Friday, August 31, 2012

Thai billionaire 40th on Forbes' wealthiest

Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group's Dhanin Chearavanont retains top spot of Thailand's 40 Richest on Forbes list, with US$9 billion in net worth.

Along with him, others making up the 40 richest list showed the collective wealth of $55 billion which went up by 22 per cent from $45 billion in the previous year, according to Forbes Magazine.

"For the second year in a row, Thailand's richest people have done remarkably well, seeing a more than 20 per cent rise in their collective wealth. Some of the country's top business

leaders have also dominated the headlines with their expansion plans in Southeast Asia and beyond," the magazine said.

No. 3 on the list, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, whose company - Thai Beverage, the country's largest brewer and distiller - has been aggressively bidding for Asia Pacific Breweries. His net worth went up by $1.4 billion to $6.2 billion this year.

Others are looking to take on international rivals on the strength of an expected 6 per cent growth in the Thai economy this year, lower taxes and a firm stock market. Those expanding abroad include Kraisorn Chansiri (No. 25, $545 million), whose Thai Union Frozen Products is on a foreign-acquisition spree, and Aloke Lohia (No. 8, $1.6 billion), who is starting one of thefirst polyethylene terephthalate businesses in Africa.

Dhanin Chearavanont retains his top spot as the country's wealthiest. The leader at the helm of agribusiness conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group, boasts an estimated net worth of $9 billion, up $1.6 billion from last year. Over the past year, the stock price of the world's third-biggest operator of 7-Eleven stores, CP All, grew 27 per cent, while his food producers, Charoen Pokphand Foods and PT Charoen Pokphand, also fared well.

The Chirathivat family saw its fortune increase by 60 per cent to $6.9 billion as they moved up two places to No. 2. The descendants of Central Group's late founder, Tiang Chirathivat, share a fortune which is largely derived from their ownership of Central Retail and Central Pattana.

Medical tourism added two new comers to the list: Chalerm Harnphanich (No. 33), who created a $285 million fortune with his Bangkok Chain Hospital, and Wichai Thongtang (No. 20), who saw his net worth climb to $670 million following the merger of his Phyathai Hospital Group with Bangkok Dusit Medical in 2011.

The 50 per cent uptick in shares of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services also added to the fortunes of 2 other listees, Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth (No. 9, $1.2 billion), and Pongsak Viddayakorn (No. 27, $400 million).

This year's list includes two returnees: Phornthep Phornprapha & family (No. 17), who own the Siam Motors conglomerate, have an estimated fortune of $900 million, and Paiboon Damrongchaitham (No. 40) with a wealth of $200 million. Dubai-based Thaksin Shinawatra, the former premier and brother to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ranks number 23 on the list with wealth of $600 million.

The list was compiled using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges, analysts and Thailand regulatory agencies. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of Aug 20. Private companies were valued based on similar companies that are publicly traded.

The minimum net worth needed to make this year's list was $200 million.

The top 40 richest in Thailand are:

1) Dhanin Chearavanont; US$9 billion

2) Chirathivat family; $6.9 billion

3) Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi; $6.2 billion

4) Yoovidya family; $5.4 billion

5) Krit Ratanarak; $3.1 billion

6) Chamnong Bhirombhakdi & family; $2.4 billion

7) Vichai Maleenont & family; $1.8 billion

8) Aloke Lohia; $1.6 billion

9) Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth; $1.2 billion

10) Vanich Chaiyawan; $1.16 billion

11) Thongma Vijitpongpun, $1.1 billion

12) Isara Vongkusolkit & family, $1 billion

13) Boonchai Bencharongkul, $990 million

14) Praneetsilpa Vacharapol, $950 million

15) Surang Prempree, $930 million

16) Prayudh Mahagitsiri, $915 million

17) Phornthep Phornprapha & family, $900 million

18) Anant Asavabhokin, $840 million

19) Keeree Kanjanapas, $810 million

20) Wichai Thongtang, $670 million

21) Sunsurn Jurangkool & family, $650 million

22) Somporn Juangroongruangkit, $610 million

23) Thaksin Shinawatra & family, $600 million

24) William E. Heinecke, $560 million

25) Kraisorn Chansiri, $545 million

26) Chamroon Chiinthammit & family, $500 million

27) Pongsak Viddayakorn, $400 million

28) Nishita Shah Federbush & family, $350 million

29) Worawit Weeraborwornpong, $310 million

30) Vicha Poolvaraluck, $305 million

31) Prateep Tangmatitham, $300 million

32) Pete Bodharamik, $295 million

33) Chalerm Harnphanich, $285 million

34) Niti Osathanugrah, $280 million

35) Roongroj Saengsastra & family, $260 million

36) Chalerm Yoovidhya, $250 million

37) Vichai Raksri-aksorn, $240 million

38) Porndee Leeissaranukul & family, $235 million

39) Prachai Leophairatana & family, $225 million

40) Paiboon Damrongchaitham, $200 million
-Asia News Network (August 30, 2012)

Indonesia expects stronger navy fleet

Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said yesterday that the government was expecting to procure a dozen submarines to augment Indonesia's existing fleet by 2024.

Yusgiantoro said that a deal to purchase three of these submarines was signed in December 2011. The submarines are being built in cooperation with South Korea.

He said that the joint-production programme will transfer South Korea's technological knowledge of submarines to Indonesia.

The first submarine will be entirely the product of South Korea while the second will be built together with Indonesian workers. Yusgiantoro expressed hope that Indonesia would have learned enough about submarines to be able to build the third independently.

"By the third, we hope to be able to build our own submarines. They will be built in Indonesia, by Indonesians." Yusgiantoro said at a press conference, after a meeting of the Defence Industry Policy Committee (KKIP).

The Indonesian Defence Ministry and Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering (DSME) signed a contract in December last year to build the three submarines.

The contract was signed by the ministry's Defence Facilities Agency chief, Maj. Gen. Ediwan Prabowo, and DSME president and CEO Nam Tae-sang.

Under the contract, two submarines will be built in South Korea in cooperation with state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL, while the third submarine will be built at PT PAL's facility in Surabaya.

The submarines will weigh 1,400 tonnes and be 61.3 metres long. Each will carry up to 40 crew members and have eight tubes for torpedoes and other weapons.

The KKIP had its seventh meeting yesterday since it was established in 2010 based on Presidential Regulation No.42/2010 regarding technological research and development in defence and industry.

The meeting mapped out the government's plan to coordinate various sectors of the economy so the country can build the third submarine by itself.

Under the plan, the Education and Culture Ministry will facilitate the nation's arms independence by training and providing human resources in weapons manufacturing.

More importantly, the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry will be playing a key role in Indonesia's submarine-building project.

The ministry controls state-owned shipyard company PT PAL which will acquire knowledge on South Korea's submarine technology. The knowledge will allow Indonesia to create a maintenance and overhaul centre for submarines.

PT PAL has dispatched technician to observe construction of the first ship, and will have gained sufficient knowledge by the end to be able to build the third in Indonesia.

Yusgiantoro said that the strengthened fleet would better protect Indonesia.

"Based on our calculations, two-thirds of our country is water. We need at least 10 submarines to protect it," Yusgiantoro said.

"We hope to be able to achieve this goal by 2024," Indonesian Military commander Adm. Agus Suhartono added.

In 2024, Indonesia expects to have reached the country's minimum essential force requirement. Some 150 trillion rupiah (US$15.8 billion) will have been spent to pay for the modernisation of the nation's weapons-defence system between 2010 and 2014.-Asia News Network (August 30, 2012)

Vietnam, Cambodia cooperate in education, training

The Vietnamese Minister of Education and Training, Pham Vu Luan, and the Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Im Sethy, have agreed to boost education exchanges and human-resource training for people in the border provinces.

Under a plan signed yesterday, this year Vietnam will receive 120 Cambodian students and post-graduates studying science and technology, Vietnamese language and other fields, while Cambodia will admit 15 Vietnamese students to study full time at Cambodian universities.

Vietnam will also sent 20 Vietnamese officials to learn the Khmer language over a two year period. Beside scholarship programmes, the two sides will also exchange delegations.

Acknowledging support from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training in the past, Sethy said he hoped the cooperation continues to grow, especially in technical education.

Luan said his ministry was determined to strengthen deeper ties with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of Cambodia.

Vietnam will continue helping in human-resources training. It will also exchange experiences in vocational training.-Asia News Network (August 30, 2012)

Around 500 pregnant mothers in Indonesia's Bali HIV positive

With Bali's one per cent prevalence of HIV positive pregnant mothers among the some 50,000 pregnancies recorded annually, it is estimated that around 500 mothers are thought to have HIV/AIDS yearly, said an expert recently.

Head of the planning, monitoring and evaluation working group on Bali HIV/AIDS Commission I, Dewa Nyoman Wirawan, cautioned that once the promiscuous husbands infected their wives with HIV, the potential was very high for the infected pregnant mothers to transfer the infection to their babies.

"From around 500 pregnant mothers who are estimated to be HIV positive, about half of them, or 250 mothers, would have HIV positive newborns," said the epidemiologist at the medicine faculty of Udayana University.

"The HIV infection can only be detected when the baby reaches the age of between four and six," Wirawan said, stating that it was currently still difficult to diagnose whether a newborn was HIV positive due to the absence of determining symptoms.

Common symptoms that might indicate an HIV positive baby include constant malnourishment and prolonged diarrhoea. “Sometimes the baby experiences continual illness, like diarrhoea or coughing. If the doctor is knowledgeable about HIV, he would test the baby for it,” he said.

Among the numerous and complex challenges to prevent the spread of HIV, Wirawan acknowledged that there were doctors who were still reluctant to recommend their patients be tested for HIV. Access to health institutions that could do the tests was also still very limited, thus, it remained an uphill battle to curb the spread of HIV.

"Currently health services for patients with HIV/AIDS are still limited, only being available at Sanglah hospital in Denpasar. We have to develop the services at other hospitals in Singaraja, Bangli and Karangasem regencies. The public health centres, or puskesmas, in the villages and local districts [kecamatan] must also provide healthcare for HIV positive patients," said Wirawan.

Wirawan pointed out the urgency for early detection of HIV/AIDS so that patients could start taking ARV medication. "Patients will be able to suppress the chance of infecting others by up to 90 per cent by taking the ARV continuously and routinely," said Wirawan. The challenge to give ARV medication to HIV positive children still remains.

"I'm glad liquid ARV medicine for HIV positive children has recently become available. It's easier that way for the children to take the right dosage of the drugs," said Wirawan.

As the place where the country’s first HIV/AIDS case was discovered back in 1987, Bali has regulated HIV/AIDS mitigation through bylaw No. 3/2006. However, Bali administration spokesperson Ketut Teneng acknowledged that until today, the administration still found it hard to implement the regulation, which included raising awareness among high-risk groups of the importance of health examinations and wearing condoms during sex.

"We keep promoting safe sex to them, but raising awareness and changing behaviour are still difficult," said Teneng.

As of June, Bali health agency had recorded over 6,200 cases of HIV/AIDS on the island. Most of the HIV infections (74.4 per cent) arise through heterosexual activity. Around 12.79 per cent of infections come through the use of injected drugs, 3.9 per cent from homosexual activity and 0.03 per cent from tattoo making.

Most, about 40 per cent, of the infected patients are aged between 20 to 29 years old, with 35.76 per cent aged 30 to 39 years old.

About 2.64 per cent of the HIV positive are toddlers of the age 1 to 4, while babies below one year old accounted for 0.7 per cent. To date, most HIV/AIDS cases have been discovered in Denpasar (40.3 per cent) and Buleleng (19.91 per cent).-Asia News Network (August 30, 2012)

Spratlys very calm, says Philippine military

Despite the recent visit of a Taiwanese delegation to Itu Aba, the biggest island in the Spratly region, the security situation in the hotly-contested area remains calm, the military said Thursday.

Lt. Col. Niel Estrella, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Command (Wescom), said regular air and sea monitoring yielded negative results on new intrusion of any foreign vessels inside the country’s regime of islands also known as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“It’s very calm out there. Wala tayong namonitor na intrusion sa KIG,” Estrella said citing reports from Wescom’s sustained territorial air and sea patrols over hotly-contested region.

Tension mounted in the region for the last several months over China's aggressive behavior in laying its territorial claim of the entire Spratlys region.

After establishing a prefecture city and a military garrison in Woody Islands in the Paracel island group, Beijing proceeded to deploy dozens of fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea amid strong protests by the Philippines and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, a Taiwanese frigate was recently monitored to have visited Itu Aba, as Taipeh also reiterates its sovereignty over the entire region.

Local security experts viewed the recent visit of the a 14-member delegation from the National Taiwan University on board military vessel as part of an ongoing preparation by Taiwan’s defense ministry for its planned unilateral live fire drill in the region scheduled next month.

The Taiwanese delegation was monitored holding a flag-raising ceremony along with coast members stationed in the island, an activity confirmed by the Taiwanese Defense ministry.

“Naval Officers and soldiers also visited the island to reiterate sovereignty claims over the Spratlys,” the Taiwan’s defense ministry, in a statement said.

In July, as territorial disputes mounted among the Spratly's-claimant countries, Taiwanese authorities announced that it is deploying long-range artillery pieces and mortars in Itu Aba, a move that angered Vietnam.

Aside from Vietnam and Taiwan, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunie, are claiming in whole or in part, the region, a major commercial sealane that is also believed to be sitting on huge oil and mineral deposits.

Relatedly, the United States government donated on Thursday two sophisticated police patrol boats and two boat-towing-heavy trucks to the Palawan police to enhance its maritime law enforcement and interception capabilities in the area.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas flew to Palawan to personally turned over the patrol boats to the police in a ceremony held in Puerto Princesa City.-The Philippine Star (August 30, 2012 5:16PM)

Thailand breaks mass-massage world record

Thailand has long been known as the massage capital of the world. Now, it has a Guinness World Record to prove it.

Some 641 massage therapists mass-massaged 641 people simultaneously for 12 minutes to win the honor Thursday at an indoor arena in Bangkok. The event was organized by the Health Ministry to promote the Southeast Asian nation's massage and spa industry.

The therapists more than doubled the previous record — attained in Australia in 2010 — of 263 people being massaged at the same time for five minutes.

"It was easy because this is what we do every day for a living," said 53-year-old Chayanan Chanwuttisawan, one of the mostly female masseuses who took part in the event. "I'm proud of myself and my profession. I never thought we'd have a chance to be recognized like this."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the spectacle, and a senior representative from Guinness Records, Rob Molloy, was on hand to certify the feat.

Although some of Thailand's massage parlors notoriously double as fronts for prostitution, many more are legitimate spas offering everything from aromatherapy to foot rubs to Thai "traditional massage" — an ancient art offered at shops across Bangkok that is still practiced and taught at the city's revered Wat Pho temple.

A traditional massage lasts two hours. An abbreviated version was on display Thursday as therapists, dressed in traditional garb, demonstrated their skills on a sea of thin sky blue mats spread across the floor of the indoor arena.

Chayanan said the therapists who participated were given video CD's from the Health Ministry to practice with. They are part of an army that the Health Ministry estimates numbers 50,000 nationwide. The ministry said in a statement Thursday the industry generates at least 13 billion baht ($415 million) annually.

Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri has said he wants to see the industry bring in even more revenue. The National News Bureau of Thailand reported the government "is aiming to make Thailand the world's ultimate destination for massage, with plans to improve the quality of the workers, offer more massage classes to the public and set up a massage center in every hospital."-The Philippine Star (August 31, 2012)

2 Pinoys among 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World

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Two Filipinos made it to the list of 2012 Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) yesterday for their contribution in healthcare and social enterprise.

They are Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana in the field of Humanitarian and/or Voluntary Leadership and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino in the field of Business, Economic and/or Entrepreneurial Accomplishment.

Aquino is the first cousin of President Aquino. The TOYP winner is the son of Paul Aquino, younger brother of the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

The other TOYP winners are from Botswana, Catalonia, Ireland, Madagascar, Maldives, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

In its website, US-based Junior Chamber International (JCI) said that the TOYP was organized to “formally recognize young people who excel in their chosen fields and create positive change.”

“By recognizing these young people, JCI raises the status of socially responsible leaders in this world. The honorees motivate their peers to seek excellence and serve others. Their stories of discovery, determination and ingenuity inspire young people to be better leaders and create better societies,” JCI noted.

Nominees must be between 18 to 40 years old, among other requirements.

JCI added this year’s TOYP were chosen “for their exemplary service to the communities and the world.”

The website showed that Salvana “turned his knowledge and career in healthcare into a way to help those suffering from HIV/AIDS.”

“After discovering an increase of HIV/AIDS cases in his home country, he started a vigorous awareness and research campaign long before the Philippine government officially recognized the epidemic. Dr. Salvana also works with the disease globally, delivering educational, action-oriented speeches about the HIV/AIDS to the United Nations and the United States Peace Corps,” the website said.

The website also showed that Aquino, who was “exposed to the poverty and struggles of his fellow citizens as a child, developed a sense of hard work, compassion and a desire to help people help themselves out of hardship.”

“He set out to use his leadership skills and education to take action at the grassroots level. Aquino and a friend founded Microventures Inc., a social enterprise supporting micro-financing institutions to provide business development opportunities for the poor, with a special focus on underprivileged women,” it added.-The Philippine Star (August 31, 2012)

Burma reveals names of people removed from blacklist

Burma's authorities have named 2,000 or so people being taken off a blacklist the former military government compiled to manage perceived security threats.

They include foreign officials, aid workers and journalists.

On the list were former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, late Philippine President Corazon Aquino, as well as some BBC journalists.

The move is the latest in a series of reformist steps by the military-backed government.

On Tuesday, Burma announced the removal of 2,082 names from its blacklist, which bars people deemed a threat to national security from entering or leaving the country.

The decision by the military-backed, civilian-led government reduces the list by about a third.

The blacklist may not have been quite as effective as intended - many of the spellings on the list are erratic, with some names appearing more than once in different guises, correspondents say.

Mrs Aquino's name for example seems to be listed several times, including as "Madame Corazon C.A guino". British historian Timothy Garton Ash appears as "Gartonash, Timothy John".

The late US singer, activist and politician Sonny Bono was also listed. So were the two sons of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as her former physician.

Also now permitted to return is the Vietnam war veteran, John Yettaw, who swam across the lake to her house in 2009 - an act that led to the extension of her house arrest.

There are also retired Western diplomats, who were seen as too hostile when based in the country, human rights officials and a long list of foreign journalists who were not welcome to revisit the country after sending reports that offended the generals who ruled Burma for almost 50 years.

BBC journalists removed from the list include TV correspondent Sue Lloyd-Roberts and Africa correspondent Andrew Harding, who was previously based in Asia.

Restrictions test

There was no mention of some 4,000 people whose names are thought to remain on the blacklist, and they are not being told who they are or why they are banned.

On Tuesday, state media said the removal of names from the list gave a green light to Burmese citizens abroad to return home.

During nearly five decades of military rule, thousands of people - foreigners and Burmese - were blacklisted by the authorities.

They are thought to include government critics, foreign journalists and public sector workers who went abroad during military rule.

Some were expelled; others living overseas, especially political activists, assumed they could not return, or that they would be arrested if they did.

Since the new government's reforms, some Burmese living overseas have tested the restrictions and been allowed to return.

Observers say a measure of the extent of the reforms will be whether prominent exiled activists are allowed back into the country.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 30, 2012)

More US firms may shift some business from China to ASEAN: survey

A growing number of US companies plan to shift some operations from China to Southeast Asia in the next two years as confidence in countries such as the Philippines improves, a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore showed.

AmCham Singapore said on Thursday its survey of 356 senior executives working for US companies in the region showed that 21 percent planned to reduce reliance on China by moving some businesses to Southeast Asia over the next two years, up from 15 percent in a 2011 survey.

Malaysia and the Philippines were the top choices for expansion, with both getting cited by 27 percent of respondents with plans to reduce their reliance on China. In a survey last year, 21 percent of those expecting to move some operations favored Malaysia, and 11 percent cited the Philippines.

In the new survey, the next most favored destinations were Vietnam and Thailand, with 24 percent each. The proportion citing Vietnam was down from 34 percent in the 2011 survey, when it was the top choice.

Indonesia was cited by 23 percent, compared with 11 percent last year.

AmCham did not give reasons why US firms had become more interested in diversifying away from China, although rising costs likely were a factor.

Chinese labor costs have been climbing at double-digit rates for several years, and the average wage for migrant workers rose 15 percent in the first six months of 2012, official figures showed.

An Apple contract manufacturer, Taiwan's Foxconn Group, for example, may invest up to $10 billion in Indonesia to take advantage of manufacturing wage costs that are just 60 percent of China's.

According to AmCham Singapore, 92 percent of the executives surveyed said they were positive about investment opportunities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN - a regional grouping that comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

"ASEAN is not only a vital US trade and investment partner, it is a bright spot in the global economy," said AmCham Vice President Tami Overby.-Interaksyon (August 31, 2012 01:01AM)

Chinese unease seen as Clinton waves the flag in Asia-Pacific

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sets off Thursday on a sweeping Asia tour from a rising China to tiny island states as her outspoken role on the region's hotspots raises hackles in Beijing.

In the midst of a US presidential campaign, the former candidate is expected to steer clear of politics at home and portray Washington as an anchor of stability in a region where China has increasingly butted heads with neighbors.

Clinton will head first to the Cook Islands, an archipelago of just 11,000 people, to become the first US secretary of state to take part in an annual summit of South Pacific islands -- where China's clout is growing.

Clinton will go Tuesday to China, where aides said she will meet President Hu Jintao and other top officials and take up the full gamut of issues between the world's two largest economies, including heated maritime disputes.

In unusually robust statements, the United States has recently accused China of escalating tensions and warned against "divide and conquer" tactics after Beijing set up a remote garrison in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, Vietnam and other nations claim islands in the South China Sea -- the passageway for half of the world's commercial cargo -- and have accused Beijing of a campaign of intimidation.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency accused Clinton of trying to "contain China's increasing influence" and said that the core of US strategy "is to defend its dominance and hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region."

Xinhua had harsher words for Mitt Romney, who is challenging President Barack Obama in November 6 elections, saying that the Republican's tough talk on issues from Taiwan to exchange rates could end up "poisoning" the tone in US-China relations.

During Clinton's last visit to the region in July, foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations failed at a meeting in Beijing-friendly Cambodia to forge a common way forward that would let them seek a code of conduct to govern disputes in the South China Sea.

A senior US official said that Clinton wanted all sides "to abstain from provocative steps" and that she would confer with Indonesia and Brunei on the future of diplomacy for a long-mooted code of conduct.

"She's certainly going to ask in ASEAN about the aftermath of what transpired in July," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Ernie Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Clinton's visit -- her third to Asia since May -- was part of an effort to "institutionalize" US presence on the continent, particularly the Pacific.

"One of the enormous motivations behind it is to manage China well, but I don't think it's all about China," said Bower, the director of the think tank's Southeast Asia program.

"There are also a lot of intrinsic benefits for the United States through good relationships, security ties and economic ties" in Asia, he said.

Clinton, who will end her trip at an Asia Pacific summit in the Russian port city of Vladivostok off the Pacific Ocean, will also be confronted by rising friction over territorial disputes between Japan and both fellow US ally South Korea and China.

"I have to say that the recent spate of tensions between Japan and Korea has caused concerns in the United States and elsewhere and we are again urging restraint, calm and statesmanship," the US official said.

The official said that the United States hoped that individual citizens and business leaders could work to create a "21st-century" relationship between Japan and South Korea, whose ties are marred by wartime memories.

The flare-up, including a visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to islands disputed with Japan, has set back US hopes that its two allies would work together in the face of a rising China and uncertainties over nuclear-armed North Korea.

Clinton, who is already the most-traveled secretary of state in US history, will chalk up several new feats on her trip.

Besides being the first to take part in the Pacific Islands Forum, Clinton will become the first secretary of state to visit East Timor, which is still developing after it painfully won independence from Indonesia in 2002.

And with her trip to Brunei, Clinton becomes the first top US diplomat to visit all 10 nations in ASEAN.-Interaksyon (August 30, 2012)

ADB to ASEAN nations: Lower rice self-sufficiency targets to prevent global rice price hike

The Philippines and neighboring Southeast Asian nations should reduce their rice self-sufficiency targets to help avoid world rice price shocks.

According to a series of working papers from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), rice-importing countries like the Philippines -- ranked second in the world -- should lower the self-sufficiency targets in exchange for import guarantees such as exemption from export restrictions from rice-exporting nations.

"The self-sufficiency strategy raises the cost of rice security in the region," said the ADB paper titled "Enhancing ASEAN's Resiliency to Extreme Rice Price Volatility."

The paper also showed that regional trade restrictions pushed global rice prices up by 149 percent.

Lourdes Adriano, Practice Leader for Agriculture, Food Security and Rural Development in the Regional Sustainable Development Department of the ADB, said self-sufficiency is not a bad policy if the government does not misallocate funds intended for rice.

"Self-sufficiency is fine so long as the government does not misallocate funds from rice to other crop varieties. The Philippines is 85 percent self-sufficient, we're doing good in yields but don't push it to 100 percent if you can't do it in a short time," Adriano told reporters.

The Philippines is eyeing 100 percent self-sufficiency in rice by 2013, but Adriano said "it is not feasible."

She said if a country achieves self-sufficiency, there is an external cost that makes the global market thinner and prices are likely to be more volatile.

She cited as example the 2007-2008 rice price spike that was triggered by export restrictions and panic buying by importers.

The Philippines and Indonesia are projected to remain as the top rice net importers in the ASEAN region, both accounting for 11.6 percent of global rice import volume.

Despite projected gains in rice output, the paper said the Philippines is expected to remain a rice importer as the population continues to grow.

About 20 percent of domestic rice consumption in the country is sourced from imports, the paper said.-Black Pearl (August 30, 3012 3:00PM)

Philippine economy grows 5.9% in Q2

The Philippine economy grew by 5.9% in the second quarter, cementing the Philippines' strong position as one of the economies in Asia and the world to watch.

The second-quarter growth is slower than the 6.3% in the first (revised from 6.4%), but it still exceeded analysts' and even government's expectations, which averaged 5.4%.

With this, the first semester growth reached 6.1%, one of the world's fastest and most attractive.

Buoyed largely by accelerated government spending on infrastructure, sustained remittances from Filipinos working abroad that fuels consumption, and consistently strong services sector boosted by tourism-related activities, the Philipine economy will continue to withstand global woes, according to socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the Aquino administration is confident the economy will reach the higher end of the government's 5% to 6% target for 2012.

Strong services sector 

The main contributors to the overall 5.9% performance from April to June were:

The services sector -- BPOs and tourism and wellness activities, including hotels and spas -- remained resilient, as it did in past quarters. This quarter, it was the main driver of growth, rebounding 7.6%.

The government remains keen on the economic benefits of tourism, which is being supported by the Departmetn of Tourism-led branding efforts under the campaign, "It's more fun in the Philippines."

Balisacan noted the surge of tourist arrivals "whose number already reached 2.1 million visitors for the first half of the year representing 11.68% growth."

Government spending

Also boosting the local economy was the government's infrastructure spending, which grew a whopping 45.7% during the quarter.

Construction boosted industry sector with a 10% growth, a turnaround from a year ago when the government's underspending contributed to the overall slowdown.

Balisacan stressed that aside from infrastructure spending, the government's investments in social spending, particularly on the ongoing conditional cash transfer (CCT) program focused on alleviating the plight of those in the lower economic rung, also contributed to growth.

Agriculture was sluggish amid slow farm output, which was flat at 0.73% in the second quarter. Weighing on farm output were the slowdown in livestock production as well as conservation efforts of the government in the fisheries subsector.

Mining pulled down the industry sector's growth by a negative 0.4 percentage point.

National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) OIC Secretary General Lina V. Castro said the country's low 3.6% gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2011 (revised from 3.7%) helped propped up growth in the quarter.

Remittances, exports

Two of the country's main dollar earners were exposed to the fiscal-turned-economic crisis being experienced in the west.

Remittances from overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), which brings in about US$22 billion a year and remains the country's main dollar earner, steadily increased but the pace of growth has slowed.

Remittances stay resilient but growing slower in 2012

Remittances fuel domestic consumption, which keeps malls and food services thriving.

In the second quarter, benign inflation, which was still within the government's 3% to 5% target, boosted consumption, a key driver of economic growth.

On the other hand, exports remained vulnerable to global woes.

The weakness in exports, which were down for most of 2011 was blamed for the drastic slowdown in economic growth in 2011 to 3.6% from a robust 7.6% in 2010.

Third fastest 

The second quarter performance came on the heels of experts saying the Philippines is now the bright spot in Asia.

The Philippines has maintained its position as one of the fastest growing economies in the entire region, third only to China and Indonesia.

Among peer countries in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), Philippines' growth performance was above 4.7% average growth.

Neighbors experienced faster growth in the second quarter compared to the first: Indonesia (6.4% in Q2 from 6.3% in Q1), Vietnam (4.7% from 4.3%), Thailand (3.3% from 0.3%) and Singapore (2.2% from 1.6%).

However, these gains were offset by the slowdown in the region's behemoth: China's economy slowed to 7.4% in the second quarter from 8.1% in the first.

Challenges ahead

Balisacan stressed the local economy enjoys fundamental reasons for long-term growth.

However, he also agreed there are challenges ahead.

He explained that the typhoons that hit the capital and key agricultural regions will be felt in the third quarter, but the impact "will be modest."

The typhoons left many Filipinos without homes, but the loss in property, particularly those in Metro Manila will be able to boost consumption spending.

 The country's capital accounts for a third of the country's GDP.

"Another downside risk is the El Niño phenomenon, which according to experts will commence in the third quarter of the year until the first quarter of 2013. This type of El Niño, according to experts, will be weak to moderate. This will impact agriculture sector but this will be mitigated by our investment in irrigation," said Balisacan.

He added the other downside risks to growth: slowdown in China's economy, the continuing euro zone problem, and higher oil prices. 

"In the light of these prevailing global economic conditions, risks to the external trade of the country have increased, although these could be cushioned partly by the increased diversification of our exports...The intensification of the Euro Area problem and the geopolitical uncertainty are also external risks, which can cause spikes in the world price of oil," he said.

Balisacan expects growth in the next few months to be driven by a low base given that the third quarter last year posted the weakest growth in 2011 at 3.2%. (August 30, 2012 4:37PM)

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Vietnam to build power plants in Laos

Vietnam and Laos today singed an agreement in the capital city of Vientiane to build two hydropower plants in two southern Lao provinces.

Bounthavi Sisouphanthong, deputy minister of Laos' Ministry of Planning and Investment, Vietnamese ambassador to Laos Ta Minh Chau, leaders of the two mentioned provinces and other high ranking officials of the two countries witnessed the signing the Sekong No. 3 and Sekaman No. 4 projects in the provinces of Lao Attapeu and Sekong, which are located near the border of Laos and Vietnam.

The Sekong No. 3 project, invested by Song Da Group with US$278.5 million and a capacity of 205 megawatts, is expected to be completed by 2015 and produce 804 million kilowatt hours per year.

Meanwhile, the Sekaman No. 4 project, invested by Viet-Lao Joint Stock Hydro Power Company with investment of $128 million and a capacity of 80 megawatts, is expected to be completed by 2016 and produce 316 million kilowatt hours per year.

Duong Khanh Toan, president of Song Da Group's member council, says the construction of the two projects suits the two countries' development policies by contributing to energy security, enhancing export turnover, developing social security and national border defence, as well as creating an investment environment in the region that develops the economies of the two provinces.-Asia News Network (August 29, 2012)

Military still the wild card in Myanmar

Last week's announcement by Myanmar's information ministry that it had abolished direct media censorship was hailed by observers as yet more evidence that the process of reform is well under way.

Things have certainly changed a lot since President Thein Sein took over in March last year. Myanmar's semi-civilian government, although still dominated by former generals, has allowed elections, eased rules on protests and freed dissidents.

And now that Western sanctions are being relaxed, it is also opening up for business. Not surprisingly, foreign investors are rushing into the country, hoping to take advantage of the economic opportunities that will surely follow.

Some consider the only problems to be practical in nature. Can Myanmar's sleepy bureaucracy and antiquated infrastructure cope with the influx? A report issued by the Asian Development Bank on August 20 added to the list. The main risks, it said, included factors such as weak macro-economic management and low tax revenues.

Overall, however, the bank painted a rosy picture of the country's economic prospects after five decades of economic isolation. Myanmar, the bank said, was poised to become Asia's next "rising star".

The euphoria, of course, is understandable. There is not much economic growth around these days, especially in the United States and Europe. And with China, Japan and even India starting to slow down, Myanmar looks far more attractive than might otherwise be the case.

What many seem to have forgotten, however, is that less than two years ago, Myanmar was little more than a military dictatorship, and that even now the military exerts a powerful influence on the government.

History suggests that military juntas do not give up power easily, and when they do, it is almost always to those whom the generals believe can be trusted to protect their interests.

Should the military decide that its interests are under threat, political and economic developments could take a very different turn, with serious consequences for the investors who are flooding into the country.

Optimists can point to the fact that, earlier this month, the soldiers who dominate the national legislature agreed to support the appointment of the nation's politically moderate naval chief as one of the country's two vice-presidents.

Vice Admiral Nyan Tun, 58, replaced hardliner Tin Aung Myint Oo, whose resignation for health reasons (he was reportedly suffering from throat cancer) was officially announced last month.

But this development needs to be seen in the light of the fact that Parliament took almost a month to make the decision. The army MPs, who make up the majority of the military's representation in the legislature, initially preferred retired general Myint Swe - an army hardliner with close links to former strongman Than Shwe. They abandoned the effort only when it was pointed out that a constitutional provision initially crafted to prevent opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding office also made Gen Myint Swe ineligible.

Myanmar's 2008 Constitution forbids Myanmar citizens whose relatives or spouses hold foreign citizenship from becoming president or vice-president. Gen Myint Swe's son-in-law is an Australian citizen, while Aung San Suu Kyi was married to now deceased British citizen Michael Aris.

Tellingly, as late as July 25, MP Htay Oo, the head of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, was insisting on supporting Gen Myint Swe. "He's the only one we nominated," he told Agence France-Presse.

Army generals have long distrusted the navy. They have not forgotten, for example, that many navy personnel joined in the 1988 demonstrations against the regime that were bloodily suppressed by the army.

Adm Nyan Tun may therefore have a tough job convincing the generals of his willingness to safeguard army privileges.

President Thein Sein's commitment to reform seems genuine. But his experience as an army bureaucrat rather than a combat soldier limits his influence among serving generals. He also has a heart ailment and uses a pacemaker. He may not be in control for long. Will reform continue if he is no longer around?

Some observers believe that key military figures have little interest in real reform. The generals are supportive for now, but only because such reform opens up the possibility of reducing Myanmar's dependence on China.

Meanwhile, the passage of a much-needed foreign investment law has been delayed because of the concerns of local businesses - many of them closely linked to the military - that they may be displaced by foreign companies.

In other words, if the current transition is not handled carefully, opposition to reform could grow very quickly.

Investors should tread cautiously. The military, not the nation's weak physical and social infrastructure, remains the real wild card.-Asia News Network (August 29, 2012)

US warns China, neighbors vs use of force

In Washington, officials said on Tuesday that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would warn against the use of force between China and its neighbors on a tour of Asia amid mounting tension over sea disputes.

On her third visit to Asia since May, Clinton will become the first US secretary of state to take part in a summit of South Pacific islands—an area where China’s influence has been growing—and to stop in East Timor.

Clinton will hold talks in Beijing on September 4 and 5, the United States and China announced. Friction has been rising both in the West Philippine Sea, where Beijing is building a controversial garrison, and in the East China Sea, where activists have sailed to islands claimed by both Japan and China.

“We don’t want to see the disputes in the South China Sea, or anywhere else, settled by intimidation, by force. We want to see them settled at the negotiating table,” said US state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

Military transparency

Nuland called for military transparency by China and said Clinton would seek progress on an elusive goal of setting up a code of conduct to manage conflicts in the West Philippine Sea.

“We continue to think that that’s the best way to address these disputes, so I think you will see it come up on many of these stops,” Nuland said, referring to the proposed code of conduct.

On Clinton’s last visit to Asia in July, Southeast Asian nations meeting in Cambodia failed to overcome divisions to move ahead on a code of conduct, with the Philippines and Vietnam seeking the toughest line over disputes with China.

In between her talks in Beijing, Clinton will stop in Indonesia and Brunei, two countries that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi toured earlier in August.

US President Barack Obama’s administration on taking office eyed Indonesia as a growing US partner due to its size, democratic values and mostly moderate practice of Islam, although the momentum for stronger ties has since slowed down.

Nuland said that Clinton would also seek a peaceful resolution of disputes involving Japan, whose relations with China and South Korea have rapidly deteriorated in recent weeks.

First US official in E. Timor

Clinton will leave on Thursday for the tiny Cook Islands to take part in the Pacific Islands Forum, leading the highest-level US delegation ever to go to the 41-year-old summit.

China has devoted growing attention to the South Pacific, offering assistance with few strings attached in contrast to the region’s traditional donors Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

Clinton, already the most-traveled secretary of state in US history, will, on September 6, become the most senior US official ever to visit East Timor, an impoverished half-island nation that became independent from Indonesia in 2002.

The top US diplomat will end her tour by taking part in the September 8-9 Apec summit in Vladivostok.

She will represent the United States instead of President Obama, who has told Russia that he will skip the summit to focus on the home stretch of his reelection bid.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 30, 2012 3:32AM)

Asia regionalism stumbles over isolated rocks in sea

Tensions in Northeast Asia are rising sharply.

Small islets - most of them unable to support human habitation - are the friction points. These are long-standing disputes, with the Senkanku/Diaoyu chain claimed by Japan and China, while the Dokdo/Takeshima islands are contested by South Korea and Japan.

These disputed territories do not relate to trade or investment between China, Japan and South Korea, which collectively account for the largest chunk of the Asian economy. Nor do they directly result from a resurgent American attention to the region and a rising competition with China. Yet if tensions continue and escalate, there will be implications for the region's economic cooperation and security.

The flare-up occurred around the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, on which the perspectives of Japan and its neighbours sharply differ. This could calm. However, domestic politics are at play and, with each leader seeking to gain support, nationalistic claims will be hard to discipline.

Tit-for-tat measures have already escalated the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. Soon after Chinese activists landed and were arrested, Japanese right-wing nationalists responded by raising the Japanese flag over the islets, which Tokyo holds. This then triggered street incidents across a number of Chinese cities, with consumer boycotts and protestors overturning Japanese-made cars.

Reports that officials stood to one side rather than seek to control the protests do not lend comfort. Recall 2005, when anti-Japanese protests turned into riots and caused widespread damage. It does not help that Japanese cabinet ministers again went to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

The Japanese leader, Prime Minister Noda, frowned upon but could not prevent that visit. Looking ahead to general elections in 2013, the current weak and fractured Democratic Party of Japan government will find it difficult to rein in the far-right nationalists.

For South Korea, the president's unprecedented visit to the disputed islands has already strained ties with Japan. Tokyo responded by recalling its ambassador and cancelling a planned visit by its finance minister to Seoul.

Relations between the three Northeast Asian giants have never been close and, while military confrontation can be avoided, other effects must be anticipated.

In May this year, the three governments inked an investment agreement and promised to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement. Likely, the current tensions will stall that effort.

Instead of a trilateral relationship, Beijing and Seoul may find more common ground, with historical and territorial issues adding to their close economic interdependence.

When Northeast Asian cooperation faltered in years past, it was Asean that led region-building efforts. Now, however, quite similar disputes over islands in the South China Sea have been stirred between a number of Asean members and China. The Chinese-Filipino stand off over the Scarborough Shoal stretched into July, and the Asean ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh held that same month foundered on the issue. Questions about the group's unity have since arisen, and thus Asean must improve if it is to play a central role.

While the US is not a claimant to any of these islands, there are also implications for the Obama administration's "pivot" to the region. Some had expected that Seoul and Tokyo, as American treaty allies, would be brought into a closer relationship. But the present turn of events makes any such triangulation of ties unlikely.

If ties between Japan and South Korea deteriorate, the American presence across Asia may need new pillars of support. For these reasons, Beijing is seen by some to gain the chance to develop its own strategic alliances.

While we can debate over who gains, the first victim of these tensions is Asia as an entity. As summits and inter-governmental meetings come up in the months ahead, it remains to be seen if anyone can usefully offer leadership for Asian regionalism.

With global concerns in the euro zone and the anaemic American economy, the hope will be for the region to sustain stability and growth. However, these territorial incidents remind us of the fragilities and the many issues that remain to be resolved.

Not least, more people in Asia must begin to think regionally, rather than rushing to plant national flags on rocks in the middle of the sea, and fan the enduring and still-incendiary differences.-Asia News Network (August 29, 2012)

Phl, Vietnam make beautiful music together

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Filipino songbirds Rachelle Gerodias and Joanna Ampil sang “The Impossible Dream” together with Vietnamese pop star Duc Tuan as Japanese conductor Tetsuji Honna guided the Filipino and Vietnamese orchestra.

The Philippines and Vietnam made beautiful music together the other night, with Vietnam’s Bui Cong Duy on the violin and Cultural Center of the Philippines president Raul Sunico on the piano providing the opening number.

The occasion was the advance celebration of the 67th Independence Day of Vietnam, which is on Sept. 2.

Ambassador Nguyen Vu Tu organized the Vietnam-Philippines Friendship Concert, flying in Vietnamese performers for the show at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivered the toast for the National Day, heading to the reception straight from the airport upon his return from Naga City, where he attended the necrological rites for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Both Del Rosario and Nguyen Vu Tu reaffirmed their commitment to the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, called the East Sea by the Vietnamese and the West Philippine Sea by Filipinos.

The two countries have expressed the strongest protests against China’s increasing assertiveness in enforcing its territorial claims over nearly the entire West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario, in his remarks at the Vietnamese reception, said Manila is working “very closely” with Hanoi in resolving the disputes peacefully, including finalizing a Code of Conduct.

In enforcing territorial claims, Del Rosario said, “the threat of force, or force itself, should not be used.”

Nguyen said the relationship between the two countries “has changed from strength to strength.”

“Vietnam joins the Philippines in persevering to settle these disputes peacefully,” he said, in compliance with international laws, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS provides a 200-mile exclusive economic zone for each country.

Last July, ASEAN foreign ministers failed to come up with a joint communiqué following their annual meeting, held this year in Phnom Penh. Cambodia currently holds the rotating ASEAN chair.

The Philippines blamed Phnom Penh for blocking the inclusion of the West Philippine Sea dispute in the joint communiqué.

Cambodia said the issue should be considered a bilateral matter – the position taken by China – even if ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, aside from the Philippines, are also claiming parts of the sea.

China is also feuding with Japan and Taiwan over territorial waters.

It was the first time in 45 years that the ASEAN foreign ministers failed to come up with a joint communiqué at the end of their meeting.

Later, the grouping issued a milder six-point statement.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio, who attended the ministers’ meeting, wrote an article, published in several Philippine newspapers, explaining what happened.

In response, Cambodia’s ambassador at the time in Manila, Hos Sereythonh, wrote a letter addressed to The STAR editor-in-chief Ana Marie Pamintuan, giving the side of Phnom Penh and accusing Manila and Vietnam of playing “dirty politics.”

After the letter was published by The STAR, the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Cambodian envoy, who sent word that he was sick.

Another embassy official received a note verbale of protest from the DFA.

Phnom Penh recalled the ambassador over a week later, cutting short his stint, and nominated a replacement.

Del Rosario stayed for the entire concert the other night. So did Basilio.

The repertoire ranged from Filipino songs such as “Hatinggabi,” Vietnamese tunes such as “Nho Que” (Missing My Home Village), and classical and Broadway tunes.

For the encore, the Filipino and Vietnamese singers performed “Trong Lom” (Rice Drum), a folksong of northern Vietnam.-The Philippine Star (August 30, 2012)

PH eyes export of yellow corn to drought-hit US

The Philippines is studying the possibility of exporting yellow corn this year to take advantage of high grain prices brought about by the worst drought in US history, the Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary Edilberto de Luna, who is also National Corn Program director, told reporters that an interagency committee is reviewing the appeal of the Philippine Maize Federation Inc. for the commercial export of corn.

“Within the next two weeks, the committee expects to complete the final recommendation to the National Food Authority Council,” de Luna said.

The committee – composed of the NFA Council, hog growers, poultry raisers and other industry stakeholders – is tasked to come out with the final volume for the corn exports.

The Philippines expects corn production to reach a record-high of 7.819 million metric tons this year and about 8.450 million by 2013. By next year, the DA expects the country to have a surplus of 149,000 metric tons.

“We’re advised by Secretary [Proceso] Alcala not to wait for the suplus. He said that we need to start exporting corn, even in small amount, for us to test the international market,” de Luna said.

Roger Navarro, Philmaize president, said the group is in talks with Taiwan and Korea for possible shipments to those countries as well.

Navarro said exports would not result in a shortage in the local market since the 1.4 million metric tons of feedwheat, imported earlier by feed millers, will be enough to cover the requirement for this year.

“International corn price will increase due to drought experienced by US, should this scenario prevail then we can have export opportunities,” he said.

Export restriction on corn products, Navarro said, runs against the open market system as agreed under the World Trade Organization.

De Luna said farmers and traders may start exporting corn and corn grits while they await the NFA Council's approval of the total volume that can be shipped overseas,

Under an existing resolution, the NFA administrator is authorized to issue transport permits for locally produced corn for research, market testing and experimentation.

De Luna said the resolution allows individual farmers, traders, and cooperatives to export as much as 100 metric tons of corn at any given time.

“This will be a good way to test our exports capability as we inch closer to self-sufficiency by next year,” he added.-Interaksyon (August 29, 2012 2:50PM)