FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in ASEAN (4)

Wednesday
Apr112012

The South China Sea: China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, & the Philippines all stake claim over oil-rich waters (REPORT) 

(MAP: The South China Sea/NASA)(HN, April 11, 2012) -- A cold-war `esque conflict is brewing in the area known as the South China Sea, though recently US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said there is no such scale of a dispute brewing.  It might be described then as an inter-Asia issue with China claiming the entire South China Sea for itself, with Taiwan and four ASEAN members - the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam - also making overlapping claims to parts of the territory.

THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over a small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal which the Philippines calls the Panatag Shoal but what China call's Huangyan Island. This weekend, Philippine Navy officials said eight Chinese fishing vessels had been found there, 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales province and the country’s largest warship, the US Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar, was sent to investigate.

The fishermen claim they were seeking shelter from bad weather, and were prevented from entering the lagoon by a Philippine Naval gunboat. A boarding party found endangered marine species on the ships, and a standoff ensued after China sent two surveillance vessels to the area to prevent the arrest of its nationals, Vice Admiral Alexander P. Pama of the Philippine Navy told reporters at a briefing.

On Wednesday in Manila, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario met with the Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing over the matter and  both made a statement saying "We resolve to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue", though neither country is backing down from territorial claims to the Scarborough Shoal  region.

(PHOTO: A Chinese fishing boat boarded by Philippine Navy officers/DAF handout)The dispute is one of a myriad of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea pitting China against its Asian neighbors who, last year using patrol boats to disrupt hydrocarbon survey activities chasing away a ship working for Forum Energy off the Philippines and slicing cables of a vessel doing work for Vietnam. Some of the claims have drawn the United States to press China over sovereignty.

Both of the countries reject China's map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint development of oil and gas resources, and have pushed ahead with exploration work, leading to more confrontations as China expands the use of its marine surveillance vessels.

OIL? SHIPPING?

Also at play are the Spratly Islands, a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago is situated off the coasts of the Philippines and Malaysia, about one third of the way from there to Vietnam - amounting to less than four square kilometers of land area over more than 425,000 square kilometers of ocean.  Such small, remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries.

The islands stand as rich fishing grounds, and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas which a 2008 US Energy Information Agency report said could be as much as 213 billion barrels of oil.

About 45 of the islands are occupied by small numbers of military forces from Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei.

Tension has risen in the past two years over worries China is becoming more assertive in its claims to the area as needs for oil and gas rise in the population booming Communist nation in and as more goods are needed in the second largest nation on earth. 

Straddling the Spratly archipelago are also the main shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East and the control of these lanes has not been lost on those claiming sovereignty over these waters.

(MAP: South China Sea claims by country/USC China Center) The stakes have risen further since the US last year began refocusing its military attention on Asia, strengthening ties with the Philippines and Australia.  The US has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and has boosted military relations with Vietnam in recent years.

VIETNAM

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said a Chinese cruise ship, the `Scent of Princess Coconut', had completed a trial voyage to the Paracel Islands - Hoang Sa in Vietnamese - a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs that both Vietnam and China claim as theirs since ancient times.

The Scent of Princess Coconut docked at a port in the Chinese southern island of Hainan on Monday after the trip. The proposed opening of the Paracel Islands to tourism by China could add to the long-standing tension, which has drawn the United States into pressing China over the issue.

The Japanese-built ship carried out a three-day voyage to the northern shoals of the Paracels, though China said there was no firm timetable for a launch of such regular cruises. Initial Chinese plans call for ships to visit Woody Island, called Yongxing Island by China, though tourists would not be allowed to leave their boat.

Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Monday that the trip was "illegal and seriously violates Vietnam's sovereignty".

(PHOTO: Scent of Princess Coconut Cruise Ship/Yexiang Gongzhu)China and South Vietnam once administered different parts of the Paracels, but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing took control of the entire group of islands - although this remains disputed by Hanoi.

Last month, China detained 21 crew sailing on two Vietnamese fishing boats near the Paracels, sparking an angry rebuke from Hanoi.

INDIA, RUSSIA

Complicating matters as well are recent claims by both India and Russia which have both, in the past few months announced their own plans to go ahead with oil exploration in the South China Sea, in partnership with Vietnam.  China has vocally asked both nations to step aside saying, "China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea".

RESOLUTION?

Although not an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) nation member, Chinese President Hu Jintao travelled to Phnom Penh ahead of the Asia bodies meeting in Cambodia last week to press his case over the South China Sea with Prime Minister Hun Sen - asking that ASEAN work to resolve the dispute among its members.  ASEAN, for its part has stated that it believes the issue should be discussed and solved among those members making claims to the area directly.

--- HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar302012

Asia pollution problem, drugs, economy on ASEAN Summit agenda (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Haze over Bangkok at sunset/Flixya, Yumandible) (HN, March 31, 2012) - Thailand will raise haze that blanketed its northern region and its neighboring countries as an agenda concern for leaders to deal with at the 20th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next week, April 3-4, according to Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia, whose chairmanship was handed over from Indonesia last year, is for the first time hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings from today through Wednesday (March 30-April 4). The summit marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the regional bloc.

Some countries, including the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Indonesia, support Thailand's initiative and the ASEAN leaders may issue a joint statement for cooperation to solve the haze problem, an annual occurrence.

(MAP: ASEAN nations) ECONOMY MATTERS

In preparation for the high level leaders meeting, finance ministers from ASEAN nations wrapped up their 16th gathering with an agreement to intensify economic and financial cooperation for realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, said a joint statement released after the gathering.  

"The ASEAN finance ministers together with the troika of ASEAN central bank governors of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei reaffirmed our commitment to maintain growth and development momentum and financial stability of the region in the face of difficult global challenges," said the statement.

It added the ministers exchanged views with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund on policies to maintain stability in the current environment and called on them to continue to pursue innovative projects and assistance to better serve the needs of the ASEAN economies.

"We agreed to take all necessary actions to sustain growth and preserve the stability of financial markets," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said in a press briefing after the meeting.

(Video: Cambodia getting ready for ASEAN 2012/TeukTnotChou)

He said the ministers were also pleased that the ASEAN economies grew by 4.5 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy.   The ministers also agreed to continue intensifying efforts to build stronger integrated financial markets to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community.

Addressing the ASEAN economic situation at a meeting on Friday, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said within ASEAN, Indonesia should continue robust growth on strong domestic demand, while Brunei will return to its trend growth thanks to high petroleum prices.   Thailand and the Philippines, both of which suffered a severe drop in exports toward the end of last year due to supply chain disruptions, are expected to show vibrant growth.

Vietnam continues to battle inflation, whilst Myanmar is expected to accelerate reforms, and Singapore, and to some extent Malaysia, will experience some slowdown, as they will be affected more by external conditions.

"But, importantly, we expect growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--the so-called CLMV countries--to continue to outpace growth in middle-income ASEAN," he said. "All in all, despite a difficult external environment, we still expect ASEAN growth this year to remain robust at 5.2 percent."

ASIA DRUG FREE ZONE

Also on the Asian leaders agenda will be a declaration creating a drug-free zone among members in the next three years.  The 10 ASEAN leaders expect to endorse the declaration at their summit meeting next week. 

Arthayudh Srisamoot, director-general of Thailand's Foreign Ministry's ASEAN Affairs Department, said the government has pushed for the drug-free zone with member nations for some time, and was pleased to see the declaration finally come into being. The government regarded the zone as an important part of its campaign against drugs.

"ASEAN will try to give more cooperation and more coordination on drug policy as well as exchanging experiences among members," he said.

Cambodia will host the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting tomorrow and Saturday, a Foreign Ministerial Meeting on Sunday and Monday; the leaders' group meets Tuesday and Wednesday.  In June, Thailand will host a seminar on cross border management between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China (non ASEAN nations) to discuss rules and regulations for free flows of trade in the region.

The leaders are to praise Myanmar for making progress with political development after it invited ASEAN members and the media to observe its by-elections this weekend; hoping that open elections are the first step to more regional cooperation with this just emerging nation - including becoming a visa-free country for ASEAN citizens by 2015.

CHINA

Although not an ASEAN nation, China's presence is being heavily felt in Cambodia as President Hu Jintao arrived in the Phnom Penh capital Friday on a state visit to bolster ties between the already close nations, just days before the ASEAN meeting begins; and, having just left the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in New Delhi where leaders there called for the creation of a new global development bank  and where the attitude was described as `non-West, not anti-West'.

(MAP: The Philippine Sea is a marginal sea east & north of the Philippines/Wikipedia) Hu’s four-day trip is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current ASEAN chair, observers say. It is likely that the thorny issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to resurface among South East Asia leaders as well, without China being represented at the summit.

-- HUMNEWS (c)

 

Related:          Thailand: pollution puts Chiang Mai off the tourist trail

Related:          Will ASEAN Tackle South China Sea?

Related:          ASEAN security experts meet in Cambodia to strengthen small weapon control

Tuesday
Jan172012

New Chair of ASEAN, Cambodia can reset the balance of Asia power (Perspective) 

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

(PHOTO: Cambodia, as the new ASEAN chair, will seek to consolidate the community of 600 million ASEAN citizens & increase the grouping's bargaining power with the world's major powers/THE NATION)

Ten years have elapsed since Cambodia chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit for the first time, in 2002, three years after its admission. Now, Phnom Penh is more democratic and richer and has gained more experience in handling the ASEAN scheme of things. Indeed, the current host has the potential to reset the grouping's global standing and relations with all of its powerful dialogue partners. Undeniably, Cambodia would like to leave behind a tangible legacy under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen - the region's longest-reigning leader. It is not surprising that Cambodia has chosen a simple slogan of "One Community, One Destiny" - reflecting the nation's fundamental Buddhist values and new-found confidence. In short, at least for the time being, ASEAN's destiny is now in Cambodia's hand.

There are at least three areas in which Phnom Penh can take the lead.

First, as an emerging developing country, Cambodia can serve as a linchpin to narrow the development gap between the new and old ASEAN members. The country is in a good position to do so. During the past decade, Cambodia's economy has grown impressively at around 5 per cent per year. That helps to explain why it has now graduated from the list of the world's least-developing countries. The Cambodian leaders believe that more equitable development within ASEAN will strengthen its unity and prosperity. Truth be told, a development gap does not only exist between the old and new members but also among the former group. For instance, the per capita GDPs of Singapore and Brunei are many times higher than those of Indonesia or the Philippines.

Although Cambodia is the newest member of ASEAN - joining in 1999 - the country has enjoyed a special status within the group because of the nature of its political system and leadership - nobody can deny that it is the freest among the new ASEAN members. This unique position allows the once war-torn nation to play multiple roles in the regional and international arenas.

Just take a look at present-day Cambodia and its cosmopolitan capital city, with its heavy presence of foreign investors and thriving business community. Cambodia, the UN and other international organisations have been working closely together to build up this nation since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. Indeed, its international profile has been the envy of ASEAN members. For instance, it is the only ASEAN member that has signed all important human-rights instruments. Next year, it will bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time. At the end of December, Hun Sen delayed for another two years the adoption of a highly controversial law to regulate the operation of civil society organisations based in Cambodia. It was a wise move to mitigate any possible criticism in the future. The host is also contemplating holding a forum to allow interfacing between ASEAN leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations ahead of the summit in early April.

The second challenge is to ensure that ASEAN will not become a pawn in the major powers' competition. With pro-active multilateral diplomacy and a long tradition of strict neutrality since independence, Phnom Penh will not shy away from engaging the grouping's dialogue partners, especially the US and China, to harness their economic power as well as manage their relations with ASEAN. The outcome of the East Asia Summit in Bali last November showed that ASEAN needs to stay ahead of the curve and further consolidate its common positions, which are extremely limited. As the ongoing Thai-Cambodian conflict and disputes in the South China Sea will continue to dominate the ASEAN agenda one way or another, Cambodia's past diplomatic finesse and brinksmanship could come in handy in keeping ASEAN together.

Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong are considered highly seasoned diplomats, each with three decades of experience, who understand the regional pulse like the backs of their hands. The two want to see ASEAN play a mediating role in the six-party talks aimed at resolving problems relating to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme since all concerned countries are members of the ASEAN Regional Forum. In the past, ASEAN tried to play such role but was not successful. At the Bali summit, South and North Korean foreign ministers met and agreed on the resumption of six-party talks. With the new leadership in North Korea, the ASEAN chair wants to explore this prospect again. Phnom Penh has longstanding and good relations with Pyongyang. Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung built a residence for retired Cambodian King Sihanouk to live in during his exile. His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, has a contingent of security guards trained by North Korea.

As the ASEAN chair, Cambodia hopes to get all five members of the so-called "nuclear club" - the US, China, Russia, the UK and France - to sign the protocol of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone this year. ASEAN wants a commitment that the five would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the group's members. China was the first nuclear power to express interest in signing the protocol in 2005. But ASEAN would prefer all five to sign at the same time.

Another important mission is to encourage China and ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea as soon as possible. Senior ASEAN officials met and discussed the terms of reference last year among themselves, ignoring China's request to sit in on the meeting. Last week, senior officials from China and ASEAN held discussions in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, after months of delay, to exchange views on how to proceed with the proposed joint projects stated in the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. At the meeting, Beijing was more conciliatory, while the ASEAN claimants, especially the Philippines, played tough.

The third area of importance regards the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Cambodia would certainly like to promote multifaceted cooperation within this framework. That would also mean boosting its ties with the US. During the past three years, the countries have ramped up their relations, including the security dimension. Since there are many ongoing hydroelectric projects along the Mekong River, cooperation concerning water management and conservation as well as better governance will be highlighted. The degree to which the lower riparian countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) can cooperate with the US will impact on the upper riparian countries in the long haul. Last November, the US invited Burma to join the LMI as part of the US-Burma normalisation process.

In the final analysis, the current chair must do its utmost to convince the leaders of non-ASEAN countries that their participation in all ASEAN-led meetings or summits are important and beneficial to all. Uncertainties abound at this juncture on whether the invited leaders would be able to make their way to Phnom Penh. For instance, despite Washington's strong commitment to ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, it is not clear who will represent the US at the upcoming EAS summit later this year. Similar anxieties also persist in the cases of China and Russia, which will pick new leaders.

Can Cambodia build on the success of the Indonesian chair in raising the profile of ASEAN and consolidating ASEAN in the global community? It will not be long until we find out.

- Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group – publisher of the English-language daily, The Nation, in Thailand. He has been a journalist for over two decades reporting on issues related to human rights, democracy and regionalism. This piece ran in the Nation on 1/16/12.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Weakness in Developed Economies Poses Risks for Emerging Asian Tigers - ADB (News Brief)

(HN, December 7, 2010) The emerging "tiger economies" of Asia will see moderate growth at best in the coming year due to continuing slow demand in the USA and Europe.Many Asian economies, such as Laos, are benefitting from increased tourism receipts. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

According to the Asian Development Bank's just-released Asian Economic Monitor, the Asian economies saw a robust recovery in the past year due to higher domestic demand, stimulus interventions and low financial vulnerability.

While many of the economies received high marks for good economic house-keeping - many are export-dependent and cannot escape the economic contagion from the USA and Europe.

"The external economic environment for emerging East Asia has weakened as the US economy continues to struggle and doubts remain over the sustainability of the eurozone recovery," said the ADB. "Many emerging East Asian economies now face the challenge of managing strong growth and capital flows amid a weaker external environment."

Small economies, which just a few months ago appeared on the brink of collapse, are clawing their way back. Laos, for instance, benefitted from construction related to the Southeast Asian games and higher mineral production.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has been battered by severe weather events and political unrest, saw economic growth improve to 4.4% in 2009 from 3.6% the previous year boosted by large inflows of foreign direct investment, the ADB said.

However, GDP in both Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia contracted.

One of the extraordinary developments has been the surge in stock market growth in the emerging economies of East Asia.

The ADB reports increases in bourses such as: Indonesia (44.3%), Thailand (38.3%), Philippines (35.7%) and Malaysia (17.5%) posting record highs.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB