, search results are not shown”. On 11 December, however, the 200 million Weibo users found what appeared to be at least a temporary hole in the Great Firewall. Not only could they search for a range of Chinese leaders on the microblogging network, they were free to write criticism. (…)The name of Ling Jihua, the former close aide to Hu Jintao whose son died in a Ferrari crash in March, was also blocked. (…) Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace prize winner, the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong were all censored. Any mention of the Tiananmen Square protests or of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, the reformist leaders of the time, were also blocked. (…) A report by Xinhua state news agency, citing Liu Qibao, China’s propaganda chief, suggested that it may be too early to call a change in censorship tactics. (Telegraph)
The International Energy Agency increased its world oil-demand forecast for this quarter and 2013 amid signs of a rebound in Chinese demand. Global consumption in the final three months of 2012 will average 90.5 million barrels a day, about 435,000 barrels, or 0.5 percent, more than previously forecast, the Paris-based agency said in a monthly report on 12 December. Demand will expand by 865,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 90.5 million, the IEA said, adding 110,000 barrels to its previous forecast. (…) China will consume 9.9 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter, 115,000 barrels more than projected in November’s report, according to the IEA. Consumption is estimated to rise to 9.8 million barrels a day in 2013. (…) The country’s economy may grow 7.9 percent in the three months ending December from 2011, snapping a seven- quarter slowdown, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 29 economists conducted 14 November to 19 November. China’s net-crude imports in November rose to the highest level in six months as the world’s second-biggest oil user refined more than 10 million barrels a day for the first time. (Bloomberg)
Even as Wall Street deal makers await a revival of the moribund merger market, Chinese companies are shopping abroad with their wallets out. (…) So far, the dollar volume of Chinese acquisitions overseas is up 28 percent from the same period in 2011, according to Thomson Reuters data. That compares with a 2.8 percent slump in global merger and acquisition volume over all. Chinese international acquisitions are ahead for the year despite a slump during the third quarter, as state-owned enterprises, which are the main Chinese buyers, and some private enterprises waited for a change in the country’s political leadership at the Communist Party Congress in mid-November. But now the Chinese buyers are back. (…) Wanxiang Group agreed on 9 December to pay $256 million to buy most of A123 Systems, a bankrupt manufacturer of high-tech batteries. And a consortium of Chinese investors agreed on the same day to pay $4.2 billion for a controlling stake in the American International Group’s aircraft leasing business. On 7 December, Canada approved the $15 billion acquisition of Nexen, an energy company, by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or Cnooc. That deal is still pending approval by the American committee that reviews foreign investments on national security grounds, commonly known as Cfius. (…) Two of the biggest deals by Chinese companies in 2012 were for control of North American companies. The bid for the A.I.G. business, the International Lease Finance Corporation, or I.L.F.C., is the biggest takeover by Chinese entities on record, according to data from Thomson Reuters. (New York Times)
China allocated a total of 13 billion yuan ($2 billion) in 2012 from central government funds for domestic solar installations, Xinhua News Agency reported. The funds will be spent on solar power demonstration projects with 5.2 gigawatts of capacity, Xinhua said, citing an unidentified official from the Ministry of Finance. China will provide an incentive of 5.5 yuan a watt for projects whose developers will consume the power for their own use. The subsidies will be raised to 18 yuan a watt for residential systems and 25 yuan a watt for independent photovoltaic power plants, the government-owned news agency said. China started offering the subsidies since 2009 to bolster the use of solar power. The nation chose 4.5 gigawatts of solar projects eligible for subsidies under the so-called Golden Sun program. The government will focus on selecting large-scale projects and big companies for demonstration, Xinhua reported. Two phone calls to the ministry’s Beijing-based press office went unanswered. (Bloomberg)
China’s economy is expected to expand 8% in 2013 while the growth rate in 2012 is likely to be 7.8%, the slowest annual pace since 1999, the state-owned Bank of China Ltd. said on 12 December. Investment and consumption will be the main engines for the mild recovery in the world’s second largest economy in 2013, while exports will increase by about 8%, the bank said in a report released at a news briefing. Projecting the annual inflationary rate at 2.7% in 2012, the bank said the consumer price index could increase around 3% in 2012, given rising food prices and imported inflation due to global policy easing. However, monetary policy will continue to be “relatively loose” to sustain the government’s efforts to prop up the economy, the bank said. “We expect that the central bank could have one to two cuts in banks’ reserve requirement ratio over the next year,” Zong Liang, deputy director at the Institute of International Finance at the bank, told reporters at the briefing. Mr. Zong said Chinese banks are expected to extend a total of 8.3 trillion yuan ($1.33 trillion) in new lending in 2012, and the amount could edge up to CNY8.5 trillion in 2013. China’s broadest measure of money supply, M2, will increase 14% in 2013 and the total social financing, a broader measurement of credit in the economy, will be around CNY16 trillion, the bank said. (Market Watch)
A military jet on a routine training flight crashed into a house in southern China on 4 December, setting the building on fire and injuring several people inside, state media reported. China Central Television said the pilot ejected and parachuted to safety before the crash in Shantou city in Guangdong province. It said one of the four people inside the house managed to escape. The three others were hospitalized and one, a 26-year-old woman, was in critical condition, it said. (…) Citing the Ministry of Defense, it said the J-7 fighter jet had a mechanical failure just after takeoff from a Shantou airport. The mostly retired fighter jets are a 1960s-era Chinese copy of the Soviet MiG-21. The Shantou city government’s emergency office referred calls to its propaganda office, where calls rang unanswered. Calls to the Defense Ministry’s news office also rang unanswered. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) successfully completed one of the largest air-combat exercises ever undertaken by Chinese military forces on 30 November. More than 100 elite aircrews engaged in an intense air-combat readiness assessment representing crews from 14 PLAAF aviation brigades and regiments. Chinese official media sources reported that the event included some of China’s newest combat aircraft as well as older models in a challenging test designed to simulate the intense ferocity of close-in aerial combat. This event, according to information posted on the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper website, was one of the largest and most comprehensive airborne confrontational drills ever undertaken by the PLAAF. (…) Aircraft involved in the exercise included some of the newest multirole J-10 and J-11 fighters, two-seater Russian-built Sukhoi SU-30 aircraft, and older aviation assets still in operational use. Engagement parameters for the event were modified to emphasize real-life combat scenarios and to measure the combat flying skills of pilots tasked with engaging an adversary with minimal support from ground control resources. The exercises also employed the service of significant numbers of ground-based experts schooled in the use of radar, airborne weapons, and electronic countermeasures. (Defense Update)
China achieved a military milestone when a homegrown fighter jet landed on its new aircraft carrier, the latest step in a modernization bid that’s recorded advances in submarines, cyber warfare and in outer space. The J-15 fighter jet successfully landed on the Liaoning aircraft carrier, the official Xinhua news agency reported on 24 November, citing unnamed People’s Liberation Army naval sources. The carrier tests underscore China’s progress in military modernization, which has been accompanied by a doubling of the defense budget since 2006. (…) China commissioned its Liaoning aircraft carrier in September. The country is looking to build more carriers and base them in the South China Sea, the site of territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam, Cronin said. The build-up follows advances across the military and in space. (…) Defense spending, projected to be 670 billion yuan ($107.3 billion) in 2012, has more than doubled since 2006, tracking a rise in nominal gross domestic product to 47.2 trillion yuan from 21.6 trillion yuan. Military outlays were 1.3 percent of GDP in 2011. China may spend about $7 billion building four aircraft carriers and another $30 billion to complete their carrier groups. (…) At the center of the program is the J-15, a jet capable of carrying weapons including anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to- ground missiles, as well as precision-guided bombs, according to Xinhua. (Bloomberg)
During China’s twice-a-year show, visitors got to see an impressive and, to some, alarming fleet of drones developed by Chinese companies, including many models resembling U.S. drones with their body shape, flight specs, and their missile and surveillance capabilities. It’s evident that China intends to take full advantage of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to achieve its national interests – including their territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands and South China Sea. (…) Like the U.S., China has given its new fleet of UAVs unique code names – which often include the character for “dragon” or “long” – and designed them with comparable capabilities as their U.S. counterparts. Many of its newer models – including the CH-4, the Wing Loong and Xianglong – appears to be copies of the U.S. Reaper, Predator and Global Hawk designs. (…)The drone program has had a profound effect on China’s defense industry. The DSP report notes that “[China] displayed its first unmanned system model at the Zhuhai air show five years ago, and now every major manufacturer for the Chinese military has a research center devoted to unmanned systems.” One unique aspect of the Chinese drone program is that the cost of the drones are significantly cheaper than those made by the U.S. and Israel (Policy Mic)
The Chinese and US militaries held joint disaster response exercises on 30 November, as Beijing increases its global reach and Washington continues its “pivot” to the Pacific. The joint drill, which saw officers from both nations express hopes for closer ties, came amid rising concerns in Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over China’s territorial claims in disputed seas. During the mock drills at a Chinese military base on the outskirts of Chengdu the two sides worked together on computer-generated disaster scenarios – in fictionalised countries. (…) In late November, visiting US navy secretary Ray Mabus welcomed China to participate in future US-led joint naval exercises, and reiterated an invitation made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when he visited in September. (…) The US invitation comes as Washington tries to reassure Beijing over its strategic “pivot” to the Pacific, while China is becoming increasingly assertive in territorial disputes with several of its neighbours — with new passports showing its claims causing diplomatic rows. (Channel News Asia)
The Obama administration on 27 November said China’s currency remained “significantly undervalued” but stopped short of labeling the world’s second-biggest economy a currency manipulator. In a congressionally mandated semi-annual report, the U.S. Treasury noted that yuan had risen 12.6 percent against the U.S. dollar in inflation-adjusted terms since June 2010. (…) Although Beijing keeps the yuan, also known as the renminbi, in a tight trading band, the Treasury said China did not meet the legal requirements to be deemed a currency manipulator. The label is largely symbolic but would require Washington to open discussions with Beijing on adjusting the yuan’s value. (…) The Treasury said further appreciation of the yuan would help China balance its economy toward consumption by giving households greater purchasing power.
The report also called on China to reduce its “exceptionally high” foreign exchange reserves and to publish data about its intervention in currency markets. (Reuters)
China’s foreign ministry has lambasted the US in exceptionally harsh terms for its comments on the human rights situation in Tibet, saying it had filed a formal diplomatic complaint. Maria Otero, the US special co-ordinator for Tibetan issues, said in a statement on 5 December that tensions in Tibetan areas, including self-immolations, had been exacerbated by tough Chinese policies and controls. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Tibet issue had nothing to do with human rights, ethnicity or religion. (…) Hong repeated the official stance that Tibetans had enjoyed unprecedented advances and rights under Communist rule, blaming the Dalai Lama for inciting the self-immolations. (The Guardian)
Industrial production in India soared 8.2 percent in October, a sharp spike for Asia’s third largest economy but industry viewed the data with some caution. The data from India’s Central Statistics Office on 12 December showed that manufacturing rose 9.6 percent and electricity output increased 5.5 percent from 2011. Production of capital goods – a sign of investment in physical assets such as machinery – grew 7.5 percent. According to Press Trust of India news agency Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said he was “encouraged” by “the indications of the green shoots in economy in terms of production.” However the Confederation of Indian Industries said the figures were better than expected but added that it was too early to talk about an economic revival. The director general of the industry group said that it was usual for the index to pick up pace during India’s October-November festival season. “We have to keep in mind is that every year, prior to the festive season IIP picks up and then there is a drop. Therefore, it would be too early to say that a turnaround is underway,” Chandrajit Banerjee said in a statement. Much also still needs to be done to clean up India’s power sector, with many state utilities facing bankruptcy. India’s mining sector has been hobbled by scandal, fights over land, and bureaucratic bottlenecks. India is struggling with high inflation and high interest rates, coupled with a wide fiscal deficit, weak currency, and uncertain policy environment, which have hit both consumption and investment. The Reserve Bank of India has said that controlling inflation remained its primary concern. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
India’s government has appointed a retired judge to probe spending on lobbying by global retail giant Walmart to facilitate its entry into India. The firm recently disclosed it spent $25m (£16m) on lobbying, including on issues related to “enhanced market access for investment in India”. Opposition MPs in India have been demanding a probe into the disclosure. In early December, MPs voted to open the retail sector to foreign competition – an issue that has proved highly divisive. Opposition parties, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), say opening the retail sector to foreign direct investment will put tens of thousands of small businesses and corner shops out of business. But the government and business leaders argue that it will boost the economy and transform the way Indians shop. (…) Walmart has denied the allegations saying that its lobbying expenses were made to consultants in US and the disclosures were in accordance with US laws. (…) The decision by India’s government to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) was approved by the Lok Sabha (lower house) on 5 December and the Rajya Sabha (upper house) on 7 December. (BBC)
The government said it has issued directions to intermediaries for blocking 690 webpages/URLs for carrying anti-social and anti-national and hateful content under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Out of these, 663 webpages/URLs were blocked during 2012. (…)Sibal said according to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), a total of 420, 966 and 1,791 cyber crime cases were registered under the IT Act, 2000 during 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. The highest number of cyber crime cases under the IT Act were registered in Andhra Pradesh (349), followed by Maharashtra (306), Kerala (227), Karnataka (151), Rajasthan (122) and Uttar Pradesh (101) in 2011. A total of 1,184 persons were arrested in 2011 for cyber crime under the IT Act. Responding to a separate query, Minister of State for Communications and IT Milind Deora said the government is in regular dialogue with the intermediaries, including social networking sites for effective and efficient disablement of such content. (Times of India)
India carried out a successful test of its nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Agni-I missile from a military base in Odisha, an official said on 12 December. The intermediate-range ballistic missile, which can strike a target 700 km away, was tested from a facility on Wheeler Island near Dhamra in Bhadrak district, 170 km from here. The test was carried out by the Strategic Forces Command of the Indian armed forces as part ofa training exercise to ensure preparedness, director of the Integrated Test Range, M.V.K.V. Prasad, said.  “The mission was successful,” he said.  Scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which developed the missile, witnessed and supervised the test, Prasad added. (Times of India)
On 12 December, Pakistan gave 1.6 million Afghan refugees the right to stay another six months, extending a deadline on their residency papers that had been due to expire at the end of December. The decision was taken by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, according to a statement from his office. His spokesman confirmed that Afghan refugees would now be entitled to stay in Pakistan until the end of June 2013. A spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency said Pakistan had promised not to expel any registered refugee. More than five million Afghans fled their homeland for Pakistan in the early 1980s, soon after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. Since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban, 3.8 million have returned, leaving 1.6 million behind, most born and brought up in Pakistan. In late October, UNHCR boosted incentives for Afghans to return and around 10,000 Afghans went home from October 23 to November 30 — more than double the number who were repatriated in the same period in 2011. But despite pressure from Islamabad and the extra incentives, the vast majority of the Afghans still in Pakistan are reluctant to return to a country gripped by war and poverty. (Dawn, AFP)
Almost 70 percent of Pakistani lawmakers did not file income taxes in 2011, an investigative journalism group said on 12 December, highlighting deep flaws in a taxation system that has drawn repeated criticism from Western aid donors. The Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan released a report based on leaked tax returns, marking the first time that the records of 446 lawmakers and ministers have been published and focusing scrutiny on individuals ahead of polls in 2013. Pakistan’s inability to raise revenue has constrained government spending, depriving schools and hospitals of funds and exacerbating a power crisis, causing widespread hardship in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people. Western allies have poured billions of dollars in aid into Pakistan, worried that growing public anger may boost recruitment to Islamist militant groups threatening to destabilise Pakistan and beyond. But the aid has not been nearly enough to plug the huge gap between members of the elite, who often pay little tax, and the poor who desperately need the public services taxes should fund. (…)The report highlights why Pakistan has failed to improve its tax collection rates: politicians benefit from a lax regime. No one has been convicted of income tax evasion in 25 years and few Pakistanis see a failure to pay tax as shameful. Although lawmakers have about $25 a month deducted from their basic pay in tax, almost all have second incomes. (…) Enforcement is so poor that paying tax is almost voluntary, another revenue official said. About one percent of Pakistanis file tax returns. (Reuters)
On 4 December, Pakistan and Korea inked six accords dealing with modernisation of Pakistan Railways, construction of LNG terminal and cooperation in banking sector, in a bid to further solidify bilateral ties. The signing of agreements in various sectors came during President Asif Ali Zardari’s state visit to the Republic of Korea, during which he met his counterpart and had several meetings with the CEO’s and heads of various top companies.(…) The ceremony at the Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, following the summit level talks between the two sides, was also witnessed by members of the Pakistani delegation including Minister for Water and Power Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar, Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim,    Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Malik Amad and the leader of PML-Q Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. A major breakthrough came in the area of modernisation of railways. Pakistan, under the agreement, will seek high speed railways, communication systems, signaling, rail stock, modernisation of operation and management, development of logistics parks and freight terminals. Along with this will be an exchange of construction and maintenance technologies for infrastructure including tracks, bridges, overhead electrification and power supply systems. The agreement was signed by Muhammad Arif Azim Secretary Railways and Minister of Railways of South Korea Kwon Do-youp. President Zardari in his meeting with President KORAIL Chung Chang-Young said Pakistan desired modern and efficient railways to help meet its growing industrial, agricultural and freight needs. (Dawn, Associated Press)
At least eight people have been killed, including three policemen, in a suicide attack on a police station in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, officials say. The attackers heavily armed with suicide vests, guns, grenades and rockets raided the police station in Kaki, 13km southwest of Bannu town, shortly after morning prayers. Police said the attack, which lasted around an hour, damaged the police station, a nearby mosque, house and three shops. Two of them blew themselves up during the clashes but a third managed to escape. “Three militants attacked the Kaki police station. They killed three policemen and two civilians,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said on 10 December. Hospital officials said another civilian later died of his injuries. Pakistan’s umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban faction claimed responsibility, saying the attack was to avenge the killing by police of a nephew of its founder, warlord Baitullah Mehsud who was himself killed in a US drone attack in 2009. Mehsud’s nephew, himself a Taliban commander, was shot dead by police in Bannu in November, local police said. The Pakistani Taliban frequently target security forces with bomb and gun attacks as part of a five-year insurgency concentrated in the northwest. (Al Jazeera)
A U.S. drone strike has killed an al-Qaida commander in Pakistan’s northwest, the second member of the Islamic militant network killed in the area in less than a week, Pakistani intelligence officials and a Taliban militant said on 10 December. Mohammad Ahmed al-Mansoor died on 9 December when drone-launched missiles hit a house in Tabbi village in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the country, the officials and militant said. Al-Mansoor was a close aide to senior al-Qaida leader Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on 6 December, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Al-Hussainan was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti. (…) The intelligence officials said his wife and son were also killed, while the militant said two Punjabi Taliban fighters died with him. The Taliban militant spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the government. (…) Also, on the same day, Taliban militants armed with a rocket, hand grenades and automatic weapons attacked a police station in northwestern Pakistan, killing six people. (Navy Times)
The authorities in Stockholm have launched an investigation into how new Swedish-made weapons made their way to Burma in breach of EU sanctions where they were used by troops in military operations against ethnic rebels. The Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls (ISP) confirmed that an investigation had been launched after it was handed details about several high-performance M-3 Carl Gustav anti-tank weapons that were recovered by Kachin rebels who had been battling Burmese troops in bloody and ongoing clashes. (…) While the EU and the US has suspended most sanctions against Burma in recognition of reforms that have been introduced by the nominally-civilian government of President Thein Sein, bans on the sale of weapons remain in place. In any sale to a foreign country, US or European arms manufacturers are obliged to enforce an end user agreement that stipulates the arms cannot be sold on to restricted nations such as Burma. (…) A spokesman, Sebastian Carlsson, said the company was cooperating with the ISP inquiry and was looking at the issue with “serious eyes”. Asked how the arms found their way to Burma in breach of both EU sanctions and Swedish law, he declined to speculate. He said the company sold the product to 20 nations but declined to identify them. (…)Violence in Burma’s Kachin state reignited in 2011, ending a ceasefire agreement that had been in place for 17 years. (The Independent)
Burma’s government has said it will open the country to comprehensive international inspection in an effort to demonstrate that it does not have a covert nuclear programme. The regime said it would sign an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would, if implemented, mark an important breakthrough in the regime’s relations with the rest of the world, and could help dispel longstanding suspicions that it is pursuing a clandestine programme in co-operation with North Korea aimed at building nuclear weapons. Burma has yet to approach the IAEA formally about the proposal, and hitherto had not been very forthcoming in response to the agency’s enquiries about alleged covert work. The IAEA’s voluntary additional protocol, which the Burmese government says it will sign, would give the agency’s inspectors wide discretion to visit sites of their choosing at short notice, whether the state has declared them to be nuclear-related or not, in order “to assure the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities”. (The Guardian)
The UN’s top humanitarian official has said conditions for displaced Burmese Muslim Rohingyas are “dire”, and called on Burma to improve them. Valerie Amos made the comments after visiting camps in Rakhine state. More than 135,000 people displaced during six months of ethnic conflict are living in camps in the state, the vast majority of them Rohingyas. The BBC’s Jonah Fisher says Rohingyas are living in much worse conditions than Rakhine Buddhists. He says a camp on the peninsula of Myebon, exclusively for Rakhine Buddhists, had smart tents, working sanitation and a regular delivery of food and medical supplies. But a short drive up the road – past the burnt-out squares that were once their homes – some 4,000 Rohingya Muslims live crammed together on a fetid pile of mud, surrounded by streams of water filled with sewage, our correspondent adds. There are Burmese guards on all sides to stop them leaving, he says. (… ) UN efforts had been hampered by administrative and visa problems, as well as by a lack of funding. The UN has received less than one-third of the $65m (£40m) it says it needs for Rakhine. (BBC)
Methamphetamine remains the top illicit drug threat in East and Southeast Asia, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report – “2012 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs, Asia and the Pacific” – launched at Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on 12 December. Myanmar (Burma) remains the top source of illicit methamphetamine pills in East and Southeast Asia, and is also a source of crystalline methamphetamine, according to the UNODC report, which says that ‘significant quantities’ of crystal methamphetamine are also produced in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, with ‘large-scale manufacturing’ reported in Cambodia. (…) Reported methamphetamine use increased in 11 of 15 countries surveyed in East and Southeast Asia. The use of methamphetamine in pill form increased in all six countries that comprise the Greater Mekong Subregion – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Viet Nam. (…) According to the UNODC Report, Myanmar (Burma) remains a major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in South-East Asia, most of which are manufactured in Shan State in the eastern part of the country. (Asian Correspondent)
Buddhist monks have held rallies across Burma to demand further apologies from the authorities over a crackdown in November against a copper mine protest. Large crowds came out to support the monks as they marched in Rangoon, Mandalay and other major cities. About 100 people, many of them monks, were injured when police broke up protests at the Monywa mine. The police action was the toughest since the nominally civilian government came to power in 2011. The case is seen as a test of how the new government handles growing protests over projects begun under the military. Burma’s government has already expressed regret to senior clerics that monks were injured in the crackdown at the mine on 29 November. Members of the police also apologised to a group of monks at Monywa. The monks had backed protesters who oppose the expansion of the giant Chinese-backed copper mine in the north-west. Injuries suffered by demonstrators included burns, which activists blame on incendiary devices they say were thrown by police. Earlier December, eight people arrested and charged in connection with the protests were released on bail in Rangoon. Hundreds of local people are alleged to have been forced from their land to make way for a $1bn (£620m) expansion of the mine, a joint venture between Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco and the Burmese military. The company has said that the deal was voluntary, and that only a small minority of farmers rejected it. An official inquiry into the crackdown and the mine expansion plan is being led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has called for compromise. (BBC)
Violence has flared in many parts of Bangladesh as schools and most businesses were shut after opposition groups enforced a dawn-to-dusk strike. They called the strike to protest against attacks on their supporters during a road blockade on 9 December. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies have been demanding a caretaker government be put in place to oversee the next parliamentary polls. At least two people were killed and dozens injured in Sunday’s protests. In 2011, the government abolished the system under which caretaker officials take charge ahead of elections. At least 15 vehicles, mostly buses, have been damaged or set alight in and around the capital, Dhaka, since the evening of 10 December and most private vehicles have remained off the roads, says the BBC’s Anbarasan Ethirajan in Dhaka. The police fired tear gas on to disperse protesters on the street, other reports say. A few crude bombs, plastic pots filled with gun powder, exploded in Dhaka but there were no reports of injuries.”The situation is under control now. In some places miscreants tried to attack the vehicles in Dhaka. There were some minor incidents and we used tear gas to disperse them,” Mohammad Asaduzzaman, an assistant commissioner of police told the BBC. Police also arrested a senior opposition leader in connection with the protests that saw the opposition alliance block the roads, our correspondent adds.Under the caretaker system, an independent administration at the end of a government’s term is set up to try to ensure that elections were conducted in an impartial manner.The government of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says it abolished the system following a court order and has no intention of reversing it. (BBC)
The clothing factory fire that killed more than 100 workers in Bangladesh was no accident, the country’s prime minister said. The fire at the factory near Dhaka, and a second fire at another factory were “planned arson,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on 10 December. Two people were arrested for trying to set fire to an apparel factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, but local police said they had not yet found any links between the arrests and the other factory fires. (…) Hasina urged factory owners to be more careful about the safety of their workers, but also to remain vigilant to the possibility of suspicious activities in their mills. (CNN)
The global garment industry would have to spend about $3 billion over five years to bring safety standards at Bangladesh apparel factories to Western standards, an analysis by a labor-rights group shows. The analysis, provided to Bloomberg News by the Worker Rights Consortium, comes after a fire at a factory that made garments for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. killed more than 100 people in November. Upgrades to the country’s approximately 4,500 factories would cost the garment industry about 10 cents per garment, the group said. (…) Fifty percent of the Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet legally required work safety standards and those that have improved working conditions have done so under pressure from Western apparel makers, according to Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non- governmental organization founded by two former garment child workers to promote safer factories. Bangladesh’s labor law requires safety measures such as fire extinguishers and easily accessible exits at factories. (Delaware)
Sri Lanka’s chief justice has been found guilty of three charges of professional misconduct and financial irregularities by a parliamentary panel, in impeachment proceedings that has sparked opposition protests and raised international concerns. It was not immediately clear if Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka’s first female head of the Supreme Court, has to step down effectively from now or has to wait until parliament debates the impeachment investigations in January. (…) Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa appointed an 11-member select committee, seven of them from the ruling party, to investigate 14 charges against Bandaranayake, ranging from unexplained wealth to professional misconduct. The move to impeach Bandaranayake came after she scuttled several bills, including one that gave more powers to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother Basil, the economic development minister. Opposition committee members hearing the accusations walked out on 7 December, a day after Bandaranayake staged a similar walkout, leaving the process in disarray amid charges that the government is determined to get rid of her. The main Sri Lankan lawyers’ associations, which represent thousands of lawyers, united on to express solidarity with Bandaranayake and praised her for upholding the independence and dignity of the judiciary. The associations and opposition parties have described the impeachment as an effort to undermine judicial independence and concentrate more powers with President Rajapaksa, who holds executive powers and effectively controls the 225-member Parliament with two-thirds of its members on his side (Al Jazeera)
Sri Lanka’s central bank surprised markets on 12 December by cutting key monetary policy rates for the first time in nearly two years in order to boost economic growth as inflation pressures were expected to ease. The bank reduced the repurchase rate and the reverse repurchase rate by 25 basis points to 7.50% and 9.50% respectively, lowering them from three-year highs. (…) The central bank had kept rates steady since April, following two hikes made earlier in the year when Sri Lanka also adopted a flexible exchange rate policy as part of a strategy to counter a balance-of-payments deficit. Central Bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said the bank originally expected to make cuts from January, but reduced inflationary pressures had prompted the bank to move more quickly to a pro-growth stance so that people could make spending and investment plans based on lower rates. (…)Sri Lanka said it will achieve a fiscal deficit of 6.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012, a target agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under a $2.6 billion loan, lowering the deficit from 6.9% in 2011. The government aims to bring the deficit down to a 35-year low of 5.8% in 2013. The central bank wants to help reverse a slide in the economic growth rate, aiming for a 7.5% growth in 2013. It has forecast gross domestic product will grow 6.8% in 2012, slowing from a record 8.3% in 2011. The bank also announced that a rule restricting commercial banks credit annual growth to 18%, that was brought in 2011, would be ditched at the end of December. The bank said it expected the private sector credit growth to have decelerated to around 19% year-on-year from a near 16-year high of 35% in March. (LiveMint, Reuters)
Malaysian authorities said on 11 December that they had uncovered more than 1,000 smuggled elephant tusks hidden in secret compartments in two shipments of mahogany; a staggeringly large seizure that several conservationists said was the biggest in history. Fueled by growing demand from Asia, especially from China, the price of ivory has shot up to more than $1,000 per pound in some markets. As a result, tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered each year in Africa — more than at any time in the past two decades — and some scientists say the survival of the species may be endangered. Much of the ivory is used for chopsticks, bookmarks, figurines and other trinkets. (…) Malaysia is a well-known transit point. Malaysian authorities said they had discovered the ivory, which they said totaled 24 tons, packed in two shipping containers, concealed in stacks of neatly sawed wood. (…) According to Malaysian authorities, the shipment took a circuitous route, originating in the small West African nation of Togo, then going north to Spain, then east to Malaysia’s port of Klang and eventually destined for China. (New York Times)
Four Malaysian ministers issued a second joint statement, insisting Lynas Corp. (LYC) must export residue from its new rare earths refinery under terms of its temporary operating license. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s cabinet discussed the issue after Lynas Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Curtis said on a conference call Dec. 11 that the Australian miner isn’t required to export waste from the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, or LAMP, in Pahang under its temporary permit. It only needs to come up with a plan for permanent disposal, he said. (…) Lynas belatedly began production in November after a series of court victories against local residents wanting to block the plant on fear of contamination. The miner, which is developing the world’s largest rare-earths processing facility in Malaysia, has repeatedly insisted the refinery is safe. The Southeast Asian nation’s trade and industry, science, environment and health ministers said in a Dec. 10 statement Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board is empowered to suspend or revoke Lynas’ permit and order an immediate halt to operations if it doesn’t export all residue, including products made from waste. (Bloomberg)
Malaysia’s economic outlook should remain stable in 2013 with the support of domestic consumption and investments, which will continue to be resilient, said an International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative. (…) The Government has underlined that Malaysia is expected to achieve full-year GDP growth of 5% or more in line with the positive economic performance in the first three quarters of 2012. The growth in domestic demand has been supported by private investments, while the soft global economy has led to a slowdown in external demand. He said China, Malaysia’s biggest trading partner, was expected to see a high growth rate of between 8.2% and 8.8% in 2013 after a slowdown in the first half of 2012 which later stabilised in the second half. Exports from Asian economies had slowed since mid-2011, mainly due to a sharp fall in external demand primarily from the eurozone. However, the overall domestic demand in the region has been resilient, including in ASEAN countries. (The Star)
Trade between Malaysia and India is expected to cross US$13 billion (RM39.78 billion) in 2012 with the movement of goods and services between the two nations already reaching the US$10 billion level, High Commissioner of India to Malaysia Vijay Gokhale said. The figures suggest that the two countries will exceed a target to reach US$15 billion total trade by 2015, with trade estimated to be growing at a clip of 8% in 2012. Gokhale said the balance of trade is still in Malaysia’s favour but said that India “was still not making an issue out of it” because it was still at a “comfortable level” at present. From January to September, bilateral trade reached US$8.9 billion, a 7% growth over the same period last in 2011, with 4% contributed by Malaysian exports to India. In 2010 bilateral trade totalled US$7.1 billion. Trade between the two Asian countries are expected to grow significantly in tandem with moves to improve trade between India and Asean. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak is scheduled to visit India late November to celebrate 20 years of the India-Asean partnership, where he will meet with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (…) Furthermore, India recently lifted a rule imposing a two-month gap between visits on Malaysian tourists to India, a move to ease travel rules for Malaysian tourists to India. This step is expected to increase the tourist applications to India by 20% next year and will further boost the Indian economy through tourism. (Malaysian Reserve)
Indonesia and Australia on 11 December signed an agreement allowing Australian planes to enter Indonesian airspace to help rescue asylum-seekers stranded at sea. Hundreds of people have died in 2012 attempting dangerous boat journeys from Indonesia to Australia, with ill-equipped Indonesian rescue authorities blamed for being too slow in assisting asylum-seekers stuck in rough seas. Australia has repeatedly been forced to lead rescue missions off the Indonesian coast but its efforts have been hampered by the necessary clearance required for Australian search and rescue aircraft to enter the archipelago. Indonesian transport ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said Indonesia “will expedite the entry permit process of Australian airplanes” after the transport ministers of both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Jakarta. (Straits Times, AFP)
An earthquake off Indonesia has shaken Australia’s Top End, rattling windows and doors and waking residents from their beds. The magnitude 7.2 quake struck in the Banda Sea off Indonesia, but was felt more than 600km away in Darwin, at about 2.30am local time. Geoscience Australia senior seismologist, Mark Leonard, said the quake had been widely felt. “It has been felt over several hundred kilometres of Australia’s coastline,” he said. He said the quake was the largest to hit the Banda Arc in about seven years. Its epicentre was at about 180km depth, Dr Leonard said. It would not have been strong enough to cause damage on nearby islands or to trigger a tsunami. Darwin residents took to social media soon after the quake hit. (…) Residents further south in Katherine also reportedly felt tremors. Kevin McCue, an adjunct professor of earthquake engineering at Central Queensland University, told the ABC’s AM program the earthquake should be taken as a warning that a massive, damaging earthquake could strike at any time. (…) Dr Leonard said that while a magnitude eight quake could strike in areas to Australia’s north at “almost any time”, such a quake would be unlikely to cause significant damage in Darwin. He said today’s quake had caused one magnitude .3 aftershock, and there could be others throughout the day. Indonesian geophysics officials reportedly said they had not received any reports of damage. The quake was felt only weakly in the districts of North Halamahera and Morotai which were closest to the epicentre, Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said in an update. (The Australian)
Local authorities have stopped the supply of food and water to at least 190 displaced Shia in East Java province, putting the refugees at risk, Amnesty International said in a statement on 27 November. The group was forced from its village in Sampang district on Madura Island in August, when an anti-Shia mob of more than 500 people attacked, setting dozens of homes on fire. Reports say two people from Karang Gayam were killed and 10 others injured. Following the attack, the villagers, including 69 women and 61 children, were moved to temporary shelter at a sports complex. On18 November, however, local authorities cut off the water supply to the shelter, Amesty said. On 22 November, the supply of food was stopped. Amnesty has urged district head Noer Tjahja and Minister of Justice and Human Rights Amir Syamsuddin “to ensure the displaced Shia community has immediate access to essential services such as food and clean drinking water.” (EuroAsia Review)
Accor SA (AC), Europe’s biggest hotel operator, plans to locate half of its new Southeast Asia properties in Indonesia to take advantage of the country’s growing economy and expanding middle class. The Paris-based company plans to increase the number of its hotels in the region to more than 200, from 132, Robert Murray, chief operating officer for Accor’s northeast and Southeast Asian operations, said in a telephone interview. The group’s hotels in Indonesia, which include 16 Novotels and 11 Mercures, will increase to 94 from 55 now, he said. Hotel and airline operators are seeking to take advantage of a swelling population in the nation whose growth has outperformed every major economy except China in 2012. More than two-thirds of Accor’s business in Indonesia comes from domestic travelers, driving demand for its mid-tier brands in secondary or smaller cities in the country, Murray said. (…) Indonesia’s economic growth will average 6.4 percent from 2013 to 2017, equal to that recorded in the two decades before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report in November. (…) Growth in the country’s tourism market is also spurring airlines to expand. (Bloomberg)
Singapore’s parliamentary speaker quit his post 12 December after admitting he had an extramarital affair, the latest in a series of sex scandals involving the city-state’s public officials in 2012. Michael Palmer, a member of the ruling People’s Action Party, said he resigned from the party and Parliament over an “improper” relationship with an unnamed staff member at a national grass-roots organization with close ties to the PAP. (…) Mr. Palmer is the latest Singapore public figure to become embroiled in a sex scandal this in 2012. The opposition Workers’ Party fired a lawmaker in February for failure to respond to allegations of marital infidelity. Prosecutors in June charged the former chiefs of the emergency services agency and the police’s antidrug enforcement unit with accepting sexual favors from women seeking to influence government contracts. Both men have denied wrongdoing and legal proceedings are underway. (…) Singapore law gives the prime minister discretion on whether and when to call a by-election. A vote wouldn’t change the balance of power–the PAP, which has governed Singapore since 1959, currently holds 81 out of 87 seats in Parliament. (Wall Street Journal)
A survey conducted by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state’s central bank, showed on 12 December that economic growth rate here is predicted at 1.5 percent, down from a median 2.4 percent in September’s poll. The survey result, involving economists and analysts in private sectors, was in accordance with the official forecast of Ministry of Trade and Industry at around 1.5 percent in November. Considering the weaker than expected real economy performance in the third quarter, the analysts forecasted the growth rate throughout 2012 will be between 1.0 percent to 1.9 percent, much lower than the 2.0 percent to 2.9 percent projected in the previous survey. (NZ Week)
Due to its unique position in the Greater Mekong region and its shared borders with five countries, Laos is “extremely vulnerable” to the trafficking of people, illicit drugs and commodities by organized crime groups, a senior United Nations official said on 5 December. (…) Mr. Fedotov stressed that in spite of its economic reforms, economic growth and efforts to combat corruption, Laos is at risk of trafficking because of its shared borders with Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. During his visit, Mr. Fedotov met with senior officials, including Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, and reiterated UNODC’s support for Government efforts to reduce illicit opium poppy cultivation, to increase food security, to develop sustainable livelihoods in former opium-growing areas, and to fight organized crime, corruption, terrorism, and the trafficking of people and sexual exploitation of minors. He also visited a centre housing women and children who had been victimized by human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual exploitation, and commended police and prosecutors for focusing on victims and their human rights. (UN News Center)
There are concerns whether a $7 billion dollar loan from China’s state bank to Laos to build a train link between the two countries will cause severe economic problems for one of Asia’s poorest nations. The stalled project is to go ahead in 2013 after Chinese state-run EXIM bank agreed to fund it. Originally, the two countries were to fund the proposal until Beijing pulled out over reported concerns about profitability. (…) Reports say the two countries are currently ironing out the details of the rail link which will run from the Chinese border to the capital Vientiane. It’s described as the largest-ever infrastructure scheme in Laos with construction by a Chinese company expected to take five years and involve 50,000 Chinese workers. It will be a link in a vast network to connect the southwest Chinese city of Kunming with Singapore. Landlocked Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has no railway apart from a short stretch of track near the Thai border. Under current plans, the new Boten-Vientiane line will be 420 km (260 miles) long with 76 tunnels and about 150 bridges. Passenger trains will run at up to 160 kilometres an hour and stop at 31 stations. Mr Barney says overcoming geographic constraints is a key reason for the Laos Government support at it wants to move the country from land-locked to land-linked. It also could mean great gains for the Laos economy, despite the risks and concern about how the $7 billion will be paid. (ABC News, AFP)
The recent decision by the government of Laos to green light the long delayed construction of the massive Xayaburi Dam made headlines across the world. Most analysts and commentators agree the move is controversial, as the dam will likely have significant negative environmental effects within Laos as well as in Cambodia and Vietnam, which lie further down the Mekong. (…) Even though the Laotian economy has been growing steadily over recent years, the country remains one of the most underdeveloped in Asia. Its gross domestic product per capita (at purchasing power parity) in 2011 was $2,700 and according to World Bank data only 71 percent of the country’s population had access to electricity in 2010. The significant hydroelectric potential of Laos—around 26,000 megawatts, the majority of which will be available for export rather than domestic consumption—has already attracted considerable attention from countries both in Asia and further afield. Companies from China, France, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam are involved in the planning or construction of several hydroelectric dams. The construction projects are given ample funding from sources such as China’s policy banks, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. (…) China in particular has been cultivating close ties with Laos in recent years and Chinese companies, many of which are state owned, have invested close to $2.8 billion in the country over the last decade. Significantly, around 32 percent of this amount was invested in hydropower. (Atlantic Sentinel)
Vietnamese police have broken up anti-China protests in two cities and detained 20 people in the first such demonstrations since tensions between the communist neighbours flared anew over rival claims to the oil and gas-rich South China Sea. Hundreds of protesters, some waving banners and chanting “Down with China’s aggression!”, were intercepted by security forces as they tried to approach the Chinese embassy in the capital, Hanoi, on 9 December. Activists at the scene said that the 20 demonstrators were rounded up into a bus after the half-hour rally, the fifth such display of public discontent in Hanoi against Beijing’s perceived aggression in the sea. Security forces also broke up a similar anti-China protest in the southern economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City. (…) Vietnam and China have long sparred over who owns the South China Sea, which is also claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In early December, Vietnam alleged that Chinese shipping vessels sabotaged one of its seismic survey vessels in the South China Sea. The government warned Beijing not to do that again and presented a list of its violations in the disputed sea. China responded by denying the allegations and demanding that Vietnam stop its navy harassing Chinese boats. China recently issued new passports containing a map showing the sea as belonging to it, causing anger in Hanoi and other regional states. (Al Jazeera)
China has warned Vietnam to stop “unilateral oil and gas exploration” in disputed areas of the South China Sea, as the two countries’ long-standing maritime dispute continues to heat up. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei’s comments come after Vietnam’s state-owned oil and gas company accused Chinese vessels of cutting a cable on one of its ships in early December. Vietnam’s foreign ministry calls the incident a “serious violation” of its sovereignty. Hong says the Vietnamese accusation was “inconsistent with the facts,” arguing that the Chinese vessels were conducting “completely justified” fishing activities in a disputed area near China’s southern Hainan province. Police in Hainan have recently been given new powers to board and seize ships that enter what China considers being its waters there, raising already heightened regional tensions. (…) On 6 December, Hong said China and Vietnam are engaged in negotiations. He said there would be a “more friendly atmosphere” for those talks if Vietnam stopped its oil exploration and did not interfere with Chinese vessels. (Voice of America)
The trials of those allegedly responsible for the deaths of at least 1.7 million people under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime could collapse unless European governments come to the financial rescue of the country’s UN-backed tribunal, the chief international prosecutor warns. Andrew Cayley QC is having to tour Europe to drum up enough funding to ensure the court survives. He met with officials from the Foreign Office to try to guarantee the future of what he described as the most important case since the Nuremberg trials, and will address the European Union on 5 November. (…) Chum Mey, a lead witness in the court’s first trial and one of the few living survivors of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where as many as 17,000 people were tortured and killed, said that only the court can help to “wash away” his suffering. (…)The current case before the court focuses on the forced removal of Phnom Penh residents to the country, where large numbers were killed or died after being subjected to forced labour. But the war crimes tribunal only has enough funds to last until the end of February. It relies on voluntary donations which have been hit by the euro crisis, the recession and the Japanese tsunami. (…) The court – known officially as the extraordinary chamber in the courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – has a budget for 2013 of $43.9m (£27.2m). Cayley described the difficulties of retaining good staff under such financial uncertainty, “especially in Cambodia where it is quite a challenging environment to work in”. (The Guardian)
Eight people have died in a fire at a night market in the Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap. Police say four children were among the dead. They had been sleeping with their families on the upper floor of a building in the market and were unable to find a way out of the flames. More than 100 stalls were destroyed in the blaze, which police said was caused by an electrical fault. The market was not trading at the time of the fire. Siem Reap is close to the country’s main tourist site, the ancient temple complex of Angkor. The night market sells souvenirs and is popular with tourists. (BBC)
Cambodia’s prime minister urged the Southeast Asian nation’s people on 11 December not to discriminate against their gay countrymen. Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke at a ceremony to hand land titles to villagers in southern Cambodia. Gay rights is not a major issue in Cambodia, and Hun Sen seemed to have been inspired by discussions of the subject on International Human Rights Day on 10 December, including on local television. Cambodian society, as in neighboring Thailand, is generally tolerant of homosexuality. He said he had heard requests from gay Cambodians that they be able to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as others. In 2007, Hun Sen announced that he was disinheriting his adopted daughter because he was disappointed that she had taken a lesbian partner. However, he appealed to society to show respect for gay people, saying “Most of them are good people and are not doing alcohol, drugs or racing vehicles.” (ABC News, Associated Press)
Rescue workers are searching for more than 300 Filipino fishermen who have gone missing after a devastating typhoon that tore across the Philippines, killing more than 600 people, authorities said. Typhoon Bopha, the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines in 2012, set off flash floods and landslides that engulfed people sheltering in their rickety houses in remote, unprepared regions on the southern island of Mindanao. The number of people still unaccounted for climbed sharply during the weekend as officials learned of the disappearance of boatloads of fishermen who set off before Typhoon Bopha slammed into the east coast of Mindanao on 11 December. (…) Rescue efforts are under way to try to find the missing fishermen, many of whom left from the port city of General Santos on the south coast of Mindanao, said Maj. Reynaldo Balido, military assistant for operations at the Philippine Office of Civil Defense. (…) Many people in those areas failed to anticipate Bopha, known locally as Pablo, the strongest storm to hit Mindanao in decades. The island experiences fewer tropical cyclones than the regions of the Philippines further north. (…) The scale of the challenge facing them is huge: nearly 1,500 people have been injured and more than 300,000 have been forced to seek shelter in evacuation centers or elsewhere. (CNN)
U.S. and Philippine officials are expected to agree on an increase in the number of U.S. military ships, aircraft and troops rotating through the Philippines, Filipino officials said, as tensions simmer with China over its maritime claims. Though he made no direct reference to the territorial disputes, new Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping urged his military to prepare for a struggle. He made the comments during his visit to a South China Sea fleet ship in southern Guangdong province, but did not name any potential aggressor. Senior U.S. and Philippine officials met on 12 December in Manila to discuss strengthening security and economic ties at a time of growing tension over China’s aggressive sovereignty claims over vast stretches of the disputed South China Sea. (…) The size of the increase in the U.S. military assets in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, was unclear. (…) U.S. and Philippine officials say there is no plan to revive permanent U.S. military bases in the Philippines – the last ones were closed in 1992 – and that the increased presence would help provide relief during disasters such as a typhoon in early December that killed more than 700 people. (Reuters)
AUSTRALIA can develop a naval maritime capacity that will “last for generations” if local industry is allowed to build the country’s next fleet of submarines, a union says. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Paul Bastian said the opportunity for the maritime industry to grow and innovate was immense and he called on both sides of politics to back Australia’s ability to build world-class submarines. “We can build world-class subs here and the benefits that flow to the local community, manufacturing industry, research and applied sciences and the overall economy are critical to our national interest. The union leader’s comments came as the federal government announced a submarine test site would be built on land in Adelaide. (…) The new facility will be needed regardless of whether the government opts for an Australian design, decides to purchase subs off-the-shelf from another country or chooses some combination of the two. Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the test facility would significantly reduce the risk of delays and cost blow-outs on the future subs project. Treasurer and Defence Industries Minister Jack Snelling said the announcement confirmed that SA was one step closer to securing the future submarine project. Federal Labor backbencher Ed Husic said both sides of politics recognised the need for a local defence industry. (The Australian)
For more than a decade it has featured on the world’s maps. Viewed from Google Earth, Sandy Island appears as a dark, tantalising sliver, set amid the shimmering vastness of the Pacific Ocean. But when marine scientists arrived at the island in the Coral Sea off Australia they were in for something of a shock: it didn’t exist. Where there was supposed to be a sandy outcrop complete with palm trees, a few coconuts and maybe a turtle there was merely blue undulating water. The Australian scientists, led by Maria Seaton, a geologist at Sydney University, had embarked on a voyage to study plate tectonics. They spotted that the enigmatic island lay along their route. (…) But there were several puzzling discrepancies: though the island appeared on the Google Earth map, there were no images of it. It had also featured for the past 12 years on the usually reliable world coastline database. But there was no sign of it on their sea chart. (…) In the case of Sandy Island, it was probably human error that had led to its creation. Charts were, after all, originally compiled by sailors using a watch and measuring longitude, with ancient sailors travelling by the stars. Far from being fixed, the world map is mutable too: with new islands and archipelagoes appearing following volcanic eruptions, and others disappearing in the same way. (The Guardian)

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