Friday, July 13, 2012

Asean talks: US and China pledge to co-operate on Asia



US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi have said their countries will co-operate on Asia issues.

They are meeting on the sidelines of the Asean forum in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, amid regional tension.

China and Japan disagree over who owns islands in the East China Sea.

Meanwhile, Asean is seeking China's agreement on a code of conduct on disputes in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.

Mrs Clinton stressed the importance of China and the US working together on sensitive issues.

"I am delighted that we are going to be issuing a joint media note,'' she told the meeting in Phnom Penh. ''It is an important signal that the United States and China not only can but will work together in Asia."

Mr Yang told reporters China was ready to ''enhance'' dialogue with the US and ''expand... common ground''.

"China and US relations have continued to make progress this year," he said.

Foreign ministers of the 10-nation bloc are meeting in the Cambodian capital with counterparts from the region including China, and Mrs Clinton and European Union representative Catherine Ashton.

'Nationalistic rhetoric'

Mrs Clinton urged countries involved in disputes in the South China Sea to "work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and without use of force''.
The US has no territorial claims in the region and will not ''take sides'' in disputes, she stressed.

"But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea."

Mrs Clinton arrived in Phnom Penh from Laos where she made history as the first top US diplomat to visit the country in nearly six decades. Before that she travelled to Mongolia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, a commentary in China's ruling Communist Party newspaper criticised Mrs Clinton for holding up Mongolia as a model for democracy in Asia.

The remarks were widely seen as being indirectly aimed at Beijing.

"Who is the United States to haughtily appraise Asia's democratic position?" said the People's Daily editorial.

China has long bristled at perceived US criticism which it says amounts to foreign interference, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

These are also uncertain times in the country, with a-once-in-a-decade leadership change starting later this year. But using fiery nationalistic rhetoric remains a sure-fire way to bolster political credentials, says our correspondent.

Disputed territories

On Wednesday the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers held talks on the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, the uninhabited but resource-rich islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by China and Taiwan. They have been a longstanding source of tension.

Japan summoned China's ambassador to protest against the appearance of Chinese patrol boats in the area early on Wednesday.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing did not ''accept a representation lodged by the Japanese side over the issue'', state news agency Xinhua reported.

In the South China Sea, China has overlapping territorial claims with several Asean members - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Earlier this week, Asean forum ministers adopted key elements of the code of conduct and is now seeking China's agreement.

The Chinese foreign ministry said China would consider the proposals if the conditions were right.

Asean was set up in 1967 by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Brunei joined in 1984, followed by Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Burma in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 12, 2012)

China installs powerful radar in reef near Palawan



MANILA, Philippines - Aside from Panganiban Reef (Mischief reef), China has installed another powerful radar in its occupied Subi Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles from Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province's Pag-Asa Island in the Spratly region, the mayor of the island town said Thursday.

Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the silver colored dome radar is located atop a four-storey building which the Chinese have started to build six years ago at the reef southwest of Pag-Asa.

“While the radar could be only for weather monitoring and weather forecasting, one can also surmise that it can also monitor wide areas in the region of any moving and floating objects,” Bito-onon said.

At the other side of the building is a lighthouse that on calm waters Bito-onon said, which can be seen from Pag-Asa Island at night time.

Aside from Subi Reef, China has also constructed a military garrison in Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), an area only 70 nautical miles from Palawan.

Located within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Panganiban Reef, which located halfway towards the hotly-contested Spratlys Group of Islands, was occupied by China in 1994.

Despite a strong protest from the Philippines, China put up stilts and then transformed Panganiban Reef into a highly fortified military garrison equipped with powerful radars and other air and maritime monitoring equipment.

China is laying almost the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is also being claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, as an integral part of its maritime domain.-The Philippine Star (July 12, 2012 5:04PM)

Hillary Clinton warns against threats in West PHL Sea dispute



PHNOM PENH - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged rival claimants to the West Philippine Sea (also called South China Sea) not to resort to threats and intimidation in the potentially oil-rich waters, an indirect reference to China at the start of a regional meeting.
 
Clinton said the United States wanted talks involving all parties to resolve the dispute, a stance likely to upset China, which has sought a bilateral approach to addressing rival claims to the waters, a potential military flashpoint.
 
"We believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and without use of force," Clinton told the East Asia Summit meeting in Phnom Penh, according to a text released by the State Department.
 
Long-simmering tensions in the waters entered a more contentious chapter this year, with claimant countries searching deeper into disputed waters for energy supplies while building up their navies and military alliances.
 
"Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region, and approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation," Clinton added.
 
Beijing claims the South China Sea as its territory based on historical records and has said China has "indisputable sovereignty" over the area, parts of which are claimed by five other countries.
 
The Philippines and China only recently stepped back from a months-long standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a horseshoe shaped reef in waters they both claim -- the latest round of naval brinkmanship over the heavily trafficked waters.
 
The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines' decrepit military forces. China has warned that "external forces" should not get involved.
 
Proven and undiscovered oil reserve estimates in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass every country's except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.
 
U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to a newly assertive China in the West Philippine, part of his campaign to "pivot" US foreign policy more intensely on Asia after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
'Calamity'
 
The United States says stability is its concern in the waterway, which carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade, accounting for half the world's shipping tonnage. Several countries are seeking a maritime code of conduct for the seas.
 
"The United States is going to be very clear in our determination to see progress on the code of conduct between those negotiations that are taking place between China and ASEAN," a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters earlier this week.
 
Foreign ministers from the 10-state Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc have been joined in Phnom Penh by their counterparts from China, the United States and the European Union.
 
Before going into a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Thursday, Clinton told reporters the two superpowers would work together to find common ground to ensure proper handling of sensitive issues in Asia.
 
China has sought to keep the disputes out of the five days of ASEAN meetings, offering a mix of conciliatory words while ramping up the rhetoric in Beijing.
 
A commentary in Tuesday's overseas edition of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said efforts by Vietnam and the Philippines to tackle the issue in Phnom Penh were tantamount to "international kidnapping" and warned of "calamity".
 
The United States has found itself caught up in the dispute as a consequence of recent announcements of military cooperation deals with Vietnam and the Philippines.
 
Clinton's sweep though Asia, which included visits to Mongolia, Laos and Vietnam, comes just weeks after Washington announced plans to dramatically reshape its relations in the region. The U.S. moves are seen as a veiled attempt to counter China's influence in the region. -GMA News (July 12, 2012 3:50PM)

PHL to bid out three South China Sea oil and gas blocs



The Philippines will bid out oil exploration contracts in the South China Sea despite recent tensions with China over conflicting territorial claims in those waters, an official said Wednesday.
 
The three blocs in the South China Sea, off the coast of the western Philippine island of Palawan, are believed to be the most promising for oil and gas deposits, said Energy Undersecretary Jaime Layug.
 
"All reserves in that area belong to the Philippines. We will only offer areas within our exclusive economic zone," he said at the sidelines of an energy forum in Manila.
 
The area, known as the northwest Palawan basin, is just beside the Philippines' existing natural gas fields, which already provide 40 percent of the electrical power of the main Philippine island of Luzon, said Layug.
 
"These are all beside our existing service contracts so there is no doubt that these areas belong to the Philippines," he added.
 
He said historically Philippine energy exploration had the most success in these areas off Palawan, indicating the three new blocs might also hold large oil and gas reserves.
 
The exploration contracts for the three blocs will be bidded out on July 31, he said.
 
Tensions between the Philippines and China have recently risen due to conflicting claims over parts of the South China Sea.
 
The focus of the latest conflict is the Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines insists is well within its exclusive economic zone but which China claims along with most of the South China Sea.
 
Another South China Sea area, the potentially-oil-rich Reed Bank, is also due for development by the Philippines but has been claimed by China.
 
Last year, the Philippines accused China of harassing an oil exploration ship at Reed Bank.
 
Layug said China had not objected to the plans to bid out the contracts for the three blocs.
 
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea even up to the coast of its neighbors. The Philippines has cited international law to bolster its claims.
 
Ministers and diplomats representing China and Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines were meanwhile Wednesday meeting at an ASEAN summit in Cambodia, working on a code of conduct designed to ease tensions in the South China Sea, but were struggling to reach agreement. -GMA News (July 12, 2012 5:29PM)

ASEAN sharply split on South China Sea row



PHNOM PENH - Southeast Asian states were sharply divided Wednesday over how to deal with recent disputes with Beijing as they attempted to agree a draft code of conduct for the flashpoint South China Sea.

Meeting at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), foreign ministers wrangled over whether to include a reference in their joint statement to recent rows pitting China against Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Philippines wants the statement to mention a recent standoff over the Scarborough Shoal, which it claims, but summit organizer Cambodia, a staunch Chinese ally, has opposed Manila's proposal, diplomatic sources said.

Southeast Asian diplomats described the division on the joint statement as "sharp" and the discussions "intense".
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said diplomats were still attempting to reach a consensus.

"It's a consensus draft. It's a compromise text so no one will be 100 percent happy," he told reporters.

ASEAN members and China held joint talks on the proposed South China Sea code of code -- which spells out rules of behavior to prevent conflicts -- amid disagreements over what it should include and how it should be implemented.

The Philippines is leading a push for ASEAN to unite to propose to China a code based on a UN law on maritime boundaries that would delineate the areas belonging to each country.
Beijing has said it is prepared to discuss a more limited code aimed at "building trust and deepening cooperation" but not one that settles the territorial disputes, which it wants to negotiate with each country separately.

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying told reporters after the ASEAN-China meeting on Wednesday that Beijing would seriously consider the ASEAN bloc's proposal to start talks on the code.

"The Chinese minister would like to give serious consideration of the proposal. There is a positive note and also a hope that there will be conditions for proceeding (with the talks)," Fu said.

Efforts to produce a code began 10 years ago, but ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said nations were now engaging seriously and efforts were being made to "move along".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday and held talks with ASEAN foreign ministers. She will take part in a wider regional Asian summit beginning on Thursday.
Washington is pushing for progress on reducing friction in the South China Sea -- a key shipping lane that is vital to the world economy -- but is also keen to expand its engagement in trade, development aid and disaster relief.

"What we have heard from you is that ASEAN and the countries of the Asia Pacific are seeking greater American engagement across the board," Clinton said Wednesday.

"But you are particularly focused on areas where our presence at times has been underweighted," she added.

Clinton said in Vietnam on Tuesday that the South China Sea would be discussed alongside other areas of mutual concern at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which groups 26 Asia-Pacific countries and the European Union and starts Thursday.

This risks irking Beijing after the Chinese foreign ministry warned on Tuesday against "hyping" the problem and said its matters should be kept out of the summit.-Interaksyon (July 12, 2012)

ADB maintains growth forecast for Asean despite global slowdown



The Asian Development Bank on Thursday said it is keeping its growth forecast for Asean despite the euro zone crisis and the US economy's sluggish recovery.

In its Asian Development Outlook Supplement, the ADB said the member-economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will grow by a combined 5.6 percent this year, before picking up to 5.9 percent in 2013.

"Despite the weaker external environment, growth in Southeast Asia is expected to remain robust, supported by strong domestic demand and reconstruction in flood-affected areas," the ADB report sad.

"The Asean-5 countries will continue to support growth of the sub-region, accelerating to 5.2 percent in 2012 and 5.6 percent in 2013," the report said.

The Asean-5 include Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Driving growth in Asean are Thailand's rebound from last year’s floods and the Philippines' robust growth.

The ADB said robust retail sales indicate strong consumer spending particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines.

The lender said most of the governments in Asean have sufficient policy space to ease monetary policy and provide fiscal stimulus if needed.

"While the weaker global environment is expected to affect growth in Southeast Asia, domestic demand and reconstruction activities should keep growth robust," the ADB said.

In contrast, growth should moderate in China and India, the lender said.

It cut its forecast for China to a growth of 8.2 percent this year and 8.5 percent in 2013, and to 6.5 percent and 7.3 percent for India.

The ADB said developing Asia will grow 6.6 percent this year, before rising to 7.1 percent in 2013. These estimates are lower than the 6.9 percent and 7.3 percent forecast for 2012 and 2013 in ADB’s Asian Development Outlook published in April.-Interaksyon (July 12, 2012 4:36PM)

DFA chief slams Chinese 'duplicity, intimidation'



PHNOM PENH - The Philippines' foreign minister on Thursday denounced Chinese "duplicity" and "intimidation" in the South China Sea, souring the mood at a regional summit designed to soothe tensions.

"If Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction can be denigrated by a powerful country through pressure, duplicity, intimidation and the threat of the use of force, the international community should be concerned about the behaviour," Albert del Rosario told the summit, according to an official statement.

He was referring to a recent standoff between Chinese and Philippine boats at a rocky outcrop called the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines.-Interaksyon (July 12, 2012 08:08PM)

FMIC-UA&P lifts Philippines' 2012 growth forecast



MANILA - FMIC-UA&P Market Research Center on Thursday said it has raised its growth forecast for the Philippines this year to a range of 6-7 percent from the earlier estimate of 5.5 percent.

Victor Abola, UA&P senior economist, said the forecast upgrade stemmed from expectations of strong consumer spending given benign inflation, as well as higher construction spending by both the government and the private sector on account of preparations for the 2013 mid-term elections.

"With industrial electricity sales growth zooming to a 2-year high of 19.7 percent in May, and public spending up by 18.3 percent, and new jobs still over 1 million in April, the outlook for GDP hike in the second quarter looks even more promising than the first quarter," the report said.

FMIC-UA&P forecast second-quarter growth to pick up to a range of 6.5-7 percent from the first-quarter's 6.4 percent.

Driving growth in the April to June period are higher infrastructure spending, brisk manufacturing activity, higher consumption spending and stronger exports, the report said.

Abola said the services sector - particularly business process outsourcing and tourism industries - likely grew 15 percent in the second quarter.

"The upgraded outlook for 2012 second quarter GDP expansion is more remarkable given the slowdown of the U.S. economy and China, two main engines of world growth, and the lingering banking and debt crisis in the Euro-zone focused on elections in Greece, which held the world in tenterhooks. The outcome was fairly positive—No Grexit—followed by some concessions by Germany in favor of growth for beleaguered Spain and Italy, core countries in the Eurozone," FMIC-UA&P said.-Interaksyon (July 12, 2012 9:50PM)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on historic Laos visit



Hillary Clinton has become the first US secretary of state to visit Laos in 57 years, on a trip focusing on economic ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War.

Arriving in the capital Vientiane from Vietnam, she met Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.

The US is spending $9m this year on helping clean up unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War in Laos.

Mrs Clinton will then head to Cambodia for an Asean meeting.

The US dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War and unexploded bombs are still affecting lives and agriculture in the South East Asian nation.

The last top US diplomat to visit Laos was John Foster Dulles in 1955.

The US and Laos also "agreed to improve and further facilitate the accounting operations for American personnel still missing from the Indochina War era", said a statement released following Mrs Clinton's meeting with Mr Thongsing.

The two sides also discusssed Laos' pending entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Mrs Clinton visited a Buddhist temple and a prosthetic centre funded by the US, the Associated Press reports.

Another key item on her agenda, reports say, is the controversial Mekong River dam, which critics say would have a major impact on the environment and millions of lives.

The $3.8bn (£2.4bn) hydro-electric dam project at Xayaburi has caused tension among Mekong region countries - Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

In April, a multi-billion dollar contract was signed for a Thai company, CH Karnchang, to build the dam.

The Lao government has pledged not to go ahead with the project until environmental issues have been resolved.

However, activists say work on the project has already begun, with reports and photographs emerging of construction vehicles in the area.

'Pivot toward Asia'

Mrs Clinton's trip is part of a tour of Asia which analysts say signals the United States' growing interest in the region.
"My trip reflects a strategic priority of American foreign policy today," she told reporters in Mongolia earlier this week.

"After 10 years in which we focused a great deal of attention on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States is making substantially increased investments - diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise - in this part of the world. It's what we call our pivot toward Asia."

At the Asean regional forum later this week in the Cambodian capital, where she will join counterparts from the 10-nation bloc and other Asian countries, including China, tension in the South China Sea is expected to top the agenda.

Mrs Clinton had earlier urged progress on a code of conduct for resolving conflict in the disputed waters between China and several South East Asian nations.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 11, 2102)

Burma sanctions: Obama lifts restrictions on US firms



US President Barack Obama has announced that US companies will now be allowed to "responsibly do business in Burma".

He enacted promises given last month to ease investment restrictions.

But he warned that the US remained "deeply concerned" over a lack of transparency, and insisted that rights abusers would continue to be subject to the sanctions regime.

Mr Obama was rewarding the Burmese government for its recent reforms and release of political prisoners.

"Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma," he said in a statement.

But he said that entities belonging to the army or ministry of defence would not be covered by the move.
"In addition, US companies will be asked to report on their activities in line with international corporate governance standards," the statement added.

Controversial

The Associated Press reports that US firms have been given the go-ahead to invest in projects with state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise.

The move would be controversial because Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi last month explicitly urged foreign firms not to do business with the enterprise.

Meanwhile, the first US ambassador to Burma in 22 years, Derek Mitchell, has arrived in the country and met President Thein Sein.

The upgrading of diplomatic relations is part of the process of greater recognition for the Burmese government.

Since 2010, the government has overseen a transition from authoritarian rule to a more inclusive system.

The EU, Australia and other countries have already eased sanctions against the country.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 11, 2102)

New Zealand foreign minister to visit Philippines


New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully will make a two-day official visit to the Philippines next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Wednesday.
In a statement, the DFA said McCully “will be in Manila on July 17 and 18 upon the invitation of Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.”


“It will be Minister McCully’s first trip to the Philippines as New Zealand minister for foreign affairs,” the DFA noted.


Del Rosario and McCully “will discuss the advancement of economic ties and cooperation in the areas of defense, geothermal energy, dairy industry, labor, development cooperation, environment, and disaster preparedness,” said Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson.


McCully is also scheduled to call on President Benigno Aquino at Malacañang, the DFA said.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 12, 2012)

China becoming 'more aggressive,' DFA chief says


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - China is growing "more aggressive" in dealing with rival territorial claims, the Philippines said Wednesday, after a fresh spat erupted between Tokyo and Beijing over a remote chain of islands.


"It looks like they are becoming more aggressive every day," said Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, whose own country is locked in a months-long dispute with China over a shoal in the South China Sea.


Beijing on Wednesday asserted its "indisputable sovereignty" over the uninhabited territory in the East China Sea after three Chinese patrol boats approached the islands, prompting Japan to summon the Chinese ambassador.


The dispute, which centres around islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, is the latest territorial row involving China and its neighbours.


It comes as China and Southeast Asian countries struggle to make progress on a code of conduct to ease tension in the resource-rich South China Sea.


Tensions have flared recently in the area with both Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of aggression.


China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the waters.


Foreign ministers from across the region are currently meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh for a week-long security forum which has been dominated by efforts to ease friction over the competing claims.


A joint statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been held up as countries wrangle over whether to include a reference to recent incidents in the South China Sea.


Del Rosario told reporters in Phnom Penh it had been a "difficult" day, adding that he was still pushing for a mention of the tense situation in the Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocky outcrops also claimed by China.-ABS-CBN News (July 12, 2012 12:17AM)

Philippines has edge over China in dispute: US think-tank



MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has an advantage over China in their territorial dispute, but only if Manila will take a clear and firm stand on what it is claiming in the West Philippine Sea, a US security think-tank said.

Making a stand means the Philippines' claims on specific areas in the disputed waters should be "codified in law" to strengthen the legal basis of the country's maritime claims, said Gregory Poling, research associate of Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

Poling, in a July 6 analysis of the competing claims in the West Philippine Sea, said the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries having laws to press their claims will also "allow them to present a united front to China in arguing one crucial point: The only acceptable basis for maritime claims in the South China Sea must be international law, especially UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)."

"Were the ASEAN claimants to present an agreed-upon framework for establishing what is and is not disputed, the burden would rest with Beijing to clarify the basis for its own claims," he said. "At that point, Beijing would have limited options."

"Such pressure might give more moderate voices, like those in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more credibility, allowing China to clarify its claims by retaining those to the Spratlys and Paracels but giving up its egregious claims to the waters in between. This would mark an important step toward resolving the South China Sea dispute," he added.

After a lot of perceived foot-dragging, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the Philippine Baselines Law (RA 9522) in 2009 that established the Philippines' coastal baselines in accordance with UNCLOS.

However, confidential US diplomatic memos published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks pointed out that the law did not include the disputed territory in the Philippines' baselines and left the Spratlys and Scarborough classed as "regimes of islands."

According to cable 09MANILA428, Arroyo saw the compromise bill as the best way to prevent the tension over the disputed territories from worsening "and partly out of recognition that the Philippines lacks the military capacity to defend the Spratlys, if it should ever come to that."

The memo believes that Arroyo signed the watered-down measure with the hope that she "placated" China's anger over a more assertive baselines law.

Poling, in his analysis, said China is deliberately being ambigious over its claims in the West Philippine Sea because it give Beijing "the flexibility to interpret its position to serve the audience at hand."

'China can't claim Panatag Shoal'

He also said China has no legal basis to back its claims on Scarborough or Panatag shoal.

"For years the Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea extended only to the Spratlys (Nansha, or 'South Banks') and Paracels (Xisha, or 'West Banks'). Any claim to other features, like Scarborough Shoal, was only implied in so far as they fell within the ambiguous 9-dash lines," he said.

"Then China extended its claim to the entirely submerged Macclesfield Bank via the imaginary Zhongsha, or 'Middle Banks,' despite there being no way under international law to claim title over a submerged feature as if it were an island," he added.

"Further, in recent years, as Beijing has tried to move beyond an overreliance on the indefensible 9-dash lines, Scarborough Shoal has been incorporated as part of Zhongsha. The fact that it lies hundreds of miles from Macclesfield Bank or that it appears on none of the historical documents China puts forth to prove its title to the Spratlys and Paracels seemingly does not matter," Poling said.

The CSIS researcher said China is contradicting itself when its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement issued a statement in February 2012 that "no nation claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and that the dispute is only about the 'islands and adjacent waters. islands and adjacent waters.'"

He cited the annual unilateral fishing ban for the entire West Philippine Sea as proof of Beijing's unclear position on what it is indeed claiming in the Spratlys.

Local, international laws should end dispute

ASEAN countries setting their claims into laws -- both in local legislation and in a multilateral framework under international law -- will place China in a difficult position, Poling said.
"Alternately, Beijing could reject entirely the primacy of accepted international law in the dispute, but that would be extremely damaging to China’s larger interests," he added.  "Such a course of action would identify China as the undeniable remaining belligerent in the dispute and rally regional and international opinion around the ASEAN claimants’ position."

A draft document agreed by the foreign ministers of the Philippines and other ASEAN members state that they want international laws, including UNCLOS, to be the basis for settling competing claims in the West Philippine Sea, according to Agence France-Presse.

They are currently meeting in Cambodia to finally hammer out a code Of conduct in the disputed waters of the region.

The draft document outlining ASEAN's position calls on all sides to "undertake to resolve territorial... disputes in the (South China Sea) by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS."

China is opposing the ASEAN as a venue for settling the disputes and does not want UNCLOS to be used, as well, according to official statements from Beijing.-ABS-CBN News (July 11, 2012 6:01PM)

US wants close ties with ASEAN in politics, economics



PHNOM PENH- The United States is committed to strengthening and expanding political and economic relations and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said here today.

Speaking in the opening remarks of the 4th ASEAN-US Post Ministerial Conference, Clinton said that the Obama administration has elevated engagement across Asia as a strategic priority of the US foreign policy.

"A central pillar of that policy is to work more closely with ASEAN in order to deepen our economics, strategies and people to people engagement," she said.

"As the Secretary of State, I strongly support ASEAN. I believe that ASEAN plays an indispensable role in holding this region to prosperity," she said.

She added that the US has a great bearing on the future effectiveness of the ASEAN and works with ASEAN on the issues that are central importance to the United States ranging from maritime security to economic growth.

"We have more investment in ASEAN than we have in China--that is surprising fact," she said. "On the economic front, there is much more room for us still to grow together, so we are working to fasten the economic gap in very tangible ways."

She said the ASEAN-US Business Forum, which will be held in Siem Reap province on Friday, will lay a ground work for economic connection and mutual prosperity for a warm time to come.

The 4th ASEAN-US Post Ministerial Conference was attended by all ASEAN Foreign Ministers.

Hillary arrived here this afternoon for ASEAN meetings, which will last until July 13.-The Philippine Star (July 11, 2012 9:55PM)

PHL joins nemesis Vietnam, Thailand in Suzuki Cup group


 

BANGKOK – The draw for the 2012 Suzuki Cup took about 15 minutes to complete but it will take another five months before every nation can settle some old scores or to find out where they stand in Southeast Asia’s most prestigious football competition.

The Philippines, described by draw host Premsuda Santiwattana as “fast improving,” is in Group A with host Thailand, Vietnam, and whichever nation will top the qualifying stage in Yangon, Myanmar.

The five countries participating in the single-round qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar from October 5-13 include the host nation, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos,and Timor Leste.

The second placer of the qualifiers joins the “Group of Death” that is Group B with defending champions Malaysia, 2010 runner-up Indonesia, and three-time champion Singapore.
As the Philippines made it to the semifinals of the 2010 tournament, the national team is automatically seeded to the group stages.

“I think that's the most difficult outcome that could have been possible. But if we want to show how far we've come and we want to win the competition we have to beat the best teams,” said Azkals striker Phil Younghusband.

"Dami na kaming dinaanan. Kahit sino matapat sa amin sa Suzuki Cup we'll show them that we are now a better team," added Ian Araneta.

There are all sorts of sub-plots heading into the biennial tournament. In Group A play, Thailand, also three-time winners of the Suzuki Cup, were unable to advance out of the group stages in Indonesia. Vietnam, the champion four years ago, was beaten by the Philippines, 2-0, in a match that inspired the current growth of football in the former regional whipping boys. The historic win over Vietnam also gained notoriety when former Vietnam head coach Henrique Calisto refused to shake former Azkals head coach Simon McMenemy’s hand after the match. Calisto alleged that the Philippines parked the bus throughout the whole game. McMenemy denied that and said that Vietnam’s offense forced them to defend more than they would like. The Azkals scored with goals coming from Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband.

Thailand has been a longtime tormentor of the Philippines and of all the regional powers, the Thai booters have been the only one who have not been able to test the rejuvenated Azkals. Thailand also lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in the showdown for the AFF Suzuki Cup four years ago.

Malaysia, who beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate two years ago to be crowned kings of Asean football for the first time, will clash with Indonesia, which has been desperate for a major trophy. With the warring factions in Indonesian football finally at peace, the Merah Putih expect to put on the pitch their best team and not the young squad that was decimated 10-nil by Qatar several months ago or the one held in check, 2-2, by the Philippines in a recent friendly.

In the recent Causeway Challenge, Malaysia drew with Singapore, 2-2, in a match that saw the Lions dominate the Tigers but it was the former who scored the first two goals before the host salvaged the match with late strikes.

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal, who steered the Tigers to victory in 2010, was upbeat about the blockbuster draw.

“It is a really interesting draw” he said. “We are in the same group as Indonesia. I think it is good for our nation – it is going to be electrifying. I am excited about the challenge – Indonesia and Singapore are strong teams. My first priority is to go to the knock-out stages. We want to do well but I cannot guarantee anything. But the mind-set must be that we want to be there (champions) again.”

Winfried Schafer, the former coach of Cameroon who replaced ex-England captain Bryan Robson at the helm of Thailand, said it was crucial that the team prepare well for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

“It is a very interesting draw and I am looking forward to the tournament,” he said. “All the teams are very strong, there are no favorites. I have seen both Vietnam and the Philippines play and they are very strong. We have to train really hard and prepare well for the tournament so we can put a good team on the field. This tournament is very important for me and Thailand – we are trying to make it to the final.”

The 2010 tournament saw more than 750,000 spectators flock to the stadiums with over 192 million viewers tuning in to live broadcasts.

Two of the most iconic stadiums in Asean, the 49,000-capacity Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok and the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, will be the main venues for the group stage.

Both stadia have witnessed some epic encounters in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The Rajamangala Stadium was the stage for the 2000 showdown when Thailand won the trophy for the second time with a 4-1 victory over Indonesia and close to 90,000 fans at Bukit Jalil Stadium cheered on Malaysia to a 3-0 win over Indonesia in the first leg of the 2010 final.

Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok, which holds 34,000 spectators, and the 70,000-capacity Shah Alam Stadium, near Kuala Lumpur, will each stage one match in the group stage.

The venue for the qualifying tournament will be the Youth Training Centre in Yangon.

The semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup will be held on December 8-9 (first leg) and December 12-13 (second leg) with the home and away final on December 19 and December 22.-The Philippine Star (July 11, 2012 9:04PM)

Manila, Rome to enhance defense ties after Philippines eyes purchase of Italian warship



The Philippines and Italy are set to further strengthen their defense partnership, Manila's Ambassador to Rome Virgilio Reyes Jr. said on Wednesday. 

The announcement came roughly two months after the Philippines' Defense Department disclosed plans of acquiring a third warship from Italy after purchasing two from the United States. 

Officials of both countries' defense departments will hold an exchange of visits to enhance their strategic defense ties, Reyes said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“[We are] committed to its effective concrete implementation,” Reyes said.

In May, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin raised the possibility that the country may acquire another warship from Italy. The Philippines has two warships, the first, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was acquired from the US Coast Guard last year. The second may arrive in November, Gazmin said. 

Speaking at the 65th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between both countries, Reyes also asked the Italian Ministry Foreign Affairs to sign two pending agreements--the Draft Executive Cultural Program between the Philippine and Italy and the Draft Protocol to Amend the Bilateral Convention on the Avoidance of Double Taxation.

Manila and Rome established diplomatic ties since July 1947, a relationship that has been marked by several cooperation agreements over the past years.

In his speech, Reyes also thanked Italy's foreign ministry for allowing Filipinos to promote their own food in Italy, including mango rum liquor, and for permitting Filipino artists showcase their artworks. 
[Italy+Flag+Map]"[During] the end of June, the Philippine Tropical Fruit Business Mission to Italy had a productive visit around markets of Rome and Bergamo and [held] important exchange of discussion with the Italian fruit growers and importers in the Centro Agroalimentare di Roma (CAR)," Reyes said.

"I would like to expresse my gratitude to the government of the Italian Republic for its gracious hosting of the Filipino community in Italy with the assurance that Filipino nationals will contribute positively to the Italian society and economy," Reyes stressed.

Reyes then expressed the Philippine government’s commitment toward upholding, protecting, and promoting the rights and interests of the Filipino community in Italy. Some 131,000 Filipinos work in Italy as maids, nurses, or service workers.-Interaksyon (July 11, 2012 12:58PM)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thai farmers face charges for farming in Burma



A group of farmers from Thailand are facing charges in Burma for allegedly growing rubber there illegally, Burma's state-run media report.

The 61 men and women were detained last week near the two countries' border, says the New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

A large number of vehicles and a cache of weapons were found in their possession, it added.

Thai officials say the farmers believed they had permission to work there.

The Burmese army arrested the 52 men and nine women for "illegally operating" 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of rubber plantations, says the New Light of Myanmar.

"The Thai detainees have encroached upon Myanmar's territory and worked rubber farming on a commercial scale and held arms and ammunitions for their security," the newspaper said, adding that Thai officials had already been informed of the detentions.

Among the weapons reportedly seized were different types of guns, bullets and a grenade. There were also three bulldozers and more than 30 vehicles.

Thai authorities argue that this is just a case of misunderstanding, but the decision to still press charges reveals a certain frostiness in cross-border relations, according to the BBC's Jonah Fisher.

Burmese President Thein Sein is scheduled to visit Thailand later this month.

If the farmers are still being held then, their fate is likely to form a major part of the talks, our correspondent adds.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 10, 2012)

PH stocks led Asian bourses in first half


 


The Philippine Stock Exchange index was the top performing market in Asia in the first half of the year, rising by more than a fifth to finish at 5,246 points from 4,291.21 a year ago.


The local bourse on July 5 bested its previous record high to close at a new all-time high at 5,369.98 and became the top performing market in the region with a gain of 22.7 percent year-to-date, beating bourses in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, India and China.


“Just like our main index, investor confidence in Philippines Inc. is at an all-time high. What’s remarkable is that we have been able to achieve unprecedented growth even in the midst of ongoing uncertainties in the Western hemisphere and a cooling Chinese economy,” Hans Sicat, PSE president and chief executive, said in a statement.


“This is a testament to the effectiveness of the reforms that the country has undertaken, which further contributed to the stable macroeconomic environment,” he said.


The combined market capitalization of listed issues in the PSE at end-June reached P10.05 trillion, up 12.8 percent from P8.91 trillion last year.


Total value turnover rose 43.2 percent to P947.73 billion in the first half from P661.81 billion in the same period the previous year. Average daily value turnover stood at P7.64 billion, up 45.5 percent year-on-year.


Preliminary figures also showed that foreign investors were net buyers of Philippine-listed stocks in the amount of P71.12 billion, up 382 percent from P14.75 billion year-on-year.


All indices were on the green with the financials index emerging as the best performer in the first half, after surging 34.6 percent to the 1,304.42 points.


It was followed by the property index, which grew by 30.1 percent to finish at 1,927.48. The holding firms index rose 28 percent to 4,488.80. The industrial index climbed 10.8 percent to finish at 7,839.57 in the first half. The services index inched up 8.8 percent to 1,759.02 while mining and oil increased 4.8 percent to 24,629.48 points.-Manila Standard Today (July 11, 2012)

Phl urged to send back ships to Panatag



WASHINGTON – The United States should support the Philippines in sending its ships back to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea because possession is nine-tenths of the law and the physical absence of government vessels gives the appearance that Manila has ceded its claim to the Chinese, The Heritage Foundation said.

The recent impasse between the Philippines and China over the shoal 124 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines is not over, said Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the foundation.

“If allowed to stand, the current turn in the situation – that is, the Chinese left alone to represent its sovereignty claim in Scarborough (or Panatag Shoal as it is referred to by Manila) – is a defeat for both the Philippines and the US,” Lohman said.

On June 15, President Aquino pulled Filipino government vessels out of the area with what he thought was an agreement from the Chinese to do the same – an approaching storm providing face-saving cover for both sides. 

Last week he repeated his call on China to pull out all its ships from Panatag – apparently to no avail.

Lohman said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings in Cambodia this week was a prime opportunity for the US to let China and Southeast Asia know that it will not allow this one-sided bargain to stand.

It was also an opportunity for Clinton to reinforce the red line that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty draws around the Philippines, its armed forces, and public vessels.

Lohman said China militarized the dispute by announcing the establishment of “a normal, combat-ready patrol system” to patrol waters under Chinese jurisdiction – clearly implying the West Philippine Sea and specifically the waters around the Spratlys, raising the temperature to a new level. Clinton cannot go to the meetings in Cambodia pretending otherwise, he said.

The Philippines and China are currently locked in a territorial dispute not only in Panatag Shoal but also in the Spratly region, which is also being claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

The Spratly archipelago is a chain of islets, reefs, atolls and sand bars straddling the West Philippine Sea, which is believed to be rich in mineral and fuel deposits.

There are conflicting reports over whether the Philippines has requested the US to provide air patrols over the South China Sea. 

If it has, there is nothing escalatory with such a request since the US is already working closely with the Philippines to upgrade its domain awareness capabilities with radars and the like, Lohman said.

If the Philippines requests more direct, immediate assistance in the form of US air patrols it should be provided, he added.

Bishops get update

Meanwhile, Roman Catholic bishops got first hand update from Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan on developments in Panatag Shoal.

“We are concerned because it is part of our country, that is our security. We wanted to have a first hand information from him since they (PCG) are the ones there and (he) knows what is happening and what is the situation,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-Nassa) chairman Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

The bishops relayed their invitation through Military Ordinariate Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak. Tan spoke before the bishops during their 105th Plenary Assembly last Sunday. Tan’s “factual report” reportedly lasted around 15 minutes.-The Philippine Star (July 11, 2012)

Phl won't ban travel to Cambodia



Travel to Cambodia has not been banned despite the outbreak of a mysterious respiratory disease there even as the situation is being monitored, Malacañang said yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said many countries were surprised with the new disease, Enterovirus (EV-71), but officials of the Department of Health (DOH), Bureau of Quarantine and airport officials were closely monitoring arriving passengers, especially those coming from or had a stopover in Cambodia where 61 children had reportedly died because of the outbreak.

Valte said Health Secretary Enrique Ona had also alerted hospitals about the matter.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Quarantine doctor Ali Agama said they strengthened their surveillance and monitoring for all incoming passengers and those with fever would be examined thoroughly.

Agama said they would get the passenger’s history of travel abroad and give him/her medical checklist to fill up so they could follow up in the coming days.

Agama added that if a passenger is afflicted with the disease, he/she would be referred to the DOH for possible confinement at the San Lazaro Hospital or the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang.

The DOH declared the Enterovirus as a notifiable disease in an effort to prevent its possible spread.

Ona said making EV-71 a notifiable disease would compel doctors and all other medical practitioners nationwide to report individual cases or an outbreak of disease related to the virus.

Among the diseases caused by EV-71 are mild hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), acute respiratory disease, acute flaccid paralysis (polio-like) and the deadly brainstem encephalitis.

Doctors said HFMD is described as a self-limiting illness characterized by fever and accompanied by skin lesions or rashes.

The DOH said that EV-71 infections do occur in the country, but are not properly documented. Fatal EV-71 infection is still very rare in the Philippines, DOH noted. 

The DOH and World Health Organization (WHO), however, clarified that the Cambodian EV-71 infection was of the encephalitis type and not HFMD.

WHO said affected Cambodian children were generally stricken with fever followed by rapid respiratory deterioration and impaired consciousness.

Death occurred 24 hours from hospital confinement.   

As a precautionary measure, government health experts urged the public to observe proper disposal of baby diapers or human waste, strict personal hygiene and regular hand washing.

The virus is known to be excreted in the feces since it is found in human intestines.          

The DOH also advised parents and day-care personnel to clean and disinfect toys and teaching tools that are shared with other children.

Ona said there is still no travel restriction to and from Cambodia, but incoming passengers will be subjected to thermal screening upon arrival in all international airports as a routine quarantine procedure.-The Philippine Star (July 11, 2012)