Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Obama beefs up Philippines with military pact gives US access to air, sea bases

Obama's Manila visit beefs up Philippines 

 US President Barack Obama is now in Manila, the last stop of his Asia tour, after his visit to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. This is Obama's first visit to the Philippines in more than six years since he took office in January 2009. He hopes to reiterate and reinforce the US "pivot to Asia" strategy that has been struggling to gain footing.

Against the background of a drastically changing geopolitical landscape in the Asia-Pacific region with growing Chinese influence, the US is keen to rally its Asian allies to maintain and promote its status as an Asia-Pacific country.

The Philippines is among the most aggressive claimants of the South China Sea, and Washington keeps reassuring this state, which is a stronghold on the "first island chain" around China.

Apart from counterbalancing an increasingly assertive China by intensifying strategic cooperation with and pledging economic assistance to China's surrounding countries, Washington also attempts to remold its image in the mind of its Asian allies, in particular when its European allies are losing confidence in the world's greatest power because of the Ukraine crisis.

Now that London is behaving half-heartedly, Paris and Berlin have shown reluctance to impose harsher sanctions against Moscow over its integration of Crimea, Obama intends to exhibit his firm commitment to reassuring all allied nations by aiding the Philippines, a treaty ally that is both economically and militarily backward.

Defense and security issues are dominating Obama's journey in Manila and economic concerns are another area on his agenda.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg on Monday morning signed a 10-year deal, allowing a bigger US military presence in the Philippines and better access of US troops to the country's military bases, ports and airfields.

The Philippines was once home to two of the largest US naval and air force bases outside the continental US territory till the early 1990s. Now in light of China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, the White House is sparing no effort to beef up its military presence in one of the critical links around Beijing.

More than 100 left-wing activists demonstrated at the US embassy in Manila to oppose Obama's visit and the military accord on April 23, despite the expectations from the Philippine military, business sector and local media for more US military equipment including advanced ships and aircraft .But it should be noted that the small-scale protest is a routine affair and therefore Aquino's government is unlikely to pay special heed to it.

Also on the agenda for Obama's Manila visit is economic cooperation and financial assistance.

The New York Times commented that given the wide spectrum of security difficulties the US is facing in Asia, promoting trading collaboration might be the best way for Obama to build credibility in his "rebalancing toward Asia" policy.

There is no denying that economic interaction with its Asian partners will help increase the US capital export.

Nevertheless, for the Philippines enmeshed in long-term economic debilitation, the number of cooperation programs the White House will offer may be quite limited.

Manila is in no way comparable to Tokyo or Seoul, the most vital economic pillars among the US' Asian allies, a pragmatic Washington will not invest too much.

Obama's pledges of economic packages, if there are any, will be more a show than substantial assistance.

Consequently, the Philippines will get little practical interests except some psychological comfort from its US ally, since Obama also refrains from drawing another red line on possible military action against Beijing.

Washington has deliberately been scheming to attract Manila to its geopolitical game in the Southeast Asia in a bid to continue the territorial rows over the South China Sea and counterbalance China's rise.

Compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Xiaonan, based on an interview with Ji Qiufeng, professor of international relations at the School of History, Nanjing University.
 

Philippine pact gives US access to air, sea bases


Philippine pact gives US access to air, sea bases

US President Barack Obama chats with Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino as he signs the guest book at the Malacanang Palace in Manila on Monday.[Photo / Agencies]


Obama backs Manila's decision to seek int'l arbitration of territorial dispute

Washington secured a key part of its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region with a decadelong defense pact with Manila on Monday, as observers said the militarization of the region is playing with fire and makes a diplomatic settlement much harder.

The US-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed on Monday at the Defense Ministry in Manila shortly before Obama's arrival on the last stop of his four-country Asian tour.

The pact gives US forces temporary access to selected bases and allows them to base fighter jets and ships in the Philippines, as "part of a rebalancing of US resources towards fast-growing Asia and the Pacific", Reuters said.

The US goal in Asia, Obama said on Monday, was not to contain or counter a rising China. However he "backed Manila's efforts" to submit territorial problems with China to adjudication by international arbitration, AFP said.

The rhetoric has been charged recently between Beijing and Manila as the Philippines tried to boost its claims over China's Huangyan Island and Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea and sought greater involvement from Washington.

"Manila's efforts have dovetailed with Washington's intention to shift to the economically booming Asian region, partly as a counterweight to China's growing clout," Associated Press said.

Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst at Manila's Center for Intelligence and National Security, told Reuters that relations between the Philippines and China will deteriorate further as China "is averse to any Philippine government initiative to involve the US in its security agenda".

"We are strengthening our relationship with the US at the expense of our relationship with China," he said.

Jia Duqiang, a Southeast Asian studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the pact serves as a component of "the Obama administration's ongoing plans to militarize issues that are rumbling in the Asia-Pacific region", and this is "actually playing with fire".

"We have seen Obama press the need for defense cooperation with US allies in almost every stop of his Asian trip, which illustrates Washington's unchanged double approach in its dealings with China — dialogue plus coercion," Jia said.

Responding to the pact on Monday, Beijing called for "relevant countries" to build more bridges to facilitate trust, regional peace, stability and prosperity.

"The US has said on different occasions that Washington has no intention of coercive moves against China, and it is necessary to examine the follow-up remarks and actions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.

The defense deal was signed and announced "when tensions between China and its neighbors have been rising" and it is "the biggest policy achievement" of Obama's trip to Asia, the Washington Post commented.

The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946, and their defense treaty, signed in 1951, is the oldest US treaty alliance in Asia. During the Cold War the US had a large military presence in the Philippines at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station.

But a greater US presence in the Philippines is a heated topic. Fiery debates in the Philippine Senate ultimately led to closing Subic Bay Naval Station, the last permanent US base in the country, in 1992.

Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, warned that rising tension concerning the South China Sea has radicalized public sentiment in some countries, which makes rational discussion over the issue at the diplomatic table "much harder".

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said a number of China-related remarks made by prominent US figures, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who visited China earlier this month, have sent a clear signal that "Washington is backing the Philippines".

"These remarks run counter to the official US position that it does not take a position over the South China Sea issue," Wu said.

Obama said at a news conference on Monday, "We welcome China's peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China."

But Jia from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Philippines, more so than Japan or Vietnam, has fully endorsed the US strategy of containing China.

"Beijing should never have high expectations of Washington taking a fair approach over the South China Sea issue," Jia said. "The tension in the South China Sea will probably worsen because Washington is determined more than ever to contain China in this regard," Jia said.

- By Zhang Yunbi China Daily

Containment unlikely in Asian geopolitics 

Is it for containing China? This is a question that will be haunting the whole of East Asia during US President Obama's ongoing trip to this area. Tokyo and Manila hope it is, but the facts will prove it is only their wishful thinking.

Obama's four-country visit should have been done last October. But it was delayed because of the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdown. When voices about the US declining are rising dramatically, the top priority of Obama's trip is to reassure its Asian allies to keep their faith in Washington.

Washington keeps declaring that it doesn't pick sides in terms of the Sino-Japanese and Sino-Philippine territorial disputes. But it explicitly shows favor for Tokyo and Manila when frictions in these areas take place.

Washington tries to kill two birds with one stone by supporting its allies while avoiding irritating China, a delicate way to maintain the balance between business profits and political influence.

Obama putting off the October trip has already sent a signal that Asian allies must make way for US domestic affairs.

While in order to revive its declining economy, the US depends much more on China than these allies. Washington cannot bear a strategic confrontation of containment and counter-containment with China.

China's Asia policy keeps holding the strategic initiative with restraint. Washington and its allies' arrangements to contain China will probably end up in vain. They have no chips to bargain with China. In fact, both the US and its allies are calculating how to benefit from China's growth.

China's rise has become the biggest variable in the Asia-Pacific strategic framework. China shows to the world that it is committed to utilizing its power in a peaceful and restrained manner, and the US has also basically recognized a stronger China.

These two new developments are shaping a new Asia-Pacific order during China's rise. There will be a new balance in this area, and no countries are able to break it.

Obama's rebalance toward Asia is a rearrangement of the US presence in this area to maximize its interests. But the US is not powerful or ambitious enough to contain China in this area, or even strangle China before it rises to be a global power.

It is just an illusion for some Asian countries to contain China. In fact, there are many controversies concerning China's rise within the US-led alliance.

Japan and the Philippines want a tough stand against China, but are also worried that Asia might become the victim of a Cold War-like confrontation between the US and China.

Containing China is a plausible option for several Asian countries, but it will be proven impossible in the real Asian geopolitical game.

Obama should know that his actions and remarks during this trip will keep making headlines, but he had better not stir up a situation that is even beyond his own control.

Global Times  2014-4-23 23:53:17

Related:  The US and Japan are playing with fire in Asia

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

MaGIC, Malaysian Global Innovation and Creative Centre sign MoUs with Stanford University and UP Global


MaGIC sign MoUs with Stanford U. and UP Global CYBERJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tonight witnessed the signing of memorandum of understandings between the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) and Stanford University and UP Global to foster and develop a vibrant entrepreneur eco-system in Malaysia.

Strongly backing the MaGIC concept, Najib said he believed in young people for their passion, energy and creativity.

"Hence opportunities and the ecosystem have got to be created for them to succeed.

"This is the just the beginning of a success story. We want to churn out young entrepreneurs who can command the world stage in the future," he said in his speech.

MaGIC, the one-stop centre which will provide all necessary facilities for entrepreneurs, aimed to transform Malaysia into a dynamic entrepreneurial nation by enabling domestic and international entrepreneurs to successfully start and grow their businesses.

Two of Stanford University's world-class schools, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Stanford School of Engineering, will collaborate with MaGIC.

Meanwhile, the partnership with UP Global is designed not only to increase the level of entrepreneurial activity and new company creation in Malaysia but also to develop Malaysia as a global startup hub and a center of activity for South East Asia.

Other collaborations that would complement MaGIC's efforts would be between the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation and the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences.

The collaboration would serve as a launching pad for the Bio-Entrepreneurship Programme which aimed to create an environment to enhance the commercialisation of bio-based products and services by local biotechnology researchers and entrepreneurs.

In addition, Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP) also marked the kick-off of its third outsourced partner programme (OSPR) with its first OSP3 partner, Elixir Capital Management, a Silicon Valley-based fund manager to launch the ECM Strait Fund.

The Strait Fund would target growth equity investment opportunities in order to help scale up small to medium enterprises in the Asean region.

MAVCAP also signed a limited partnership agreement with a commitment of US$5 million from MAVCAP with 500 Durian LP, a local fund which aimed to invest in startups in the Southeast Asian region.

Durian LP would be managed by a California-based seed accelerator, 500 Startups.

These collaborations would further build entrepreneurship development programmes and accelerate the growth of an entrepreneurial nation while complementing MaGIC's initiatives

After the signing ceremony, Najib toured the MaGIC centre, located in Cyberjaya, a city poised to become the global technology hub.

US President Barack Obama is expected to launch MaGIC on Sunday in conjunction with his three-day visit to Malaysia beginning tomorrow.

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Obama to lend MaGIC touch 

Big role to play: The MaGIC in Cyberjaya will get some sound advice from Obama.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Global Innovation and Creative Centre (MaGIC) in Cyberjaya, which is tasked with transforming Malaysia into a dynamic entrepreneurial nation, will get some sound advice – from President Barack Obama.

The United States leader will stop by in Cyberjaya on Sunday to be briefed and also provide a pep talk.

Special Envoy to the US Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis said it was a top priority to bring the president to the centre “to provide the inspiration.”

“The Government’s aim is to make Malaysia a high-income nation and to create a knowledge-based economy. MaGIC has a big role to play.

“The United State is all about innovation and there can be no better opportunity than having the president visit the centre,’’ he said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who has allocated RM50mil to MaGIC, is scheduled to accompany Obama to the centre after their talks in Putrajaya.

The president will witness the signing of an MoU between MaGIC and the Stanford Centre for Professional Development (SCPD) from The Leland Stanford Junior University, and with UP Global, a non-profit organisation set up to provide support for entrepreneurs.

The collaboration with SCPD will enable local entrepreneurs to enrol in courses and programmes while they continued with their businesses.

With a long history of creating talent for renowned multinational such as General Electric and Hewlett-Packard, SCPD was founded by Frederick Terman, better known as the “Father of Silicon Valley” who was the university’s Dean of the School of Engineering.

It is learnt that under the arrangement, SCPD faculty members would be brought to the centre to help in the transfer of knowledge with local entrepreneurs sent there to learn and meet with venture capitalists.

The second MoU with UP Global is a result of the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) held in Kuala Lumpur last year with the theme “Empowering and Connecting Entrepreneurs” organised by the Finance Ministry.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the GES event here, said the US would enter into a partnership to train 500,000 entrepreneurs from Malaysia and around the world over the next few years in 1,000 cities, including Kuala Lumpur.

Contributed by Paul Gabriel and Lim Wing Hooi

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Obama's loss of balance, his Diaoyu Islands vow 'may backfire'


US president barack obama may have congratulated himself in private for apparently pulling off a difficult balancing act, but if so, he is being a little too hasty.

He offered his anxious Japanese host the reassurance Tokyo was so desperately begging for: The confirmation that the territory it stole is covered by the US-Japan security treaty.

Then, so as not to infuriate the attentive owner next door, he stated that this "is not a new position", nor one of his making, as the US-Japan treaty preceded his birth, and he reconfirmed that Washington takes no sides in the sovereignty dispute over the islands.

However, swaying to and fro on the tightrope he was walking, Obama's balancing act was lopsided at best, because it was conspicuously biased in favor of the troublemaking Japanese prime minister.

By deliberately ignoring the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, and the terms of surrender Japan agreed to at the end of World War II, Obama has betrayed the postwar international order and endorsed Japan's de facto control over the Diaoyu Islands, which should have been returned to China under the terms of these legally binding agreements.

Extending the US-Japan security treaty to those islands is both morally and legally wrong.

Obama should not expect Chinese connivance in his turning a blind eye to Japan's thievery and its claims of innocence.

It was the Japanese government that unilaterally changed the status quo. The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands had cooled down until Japan poured kerosene on it and set a match to it by "nationalizing" the main islands.

Obama's praise of "Japan's long-standing commitment to international peace and security" is grating on the ear - and not just to China - because he once again chose to ignore the elephant in the room, saying nothing about Japan's denial of its militarist past and rightist present. By tacitly endorsing Japan's actions, he is giving Shinzo Abe carte blanche to continue destabilizing the region.

That Obama has cast aside the strategic ambiguity others have tried hard to preserve may be good in one sense - it helps to relieve some of the wishful thinking that Washington doesn't condone the antics of Japan's right-wingers.

But since he has voluntarily bound his country to Abe's war chariot, instead of breathing a sigh of relief that he has completed his balancing act, he might want to start considering how he is going to untie the knots and tame the adventurous Japan under Abe, or prepare to be dragged into an unwanted conflict.


Diaoyu Islands vow 'may backfire'

The PLA is fully capable of safeguarding China's Diaoyu Islands, says spokesman

US President Barack Obama's promise of military cover for Japan's claim on the Diaoyu Islands faces the potential of backfiring, observers said.

Obama stated in a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday that the US-Japan mutual security treaty covers China's Diaoyu Islands.

"We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally, and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan."

The forthright remarks from Obama are widely interpreted as a display of Washington's strong commitment to its Asian allies designed to dispel suspicion of weakening US clout in the region.

Obama is on a four-nation tour that was postponed seven months ago because of the US government shutdown. He faced flak at the time for postponing the trip, both in the US and overseas, amid criticism that the US was preoccupied with domestic affairs at the expense of its international commitments.

Responding to Obama's comments, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said that the Chinese army will continue military patrols in "relevant waters" in the East China Sea.

The Chinese military is "fully capable of safeguarding the Diaoyu Islands, and it is unnecessary for other nations to go to extreme lengths to provide a so-called security guarantee," Yang said, adding that China will firmly safeguard territorial sovereignty in the face of provocation from Japan.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Obama's remarks may lead to unforeseen problems because the military commitment — directly naming specific islands — could "sabotage US strategic initiatives in the region" and undermine its strategic flexibility.

"As a result, Tokyo is keeping Washington in check in this regard, and, honestly, the ruling Japanese cabinet is very unpredictable," Ruan said.

Ruan noted that Obama's remarks about the islands "also harm the credibility of the US", because instead of taking an honest broker's viewpoint the US is firmly backing one side and this has the potential to cause problems.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beside him, Obama told reporters that he had not drawn any new "red line" over the islands, and he emphasized the need to resolve maritime disputes peacefully.

"The treaty between the US and Japan preceded my birth, so, obviously, this isn't a red line that I'm drawing," Obama said. Li Haidong, a researcher of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Obama's visit to Japan aimed to boost Japan's status as a "pillar" of Asia-Pacific security and as a key player in containing China.

But, Li said, the two allies have different agendas.

"The US seeks stability in the big picture of its relationship with China, yet Japan is not afraid of fanning the flames of a conflict with China," Li said.

The US-Japan defense treaty requires Washington to come to Japan's defense if it is attacked.

Experts said Washington believes that backing Tokyo will have long-term benefits.

Lyu Yaodong, an expert on Japanese diplomacy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Obama is "determined to see tangible progress in his rebalancing strategy" during his Asian trip, and "to achieve this goal, satisfying demands from Japan regarding the islands is necessary".

Abe told reporters on Thursday that "the Japan-US alliance is more robust than ever before."

"The US pivot cannot succeed without strong support from important allies such as Japan," Lyu said.

Ruan noted a shift in the US-Japan military relationship, and one example is that the US is "outsourcing" more defense duties to Japan.

"Washington believes that its promise on the islands is a feasible way to strengthen its influence over Japan, and accordingly Washington wants Japan's self-defense forces to play a greater role, which is very dangerous," Ruan said.

Yang, the Defense Ministry spokesman, also confirmed what Chinese Navy Commander Wu Shengli said on Wednesday about a worst-case scenario.

Wu told reporters on the sidelines of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium that the possibility of a military conflict remains between China and Japan, and the priority is to "prevent the outbreak of a conflict".

Yang also said the PLA will continue military patrols in waters near a tropical Japanese island close to Taiwan, days after Tokyo announced it would break ground on a new radar base in the area.

The radar station on Yonaguni Island, just 150 km from the Diaoyu Islands, marks Japan's first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years.

"We are paying close attention to Japan's military trends," he said.

"China's military will continue to carry out battle readiness patrols, military drills and other activities in the area," Yang said.

- By Zhang Yunbi, China Daily

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Asia future at risk if Obama sends wrong signals to Japan




US President Barack Obama steps from the Air Force One as he arrives in Tokyo, Japan on April 23, 2014. Obama began a four-country trip through the Asia-Pacific region on Wednesday. (Left)

Future hangs in the balance

The US president should persuade Japan's right-wingers of the error of their ways during his trip to the region to ensure stability.

After undergoing nearly seven decades of development since the end of World War II, Asia has already taken on a new look, witnessing not only the rise of a group of industrialized countries and regions during the latter part of the 20th century, but also the emergence of a number of economies that have grown to be the engine of global economic growth in the new century.

However, Asia's development is still unbalanced.

First, Asia's political cooperation is out of step with its economic dynamism. Political trust, particularly in East Asia, is still severely lacking. The actions and comments of Japanese right-wingers, who go so far as to complain of injustice when it comes to the Tokyo Trials and try to strengthen the country's control of territory it annexed illegally during its imperialist past, have undoubtedly sown the seeds of deep mistrust among East Asian countries.

Second, in the context of the strained relations between some countries in the region, some Western media have been hyping speculation that the Asian economy might slow further. It is true economies in East Asia have recently experienced moderate or medium-speed growth after years of high-speed expansion. But this tendency is in line with the law of development, and also is connected to the fatigued global economy. Even so, the development speed of Asia's emerging economies still far exceeds that of Western developed countries, and their momentum is increasingly reshaping the global landscape.

Because of the existence of various rifts and the lack of mutual trust, the region is in desperate need of candid dialogue. The trust deficit in Asia has affected the progress of regional economic cooperation, but at the same time it also suggests that there is great potential for further economic, investment and trade cooperation in the region, including the construction of regional free trade areas.

Asia needs to accumulate constructive positive energy, give full play to the spirit of countries being in the same boat, and effectively alleviate regional tensions to change the negative factors into positive elements. Moreover, Asia should oppose any shortsighted actions to set up small cliques.

Currently in Asia, there are serious differences between those countries adhering to unity and cooperation to benefit all and those trying to form cliques and factions to benefit themselves. It is Japan that is leading such divisiveness, as it has tried to piece together an Asian version of NATO, and antagonized its neighbors by clinging obstinately to its denial of historical facts and even embarked along the road of glorifying aggression.

Any responsible power must go all out to contribute to regional peace and stability based on human morality and justice. As a great power with tremendous economic and military presence in the region, how the United States sets out its Asia-Pacific position will make all the difference to Asia's stability and development. Whether Washington will offer constructive cooperation to Asian countries' efforts to enhance mutual trust and erase the doubts of its intentions has a direct bearing on regional peace, as well as the US' own strategic interests.

Thus the eyes of the world are focused on US President Barack Obama's four-nation trip to Asia that began in Japan on Wednesday.

If the US can aim high and think big and cooperate sincerely with countries in the region to establish a common security and trust mechanism that is suitable to the characteristics of the Asia-Pacific region, it will surely receive a share of Asia's peace dividend and be genuinely welcomed among Asian countries.

However, if the US is unwilling or unable to contribute to Asia-Pacific stability, and instead takes sides in the region's various historical and sovereignty disputes, it will be hard for the country to become the kind of responsible power that can benefit Asia. If the US only looks at short-term interests and sits watching Japan turning its military ambition into reality step by step, not only will the troublemaker's interests be ultimately damaged, but also those of the US.

History has repeatedly shown us that a country that employs a policy of appeasement will eventually shoot itself in the foot.

The author is a professor and associate dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.

Contributed by Shen Dingli  China Daily

Japan reassured over Diaoyu

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) waves next to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo, April 23,2014  (left)

US President Barack Obama started his four-nation Asia tour on Wednesday by overtly supporting Japan over its disputed territory with China, which experts say will exacerbate the already tense situation in East Asia.

In a written interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun published on Wednesday, Obama stated that the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea fall under Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, which obliges the US to protect Japan if there are conflicts over Japan-administered territories. He also supported moves by Japan to ease self-defense limits in his remarks.

"We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," Obama said, adding that the US engagement with China "does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally."

While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking to ease the restrictions on its collective self-defense rights prohibited by Japan's Pacifist Constitution, Obama welcomed Japan playing a greater role in international security.

"I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan's defense forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defense," Obama said, requesting Japan's Self-Defense Forces "do more within the framework of our alliance."

This is the first time that an incumbent US president has made such open remarks in support of Japan.

"Abe, more than any of his predecessors, has made headway on what Washington has long wanted from Japan, to become a more assertive partner in regional security," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan Campus, told the Global Times.

Obama, who is making the first full state visit to Japan by a US President since 1996, is expected to assuage worries by Tokyo and other allies regarding his commitment to their defense, without hurting vital US ties with Asia's biggest economy - China.

Such assurances are likely to be high on the agenda when Obama meets Abe at a symbolic summit on Thursday.

"If Obama intends to improve relations with China, he is likely to antagonize the ally. To the extent that he improves relations with the allies, he'll antagonize Beijing," Kingston said, adding that Obama is on a "mission impossible."

"Obama wants a better relationship with Beijing, but he thinks that Beijing also needs to think about modifying its behavior," Kingston noted.

Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at the Renmin University of China, said the remarks are intended to warn China while reassuring Japan and other US allies of its security guarantee, which has been under suspicion due to the way the US has dealt with the Ukraine issue.

"Japan will be very satisfied this time. But this will encourage Tokyo to step up its confrontation with Beijing," Shi told the Global Times, adding that it will further strain tensions in Asia and even damage Sino-US relations.

Japan has ramped up its military surveillance capabilities on its westernmost island of Yonaguni, which is close to the Diaoyu Islands, by starting construction of a radar unit on Saturday.

Reiterating that the Diaoyu Islands are an inherent part of China's territory, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said China is strongly opposed that the islands being part of the security treaty, which was reached during the Cold War and should not damage China's sovereignty and rightful interests.

Obama and Abe are also keen to show progress on a two-way trade pact. This is seen as critical to a broader regional deal that would be one of the world's biggest trade agreements and is central to Obama's "pivot" towards Asia.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who to blame for the frequent accidents: the Transport Ministry, bus companies or drivers...?

Driving them to crazy!

PETALING JAYA: Express bus operators say they are being held to ransom by their own drivers, who are allegedly exploiting a driver shortage in the industry to escape punishment for dangerous driving.

An operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Star that one of his drivers sabotaged his bus after being reprimanded for speeding two weeks ago.

“We called him up and asked why he was driving very fast. He replied: ‘Hey, the steering is in my hands, I do what I like. You think I’m afraid (of you)?’

“Then he took the bus somewhere and poured sand into the engine,” said the operator.

He said although a police report was lodged, no action was taken against the driver, who quit for another company.

Relating another case, the operator said a driver who was ticked off for speeding, threatened to walk away and leave his passengers by the roadside.

The operator experienced a high turnover of bus speed monitors, saying they would quit when verbally abused by the drivers.

“We employ women (for this) because they’re more soft-spoken. But many resign after a month or two because the drivers used vulgar words when scolding them,” he said.

Another operator, who also declined to be named, said he also came across drivers who dictated terms to their employers.

“They don’t say it to my face but they have told my other drivers they don’t care if I take action against them,” he said, adding not all drivers were bad but the ones giving the industry a bad name could not be booted out because operators needed any driver they could get their hands on.

Suggestions by the industry to fill this shortage with foreign drivers, even temporarily, were rejected by the Government, he said.

He said increasing wages to woo better drivers was also difficult, saying bus fares had not gone up since 2009 despite a rise in operational costs.

Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association (PMBOA) president Datuk Ashfar Ali declined to comment on the issue of errant bus drivers.

He confirmed, however, the industry was experiencing a driver shortage, adding: “The Government has to ensure a constant supply of drivers into the market.

“All these safety measures cost money. We urge passengers to be prepared to pay higher fares.”

Ashfar said the authorities had to urgently implement the 51 recommendations of an independent advisory panel to prevent fatal bus accidents.

Contributed by Patrick Lee The Star/Asia News Netwrk

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Malaysian Transport authorities taken to task

PETALING JAYA: The authorities in charge of road transport were taken to task for failing to introduce any meaningful improvements to safety, in particular among express buses.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, expressed his disappointment with the authorities over their failure to implement the 51 recommendations of an indepen­dent advisory panel to prevent fatal accidents involving buses.

“If only some if not all of the re­­commendations had been implemented, we would not have to continue reading stories of fatal bus accidents in the papers,” he said when contacted by The Star yesterday.

Following the recent spate of deadly bus accidents in the past few years, Lee was made chair of the advisory panel set up to review and recommend improvements to this critical service.

He said it was sad if the efforts of the panel consisting of experts in various fields such as road and bus design, went to waste.

“Enough has been said about the issue with sufficient feedback and suggestions put forward,” he said.

Lee called on the authorities such as the Road Safety Department (JKJR), Puspakom, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and bus operators to begin implemen­ting the recommendations before the next accident occurs.

Federation of Malaysia Consumers Association (Fomca) secretary-ge­neral Datuk Paul Selvaraj said SPAD should review its function following its seeming inaction.

“SPAD has to be held accountable simply because they are the regulators of public transport in the country.>

“They should take important steps now even if it is going to be unpopular with bus operators because the fate of the consumers should be put first above all,” he said.

On Sunday, a double-decker ex­­press bus plunged down a slope along the Kuantan-Segamat trunk road causing the death of a passenger.

The bus was carrying about 40 people when it crashed near the Sungai Jernih plantation at around 4.40pm.

This was the third incident invol­ving an express bus in Pahang over the past eight days.>

An Etika Express bus crashed into a road divider on the East Coast Expressway and flipped over on Saturday, leaving most of its 28 passengers injured.

On April 12, a Transnasional double-decker bus hit an electric pole and overturned in Bentong, killing three passengers.

However, SPAD has warned that quick suspension of bus operators for infractions such as fatal bus ac­cidents may lead to passengers stranded at bus terminals.

“If I suspend operators, the people will not have any transportation. I think we’ll have to find a way, but we will see whether the suspension will work or not,” said SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar.

Syed Hamid added that bus licen­ces and, in turn, their drivers come under the Public Service Vehicle ca­tegory, which were not managed by SPAD, but by the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

He added that in principle, autho­rities such as JPJ and the police could conduct checks at all of the country’s bus terminals, though this would be a difficult thing to do in practice.

He also advised bus drivers who felt like they were being forced to work to report these instances to the Human Resources Ministry.

Sources: The Star/Asia News Network

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Punish "currency manipulators", among TPPA issues in Obama's trips to Asia?

The United States President visit to Malaysia is an opportunity to review TPPA issues, including a Congress proposal to punish countries that are 'currency manipulators.

UNITED States President Barack Obama will be in Malaysia soon. Among the issues on his agenda will be the current status of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

It is an opportunity to clarify with the President himself what the chances are that the TPPA will be approved by Congress, once a deal is reached.

Of concern is that the Congress will only pass the TPPA if it has a clause disciplining countries that are “currency manipulators”.

This concern is especially serious since a recent influential report cited Malaysia as one of the two TPPA countries that qualified as “currency manipulators.”

As Obama will be coming from Tokyo, he will presumably share the latest news on the US-Japan negotiations, which have been a major blockage to the TPPA’s progress.

Japan does not want to fully open up five “sacred” farm products (rice, wheat, sugar, beef and pork and dairy products) under the TPPA, but could reach a private deal allowing the US to sell more to Japan by enabling a certain volume of American products to enter at zero or lower tariffs.

Whether such a bilateral deal (reported last week in a Japanese newspaper) will be at the expense of other TPPA members should of course be analysed and be part of the negotiations.

If the US and Japan reach an agreement, the TPPA talks are expected to be “unblocked” and countries will be under pressure to quickly reach an overall deal on all issues.

Obama can then be expected to nudge Malaysia to go forward. But Malaysia has found that there are several problems to a quick deal.

Last week, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed briefed civil society groups, reportedly telling them that Malaysia is standing firm in its position on tobacco control, intellectual property and medicines, disciplines on state-owned enterprises and government procurement, investor-state dispute, bumiputra rights, and that the TPPA should not affect the Constitution nor federal-state relations.

There is another important matter. What if the US agrees to a final TPPA deal. Can it stand by such a deal, since it is Congress that has jurisdiction over trade policy?

Obama is trying to get “fast track authority” from Congress, but many members of the House and Senate do not want to give that to him.

This means the Congress can decide to alter parts of the TPPA, and what was agreed to after years of painful negotiation will then unravel.

Why then should the other countries table their “bottom line” in the TPPA when what is agreed to can be opened up again by Congress? Senior officials in some countries have said they won’t agree to sign the TPPA unless the US President obtains fast-track authority.

Powerful Congress members have also proposed that as part of the TPPA, the US be allowed to punish countries that manipulate their currency — to give themselves a trade advantage.

Claiming to be backed by a clear majority, they are insisting that the TPPA contain disciplinary actions against currency manipulators, including that tariffs can be raised against the offending countries’ products.

Inside US Trade reported that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat House Member Sander Levin warned they would vote against the TPPA when it comes before them unless it contains enforceable provisions to combat currency manipulation by foreign governments.

A major problem with this Congress’ proposal is how “currency manipulators” are defined. Many developing countries consider the US itself to be a manipulator because the trillions of dollars it has placed in the banking system through its easy-money policy has depressed the value of the dollar to remain at low levels and raised the country’s export competitiveness.

But that’s not how the Americans define manipulation. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute, a main intellectual force behind the Congress move, proposes three tests to determine a currency manipulator: the country possess excessive official foreign currency assets (more than six months of import value); it has acquired significant additional amounts of official foreign assets, implying substantial intervention, over a recent period of six months; and it has a substantial current account surplus.

Based on these criteria, Bergsten concludes, in a Financial Times article, that: “Only two countries now involved in the trade pact negotiations – Malaysia and Singapore – have been recent manipulators.”

He proposes that those who fail these tests should face stiff penalties: They should lose the wider market access obtained via the TPPA; countervailing duties should be permitted against their exports subsidised by deliberate undervaluation; and “sweeping import surcharges” could also be authorised.

On top of this, the trade pact should also authorise “countervailing currency intervention”, through which it could offset the manipulators’ purchases of its currency by buying equal amounts of theirs.

Bergsten’s ideas are extreme, but they have been cited by Congressman Levin when he made his proposal.

Can the TPPA countries agree to having a currency manipulation chapter in the agreement? If so, the TPPA will contain a very dangerous element and it will also set a dangerous precedent for other future agreements.

In any case, it is worthwhile for Malaysia to pay close attention to this issue, and bring it up with Obama, since it is one of the two countries fingered by Bergsten as being “currency manipulators.”

Bergsten’s astounding charge that Malaysia is a currency manipulator should also be answered.

Contributed by Global Trends by Martin Khor

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Karpal Singh: Bye-bye, Jangan main-main/Don't fool around !

Standing his ground:Karpal telling the Speaker: “I have a right to be here” as the police wait to escort him out in May 1981.  Images for Karpal Singh images

Tributes for Karpal Singh's Quotes:

“Jangan main-main” – a catchphrase of sorts for the statesman, Karpal Singh said this on many occasions – to the Registrar of Societies when his beloved party was faced with the threat of deregistration, after being sent live bullets by thugs.

“The tiger is still alive and ... a wounded tiger is even more dangerous.” – Karpal in April 1995 after DAP was defeated in Penang. The then-state chairman said the defeat did not mean the end of the opposition in Penang.

“I know what it is like to lose your liberties. So I want to go on being in Parliament as long as I can.” – Karpal in 1995, when asked about his determination during the general elections campaign period.

“For there to be integration in essence and spirit, I hope all restrictions in the way of uniting the people are removed.” – Karpal in June 1995, welcoming the move to integrate the legal systems of Sabah, Sarawak and West Malaysia.

“Offences perpetrated upon children, particularly infants, are the most heinous of offences because children are defenceless against such attacks.” Despite his dislike of capital punishment, Karpal felt that those who committed crimes against children deserved harsh sentences.

“Singh is King.” A reference to a popular Bollywood movie with the same catchphrase, Karpal used the line several times including after he received live bullets in the mail (prefaced with “jangan main-main”).

“I do not intend to give up. The Opposition has a big role to play in this country.” – Karpal after his accident in 2005 which left him in a wheelchair.

“There are always people who are insensitive, we just have to take it. There is nothing you can do about it. We cannot be discouraged, as that’s exactly what our enemies would want.” – Karpal in a Sept 2006 interview with The Star.

“Once you are in this situation, you realise how little the disabled have in this country. Governments in many countries make lots of allowances to include them in society. We haven’t reached that stage. I will do what I can to make sure the disabled are given all opportunities in line with other countries.” – Karpal in 2006, commenting on the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and legislation in Malaysia.

“We may have our differences with PAS but it is a solid, principled party and an important ally.” – Karpal in 2012. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor but I would have been a lousy doctor!” – Karpal in a 2010 interview with The Star.

“I am not questioning the privileges. I am asking how long they will be implemented.” – Karpal in 2010, asking the Government for a time frame for the gradual removal of special privileges accorded to Malays and other bumiputras, in the spirit of 1Malaysia.

“As long as I am alive, I will continue to struggle to see a non-Malay become prime minister.” – Karpal in 2012, saying the Federal Constitution did not provide that only Malays could be prime minister.



Sources: The Star/Asia News Network
  • For more stories click here.
Infographics:
Tiger, tiger who burned bright
Karpal the politician
Karpal the lawyer

Photo Gallery:
Old days of Karpal
About Karpal
From hospital to his home

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

WWII 'slaves' sue Japan firms

About 700 people who were forced to work in Japan during World War II filed a lawsuit in east China's Shandong Province on Tuesday, demanding both an apology and compensation from two China-based Japanese companies.

more Images for Japanese WWII forced labour

LiveLeak.com - Chinese sue Japanese companies over slave labor in WWII, asking for 1 million yuan compensation per person

Four representatives on behalf of the former laborers signed a letter, authorizing a legal aid team to file the lawsuit at Shandong Higher People's Court.

Mitsubishi Corporation (Qingdao) Ltd. and Yantai Mitsubishi Cement Co., Ltd., which are accused of forcing laborers from Shandong to Japan to work during the war, are being sued 1 million yuan (160,700 US dollars) per victim in compensation. The laborers also want a written apology published in major newspapers in China, said Fu Qiang, executive head of the legal aid team and head of Shandong Pengfei Law Office.

Fu said the two Mitsubishi companies are not directly connected but affiliated to the original perpetrator, Mitsubishi Materials Corp in Japan.

"The two companies are foreign-owned enterprises in China, and subject to Chinese law," said Fu.

This is the second time the laborers have brought a compliant to court. In September 2010, six laborers, on behalf of 1,000 Chinese from Shandong, brought a lawsuit against the two companies. The court refused to accept the case.

Around 40,000 Chinese, one-fourth of whom were from Shandong, were forced to work in Japan during the war. Of these workers, 7,000 died in Japan. Thirty-five Japanese companies are believed to have been involved in forced labor from 1937 to 1945, when Japan invaded China.

Quoting government figures, Wang Wanying, one of the four representatives and son of a victim, said out of 1,500 laborers brought to Japan from Shandong's Yuncheng County, only 130 people returned home alive.

"My father was lucky enough to survive," said 55-year-old Wang. "We will carry on to seek justice," he said.

Japanese courts have rejected all compensation claims in 15 lawsuits filed by forced Chinese laborers since the 1990s, saying that a 1972 bilateral agreement nullified Chinese rights to seek war-related compensation.

However, former Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, said in March 1995 that although China had discarded national reparations, the government did not abandon its people's rights to demand compensation.

On March 26, nine former laborers filed a lawsuit against Coke Industry Co., Ltd. of Japan, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and the Japanese government at Tangshan City Intermediate People's Court. They are requesting compensation. A decision to accept the case has not been made yet.

On March 18, the Beijing Intermediate People's Court accepted a lawsuit against Coke Industry Co., Ltd. of Japan and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation over the matter, the first such case to be accepted in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Japan should seriously address issues of forced labor, take a responsible attitude and seriously treat and properly handle the issues left over from history. - Xinhua

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Malaysia paying the price for flight MH370 !

Flight MH370: Paying The Price Of 6 Decades Of Nepotism, Racism, Rampant Corruption And Incompetence

On January 23, 2008 a very peculiar thing happened. Commercial airspace at one of the world's busiest airports was shut down for over 50 minutes. On that day, an aircraft without an approved flight plan entered Singapore's airspace. Immediately, the Republic of Singapore Air Force dispatched a pair of F-16D fighter jets to intercept the aircraft and escorted it to land at Singapore Changi Airport. Upon landing, airport police immediately surrounded the plane.

"At 6.42pm (2142 AEDT), two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 fighters were scrambled to intercept a civilian aircraft, a Cessna 208, which was heading towards Singapore airspace without an approved flight plan,'' the ministry's director of public affairs, Colonel Darius Lim, said in a statement. "The aircraft was escorted to land at Singapore Changi Airport."

The above incident highlights the standard operating protocol an Air Force, Civil Aviation Authority and Local Police Force needs to follow in the event of an unidentified aircraft entering it's airspace without an approved flight plan.

However amidst this hoo-ha, there was one small detail worth noting. The plane took off from Koh Samui, Thailand. And running the full length between Thailand and Singapore is the land mass of Peninsular Malaysia.

In essence, this means that the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia and the Royal Malaysian Air Force had allowed an unknown aircraft to invade over 131 thousand square km of sovereign Malaysian territory and despite this occurring over a period of 3 hours, did not lift a finger to respond.

This incident highlighted a huge security flaw in Malaysia's Air Defence umbrella. One that if it had patched during any of the subsequent 6 years that followed, would have prevented a bigger tragedy that came with greater embarrassment, scrutiny and loss.

6 years later on 8 March 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing. It never landed at its intended destination. Instead, less than an hour after take-off, the transponder was turned off and 3 sets of military radars tracked the plane flying past Penang and across the breadth of Malaysia from the Gulf of Thailand towards the Indian Ocean.

Unlike the Cessna airplane in the earlier example which was intercepted by the RSAF, 3 sets of people manning Malaysia's military radars never sounded any alarms. The RMAF never dispatched any fighter jets on standby and the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia never shut down Malaysian airspace when a rogue plane very much larger than a Cessna aircraft flew across it's airspace.

Suffice to say, had the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia or the RMAF been doing their job properly as exemplified by the example given above, we would not have gone 9 days and counting into a search for a missing and possibly hijacked plane.

Investigators may have recently concluded that the plane had its transponders deliberately turned off and its flight plan deliberately altered but it is the greater observing public who have the biggest conclusion of all; that Malaysian leadership is sorely incompetent when it comes to handling a crisis. In this respect, Malaysia has much to learn from its Southern neighbour. Had the supposed hijackers targeted a plane flying through a more efficient jurisdiction, the outcome would have been very different today.

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