Friday, June 22, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi calls for UK's support over Burma

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the UK to support moves to democracy in Burma, in an historic address to both Houses of Parliament. Ms Suu Kyi said the support of people in the UK and around the world could get Burma much further towards change.

She earlier met Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street.

Ms Suu Kyi, who spent two decades until 2010 under house arrest during military rule in Burma, is the first non-head of state to address Parliament.

'Friend and equal'

She was greeted by applause when she was introduced to MPs and peers in Parliament's Westminster Hall by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who described her as "the conscience of a country and a heroine for humanity".

In her address she said it was important to empower the people of Burma, and now was her country's time of greatest need.

Ms Suu Kyi said: "I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world.

"My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached.

"Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further."
Ms Suu Kyi concluded her speech by saying there was a lot more work to be done before reform in Burma was complete.

She said: "I would ask that our friends, both here in Britain and beyond, participate in and support Burma's efforts towards the establishment of a truly democratic and just society.

"Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address the members of one of the oldest democratic societies in the world. Thank you for letting me into your midst. My country has not yet entered the ranks of truly democratic societies but I am confident we will get there before too long with your help."
Ms Suu Kyi was given a standing ovation after speaking for about 30 minutes.
Her visit is Ms Suu Kyi's first trip to the UK since leaving 24 years ago to lead Burma's pro-democracy movement.

Earlier, at a joint news conference at Number 10, the UK prime minister paid tribute to Ms Suu Kyi.

He said: "Over these years you have been a symbol of courage and of hope for our people and for your people and around the world.

"Your example has inspired people across the world and it's inspired people here in Britain too."

Mr Cameron said the UK would invest in strengthening Burmese democracy.
Ms Suu Kyi, who also had talks with Foreign Secretary William Hague, said the "warmth" shown to her on her journey to the UK was a good sign for Burma.
"It means that my country which has long been apart from the democracies of the world will soon begin to join in this great community that will ensure the happy future of our country."

She said Burma needed investment that supported democracy and human rights.

It has emerged the government has also invited Burma's leader to visit the UK. The Burmese government is considering the invitation.

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said behind the pomp and circumstance of Ms Suu Kyi's speech there had been a real political aim and a cry for practical help from the UK.

Poll boycotted

Ms Suu Kyi's meeting with Mr Cameron followed an engagement with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House. No details of their discussion have been revealed.

Ms Suu Kyi met Mr Cameron in April when he became the first Western leader to visit Burma after the country's military leaders had decided to allow her and her party to stand in parliamentary elections.

Since then, he has championed the suspension of international sanctions against Burma, arguing that new President Thein Sein is genuinely committed to reform.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is on a four-day visit to the UK, lived in Oxford in the 1980s with her husband, Tibetan scholar Michael Aris, and their sons Alexander and Kim.

She became the leader of Burma's pro-democracy movement when she returned to Burma in 1988, initially to look after her sick mother.

Ms Suu Kyi, now 67, was placed under house arrest by the military and not released until November 2010.

Her two-week-long tour to Europe - her first since 1988 - also includes visits to Switzerland, France and Norway.

President Thein Sein is a former general who now leads a military-backed party which won the majority of seats in the 2010 general election - a poll boycotted by the party of Ms Suu Kyi.

However, she has spoken warmly of the president in the past, saying he is a man she trusts in negotiations.-British Broadcasting Corporation (June 21, 2012)

China strongly protests Vietnam's claim over islands

China said it summoned Vietnam's ambassador Thursday and strongly protested a law adopted by the Vietnamese parliament that places the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands under Hanoi's sovereignty.

China and Vietnam, as well as other neighbouring nations, are locked in long-standing territorial disputes over the South China Sea, including the mineral-rich Spratly and Paracel islands.

"The... actions by the Vietnamese side are illegal and invalid. China expresses its strong protest and firm opposition," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

"The Vietnamese unilateral actions ... complicate and magnify the issue. China will resolutely safeguard territorial sovereignty."

Hong said Vietnam's ambassador to China Nguyen Van Tho was summoned to the foreign ministry Thursday and told of Beijing's displeasure.

According to Vietnamese parliamentarian Duong Trung Quoc, the legislation is a first for Hanoi on what it calls the East Sea.

"The adoption of this law on the sea today is very important for Vietnam," he told AFP.
"It helps solidify both how Vietnam will implement its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands and its international commitments."

Tensions in the South China Sea have risen sharply recently, with China and the Philippines locked in a maritime dispute over Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippine coast.

But tensions eased when the Philippines ordered two of its ships to withdraw from the shoal last week, a move that was welcomed by China.

The disputed region is a key trading route for the US, which has expressed concern over sporadic flare-ups between countries.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines all claim parts of the South China Sea.

China also announced Thursday it had elevated the administrative status of the Nansha (Spratly) and Xisha (Paracel) islands from a county to a prefectural-level district, the civil affairs ministry said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear what the new status would mean for the islands, which boasted a total population of just over 500 people according to China's census in 2000.-Interaksyon (June 21, 2012 8:12PM)

Chinese never left shoal area

Defense Chief: “We have to go back”

DEFENSE Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday admitted that China never pulled its ships from the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, contrary to an earlier announcement by the Foreign Affairs Department.

“The Chinese never left, so we have to go back,” Gazmin said.

President Benigno Aquino III last week ordered the pullout of a Coast Guard vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries ship from the shoal because of typhoon “Butchoy,” but China kept its boats in the area.

Foreign Affairs then announced “a reciprocal pullout” that eased tensions just before the President went to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama.

A gag order was imposed, preventing military officials from discussing the disputed shoal.

But Gazmin on Thursday said the government should send back its civilian ships to the area, saying occupancy would be used as a basis for claims to the area.

The shoal is about 123 nautical miles off Masinloc in Zambales and well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

China, however, claims the shoal as Huangyan Island, which is more than 800 nautical miles from its exclusive zone.
The Panatag standoff started in April 10 when two Chinese ships stopped the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from arresting Chinese poachers who were caught gathering giant clams, corals and protected maritime resources in the shoal.
On Thursday, the United States said it supported a settlement between Manila and Beijing through the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, a stand China has rejected.

Joy Yamamoto, the US Embassy’s political counselor and acting deputy chief of mission, said they supported efforts to bring the dispute to the international court for settlement.

“We have been very consistent throughout this dispute in supporting international law in settlement… so we continue to support China and the Philippines to settle the issue through international means,” Yamamoto told the reporters.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas said Washington would always push for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where a territorial dispute has been brewing for decades.

Meanwhile, China summoned Vietnam’s ambassador Thursday to protest a new law designating a pair of South China Sea island groups as Vietnamese territory.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun told Ambassador Nguyen Van Tho China had sole jurisdiction over the Spratly and Paracel islands, and Vietnam’s inclusion of them under its maritime law was illegal and invalid, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in a briefing.-Manila Standard Today (June 22, 2012)

Indonesia welcomes 'easing of tensions' in Scarborough Shoal

Indonesia has welcomed moves by the Philippines and China to withdraw ships at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in a statement posted on Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry website Wednesday, said the moves by Manila and Beijing to pull out ships and fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal off northwestern Philippines “contribute positively to the easing of tensions between the two countries.”

Natalegawa said Indonesia has urged both countries “to refrain from further escalating tensions, and instead to promote peaceful settlement by diplomatic means.”

Indonesia also called for the adherence of both sides to a non-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.

He also urged China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc where Indonesia, the Philippines and three other South China Sea claimants are members, to move towards the drafting of a legally binding code of conduct in the area.

On June 5, President Benigno S. Aquino III ordered the two Philippine government vessels locked in a more than two-month territorial standoff with China to return to port due to bad weather.

Two days later, China followed suit, saying its plans to pull out its fishing boats from the shoal to protect its fishermen from a brewing storm. Chinese vessels are still in the shoal’s premises.

President Aquino said the Philippines will send back its ships to the shoal once weather clears and if foreign ships won’t leave the area.

“We will have a flight that will determine whether or not there is still a need (to deploy ships). Now, if there’s a presence in our territorial waters then we will redeploy,” Aquino told reporters.

The standoff erupted on April 10 when China’s government ships prevented Philippine authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen poaching in the shoal, a ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops surrounding a sprawling lagoon abundant with marine life.

Both the Philippines and China claim ownership to the shoal. Scarborough is called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc by the Philippines and Huangyan Island by China.
The shoal is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales as against 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan. It also falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which Manila and Beijing are signatories.

Even before the incident, Manila has repeatedly accused Beijing of intruding into its territorial waters, disrupting its oil exploration and harassing its fishermen.

China also claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety, including areas that overlap with the Philippines' and other Asian nations’ territorial waters.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan all have competing claims over the resource-rich sea, an area teeming with rich maritime resources and said to be harboring vast oil and mineral deposits. -Philippine News Agency (June 21, 2012 12:45PM)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

PH Air Force also wants Russian, Italian, UK fighter jets

MANILA, Philippines - The Air Force will acquire 12 fighter jets and six other fixed-wing aircraft by next year.

Defense Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez told The STAR the jet fighters would be acquired from suppliers based in South Korea, Italy, United Kingdom and Russia.
Each jet costs about P1.2 billion, he added.

Velez said the six fixed-wing aircraft will be used to boost the military’s counter-insurgency operations.

“These (six air assets) will replace the aging OV-10 Broncos (of the Air Force),” he said.

Officials are still finalizing details of the six air assets, which may be acquired from the United States, South Korea and Brazil.

Meanwhile, the Air Force expects the delivery of six surface attack aircraft and lead-in fighter trainers, long-range patrol aircraft, one air defense radar, and a special mission aircraft within the term of the Aquino administration.

Earlier, the Air Force said two of its cargo planes undergoing repairs are expected to be ready for operation by October.
Previously, Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Lauro de la Cruz said the repair of a C-130 plane would be completed by July, while the other aircraft would be rolled out in October.

The two cargo planes would complement the lone C-130 aircraft of the military – a C-130 Hercules aircraft – which is being used to carry supplies and troops.

Four brand-new combat utility helicopters are also expected to arrive in November.

The four constitute the second batch of Sokol combat utility helicopters acquired from Polish company PZL Swidnik SA.

The first four Sokol helicopters arrived last February. The acquisition of the eight helicopters cost P2.8 billion, including support equipment, spare parts and training.

A 2010 report by the Commission on Audit (COA) said the Air Force “virtually has a non-existent air deterrent capability” due to aging air assets.

As of 2010, only 91 of the 339 aircraft in the Air Force inventory are full mission-capable, 81 are inactive and the rest are for disposal, COA added.-ABS-CBN News (June 21, 2012)

Myanmar will allow 100-percent foreign ownership of firms

Myanmar will allow foreigners to take full ownership of local firms under a new investment law expected to be approved by parliament soon, a senior official said Wednesday. 

"Foreign companies will be allowed to invest to own from 35 to 100 percent" of domestic firms, said Kan Zaw, deputy minister for national planning and economic development.

"We will scrutinise carefully those who want to invest 100 percent," he told reporters on the sidelines of an investment forum in Yangon.

Myanmar's reform-minded President Thein Sein said in a televised speech on Tuesday that economic development would be at the centre of his next phase of reforms, aiming to lure foreign investors.

"Laws, rules and regulations are important and need to be flexible for investors as they will come and invest only when they are protected by laws," the former general said.

The new investment law will give a five-year tax holiday to foreign investors, an increase of two years from the current rules, Kan Zaw said.

"Our investment policy should be competitive," he added, noting the growing interest in investing in Myanmar as it opens up.

Other measures included in the planned legislation are steps to allow foreign investors to lease privately owned land. At the moment they can only lease land from the state.

Energy is one area where foreign firms such as Total and Chevron have a presence in partnership with the state. In recent years Myanmar has also increasingly opened up areas to foreign oil and gas companies for exploration.

State-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise has inked nine agreements since early March to allow firms from Asia and Europe to explore for oil and natural gas, the Myanmar Ahlin newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"It was the first time in the history of Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise to sign nine agreements within such a short period," the report said, without giving financial details.

It said 10 foreign companies were exploring for oil at 24 offshore energy fields, while eight overseas firms - as well as seven joint ventures with local companies - were exploring 20 inland fields.

Critics say the rewards of the nation's energy bounty have so far been shared among foreign investors and the regime, rather than its impoverished people.-Interkasyon (June 20, 2012 9:11PM)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.S. Navy Bets $42 Billion On Carriers In China’s Sights

The U.S. Navy is betting $42 billion on a new class of aircraft carriers, the world’s biggest and costliest warships ever, even as the Pentagon budget shrinks and China and Iran arm themselves with weapons to disable or destroy the behemoths.

The Navy says the new carriers -- rising 20 stories above the water, 1,092 feet (333 meters) long, moving at 30 knots (35 miles per hour) with almost 5,000 Americans on board -- can project U.S. power around the globe.

“A carrier is 4 1/2 acres of sovereign U.S. territory,” Captain Bruce Hay, a Navy pilot who helps set requirements for the new carrier, said in an interview. “An aircraft carrier is a piece of America, and we’re going to do what it takes to keep them relevant because a carrier is presence and American resolve all at one time.”

The ships’ rising costs are drawing scrutiny from lawmakers at a time when the military faces cuts in personnel and funding for new weapons. Critics see the new Gerald R. Ford-class carriers as big targets for rival militaries expanding their arsenals of ballistic and cruise missiles, undersea mines, submarines, drones and cyber weapons.

“Our future adversaries are developing a set of capabilities specifically for the purpose of attacking our aircraft carriers,” Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in an interview.

Increasing 18%

Although it’s still about five years from entering the fleet, the price tag for the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first carrier in the class being built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HII), based in Newport News, Virginia, already has climbed about 18 percent in four years to $12.3 billion, according to Defense Department data.

The Navy is trying to assure lawmakers that it was worth the money to start from scratch designing a new carrier.

With an electromagnetic system to launch aircraft similar to those used to propel roller coasters at Walt Disney World, the Ford-class carriers are designed to send swarms of fighter jets over vast expanses of water to deter potential enemies.

The Pentagon’s revised global strategy, released in January, emphasizes a shift to the waters of the Asia-Pacific region at the same time the Pentagon is moving to cut $487 billion from previously planned spending over the next decade. More than $500 billion in additional defense cuts will be required unless the president and Congress agree on plans to avert the automatic reductions known as sequester that are set to begin in January.

‘National Disgrace’

The Navy’s oversight of construction on the Gerald R. Ford, or CVN-78, has drawn criticism as cost overruns of at least $800 million have been disclosed this year. Critics led by Senator John McCain, a former Navy pilot, say the technologies that set it apart from the Navy’s 10 existing carriers may not work as planned when the carrier is launched and begins testing as early as 2013.

“It’s outrageous, it’s a national disgrace,” McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. “They try all these experiments and all these different ideas that they have in the new class of carrier and obviously disregard the cost.”

The Navy should have kept buying the proven Nimitz-class carriers, McCain said. The last carrier in the Nimitz class, the USS George H.W. Bush, was commissioned in 2009.

The number of aircraft regularly launched from the new carriers, or the sortie rate, will increase to 160 a day from 120 a day now on the Nimitz class, according to the Navy. The number of sorties can surge to 270 from 192 on the older carriers.

Sub-Launched Tomahawks

Dispatching more jets from a carrier doesn’t provide a tactical advantage in an age of precision-guided weapons and Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from submarines, according to Norman Polmar, a naval analyst and author who has been a consultant to secretaries of the Navy.

“Do we need a new class?” Polmar said in an interview. “The answer is absolutely not. You want to kill someone’s airfield, you launch 20, 30 Tomahawks, which go farther and are more accurate than planes, and you do not risk pilots.”

While a missile-armed submarine can move alone beneath the sea, a carrier must travel with a strike group that typically includes a guided-missile cruiser, two guided-missile destroyers, an attack sub and a combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship, according to a Navy fact sheet.

The Navy estimates that each Ford-class carrier will cost $27 billion to build and then operate and maintain for 50 years, $5 billion less than its Nimitz-class predecessors, even after the rising costs.

Fewer Sailors

Half the savings will come from design and technology changes that will reduce the number of sailors needed, Rear Admiral Thomas Moore, who runs the Navy’s carrier programs, said in an interview at the Washington Navy Yard. The Ford carriers will accommodate 4,660 personnel, down from 5,922, according to a presentation by Moore.

The Nimitz class was designed in the 1960s “when labor was cheap, and so we used manpower to accomplish all the functions,” Hay, the Navy pilot, said in an interview at the Pentagon. “One guy grabbing a case of soda and going up and down a ladder, well, that is a pretty expensive way to transport material inside this kind of ship.”

Some critics of the Ford class’s rising cost, including McCain, say carriers remain the invaluable, and virtually unsinkable, centerpiece of U.S. naval strategy.

China’s Missiles

Others say carriers, like wooden men-of-war and steel battleships before them, aren’t as useful as they once were. With the proliferation of drones and satellite imagery, carriers become easier to locate and thus potentially more vulnerable, according to Polmar.

While the Ford carriers are going to be “very formidable,” the ships “may not be able to get close enough to a future enemy that has precision-guided anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles,” Gunzinger said.

China is fielding DF-21 anti-ship missiles that may force U.S. carriers to operate 1,000 nautical miles or farther from an enemy’s coastline early in a conflict, according to Gunzinger. Carrier-based jets with a heavy load of weapons are designed to strike at about 300 nautical miles without refueling, Polmar said.

China also is developing weapons to attack satellites and computer networks, disrupting long-distance U.S. military sensors and communications networks, Gunzinger wrote in a report last year for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Iran’s Arsenal

Iran’s arsenal includes ballistic missiles that can reach targets across the Persian Gulf region, Gunzinger wrote. Iranian officials have threatened to use anti-ship cruise missiles, smart mines that can sense their targets and swarms of small, fast-attack craft to exert their control over the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf shipping lanes, he wrote. The strait is about 21 miles (34 kilometers) across at its narrowest point, with the shipping lane in either direction only two miles wide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Gunzinger said carriers should be equipped with stealth drones that can be launched undetected from greater distances to find and attack their targets.

The combined cost of three Ford-class carriers would be $42.5 billion, according to the Pentagon’s Selected Acquisition Report published in December.

Electromagnetic Launches

The $12.3 billion for the first carrier includes about $3.7 billion in design and development.
“You are making a $3.7 billion design investment for a class of ship that is going to be around for 94 years,” Moore said. “This is not like building a Honda. It is probably the most complex piece of machinery that is built in the world.”

Among new or updated equipment on the carrier will be its nuclear power plant, weapons elevators, arresting gear and a dual-band radar, according to Moore.

The launch system by General Atomics Corp. will use a moving electromagnetic field to propel aircraft from the deck instead of the steam-driven catapults on earlier carriers. The carrier will have three aircraft elevators, each weighing 120 tons and able to lift two fighter jets at a time, according to Huntington Ingalls.

Cutting Costs

The Navy is trying to reduce labor hours from 53 million on the first ship to 40 million or less for the third, according to Moore. That would make its cost comparable to the Nimitz class when adjusted for inflation, he said.

“I am absolutely incentivized to drive that cost down as low as possible,” Mike Petters, Huntington’s chief executive officer, said in an interview at his office overlooking the Newport News yard where the Ford is being built. The company stands to lose as much as $194.3 million, more than 40 percent of a potential fee, based on the overruns projected by the Navy.

Huntington Ingalls, spun off last year by defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), is working to preserve support for the increasingly costly ships in Washington. The company has a web of suppliers across the country that make the case to Congress each year to protect carrier funding.

From 2005 to 2011, the shipbuilder and its predecessor placed orders of about $3 billion in more than 330 of the 435 U.S. congressional districts, according to the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, a group that says it represents about 400 companies.

“When you have 45 states that provide stuff for the ship, it’s a fairly large job-creator,” said the Navy’s Admiral Moore.-Bloomberg (June 20, 2012)