Saturday, July 28, 2012

Behind the scenes of ASEAN's breakdown

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently conducted an intense round of shuttle diplomacy, visiting Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia in order to secure agreement on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea. When asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to sum up the results of his efforts he replied it was "back to business as usual". 

Natalegawa meant that he had managed to overcome the appearance of ASEAN disarray when the grouping's foreign ministers were unable to reach agreement on four paragraphs on the South China Sea to be included in a draft joint communique to summarize the results of their meeting. The Cambodia-hosted event represented the first time in the bloc's 45-year history that

an ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) failed to agree on a joint statement. 

Natalegawa stood alongside Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong when he issued ASEAN's six-point statement. Hor Namhong, however, could not resist laying the blame for ASEAN's failure to issue a joint communique on Vietnam and the Philippines, the two ASEAN countries that have clashed most openly with China on contested claims to the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia also have disputes with China over particular bits of the maritime area. 

The record of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) Retreat, however, tells a different story. According to notes of the discussions drawn up by a participant which this author has reviewed, Cambodia twice rejected attempts by the Philippines, Vietnam and other ASEAN members to include a reference to recent developments in the South China Sea. Each time Cambodia threatened that it would withhold the joint communique.
The South China Sea issue was discussed during the plenary session of the AMM Retreat. The Philippines spoke first and was followed by Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Cambodia. 

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario described past and current examples of Chinese "expansion and aggression" that prevented "the Philippines from enforcing its laws and forcing the Philippines to retreat from its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)." 

Del Rosario asked rhetorically, "what would be the real value of the Code of Conduct (COC) if we could not uphold the DOC [Declaration on Conduct of Parties]?", which was first agreed to with China in 2002. Del Rosario ended his intervention stating it was "important that ASEAN's collective commitment to the [DOC] be reflected in the joint communique of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting." 

Four other countries directly addressed this point. Vietnam described China's recent creation of Sansha City over contested South China Sea islands and China National Offshore Oil Company's invitation for foreign exploration bids in other contested maritime areas as "serious violations of Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction over its EEZ and Continental Shelf". 

Vietnam argued that the joint communique should reflect this. Indonesia underscored the importance of ASEAN acting with one voice and noted that recent developments were of concern to all ASEAN members. Indonesia endorsed concluding a Code of Conduct and promised to "circulate a non-paper on possible and additional elements of the COC". 

Malaysia endorsed the comments by Indonesia and stressed "We must talk with a single voice; ASEAN must show [its] united voice; [otherwise] our credibility will be undermined." Malaysia concluded, "We must refer to the situation in the South China Sea, particularly any acts that contravene the international law on EEZ and continental shelves. It is totally unacceptable that we can't have it in the joint communique. It is important that ASEAN has a clear expression of our concerns on the South China Sea in the joint communique." 

Singapore noted that "recent developments were of special concern" because they raised "novel interpretations of international law that could undermine the entire UNCLOS regime." Singapore concluded by arguing "it is important that ASEAN has a clear expression of our concerns on the South China Sea in the joint communique ... [It would be] damaging to us if we don't say anything." 

Broken consensus

Until Cambodia spoke, no country took exception to the interventions by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. When it was Cambodia's turn to speak its foreign minister queried why it was necessary to mention Scarborough Shoal, where China and the Philippines were recently engaged in a two-month stand-off. 

He then abruptly declared, "I need to be frank with you, in case we cannot find the way out, Cambodia has no more recourse to deal with this issue. Then, there will be no text at all. We should not try to impose national positions; we should try to reflect the common views in the spirit of compromise." 

At this point the discussion became heated, with both the Philippines and Vietnam continuing to argue their cases. Additional interventions were made by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The AMM Retreat was brought to an end by Hor Namhong, who declared, "We can never achieve [agreement] even though we stay here for the next four or five hours ... If you cannot agree on the text of the joint communique; we have no more recourse to deal with this issue as the Chair of ASEAN." 

Natalegawa correctly pointed out that although no joint communique was issued, ASEAN foreign ministers did reach agreement on the "key elements" of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. As a result of his shuttle diplomacy, he said ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to "the early conclusion of a Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea". 

Cambodia, in its capacity as ASEAN chair, hosted two informal meetings between ASEAN and Chinese senior officials to discuss the way forward on the COC. China publicly announced that it was ready to enter into formal discussions with ASEAN "when conditions were ripe." 

If all goes to plan, ASEAN and Chinese senior officials will discuss the modalities of their forthcoming discussions. They still need to determine at what level they will meet, how often, and to whom they will report. Formal discussions are scheduled to commence in September and ASEAN officials hope to complete negotiations by November. 

Natalegawa's shuttle diplomacy provided a much-needed boost to ASEAN's morale. His efforts also helped to dispel the perception outside of Southeast Asia that there was disunity among ASEAN members on how to deal with the South China Sea issue. 

More importantly, Indonesia's intervention served notice to Cambodia that as ASEAN's chair for 2012 it could not unilaterally control ASEAN's agenda. Natalegawa's intervention was unprecedented in taking a leadership role that normally would fall to the ASEAN chair and signaled that Indonesia is willing to play a more proactive role in regional affairs. This is in contrast to the Suharto years when Indonesia, viewed as the natural leader of Southeast Asia, played a more low-key "softly, softly" role. 

There could, however, be another meaning behind Natalegawa's expression that ASEAN is "back to business as usual". This second meaning could be a vague reference to China's renewed assertiveness in seeking to exercise its jurisdiction over the South China Sea. 

This has taken three forms. First, China has raised Sansha from county to prefecture level and given it administrative responsibility over the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank and Spratly Islands. Indeed, Hainan provincial authorities rushed to appoint local officials to this new unit, and elections will be held to select representatives to the National People's Congress. 

Second, China's southern Hainan province soon thereafter dispatched 30 trawlers and four escort vessels to fish in the waters in the Spratly Islands. The fleet first fished off Fiery Cross Reef before moving to Johnson South Reef, both contested areas. 

Third, and most significantly, China's Central Military Commission issued a directive establishing a military garrison in Sansha prefecture. This garrison, with its headquarters based at Woody Island, will have responsibility for national defense of an area covering two million square miles of water. 

Business as usual, in the second sense, thus could mean that while ASEAN negotiates a COC with Beijing, China can be expected to simultaneously continue to apply pressure and intimidation on both the Philippines and Vietnam and seek other ways to sow discord among the grouping's 10 members.-Asia Times (July 27, 2012)

Russia in talks for naval base in Vietnam

Russia is holding talks about opening naval bases in Moscow's Soviet-era allies Vietnam and Cuba as well as the Seychelles, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy said Friday.

"It is true, we are working on the deployment of Russian naval bases outside Russian territory," Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"Within this work we are discussing the possibility of creating material and technical supply centers on the territory of Cuba, Seychelles and Vietnam," Chirkov said ahead of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang later Friday.

The Soviet Navy had foreign bases in Cam Ranh, in the south of Vietnam, and Tartus in Syria.

Putin decided in 2001 to shut the Vietnamese base, which Moscow had rented since Soviet times as a result of a 1979 agreement between Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Russia left the base in 2002.

The Syrian base in Tartus, which was created in 1971 as a supply center for the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, became Moscow's only military base outside the USSR.

Although analysts see the Tartus base as a key strategic asset for Moscow in the Mediterranean, its infrastructure is extremely modest with just a few dozen staff based there at any one time and naval vessels only visiting for brief calls.

During the early years of his presidency, Putin also closed a Russian listening post on Cuba, a key Soviet-era client, in what was seen at the time as a major step towards improving post-Cold War relations with Washington.

But with relations between Russia and the West undergoing a new period of tension at the start of Putin's third presidential mandate, Moscow seems keen to revive Soviet-era alliances.

RIA Novosti said that the necessity to open the new naval bases abroad was first mooted in 2008 when the Russian fleet participated in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

At that time Russian Navy thought about the possibility of opening a base in the African state of Djibouti, said the news agency.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the United States was not concerned by Russian moves to re-establish foreign bases.

"The Russian government has interest in various parts of the world, it's their right to promote those interests," said George Little.

He noted that the United States is itself pursuing closer relations with Vietnam. "They have allowed access for US supply ships to enter Vietnamese waters, including Cam Ranh Bay," he said.-Interaksyon (July 28, 2012)

Friday, July 27, 2012

East Timor military chief on 5-day visit to enhance cooperation with PH armed forces

The military chief of East Timor is on a five-day visit in the Philippines “to enhance bilateral military cooperation” between the two countries.

Major General Lere Anan Timur, Timor Leste Defense Force (F-FDTL) Chief of Defense Force, met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief General Jessie Dellosa, and other ranking military and defense officials at Camp Aguinaldo Wednesday.

The visit will also include a tour of Army’s vital installations and a meeting with Lieutenant General Anthony Alcantara of the Northern Luzon Command, Army Training and Doctrines Commander Maj. Gen. Joel Ibanez, and Light Armor Division Commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Luces.

“Since East Timor is a very young nation with a newly-organized defense force, the Armed Forces of the Philippines offered its assistance in building their military capability,” military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said.

Timur will also meet with Colonel Abraham Claro Cases, Commander of the AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center. The military had been sending peace observers as part of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste to support the government in promoting peace and stability, Burgos said.

The AFP also contributed troops and military hardware to the International Force in East Timor, a military mission aimed at restoring peace and order in East Timor prior its independence.

“The AFP has been all-out in advocating peace and security not only in our country but also to the rest of the world. Our partnership with foreign security and defense institutions manifests our belief in teamwork as the way forward towards just and lasting peace,” Dellosa said in a statement.
-ABS-CBN News (July 26, 2012) -Black Pearl (July 26, 2012)

Vietnam joins Etihad flight network

Etihad Airways will launch daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s commercial capital and most populous city, in October 2013.

 It will be Etihad Airways’ sixth online destination within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, joining Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Singapore.

 In conjunction with its partner airlines, the new Ho Chi Minh City service extends Etihad Airways’ total flight network reach to 21 ASEAN destinations.

 The new air services to Ho Chi Minh City are set to meet growing demand from Vietnam’s rapidly expanding economy and will support the country’s increasing commercial ties with the United Arab Emirates, and in particular Abu Dhabi.

 James Hogan, Etihad Airways president and chief executive officer, said: “We are delighted to announce the introduction of Ho Chi Minh City to the Etihad Airways’ global flight network. Like our home-base of Abu Dhabi, it is a vibrant, culturally rich and expanding city popular with business and leisure travellers.”

 “The route will be ideal to carry passengers and cargo point-to-point from the United Arab Emirates, as well as from Etihad Airways destinations in the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America,” he said.

The new flight services will further support joint UAE and Vietnam government ventures in areas of energy, infrastructure, tourism, and civil construction. UAE investment in Vietnam now stands at more than $3 billion and two-way trade revenue approximately $1.3 billion.

Hogan added: “Etihad Airways has a strong South East Asian network and the addition of daily services to Ho Chi Minh City underlines our commitment to this region that continues to experience strong commercial growth across many industries, especially tourism, manufacturing and technology.”

Tran Ngoc Thach, ambassador of Vietnam to the UAE, said: “I believe that Etihad’s direct flights to Vietnam will contribute to improving understanding between the two peoples of Viet Nam and the UAE. More and more tourists will come to Viet Nam and a greater number of tourists will come to the UAE. They will also help to increase trade and tourism between our two countries for the benefit of the people and countries.”-The Philippine Star (July 27, 2012)

Hepatitis could kill 5M in Southeast Asia in the next 10 years, WHO warns

Over 5 million people in Southeast Asia are expected to die from hepatitis over the next 10 years and most of them would not know the disease that will kill them until it's too late, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

“The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis are unaware, undiagnosed and untreated,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand of WHO’s Pandemic and Epidemic Disease Department.

The WHO also said that most of the people who have hepatitis are unaware of how sick they are, and realize that they are infected only when they experience symptoms or complications years after contracting the disease.

“Only by increasing awareness of the different forms of hepatitis, and how they can be prevented and treated, can we take the first step towards full control of the disease and save thousands of lives,” Briand said.

Four types of Hepatitis

According to WHO data, 65 percent of those with Hepatitis B (HBV) and 75 percent of those with Hepatitis C (HCV) are not aware that they are infected.

WHO then urged governments to strengthen their efforts against viral hepatitis, adding that the disease kills about 1 million people worldwide every year.

Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation. Depending on the type, it can be transmitted through infected bodily fluids or contaminated food and water, WHO said.

The five hepatitis viruses include type A, B, C, D and E. Vaccines are available for all the types, except C.

WHO expressed particular concern over types B and C, noting that these two types account for almost 80 percent of all liver cancer cases. 

According to the organization, types B and C are additionally problematic because those who have it may not experience symptoms until they are chronically ill.

According to WHO, types A and E are transmitted through contaminated water or food, and are linked to poor sanitation and poor personal hygiene.

Meanwhile, types B, C, and D are transmitted through infected blood, and can be contracted from unsafe injections or unscreened blood transfusions.

Types B and C can also be transmitted through unprotected sex, while type D only infects those who already have type B.

New framework

Under their framework released ahead of the World Hepatitis Day on July 28, WHO outlined four priority areas in preventing and treating hepatitis.

Among these areas are raising awareness, transforming scientific evidence into policy and action, preventing transmission, and providing screening, care, and treatment.

WHO, its member-states and partners will focus on the four priority areas to make prevention, care, and treatment programs more accessible to those who need it.-GMA News (July 26, 2012 08:02PM)

Cambodians flock to 'magic' log for lottery luck

PHNOM PENH - A large log dug up in Cambodia has drawn thousands of visitors who believe it possesses healing powers and can predict winning lottery numbers, a local official said Thursday.

Some 4,000 to 5,000 people have already been to see the 13-meter-long log (42 feet) that was discovered earlier this month when a family excavated a pond in western Pursat province, Prey Yeang village chief Hun Nov told AFP by phone.

"They believe the log has magical powers," he said, adding that visitors were coming loaded with offerings such as pig heads and boiled whole chickens after some locals who touched the wood won money in the lottery.

"At least one hundred people a day visit the log to ask for lottery numbers and to cure their illnesses," he said. "They believe in superstition."

Cambodians are highly superstitious, particularly in the countryside where people continue to merge animist practices with Buddhism.

Hun Nov said some believers rubbed talcum powder onto the wood, hoping to see lucky lottery numbers, and others drank water from the pond and smeared nearby mud onto their bodies in a bid to cure their ailments.

While the village chief himself is not convinced of the log's powers, "We, the authorities, have no right to stop them," he said.-Interaksyon (July 26, 2012 10:29PM)

Clark named one of world's best airports, freeport zones

Clark Freeport Zone and Clark International Airport ranked 8th and 3rd best freeport zone and airport, respectively, in the world by the London-based Financial Times Business Group, which is also the publisher of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDi) Magazine.

With the Financial Times ranking, the Clark Freeport Zone is now part of an elite list of freeport zones in the world, including The Dubai Airport Free Zone (Dafza), the Dubai International Financial Centre in UAE and Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone in China.

Other top zones cited by the prestigious magazine are Malaysia’s Iskandar, UAE’s DuBiotech, Tanger Free Zone in Morocco, Freeport of Ventspils in Latvia, Chittagong Export Processing Zone in Bangladesh, and Dubai Media City in UAE.

FDi Magazine invited 600 free zones from 120 countries to participate in a survey where respondents submitted relevant data about their free zones.

Another member of the BCDA Group, the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) placed third in the magazine’s top five best airport zones in the world.

The Dubai Airport Free Zone topped the list, with Morocco’s Tanger Free Zone landing in second place.

Clark Freeport Zone was also cited by FDI Magazine in 2010 as the 7th Best Economic Potential among the Global Free Zone of the Future for the years 2010 to 2011. Clark Freeport Zone is a wholly-owned by the BCDA.

The Clark Freeport Zone, a 4,500-hectare former US military base in Angeles City, Pampanga, is set to become Southeast Asia’s logistics hub for business and tourism. 

At present, there are more than 533 locators at the Clark Freeport Zone, providing employment to around 65,000 workers in the country.

Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) President and CEO Arnel Paciano D. Casanova lauded the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) for putting the Clark Freeport Zone at the forefront of the global investment radar.

“The international recognition of one of the country’s freeport zones is an indication that the Philippines is making waves in the global market. We are on the right track,” Casanova said.

Casanova, who is also the chairman of the Philippine Investment Promotions Plan (PIPP) Steering Committee, said the sound economic fundamentals of the country, the country’s recent credit rating upgrade, and now the ranking of Clark Freeport Zone as among the best in the world, solidifies the notion that the country is indeed ripe for new and bigger investments.

Casanova said being ranked 8th in the world is not an easy task to accomplish as he recognized the hard work done by the CDC.

“Through the years, the men and women of CDC have risen up to the challenge and succeeded in making the Clark Freeport Zone among the top freeport zones in the world,” Casanova said.

He added that “the CDC led by Chairman and OIC Eduardo Oban, Jr. is on track in attracting more investments that will translate to more jobs for the Filipinos,” Casanova said.

The recognition of CDC, a member of the BCDA Group, came at the heels of BCDA’s signing of a cooperation agreement with the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) that would help position the country as an investment destination in the Asia Pacific region.

For his part, BCDA Chairman Felicito Payumo said, “We are definitely bound for a stronger Philippine economy.” He emphasized that the country — given its healthy business climate anchored on integrity, fairness and good governance — will continue to draw attention and interest from the international community.”

The BCDA Group is composed of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC), Poro Point Management Corporation (PPMC), John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC), North Luzon Railway Corporation (NLRC), BCDA Management and Holdings, Inc. (BMHI),Bataan Technology Park, Inc. (BTPI) and the BCDA.-Interaksyon (July 26, 2012 9:02PM)

Malaysia's AirAsia buys Indonesian Batavia Air

Malaysia-based AirAsia said Thursday it is paying $80 million in cash for Indonesia's Batavia Air, as the region's biggest budget carrier spreads its wings in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

"In accordance with Indonesian civil aviation ownership regulations, AAB will hold a 49 percent stake in Metro Batavia Group with the 51 percent majority held by its Indonesian partner, Fersindo," the group, AirAsia Berhad (AAB), said in a statement.

"The acquisition of 100 percent interest in Metro Batavia by AAB and Fersindo will be carried out in two stages, through acquisition of a majority 76.95 percent stake and subsequently followed by the remaining 23.05 percent held by its existing shareholders."

Acquisition is expected to be completed by the second quarter of next year, and is subject to regulatory approvals in Indonesia, it said.

"The total purchasing consideration for Metro Batavia Group is $80 million and will be settled in cash," the statement added.

AirAsia has been shoring up its presence in the region against a host of other competitors, including Lion Air, Indonesia's largest low cost carrier.

"The Batavia Air acquisition is a fantastic opportunity for AirAsia to accelerate our growth plans in one of the most exciting aviation markets in Asia and further underlines our belief in the growth potential of Indonesia's aviation sector," said Tony Fernandes, Group CEO and Director of AAB.

Batavia Air is a largely domestic carrier with about 30 planes and a few international routes such as Jeddah, Singapore and Guangzhou.

It has been bouncing through financial turbulence recently, with the transportation ministry confirming the carrier was forced to return two leased Boeing 737 airliners to its owners after failing to pay overdue bills.

Demand for air travel in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with a growing middle class among its 240 million population, has been soaring.

Its domestic airlines carried more than 60 million passengers last year, and the Indonesia Air Carriers Association predicts a 52 percent increase in passenger numbers by 2015.-Interaksyon (July 26, 2012 7:11PM)

PHL Navy to drive off 20 Chinese vessels from Spratlys

Naval Forces West chief Commodore Rustom Peña said Thursday that Navy ships are on standby, ready to sail to the Spratly Islands to inform the Chinese fishing vessels in the area that they are within Philippine territory and that they should leave.

In a phone interview, Peña said the 20 Chinese fishing vessels were monitored to be around five nautical miles from Pagasa island or about 240 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City which is the seat of government of Kalayaan town, Palawan.

“We will just investigate and then if situation warrants, we will advise them (20 Chinese fishing boats) that that’s our territory and they should leave," said Peña. 

The official said the Navy ships cannot presently sail to the location of the Chinese fishing boats because of rough seas. He said the Navy ships will sail out the West Philippine Sea as soon as the weather condition improves.

“We are monitoring them. They are not actually fishing, they are just seeking shelter…There were instances in the past where Vietnamese [vessels] also took shelter in the area because there are portions there that can [provide] cover for waves,” said Peña.

Peña added that two Chinese ships were also monitored at Mischief Reef, a Chinese-occupied area which is about 130 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City.

Pagasa island is largest among the nine areas that are occupied by Filipino forces in the Spratly Islands. A number of civilians live in the Pagasa Island.

Believed to be rich in oil and minerals deposits, the Spratlys is being claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei. -Interaksyon (July 26, 2012 9:06PM)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

ASEAN up in arms against terrorism

Even with the neutralization of international terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda, Jimaah Islamiah and the local Abu Sayyaf, people could not afford to be complacent, an Anti-Terrorism Council official said.

“The terrorists keep on coming back and we cannot lower our guard,” said Nabil Tan, executive director of the Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center based in Malacañang.

Tan, also Undersecretary of the Office of the Executive Secretary in Malacañang, was in Cebu yesterday along with the representatives of the ten-member countries of the ASEAN-Japan Counter-Terrorism dialogue.

Tan said that Filipinos and people worldwide should always be vigilant in terms of guarding their countries’ borders to prevent terrorists from coming in.

“Because plans can be hatched in one country, be executed in another country, and funded by another country,” he said. “So it’s a global sort of undertaking by terrorists that’s why there is a need for this kind of dialogue to foster closer cooperation and collaboration and exchange of information, which is very important,” Tan added.

As for the Philippines, Tan said they will focus more on the prevention side by being strict in terms of firearms control and explosives as well as foster strong community participation.

The Malacañang official further said that the country has strengthened its law in terms of fighting terrorism when President Benigno Aquino III recently signed the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.

“So that you deny the terrorists a financing, which they need to execute their terrorism plan,” Tan added.

The two-day ASEAN-Japan Counter-Terrorism Dialogue, which was held at Marco Polo Plaza Hotel Cebu, started yesterday. It was the first time the Philippines hosted the event, which was established in 2006.

Tan said this year’s event is actually the start of the second-phase counter-terrorism dialogue, which they aimed to end on 2015.

He said each country will be given a chance to present their counter-terrorism initiatives in the second phase.

In the first phase, ten project proposals were approved and with funds from the government of Japan, some of these proposals have been completed while some are still being implemented.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary Rico Escalona Puno said, “Starting November 2004, the ASEAN Japan, in joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism, was adopted by 11 heads of state.”

In 2006, the Asean Japan Counter Terrorism Dialogue was established. The dialogue has produced concrete actions and services, and has released projects with a total amount of more than 1 billion U.S dollars.

“With a clear vision to fight terrorism, this dialogue aims to properly maximize and utilize the benevolence of the government of Japan and jive in funding the remaining three dialogue for the year 2015,” Puno said.

The Ambassador in Charge of International Cooperation for Countering Terrorism and International Organized Crime and Ambassador in Charge of Cyber Policy, Tomatsu Shinotsuka said, “It is our great pleasure to see the development of this process. We will now fight terrorism which is a common threat to authority in the nation and also to the world as a whole.”

Shinotsuka enumerated substantive progress and achievements of the dialogue such as the progress of the ASEAN formation on countering terrorism and the implementation of useful projects under the framework of the dialogue.

Executive Secretary and Chairman of Anti-Terrorism Council Pacquito Ochoa, Jr said, “We are here to protect our cities and our citizens from something that threatens us all. We must remain vigilant.”

Ochoa said that the threat of terrorism is still there and it will only be thwarted for the continued vigilance.

“The key in defeating terrorism is generally cooperation and well-planned programs.” Ochoa said.

The dialogue was attended by the representatives of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan.-The Philippines Star (July 26, 2012)

Thailand Signals Room To Ease Policy As Growth Forecast Cut

Thailand’s central bank signaled it has room to cut interest rates to protect the economy from a global slowdown as it lowered the country’s growth and inflation forecasts after keeping borrowing costs unchanged.

The Bank of Thailand is ready to do more to support growth if risks escalate, Assistant Governor Paiboon Kittisrikangwan said today, after the monetary authority held its benchmark one- day bond repurchase rate at 3 percent as predicted by all 14 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. It cut its growth forecast for the year to 5.7 percent from 6 percent.

The Southeast Asian country has refrained from joining nations from Brazil to China in easing monetary policy as the economy recovers from floods last year that disrupted the supply chains of companies including Toyota Motor Corp. Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis has hurt demand for exports from Thailand, which this month marks 15 years since its baht devaluation sparked the Asian financial crisis.

“If Europe’s situation worsens further, it’s possible Thailand will cut interest rates,” said Satoshi Ushijima, the Bangkok-based vice president of the treasury division at Mizuho Corporate Bank Ltd. “If the BOT moves before the end of this year, rather than holding rates, it will be a cut, as they lowered the growth forecast.”

The Thai baht rose 0.2 percent to 31.72 per dollar as of 3:29 p.m. in Bangkok. The benchmark SET index was little changed, having gained about 15 percent this year. The currency has declined 0.6 percent.

Inflation Revised

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has raised minimum wages and will spend as much as 2 trillion baht ($63 billion) over seven years on infrastructure projects to boost growth after last year’s floods. The $346 billion economy unexpectedly expanded 0.3 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter, after contracting 8.9 percent in the previous three months.

The Bank of Thailand today cut its growth forecast for 2013 to 5 percent from 5.4 percent. Inflation this year will be 2.9 percent from an earlier estimate of 3.3 percent, it said, while keeping the core inflation forecast at 2.2 percent.

Consumer prices climbed 2.56 percent from a year earlier in June, after rising 2.53 percent in May.
The central bank also cut its export growth forecast for the year to 7 percent from 8.3 percent. Overseas sales in June fell 2.5 percent from a year earlier, a report today showed.

Risks Ahead

Two members of the seven-member monetary policy committee voted today for a 25 basis-point cut in borrowing costs, the Bank of Thailand said, adding that its current rate is accommodative. The central bank cut the benchmark rate by a quarter of a percentage point each in November and January.

“We have room to adjust monetary policy to support economic growth if needed,” Paiboon said in Bangkok today. “We think the global economic problems will prolong and there are more risks ahead. So we should save our bullets to use when it’s necessary. If the situation becomes worse, we are ready to do more.”

The International Monetary Fund last week cut its global growth forecast for next year to 3.9 percent, and the Asian Development Bank said the region’s economies may need to ease monetary and fiscal policies further, after reducing its predictions for expansion for 2012 and 2013.

Europe was plunged into fresh turmoil this week as the first call for bailout aid by a Spanish region sent borrowing costs surging, while Moody’s Investors Service lowered Germany’s rating outlook to negative. The IMF today said China’s slowing economy faces significant downside risks, while Singapore’s central bank said growth may fall below 1 percent should the U.S. economy worsen and if the euro-area crisis escalates.

While domestic demand growth has been maintained, the worsening global outlook has hurt exports, the central bank said today, adding that it will closely monitor developments and stand ready to take “appropriate action as warranted.”

“It’s definitely possible the BOT will cut rates depending on external conditions,” said Tohru Nishihama, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. in Tokyo. “They cut the growth forecast while inflation has been stable with no prospect of a sharp rebound. So a rate cut will be one of the options.” -Bloomberg (July 26, 2012)

Vietnam bull which shut Hue airport dies after capture

The bull shortly after its capture on 24 July
BBC Photo

A wandering bull that forced the closure of a Vietnamese airport has died following its capture after being on the run for two days, officials say.

Authorities say that the roaming animal may have killed an elderly villager.

The bull was tranquilised on Tuesday afternoon and removed from Phu Bai Airport in the central city of Hue, local rangers said.

At least 12 flights to the tourist destination - Vietnam's ancient capital - were affected.

The bull's sudden appearance at the airport on Monday led to the deployment of about 100 police officers, soldiers and rangers to stop it from crossing onto the runway.

It took them four hours to corner and capture the animal using anaesthetic. It died later on Tuesday evening.

Chief Ranger Nguyen Viet Hoach denied that the bull died from a tranquiliser overdose.

Mr Hoach told the AP news agency that an autopsy showed that it had heart problems and stomach bleeding. He said that it was probably dehydrated and exhausted from roaming woodland that adjoins the airport.

Local village chief Nguyen Hai said that it was possible that the bull was responsible for the death of an 85-year-old woman who was found with severe facial wounds outside her home on Monday afternoon.

The bull was seen in the village and is suspected of attacking her.

Phu Bai Airport Director Do Chi Thanh said that the decision was taken to close the airport for most of Tuesday for safety reasons.

He said that bulls have not been seen before in the area and it is not clear where exactly the animal came from.

Correspondents say that bulls normally live in forests on higher ground rather than lowland areas like those which surround the airport.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 25, 2012)Q

Phl agriculturist leads Magsaysay awardees

Six individuals from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan will receive this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Among the awardees is the Philippines’ Romulo Davide, 78, a retired professor whose “steadfast passion in placing the power and discipline of science in the hands of the Filipino farmers have resulted to the multiplied yields, productive farming communities and rediscovery of dignity of their labor.”

Other awardees are Chen Shi-Chu of Taiwan, who has given away over $320,000 from her earnings as a vegetable vendor to various charities; social worker Kulandei Francis from India; environment lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan from Bangladesh; sustainable agriculture champion Yang Saing Koma of Cambodia; and forestry and fishery conservationist Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto of Indonesia.

Davide was named “Outstanding Agricultural Scientist” by the Department of Agriculture in 1994 and used his award money to launch in his native Colawin, Cebu the corn-based “Farmer-Scientists Training Program” (FSTP).

Through actual field experience and interaction with experts, FSTP aimed to turn farmers into “farmer-scientists” who would be able to experiment, discover effective techniques, manage the market and increase production.

Starting with just 74 farmers, FSTP has expanded to 35 towns in Cebu and six provinces.

With his doctorate and advanced training in the US and Ireland, Davide is hailed as the “Father of Plant Nematology.”

Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation president Carmencita Abella said this year’s six recipients have been involved in creating sustainable solutions to poverty and its accompanying disempowerment in different facets of the society.

“Working selflessly in unpretentious yet powerful ways, they are showing how commitment, competence and collaborative leadership can truly transform millions of individual lives and galvanize progressive community action,” Abella said.

Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s highest honor and is widely regarded as the region’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It celebrates the memory and leadership example of the former Philippine president and is given every year to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the same sense of selfless service that ruled the life of the late president.

The awardees from other countries are expected to arrive on Aug. 12 for a series of lectures and to attend the presentation ceremonies on Aug. 31at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.-The Philippine Star (July 26, 2012)

Magnitude-6.6 quake hits off Indonesia's Sumatra — USGS

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.6 struck off northern Sumatra in Indonesia on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, and there were warnings that a local tsunami was possible.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a widespread, destructive tsunami after the quake, about 330 km (205 miles) southeast of Indonesia's Banda Aceh, but said there was a "very small possibility" of a local tsunami.-GMA News (July 25, 2012)

Armed conflict possible in South China Sea — think tank

Tensions over competing claims in the South China Sea could escalate into conflict, with an arms build-up among rival nations raising the temperature, an international think tank warned Tuesday.

Prospects of solving the disputes "seem to be diminishing" after a recent failure by the 10-nation ASEAN grouping to hammer out a "code of conduct" that would govern actions in the sea, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

"Without a consensus on a resolution mechanism, tensions in the South China Sea can easily spill over into armed conflict," warned Paul Quinn-Judge, the ICG's program director for Asia.

"As long as ASEAN fails to produce a cohesive South China Sea policy, a binding set of rules on the handling of disputed claims cannot be enforced."

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is one of the region's most important fishing grounds and is home to shipping lanes that are vital to global trade.

The Philippines and fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, claim parts of the sea.

The rival claims have for decades made the area one of the region's potential military flashpoints, with Vietnam and China engaging in sea conflicts in 1974 and 1988 that left dozens of military personnel dead.

Tensions began to escalate again last year with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims to the sea.

In April Philippine and Chinese vessels became engaged in a tense stand-off at the remote Scarborough Shoal.

And China this week triggered further anger from around the region when it announced it was planning to build a military garrison on the Paracel Islands.

On the diplomatic front, an annual meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers ended in disarray early this month when it failed to agree on a joint statement, a first in its 45-year history, because of divisions over the South China Sea.

Meeting host Cambodia was widely seen to have backed China, a close ally. This derailed a campaign by the Philippines for a tough ASEAN position against China.

The Brussels-based ICG said in its report on Tuesday that China had "worked actively to exploit" the divisions in ASEAN by offering preferential treatment to members of the bloc that supported its position in the dispute.

"A lack of unity among China's rival claimants, coupled with the weakness of the regional multilateral framework, has hampered the search for a solution," the report said.

"All of the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolutions are diminishing."

The report also noted that China and the rival claimants had continued to expand their navies and coast guards amid the dispute, due in part to domestic political pressures and rising nationalism among its citizens.

This could lead to an "escalation" of incidents, including more maritime stand-offs, it said.

The ICG said the best way to ease the tensions would be for the rival claimants to agree on ways to share the natural resources on offer in the South China Sea.

But it noted that the last effort to do so -- a joint seismic survey by China, Vietnam and the Philippines -- broke down in 2008, and the prospects of co-operation in the future were low.-GMA News (July 26, 2012)

China formally establishes city on disputed South China Sea island

China held a ceremony on Tuesday (July 24), marking the formal establishment of a city on a disputed South China Sea island, state media reported.

China has called the city, Sancha city. It is located on a disputed island known as Yongxing island in China, state media said. It is known in English as Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. China took full control of the islands in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam.

"The establishment of Sansha city as a foundation is the result of a wise decision by the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee and State Council to safeguard national sovereignty and security, to strengthen the protection of resources and overall development in the South China Sea," said Mayor Xiao Jie, addressing the audience of government officials and officers at the ceremony.

Xiao was elected the city's first mayor on Monday (July 23) in the first session of the city's People's Congress, in which 45 legislators cast their votes at the session, official news agency Xinhua said.

China has a substantial military presence in the South China Sea and the move is essentially a further assertion of its sovereignty claims after it last month upped the administrative status of the seas to the level of a city, which it calls Sansha.

The official Xinhua news agency said the Sansha garrison would be responsible for "national defense mobilization ... guarding the city and supporting local emergency rescue and disaster relief" and "carrying out military missions".

China's powerful Central Military Commission on Sunday (July 22) approved the establishment of a military garrison in Sansha, Xinhua reported.

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.-GMA News (July 25, 2012 11:35PM)

PHL, Germany to sign new treaty against double taxation

Philippines and Germany are set to sign next year a new tax agreement expected to boost German investments in the country.

Both countries have concluded the third and final round of negotiations on the revision of the accord, called Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with respect to Taxes on Income and Capital, on July 20 at the Federal Ministry of Finance in Berlin.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said all outstanding issues were resolved at the last round of the five-day negotiations.

Philippine and German officials have agreed to ensure early completion of their respective domestic requirements for the ratification of the new treaty.

“The signing of the new agreement is expected to take place in Germany early next year,” according to a DFA statement.

Both sides agreed on the adoption of new standards in the tax treaty, which is designed to protect against the risk of double taxation where the same income is taxable in the Philippines and Germany.

The agreement is also aimed at preventing fiscal evasion and fostering cooperation between Philippine and other tax authorities by enforcing their respective tax laws.

“This new tax treaty will provide German investors with certainty and guarantees in the area of taxation,” Philippine Ambassador to Germany Maria Cleofe Natividad said in her report to the DFA. “It will bolster our economic diplomacy efforts here in Germany.”

The DFA believes an effective tax measure is expected to facilitate more trade and investments in the country.

Despite an unsettled dispute between Manila and Berlin over the construction of an airport terminal in Pasay City, Germany remained a significant economic partner of the Philippines.

The problem started under former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after the $650-million Ninoy Aquino International Airport III project undertaken by Germany’s Fraport AG and its Filipino partner Philippine International Airport Terminal Co. was expropriated by the government in 2002.

Manila and Berlin vowed to resolve the dispute in a timely manner and not to let the issue affect their bilateral ties.

From January to November 2011, bilateral trade was valued at $2.9 billion, with Germany the biggest export market for Philippine goods in Europe. German companies in the Philippines include Continental Temic, Siemens, Lufthansa Technik, Daimler Benz, BMW, Bayer, and Bosch.-GMA News (July 25, 2012 2:21PM)

World's first dengue vaccine beats three virus strains

The world's first vaccine against dengue, developed by French drugmaker Sanofi SA, has shown the ability to protect against disease caused by three of four virus strains in a keenly awaited clinical trial in Thailand.

Sanofi said on Wednesday the proof of efficacy was a key milestone in the 70-year quest to develop a viable dengue shot, adding the results also confirmed the safety profile of the vaccine candidate.

Other drug companies are also working on dengue vaccines but Sanofi's product is several years ahead.

The mosquito-borne disease, also known as "breakbone fever", is a threat to nearly 3 billion people and is caused by four different types of virus, none of which confers immunity from the others.

Sanofi's vaccine generated an antibody response for all four dengue virus types, but evidence of protection was only demonstrated against three of the four strains circulating in Thailand.

Sanofi said researchers were carrying out analyses to understand the lack of protection for the fourth serotype. 

"It's a surprise," company spokesman Pascal Barollier said. "We need to get to the bottom of the data to find out why it is reacting this way and wait for ongoing Phase III trials to see if it is linked to some specific situation in Thailand."

The Phase IIb study involving 4,002 Thai children aged four to 11 years was conducted during a dengue epidemic, which might be an explanation for the unexpected outcome.

Deutsche Bank analyst Mark Clark said the lack of protection against the fourth virus type meant a commercial launch was more likely in 2015 than in 2014, as Sanofi awaits Phase III data rather than filing early in some countries.

"More positively, given that protection against at least three of the four viral types has been demonstrated, the data supports the likelihood of launch for this huge unmet clinical need," Clark wrote in a research note.


The company's vaccine unit Sanofi Pasteur has already invested 350 million euros ($423 million) in a new French factory to make the three-dose vaccine and believes its product could generate more than 1 billion euros in yearly sales.

But uptake of the vaccine will depend on precisely how well doctors believe it can protect populations at risk in fast-expanding tropical cities from Rio to Manila, as well as travelers to such areas.

Sanofi, which reports second-quarter results on Thursday, gave no details on the level of protection in a brief statement. The full data are now being reviewed by scientific experts and public health officials, with detailed results to be published later this year.

Barollier said the aim was to publish the study results in a scientific journal in September and then present the research to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta in November.

Large-scale late-stage Phase III clinical studies with 31,000 participants are under way with Sanofi's vaccine in 10 countries in Asia and Latin America.

Dengue fever, which can cause intense joint and muscle pain, is spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The insect thrives in the mega-cities of the tropics, with the result that nearly half the world's population are at risk of catching the disease.

In the past 50 years there has been a 30-fold jump in dengue cases. The World Health Organisation officially puts infections at between 50 and 100 million a year, though many experts think this assessment from the 1990s badly under-estimates the disease.

Most patients survive but it is estimated to kill about 20,000 every year, many of them children less able to fight it off.-Interaksyon (July 25, 2012 6:24PM)

Suu Kyi urges Myanmar MPs to back minority rights

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday called for laws to protect the rights of the strife-torn nation's myriad ethnic minorities in her maiden speech to the fledgling parliament.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner won a seat in the legislature in landmark April by-elections, marking a dramatic transformation from a longtime political prisoner to a key figure in the budding reform process.

The veteran activist used her first short address to lawmakers to support a motion by a ruling-party MP on upholding ethnic minority rights.

"To become a truly democratic union with a spirit of the union, equal rights and mutual respect, I urge all members of parliament to discuss the enactment of the laws needed to protect equal rights of ethnicities," she said.

Protecting ethnic rights required more than just maintaining languages and culture, she added, noting that minority groups suffer above-average poverty rates.

"Furthermore, the flames of war are not completely extinguished," she said.

Ongoing fighting in Kachin state in the north has displaced tens of thousands of people and cast a shadow over the government's efforts to reach ceasefire agreements with the country's various armed ethnic minority groups.

Meanwhile recent clashes between Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya have left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless in Rakhine state in the west.

Myanmar's government considers the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Suu Kyi has disappointed some rights campaigners by not offering stronger support to Myanmar's estimated 800,000 Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

She did not mention the violence in Rakhine in her address.

Experts say the issue is a political minefield for Suu Kyi as she tries to build her credentials as a unity figure who can represent Myanmar's various minority groups as well as pro-democracy activists among the majority Burmans.

Civil war has plagued parts of the country formerly known as Burma since it won independence from Britain in 1948, and many members of ethnic minority groups are suspicious of the Burmans, including Suu Kyi.

The 67-year-old's entry into mainstream politics is one of the most visible signs of change under a new reformist government which took power last year under President Thein Sein, a former general.

Thein Sein has overseen a series of dramatic reforms, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, currency market liberalization and cease-fire deals with several armed rebel groups.

An end to the conflicts and alleged rights abuses involving government troops is a key demand of Western nations, which are starting to roll back sanctions imposed over Myanmar's human rights record during military rule.

Delivering a Nobel prize acceptance speech two decades in the making in Oslo last month, Suu Kyi said she and her party "stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation".-Interaksyon (July 25, 2012 7:29PM)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Taiwan to ship artillery, mortars to Spratlys

Taiwan will add longer-range artillery and mortars to weaponry deployed in the South China Sea, officials and media said Tuesday, in a move that could ratchet up tensions in the contested area.

An undisclosed number of 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars will be transported next month to Taiping Island, the biggest in the Spratly archipelago, the United Evening News reported.

"True, the weapons will be shipped to Taiping in August but we can't reveal the specific date," said a spokesman for Taiwan's coast guard, which is in charge of Taiping's defense and has placed a 130-strong force there.

The Spratly islands are claimed partially or in their entirety by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.

According to the newspaper, the range of the 120mm mortars is 6.1 kilometers (3.8 miles), compared with 4.1 kilometers for the mortars currently in use by Taiwanese coastguards on Taiping Island.

Meanwhile, the range of the 40mm artillery is 10 kilometers, 30 percent further than the guns currently deployed, it said.

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

Calls for an increase in Taiwan's defense capability in the Spratlys have been on the rise, with rival claimants deploying more troops and adding military facilities in the area.

In May, Taiwanese coastguards said the number of intruding Vietnamese boats last year surged to 106, up from 42 the year before.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometers (2 square miles).-ABS-CBN News (July 25, 2012)

McCain warns China over move in disputed islands

US Senator John McCain warned Tuesday that China was "unnecessarily provocative" in saying it will establish a military garrison on disputed South China Sea islands, and called for a multilateral solution to the dispute.

Beijing announced Monday its troops will operate from Sansha in the Paracel Islands, one of two archipelagos in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and Vietnam. The move is likely to stoke further tensions in the region.

"The decision by China's Central Military Commission to deploy troops to islands in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by Vietnam, is unnecessarily provocative," the Republican McCain said in a statement.

He said other action by China including its appointment of legislators to govern such disputes "only reinforces why many Asian countries are increasingly concerned about China's expansive territorial claims, which have no basis in international law, and the possibility that China will attempt to impose those claims through intimidation and coercion."

The actions by Beijing "are disappointing and not befitting a responsible great power," he said.

"We must continue to urge all parties with territorial claims in the South China Sea to seek a peaceful, multilateral resolution that is based on international law."

Beijing did not say when the garrison would be established.

Disputes have flared in recent weeks, with Vietnam and the Philippines criticizing what they call Chinese encroachment.-ABS-CBN News (July 25, 2012 1:54AM)

ASIA NEWS: Why the time for a China-India water treaty is now

The Brahmaputra originates in Tibet, where it is known as the Yarlung Zangbo.
BBC photo
China and India need to reach agreement on how they will manage water from one of the world's great rivers -- the Yarlung-Zangbo-Brahmaputra -- before it becomes another serious impediment to relations between the two Asian heavyweights.

Water scarcity already affects large parts of China and India. As their populations grow and income levels rise, forcing up demand for water-intensive food such as meat, the supply situation will worsen. Inevitably, that means tension over water resources.

There is a regional precedent for a bilateral water treaty: bitter rivals India and Pakistan, under prodding from the World Bank, signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960 to cover water use from the Indus and five other rivers that flow through the two nations. While far from perfect, the treaty has given farmers and other users in both countries a framework on which they can make crop production and hydropower decisions.

Infographic: The secret life of drinking water

Already, China's construction of a 540-megawatt hydropower dam on the Yarlung-Zangbo, which flows for 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) across the southern Tibetan plateau before it enters Indian territory and becomes the Brahmaputra, is cause for concern in New Delhi. The dam, known as the Zangmu, is due for completion in 2015.

While the Zangmu dam is a relatively small project, there is something much bigger on the horizon: a 38,000-megawatt dam at Motuo, near the river's "Great Bend," which potentially could reduce the volume of water flowing into India and Bangladesh. While China maintains that any dams it builds on its part of the river will have little downstream impact, up to 150 million people living in eastern India and Bangladesh could be affected.

Almost half the world's population -- the 3.5 billion people living in Central, South and East Asia -- relies on water from the great rivers that rise in the Himalayas, the Tibetan plateau, and the Tibetan ethnic areas of China.

The way the most important of these rivers -- the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Yangzi, Yellow and Mekong -- are used carries the potential for conflict as countries struggle with the challenges of rising populations, pressure on farming and food supplies, diminishing water quality and demand for hydropower.

China has always been prepared to move mountains and people to achieve its economic and social goals. The $25 billion Three Gorges Project, built in the upper reaches of the Yangzi River between 1994-2011, is testament to that.

As many as 1.3 million people were relocated so the dam could be built, both to generate power and as a flood mitigation measure. Its full ecological impact is yet to be determined. Now China is working on its massive $60 billion South-North Water Diversion Project that involves the country's two most important rivers -- the Yangzi and the Yellow -- plus numerous tributaries, canals and other rivers such as the Huai and Hai. It is one of the biggest civil engineering projects conceived anywhere in the world.

First formulated by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1952 as a way to move water from the southern half of China to the dry but heavily populated north, the three-part scheme took its first steps forward in 2002 when work began on the 1,155 kilometer (716 mile) eastern route. This part of the project, scheduled for completion in 2013, will take water from the Yangzi River via channels to Shandong province, and then by a tunnel under the Yellow River and onwards to the coastal city of Tianjin.

Work on the central route began late in 2003. This 1,267 kilometer (785 mile) diversion is designed to take water from a reservoir on the Han River (a tributary of the Yangzi) along new canals on to Henan and Hebei provinces, and finally to Beijing. A trunk line will also serve Tianjin. Long-term, the western route is the one which causes the most concern, as it involves diverting water from tributaries of the Yangzi, including the Tongtian, Dadu and Yalong rivers, across the Bayankala Mountains to the Yellow River, to supply northwest China.

While some experts doubt the western diversion will ever be built because of the massive cost and logistical challenges of tunnelling under a mountain range, China's record in building mega-projects suggests otherwise.

In March this year, Vice-Premier (and likely premier in 2013) Li Keqiang told a State Council meeting that drought and water shortages in the north had held back economic development there. As a consequence, he said, the South-North diversion project was "essential."

In June, China announced it had begun work on a key part of the central route: a $1.4 billion, 45 kilometer tunnel to divert water from the Yangzi river to Beijing. The tunnel should be finished by 2014.

China has always moved faster than India; that's why the time for a water treaty is now.-British Broadcasting Corporation (July 23, 2012)