Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vietnam wins race to host 2019 Games

Vietnam will host the Asian Games (ASIAD) in 2019, announced the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) yesterday.

The capital city of Ha Noi was selected after Dubai in the United Arab Emirates pulled out at the last minute to leave Surabaya, the second biggest city in Indonesia as the only other contender to host the games.

The OCA's general assembly in Macau, China, yesterday also announced that Surabaya will host the 2021 Asian Youth Games.
It is hoped Vietnam's success in winning the right to host the 18th ASIAD will provide a big boost to local sports.

"The OCA chose Ha Noi to host the Games and this is very good news for sports in Vietnam," said Hoang Vinh Giang, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Olympic Committee.

"This will create a turning-point for the country's sports and help to achieve great advances in the area."

Vietnam planned to spend US$150 million on staging the Games with $7 million earmarked for upgrades to My Dinh National Stadium and My Dinh National Sports Complex.

Besides locations in Ha Noi, Vietnam will provide 14 other venues in HCM City, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Bac Ninh, Thai Nguyen, Hai Duong and elsewhere.

The 18th ASIAD is expected to draw 12,000 athletes from 45 nations, along with 1,000 international officials, 1,000 referees, 8,000 guides and up to 3,000 reporters.

It is the first time the continent's biggest sports event is being held in Vietnam.

The country previously hosted the Asian Judo Championships (1996), Tiger Cup (1998 ), Asian Women's Volleyball Championship (2003 and 2009), Southeast Asian Games (2003), World Wushu Championships (2005), AFC Asian Cup (2007), Asian Indoor Games (2009) and AFF Suzuki Cup (2010).

This year Vietnam hosted the Asian Taekwondo Championships, Asian Men's Cup Volleyball Championship, and the AFF Women's Championship, and is preparing to host the Asian Beach Games in 2016.

Initially, the 18th Asian Games were scheduled for 2018. However, at the OCA's general assembly in Singapore on July 3, 2009, the committee decided to move the Games so that they were held one year before the Summer Olympics.

The 16th ASIAD was held in Guangzhou, China, two years ago. The 17th edition will take place at Incheon, South Korea, in September, 2014.-Asia News Network (November 10, 2012)

Thai expectations high from Obama trip

The visit of US President Barack Obama next week will not only mark the 180th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Thailand and the United States, it will also bring up serious political and economic matters for discussion, officials said yesterday.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said Obama's visit would boost the Kingdom's standing in the international community. Thailand has been a long-time strategic partner of the US.

Among economic issues, upgrading Thailand's trade status and eliminating obstacles will be the two key topics up for discussion.

A senior official at the Commerce Ministry explained that Thai authorities had been trying hard to upgrade the country's status on the Special 301 Report of the Office of the US Trade Representative and that the president's visit would be the perfect time to show that efforts are being made to protect intellectual property (IP).

The US has been including Thailand in its Priority Watch List (PWL), which is the second-lowest ranking given to countries violating IP protection. Officials hope that Thailand will be moved up to the normal Watch List in April after languishing in the PWL category for five years. Thailand will tell Washington about progress in endorsing two laws related to protection of IP rights.

It will also call on the US to lower its stringent trade barriers and increase fairness for facilitating trade and investment between the two nations.

Talks on Thailand's participation in the Washington-initiated Trans Pacific Partnership could also be on the table, the source said.

According to the US Embassy in Thailand, Obama will visit Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar in the Asean region from November 17 to 20.

This would be a historic official visit by a US president to those countries, reflecting his strong interest to the Asean region. Advance security teams from the US have already visited these countries to prepare the grounds for his visit.

Obama will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and the US, to reaffirm as well as strengthen the alliance in various sectors, an official statement said.-Asia News Network (November 10, 2012)

Indonesia, Australia, Timor Leste to boost ties

Leaders of Indonesia, Australia and Timor Leste held their first official trilateral meeting yesterday, discussing the connectivity and the strength of relationships among the three countries and the potential for greater economic cooperation.

President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao agreed to intensify people-to-people communication and also talked about improving cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, transport, communications and capacity building.

"We seek to build better connectivity and economic cooperation. Each of us has the resources that could bring mutual benefits if we could work together," Yudhoyono said.

Gillard said that there would be further technical discussion in Dili in March or April next year involving officials from all three countries.

The meeting was the continuation of recent talks between Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his counterparts Australia's Bob Carr and Timor Leste's Juan Luis Guterres in New York that came up with a plan to develop connectivity in air links, sea links, the environment, telecommunications and education among the three countries.

As a first step, Australia and Indonesia have agreed to revitalise the Darwin-Kupang flight, following the Darwin-Dili route that has been established.

The three ministers met on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly early last month.

Gillard pointed out the yesterday landmark trilateral meeting as a proof of the progress made in regional peace and democracy.

"When you think about the history of our nations, the history that we share, this is a development that I think is significant," she said.

Gillard highlighted the importance of improving connectivity in this globalised age, where the future of the world’s economy will see more intense business links.

"It is also a removing economic model where a nation and a business would do all things within one nation to looking to how we can connect the supply chain across the region. That kind of connectivity matters to Australia, Indonesia and Timor Leste."

Yudhoyono shared a vision of the development of the eastern part of the country that touches upon Timor Leste, on how to encourage more trade and investment opportunities for Australian businesses there.

Previously, Yudhoyono also held bilateral talks with Gillard, accompanied by foreign ministers of the respective countires.

"The issue of people smuggling is a continuing dialogue between our two countries. Australia cooperates strongly with Indonesia on the disruption of people smuggling, and I am thankful for Indonesia's cooperation on that," Gillard said.

Leaders of the three countries have learned that the future of their economy is closely related with the economic development in Asia which exerts significant influence on global supply chain, Gillard said.

Recently, Gillard released the "Australia in the Asian Century" White Paper that affirms Australia's role in Asia's immense economic opportunities.-Asia News Network (November 10, 2012)

No room to back off, China says on disputed islands

Amid escalating tension with neighbouring countries over border disputes, the Chinese government reaffirmed yesterday its commitment for a peaceful settlement, but insisted that it would not be making territorial concessions.

"On issues related to China's sovereignty, there is no room for China to back off," said Luo Zhaozui, the director general for Asia at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with journalists from South and Southeast Asia.

Luo said foreign media reports accused China of being "excessively assertive" on territorial disputes because of its rapid economic growth. He disputed this notion, saying that China was merely responding to provocations.

At the southern part of the country, China is in dispute with Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam over maritime borders in the South China Sea, which is estimated to have oil and natural gas reserves amounting to 17.7 billion tonnes, making it the world's fourth-largest reserve bed.

Looking north, Sino-Japanese relations have deteriorated after Japan on September 10 announced it had purchased a group uninhabited islands in East China Sea called Senkaku — the Diaoyu in Chinese — from a private owner. China condemned what it claimed was an attack on sovereignty, but so far has exercised restraint in deploying its military.

Luo highlighted that in the north, Japan was not only in territorial dispute with China, but also with Russia and South Korea. He blamed the situation on "rising right wing powers" in Japan, among other things.

"The Chinese general public has been asking whether the government has been too weak and easy too bully," Luo said.

At the opening of the 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China on Thursday, President Hu Jintao said the country must resolutely safeguard its maritime rights and interests and build China into a maritime power.

Hu added that China should implement a military strategy of active defence for the new period, expand and intensify military preparedness and enhance its capacity to accomplish a wide range of military tasks.

According to a report from Xinhua news agency yesterday, a high-level maritime interests protection office has been established recently with heads of the relevant ministries and administrations on board.

Despite strong domestic pressure to act tougher on disputing territorial claims, Luo said that China was ready to engage in creating a consensus through friendly consultations.

Specifically, on the dispute with the member nations of Asean, Luo said that China would abide by the Declaration on the Conduct (DoC) of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002 that demands that all territorial disputes be settled bilaterally.

In July last year, signatories reached an agreement on guidelines to implement the DoC, but recently China has been stonewalling attempts to start talks on the issue.

"The problem now is that there are changes in the political will in some parties. In particular, some countries are trying to make things multilateral and international, and this is counter to the spirit of the DoC," Luo said.-Asia News Network (November 10, 2012)

Obama to visit Myanmar

President Barack Obama will make Asia his first overseas destination since his re-election, with a trip this month that is to include a historic visit to Myanmar and underscore his desire to reorient United States foreign policy more towards the Pacific during his second term.

The White House announced on Thursday that the newly re-elected President would meet Association of South-east Asian Nations leaders in Cambodia and stop in Thailand and Myanmar. No sitting US President has visited either Myanmar or Cambodia, allowing Mr Obama to reinforce his commitment to the region.

The Nov 17 to 20 trip fits into a larger geopolitical chess game by the Obama administration, which has sought to counter China's rising assertiveness by engaging its neighbours. 

But the planned trip drew criticism from human rights advocates who were worried Mr Obama was going too far by rewarding Yangon's moves towards democracy with a visit, without extracting additional concrete progress like freedom for hundreds of political prisoners still held there. 

He also risks criticism as his visit comes after security forces failed to prevent recent ethnic violence in the west of Myanmar.

The US Campaign for Burma, an exile group, said Mr Obama's trip could "undermine the democracy activists and ethnic minorities", but added that if the President was intent on going, he should meet with the still-powerful military and address Myanmar's Parliament.

A senior official said Mr Obama, who will also speak to civil society groups, was "acutely aware" of concerns about human rights, ethnic violence and political prisoners and would address those issues during his Myanmar visit.

The visit will give Mr Obama a chance to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage the "ongoing democratic transition", White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Myanmar's government said yesterday it "warmly welcomes" Mr Obama's decision to visit the country, noting it will increase the momentum of democratic reform.

Mr Obama met Ms Suu Kyi when she visited Washington in September and he has eased sanctions to encourage the evolution in Myanmar. In November last year, Mrs Hillary Clinton became the first US Secretary of State to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years.

Mr Obama's presence in Myanmar will highlight what his administration sees as a foreign policy achievement.

Myanmar grew close to China during decades of isolation. In Beijing, a senior official from a border province said China saw no threat to its interests from Mr Obama's visit.

"We understand and support the wish of the Myanmar authorities wanting to open up and become part of the world," Mr Qin Guangrong, Communist Party Chief in Yunnan province, said on the sidelines of a party congress. 

The Cambodia stop during Mr Obama's trip has also generated concern. Twelve members of Congress sent Mr Obama a letter on Oct 31 urging him to condemn human rights violations by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for 27 years.-Today Online (November 10, 2012 4:45PM)

Myanmar train crash fire kills 25 people, injures 62

YANGON - A train in Myanmar carrying petrol derailed and burst into flames, killing 25 people and injuring 62, most of them villagers trying to collect fuel spilled in the accident, state television said.

MRTV said the fire started after three cars loaded with petrol turned over near a village in Kanbalu township, near the Indian border, just over 500 km (300 miles) north of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.

Residents of Chekgyi village were gathered around the accident site trying to collect spilled petrol when they were trapped in the fire. Some 70 percent of Myanmar's 60 million people live on farms, where fuel is scarce.

An official from Myama Railway Department told Reuters the death toll might rise as some villagers were seriously injured.

Myanmar is among Asia's poorest countries.

Its quasi-civilian government has opened up the country since taking over in March 2011 from the military, which had ruled for nearly 50 years, and pushed through political and economic reforms, leading Western countries to relax sanctions.-ABS-CBN News (November 10, 2012 3:35PM)

Filipino wins Manhunt International 2012

The Philippines’ representative to the 16th Manhunt International male beauty pageant was crowned winner at the finals night held Friday night in Bangkok, Thailand.

June Macasaet, 29, bested 52 other international contestants, with Sweden's Peter Bo Jonsson placing 1st runner-up; Macau's Martin Wang, 2nd runner-up; Puerto Rico's Jimmy Perez, 3rd runner-up; and Singapore's Jason Chee, 4th runner-up.

The Filipino commercial and ramp model was also given the New Urban Male Award at the pageant night held at the Scala Theater, Siam Square in Bangkok.

Macasaet is the first Filipino to win the international male beauty pageant.

Said to be the first male model contest in Singapore when it started in 1987, Manhunt became international in 1993, when contestants from 25 countries joined the competition.-ABS-CBN News (November 10, 2012 3:34PM)

Amid row with China, PHL signs defense procurement deal with Canada

Canada and the Philippines signed a deal Saturday to help Manila buy military equipment to defend its territory, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Filipino President Benigno Aquino said.

The Philippine defense department and state-run Canadian Commercial Corp. signed the agreement as Harper met Aquino at MalacaƱang Palace in Manila, the two leaders announced at a joint news conference.

The deal was inked amid a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over islands and waters in the West Philippine Sea.

"This memorandum of understanding will enable the Philippines to acquire the equipment and expertise it needs to fulfill the country's defense and security agenda," Harper said.

Under the deal, Filipino purchases of equipment and expertise from Canada's $12.6 billion (US$12.6 billion) defense industry are guaranteed by the Ottawa government, according to a Canadian government statement.

"This will help us in our efforts to build our defense and security capabilities," Aquino said, declining to elaborate.

"I cannot go into specifics lest they be observed by less friendly individuals," he added.

Faced with communist and Islamist insurgencies and an increasingly assertive China, Aquino noted that the military had just two transport aircraft, no fighter jets and just 132 mainly World War II-era ships.

"The fundamental issue is that we have a lot of outmoded equipment," he said.

The Canadian Commercial Corp. serves as a go-between between Canadian suppliers and foreign governments to transact defense and security contracts.

The Philippines has been in the market for patrol vessels to protect its waters, including areas that overlap with territory claimed by China.

Manila's military treaty ally the United States is set this year to deliver a second refurbished Hamilton-class cutter, previously used by the US Coast Guard, to the Philippine Navy.

Last month the Philippine Coast Guard announced it would buy five patrol boats from France for about 90 million euros ($116 million), partly to guard disputed areas in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and China began a stand-off in April over the Scarborough Shoal, a group of islets in the Sea which the Philippines says are well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.

People-to-people links, trade ties

Meanwhile, Aquino said the Philippines expects closer ties with Canada also in terms of trade and "people-to-people links."

He noted there are 800,000 Filipinos in Canada, and it "behooves us to work closely with Canadian authorities" to guarantee the protection of Filipino migrant workers.

"It is, therefore, only right that our countries work together in order to better guarantee the protection and welfare of our Filipino migrant workers, and to ensure that the labor requirements of Canada are met. As such, we have discussed labor cooperation and mobility," he said.

On trade ties, Aquino maintained the Philippines is "open for business under new management."

For his part, Harper promised further investments in the Philippines in the next three years.

OFW contributions 

Harper also said he is pleased to see the many ties that bind Canada and the Philippines are strengthening.

He particularly cited the "hardworking Filipino men and women" who he said are present in every community, and "make contributions to sectors of the economy."

He cited Filipino-Canadian Senator Tobias Enverga Jr., who he thanked for his contributions to Canada.

Also, he said Canada is thankful for the contribution of Filipinos to Canadian society.

Meanwhile, Aquino said Canada voiced support for promoting peace and development in Mindanao.

He said Harper expressed optimism over the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, and relayed Canada’s commitment to support the peace process in Mindanao.-GMA News (November 10, 2012 3:30PM)

Foreign nations urge access to Myanmar displaced

YANGON, Myanmar - The United States, Britain and other countries called Friday, November 9, for Myanmar to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to tens of thousands of people displaced by sectarian unrest in western Rakhine state.

In a joint statement, nine embassies in Yangon urged "all parties to work together to bring an immediate end to the violence".

They appealed for "a full, transparent and independent investigation" to determine the roots of the Buddhist-Muslim clashes.

"We further encourage the government to enable safe, timely, and unhindered humanitarian access across Rakhine State to all persons in need," according to the statement, which was also signed by the embassies of Australia, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced and about 180 killed since clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted in June, followed by another outbreak of violence in October.

A foreign diplomat in Yangon who did not want to be named said that although Myanmar was showing "a real willingness to cooperate" in aid efforts, security concerns in certain areas were a hurdle to deliveries.

The UN Refugee Agency has warned that the influx of internal refugees has pushed the Rakhine camps "beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water".

Doctors Without Borders said earlier this week its teams were struggling to reach most communities affected by the violence owing to "antagonism generated by deep ethnic divisions".

Most of the displaced are stateless Rohingya, considered by the UN to be among the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Some ethnic Rakhine leaders have campaigned against international aid agencies in recent months, arguing they favour the Rohingya.

President Thein Sein said last month his government was open to aid from foreign donors, following a series of protests by Buddhists against efforts by a world Islamic body to help Muslims affected by the violence.

The country, which is emerging from decades of military rule, was the target of international criticism over its reluctance to allow outside aid to victims of a cyclone in 2008 that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing.-Rappler (November 09, 2012 8:42PM)

Friday, November 09, 2012

Mindanao with Uncertain Peace

“STOP the WAR” is now the most commonly and widely used slogan in Mindanao.

Locals in Mindanao have set high hopes that their struggle for peace would soon become fruitful and whole. But for others, this could only be possible when oil mixes with water. At present, the Moro movement in Mindanao remained divided along tribal lines in two major factions. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces in the Sulu Archipelago, and the Mindanao-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF accounts the most number of Muslim rebels in the Philippines with 11,000 members according to its Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, compared to a 3,000 - 5,000 MNLF fully armed members based on the estimated number of a senior security official. Not to mention some other insurgent and terror groups in the country.

However, among the Moro rebel groups in Mindanao, the MNLF is the only one recognized since 1977 as an observer member by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the 2nd largest sub-cluster in the United Nations with 56-member States. It is the largest Moro movement in the Philippines when it was founded by Nur Misuari in 1969.

Under the Military Command (MILCOM) the MNLF has two (2) Unified Commands or UC, UC1 covers Western Mindanao area while UC2 allegedly operates in Central Mindanao.

Most of their bases are spread throughout the whole Island that definitely makes their number looks huge and giving them a widely stronghold territories. MNLF armed groups are mainly concentrated in Sulu and parts of Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan and Tawi – Tawi.

Through the decades of fighting against the Philippine government, different views among its members have led for the MNLF to have a separatist group.

Recently, the Philippine government and the MILF, one of the separatists from the MNLF, have signed a historical framework agreement on the Bangasamoro region. The agreement aims to end a long history of insurgency in the Muslim region of the country. That has claimed more than 150,000 lives, since the rebellion started in 1970s.

Chief negotiators of both sides, Marvic Leonen and Mohagher Iqbal signed the framework agreement on October 15, 2012, in the presence of President Benigno Aquino III, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

Several government officials and foreign delegates had also witnessed the signing of the agreement.-Continue reading at Agora Business Intelligence...