Friday, June 08, 2012

Thailand hosts 9th ASEAN-Canada Dialogue

BANGKOK- The 9th ASEAN-Canada Dialogue opened here on Thursday, with connectivity between the two sides highlighted among various topics of discussion.

The two-day event,taking place at a hotel in Bangkok, is attended by representatives and senior officials from all ASEAN members states, Canada and the ASEAN Secretariat.

According to Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the annual dialogue will focus on how to ensure that the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on the ASEAN-Canada Enhanced Partnership 2010-2015 can be translated into tangible outcomes and how to promote closer economic partnership in accordance with ASEAN-Canada Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment.

ASEAN-Canada dialogue relation was officially established in 1977 and the Dialogue was formalized at its first meeting in 2004. The year of 2012 marks the 35th anniversary of ASEAN-Canada relations and is also the final year for Thailand to serve as the country coordinator for the two sides.-The Philippine Star (June 07, 2012)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Syria activists: 78 killed in village

At least 78 people were killed in one Syrian village Wednesday, with at least half of the dead women and children, Syrian opposition activists said.

The deaths happened in Qubeir, a small farming village of 200 people in Hama province, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. It blamed the deaths on Syrian government forces.
Just 10 families live in Qubeir in a cluster of about 20 homes, said Lt. Khaled Ali, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army's military council in Hama.

The Local Coordination Committees said that 35 of the dead are from one family.

Rami Abdulrahman, a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another activist group, confirmed "dozens" of deaths in Qubeir but said he could not give a specific number "until all names have been confirmed."

An activist who was less than 2 miles from Qubeir also said that at least 78 people had been killed the village. He said he was working with others to evacuate the bodies, many of which were burned.

He said 38 of the victims were men, and the rest were women and children.

The deaths happened after regime tanks shelled the village for at least an hour, activists say. Militias loyal to the regime then went through the village, executing people with knives and guns, Ali and the Local Coordination Committees said.

Ali said that Qubeir is surrounded by villages that support the Alawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad and that the militia members came from two of the neighboring villages.

Soon after the opposition groups reported the deaths in Qubeir, Syrian state TV reported that government forces were headed to the village to help.

"An official source in Hama says that the security forces have responded to calls for help and complaints from the people in al-Qubeir ... and raided a terrorist cell and killed a number of them and confiscated their weapons," state TV reported.

It said two women and a "number" of children were found dead in Qubeir with their legs and hands tied.

The incident in Qubeir follows last month's massacre of more than 100 people in the town of Houla, just south of the Hama area. Members of the U.N. Security Council have blamed the Houla massacre on government forces.

"The massacre of Qubeir is an exact repeat of what we saw in Houla," Ali said Wednesday.

Al-Assad denies that his forces were behind the Houla killings.

State TV noted that the Qubeir killings happened a day before the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council plan to hold meetings on the 15-month Syrian crisis. It said the massacre was intended "to be used to pressure Syria."-Cable News Network (CNN) (June 06, 2012)

China faces 'serious' epidemic of drug-resistant TB

WASHINGTON - China faces a "serious epidemic" of drug-resistant tuberculosis according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of the size of the problem there, said a US-published study on Wednesday.

"In 2007, one third of the patients with new cases of tuberculosis and one half of the patients with previously treated tuberculosis had drug-resistant disease," said the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Even more, the prevalence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB in new cases (5.7 percent) was nearly twice the global average, said the study.

Using World Health Organization figures as a basis for comparison, "China has the highest annual number of cases of MDR tuberculosis in the world -- a quarter of the cases worldwide," it added.

The data came from a survey of more than 4,600 Chinese people who were recently diagnosed or treated for TB.

In China, over a million new tuberculosis infections occur each year, a large chunk of the estimated nine million cases worldwide annually.

Known formally as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB spreads through the air when infected people cough up bacteria. TB kills about 1.5 million people worldwide each year.

Often it can be cured with antibiotics, though drug availability is limited in the developing world and sometimes patients do not follow the entire regimen of treatment, which can encourage the development of resistant strains.

According to an accompanying editorial by Johns Hopkins University infectious disease specialist Richard Chaisson, the growth of drug-resistant TB presents an "enormous challenge."

Even more concerning was the finding that most of the 110,000 drug-resistant cases were in people newly diagnosed with disease, suggesting that the virulent bacteria are being transmitted from person to person and not developing solely as a result of a person prematurely stopping treatment.

Chaisson said the findings highlight the need for faster testing, and for new cases of TB to be tested for signs of drug resistance, not just recurrent forms.-Interaksyon (June 07, 2012)

Moody’s Analytics ups PHL 2012 GDP growth to 4.7% from 4%

Moody’s Corporation’s unit Moody's Analytics Inc. upgraded the Philippines 2012 gross domestic product growth forecast to 4.7 percent from four percent after a stronger-than-expected economic expansion in the first quarter of the year.
In a study entitled “Philippines Outlook: Braving Global Headwinds,” Moody’s Analytics economist Katrina Ell said the upgrade could be attributed to the reforms being undertaken by the Aquino government that continue to attract foreign investment and boost growth prospects.
The National Statistical Coordination Board reported late last month that the country’s GDP growth zoomed to 6.4 percent in the first quarter of the year from the upwardly revised growth of 4.9 percent last year, because of benign inflation, a revitalized Services sector, and a recovering manufacturing sector.
The GDP growth of the Philippines, which Ell called “the strongest GDP growth in Southeast Asia and the second strongest in Asia behind China”, was faster than Indonesia’s 6.3 percent, Vietnam’s four percent, Singapore’s 1.6 percent, and Thailand’s 0.3 percent. China logged an 8.1 percent expansion in the first quarter of the year.
However, Ell explained, “We are more bearish than the government, which targets growth of five percent to six percent, as we are skeptical that the economy will maintain its blistering first quarter growth pace.”
According to her, “global headwinds” threaten the Philippine economy given its large reliance on exports and remittances from Filipinos working abroad.
Ell explained that the 5.4 percent growth in OFW remittances from January to March increased household consumption while exports improved a little amid weak global demand.
An upside, according the Analytics economist, is the Philippine government’s twin policy arms of lifting infrastructure and reducing corruption which should help shore up both domestic and foreign direct investment, lifting the economy's long term growth prospects.   
The Philippines has so far received six upgrades from Moody’s Investors Service since President Benigno Aquino III assumed power. 
London-based Fitch Ratings places the country’s sovereign debt at one notch below investment grade on a stable outlook while Moody’s Investors Service as well as Standard and Poor’s rate the country’s sovereign debt at two notches below investment grade on a positive outlook. —GMA News (June 06, 2012)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Go out, rare Transit of Venus seen today -- Pagasa

MANILA, Philippines -- A rare astronomical event occurs today, Wednesday, which will surely be a treat for Filipinos. The Transit of Venus, where the planet passes directly between the sun and earth, has started at sunrise Wednesday at 6:09 a.m. local time and will last until 12:49 p.m.

Weather-permitting, astronomy enthusiasts should definitely take advantage of this event as this will be the last in this century, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.

During the transit, the planet Venus will appear as a small black disk, similar to a "mole" that will blemish the sun, said Engr. Dario dela Cruz, chief of Pagasa's. Space, Science, and Astronomy Section (SSAS).

Transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair. The last transit occurred on June 8, 2004. After this latest transit, the next will occur in December 2117 and on 2125.

The entire transit is visible in Greenland, North and Central America, Pacific Islands, Australasia, East of Africa, Europe, and Asia, including the Philippines.

"We are very lucky," dela Cruz said. "The next one will be seen by the next generation." 

According to Pagasa's website, there are four "contacts" during a transit: the first contact (at 6:09 a.m.) where Venus is entirely outside the sun's disk, moving inward; the second contact (at 6:27 a.m.) where Venus is entirely inside the sun's disk and moving inward; the third contact (at 12:31 p.m.) where Venus is moving outward from the sun's disk; and the fourth contact (at 12:49 p.m.) where Venus is moving outward from the sun.

There is a "greatest transit," which will occur at 9:29 a.m. local time, where Venus is directly at the middle of the sun and already marks the halfway point in the transit.

Safety first

If weather permits, stargazers are advised to take safety precautions when viewing the transit.

Pagasa said the safest way to observe the transit is through a telescope, binoculars, or through the use of a screen.

The event can be viewed with the naked eye but only with the use of filters especially designed for such purpose such as an astronomical solar filter with vacuum-deposited layer of chromium, eclipse-viewing glasses or Grade 14 welder's glass.

Pagasa warned that observing the sun directly may cause temporary or permanent blindness and can destroy retinal cells.-Interaksyon (June 06, 2012)

Manila, Beijing pull out ships from shoal

Manila, Beijing pull out ships from shoal

THE Philippines and China have pulled out their ships from the Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, easing the tension that many people feared could lead to a shooting war as a result of the territorial dispute over the area, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

“Following our consultations, the two Chinese maritime vessels and our [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources] vessel are no longer in the lagoon,” the department said in a statement.

“We continue the consultations to address the remaining issues in Bajo de Masinloc.”

The Philippines and China started a word war in April, when a Philippine Navy ship stopped a Chinese fishing vessel and tried to arrest Chinese fishermen for illegal fishing. But a Chinese maritime vessel blocked the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from making arrests.

The Philippines says the shoal is within its Exclusive Economic Zone, but China claims it is part of its territory. The tension has sparked anti-Chinese demonstrations on the streets of Manila and at Chinese embassies in other parts of the world.

MalacaƱang welcomed the ships’ pullout, calling it  “a positive development” that could defuse the tension between the two countries.

“We appreciate the gesture of both parties to deescalate tension in Panatag Shoal, and there will be further consultations on the remaining vessels,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

Despite the announcement of the pullout, the wire agencies quoted Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez as saying that ships were still in the area.

“There are still 30 Chinese fishing vessels inside the lagoon,” he said.

Fu Ying, the vice minister of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said last week the sea lanes in the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea] were key transport routes for China and “no interest would be served by linking territorial issues with freedom of navigation.”

She said the territorial issues could be solved through the active pursuit of dialogue, and “what we should do is to grasp every opportunity to each out for Asian solutions to Asian problems by working together.”-Manila Standard Today (June 06, 2012)

US vows to aid allies in maritime rights

CAM RANH BAY, Vietnam – US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta used a visit to Vietnam last Sunday to make clear Washington’s intent to aid allies in the Asia-Pacific region develop and enforce maritime rights in the South China Sea, which Beijing largely claims.

On a historic stop in Cam Ranh Bay, the strategic deep water port that was a US base during the Vietnam War, Panetta could gaze out from the flight deck of the USNS Richard E. Byrd toward the sea and reflect on the significance of the harbor, which represents both a painful past for the American military and a challenging but hopeful future.

“The new defense strategy that we have put in place for the United States represents a number of key elements that will be tested in the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta told reporters gathered under a blazing sun on the deck of the cargo vessel.

He said the US would “work with our partners like Vietnam to be able to use harbors like this as we move our ships from our ports on the West Coast toward our stations here in the Pacific.”

Panetta never mentioned China as he spoke to crew members on the Byrd and later to reporters. But with the South China Sea as a backdrop, he left no doubt that the US will maintain a strong presence in the region and wants to help allies protect themselves and their maritime rights.

His visit, however, is likely to irritate Chinese leaders who are unhappy with any US buildup in the region and view it as a possible threat.

Panetta, in remarks Saturday to a defense conference in Singapore, rejected such claims about the shift in US military focus. But US officials are wary of China’s increased military buildup and expanding trade relations with other countries in the region.

“Access for United States naval ships into this facility is a key component of this relationship (with Vietnam) and we see a tremendous potential here for the future,” he said.

This is Panetta’s first visit to Vietnam, and his stop at the harbor made him the most senior US official to go to Cam Ranh Bay since the Vietnam War ended.

Right now US warships do not go into the harbor, but other Navy ships, such as the Byrd, do. The Byrd is a cargo ship operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command; it has a largely civilian crew. It is used to move military supplies to US forces around the world. Navy warships go to other Vietnam ports, such as Danang.

While Panetta suggested the US may want to send more ships to Cam Ranh Bay in the future, he and other defense officials did not detail what requests he may make in meetings with Vietnamese leaders.

On Sunday, the port served more as a symbol of America’s growing military relationship with Vietnam, underscoring Washington’s desire to build partnerships in the region in part to counter China’s escalating dominance.

For Panetta, who was in the military during the Vietnam era but did not serve in the country, it was an emotional opportunity.

“For me personally this is a very moving moment,” he said, noting that on Memorial Day he was at the Vietnam memorial in Washington commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war.

“Today I stand on a US ship here in Cam Ranh Bay to recognize the 17th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam,” he said.

The relationship between the two nations has come a long way, he said. “We have a complicated relationship but we’re not bound by that history.”

The new US strategy for the Asia-Pacific includes a broad plan to help countries learn to better defend themselves, and for that to happen “it is very important that we be able to protect key maritime rights for all nations in the South China Sea and elsewhere,” Panetta said from the deck of the ship.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own, setting up conflicts with other nations in the region, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and others who also have territorial claims there.

Panetta flew to Vietnam from a major defense conference in Singapore, where he met with leaders from allies all across the region. There he issued a strong call for Asian nations to set up a code of conduct, including rules governing maritime rights and navigation in the South China Sea, and then develop a forum where disputes can be settled.

At the same time he detailed plans to boost US military presence in the region, including a modest increase in ships and more troops that would mainly rotate in and out. Defense officials said that by 2020 the US Navy would add about eight ships to the Asia-Pacific region, and overall would have about 60 percent of the fleet assigned there.

Tensions between the US and China reverberate across the region, and are often focused on America’s support of the island of Taiwan, which China considers its own. Another key area of dispute is the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its own. But Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines also have territorial claims there.

In addition, more recently the US has been vocal in blaming China for cyber attacks that emanate from the country and steal critical data from US government agencies and private American companies.-The Philippine Star (June 05, 2012)

ASEAN moves to promote bloc as single tourist destination

BANGKOK (Xinhua) - The member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are now joining hands in promoting the bloc as a single tourist destination to further develop the tourism industry in the region, according to the Indonesian tourism minister.

"Through the cooperation between ASEAN tourism ministers, we have already developed ASEAN joint-market promotion and marketing strategies; we are going out to develop ASEAN's image as a single tourist destination," Mari Elka Pangestu, Indonesia's Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, said in a recent interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

Under the single tourist scheme, ASEAN countries can issue a common visa for visitors travelling in any member-country of the regional grouping. Currently, only citizens of the ASEAN member- countries can travel throughout the region without visas.

According to the minister, the initiative is part of the region 's effort of forming a single market by 2015 under the blueprint of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

By drawing comparison between ASEAN and a cruise ship, Pangestu said every country inside the body can have different "ports of call" as they offer foreign visitors a variety of travel experiences.

"You can have many combinations. For example, you can go to Singapore, Bali (Indonesia), Phuket (Thailand) on only one trip and you also have many other choices," she said.

If ASEAN is to offer single-destination comforts for visitors, simplification of visa procedures could be expected.

Pangestu said the region's authorities are still working on a proposal for the issuance of an "ASEAN common visa" for non-ASEAN visitors which was made last year.

"Recommendations will be filed again at next year's ASEAN summit," she said. She added, however, that the process could be very time-consuming.

"Taking the Schengen system as an example, it took decades for the Europeans to finalize it," Pangestu said. "Probably, we can start with two or three countries for special types of visitors like businessmen, and then extend the common visa policy in the long-term to other groups of visitors."

Attending a TV debate session entitled "Driving Growth through Travel and Tourism" at the WEF, Pangestu called on her ASEAN counterparts to further tap into the region's tourist potentials as she emphasized the significance of intra-ASEAN tourism which, she said, is a good way for the people in the region to develop a better understanding on the region itself and recognize themselves as citizens of ASEAN as a whole.

"Last year, ASEAN attracted around 82 million tourists, of which 50 percent traveled within the region," she said.

Echoing her views, Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said although most people acknowledge that travel contributes to job creation and economic growth, cumbersome and outdated visa procedures are still a major impediment to the growth of sector.

Speaking at another session at the forum, the UNCTAD chief urged the ASEAN members to take proactive measures aimed at reducing obstacles to travel mobility and make tourism a mainstream development strategy.-The Philippine Star (June 05, 2012)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Asia witnesses partial lunar eclipse

SYDNEY - The first partial lunar eclipse of the year provided dramatic scenes across Asia late Monday, with a clear moon visible to many as the event unfolded.

While Australia and the east of Japan watched as the Earth slid between the Moon and the Sun, casting a grey shadow over the satellite, those hoping to view the eclipse in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur were thwarted by cloud cover.

"It does look a bit odd because it's not like a normal crescent moon," said Jonti Horner from the astrophysics department of Sydney's University of New South Wales.

"It looks like a bite has been taken out of the moon," he told AFP as he watched the sky.

Fred Watson, astronomer-in-charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory in western New South Wales, said: "A partial eclipse of the moon is the kind of thing that happens every few years but it's still worth looking at because of its astronomical interest."

In Japan, about 20 people gathered at an astronomical observatory 367 meters (1,200 feet) above sea level in Rikubetsu on the northern island of Hokkaido.

"People started to utter such words in admiration as 'it's beautiful' and 'it's awesome' as the eclipse neared its maximum level," Noriko Sasaki, a worker at the observatory, said by telephone.

Hundreds of people who flocked to the National Planetarium in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur after sunset to witness the spectacle were left disappointed by the clouds and instead were shown films on astronomy.

Skywatchers in the Indonesian capital were luckier as the weather cleared to give them a view of the phenomena for 90 minutes.

"It's so interesting because you don't get to see an eclipse like this every year," said Ichshan Ramadan, 15, a member of a local astronomy club.

Monday's eclipse is part of a rare double show this week which includes the Transit of Venus -- one of the most eagerly awaited events in the astronomical calendar.

Skywatchers in the Pacific and East Asia were expected to have the best view of the eclipse, weather permitting.

Most of Australia, all of New Zealand, the nations of the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea were due to see it in full, while Southeast Asia, Eastern China, Japan and Korea were to witness most of it.

It will not be visible in Europe or Africa, but people in western North America and Mexico will see it at the end stages when the Moon sets.

"Actual eclipses are relatively common, there are usually about two a year," Watson said.

"But what makes them kind of rare is that they are not all visible from everywhere, and in particular solar eclipses really are only visible from a very small part of the Earth's surface."

On Tuesday, North America will get to see the early stage of the Transit of Venus which occurs when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun, appearing under magnification as a small black dot that trots across the solar face.

The next transit will not take place until 2117.

Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Japan and Korea, as well as most of China and much of Southeast Asia, will be able to see the entire transit, lasting six hours, 40 minutes, in what will be Wednesday morning their time.

South Asia, the Middle East and Europe will get the end part, when they enter sunrise on Wednesday.-Interaksyon (June 04, 2012)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Emerging security challenges call for cooperation in Asia Pacific: defense chiefs

SINGAPORE (Xinhua) -- The emerging security challenges, especially non-traditional challenges such as those in maritime security and the cyber space, call for new approaches to global governance, defense ministers and senior military commanders at an Asian security summit said.

"Our common security challenges are often transnational and as we have witnessed can overwhelm resources episodically," Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Sunday towards the closing of the Shangri-La Dialogue, or Asian Security Summit, a multilateral security forum organized by the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"No single country has the resources or ability to provide lasting solutions. We will have to pool resources and synergize efforts," he said, citing emerging challenges such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security and counterterrorism, among others.

He cited the example of Singapore navy's Information Fusion Center, a system that allows many countries worldwide to share their information and provides a common maritime picture for users to identify anomalies and potential threats.

"This generation is witnessing significant change in the global order and the new security challenges that come with it," said the Singapore defense minister.

The three-day Shangri-La Dialogue gathered defense ministers, senior defense officials, military commanders and scholars from at least 27 countries in the region and beyond. The participants hold discussions at the forum, and conduct diplomacy on the sidelines of the meeting.

Many of the defense ministers, including Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, highlighted the emerging security challenges in cyber space, while others talked about how the asymmetric threats posed by criminal networks, pirates and terrorist organizations can undermine the social and economic vibrancy of a society.

"While regional and inter-state rivalries persist in many places around the world, the most pervasive and worrying threats now come from non-state entities and non-traditional security challenges," said Peter Gordon MacKay, Canadian Minister of National Defense.

The rapid development and expansion of space and cyber-based technologies have created entirely new dynamics. The added reach, flexibility and speed of satellite and cyber systems are powerful enablers and have become integral to our lives, he said.

"Our understanding -- and access to -- global dynamics in real time is one of the extraordinary achievements of our age. This helps break down barriers, reach across vast distances, and connects peoples and multi-national efforts to the benefit of all," he said, citing the coordinated international response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and the more recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Not only the defense minister from the region are engaging each other to improve their communication, the ministers from countries beyond the Asia Pacific also said at the forum that they are linked to the region.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the Asia Pacific region is integral part of the safety environment for the French and European people.

"Anything that contributes to increasing safety in Asia-Pacific is beneficial to world stability, since this region carries weight in the world's business, and will carry even more weight in the future," he said.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also said earlier at the forum that the United States seeks to strengthen its strategic trust with China in handling one of the most important relationships in the world.

"Our aim is to continue to improve the strategic trust that we must have between our two countries, and to discuss common approaches to dealing with shared security challenges," he said.

Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan, who headed the Chinese delegation to the forum, said the South China Sea disputes failed to make headlines at the dialogue because it is more of a priority for the countries in the region to boost their cooperation in fields such as trade and economy for mutual benefit.

"I think the dominant theme at the Shangri-La Dialogue is dialogue and cooperation for Asia Pacific security," he added.-The Philippine Star (June 03, 2012)