Saturday, November 17, 2012

ASEAN seeks to heal territorial rift

Southeast Asian foreign ministers sought on Saturday to heal a rift over territorial rows involving China, aiming to build unity ahead of a leaders' summit in which rights and trade will also dominate.

The hot-button South China Sea issue was one of the top items for the ministers as they held a day of talks in the Cambodian capital, following months of acrimony over how to tackle China's claims to nearly all the waters.

"We wish that we would be able to solve this problem together," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, told reporters at the start of the meeting.

"We hope that if there is anything we can do to help to build this new culture of norms... of new habits of working together we would like to help."

The foreign ministers' meeting is to pave the way for the annual ASEAN leaders' summit in Phnom Penh on Sunday, which the bloc is hoping will push forward policies on human rights and free trade.

US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and leaders from six other nations are scheduled to then join their ASEAN counterparts for the two-day East Asia Summit starting on Monday.

Some of the countries involved in the talks have seen diplomatic relations plummet this year because of a raft of maritime territorial rows, and analysts said those disputes would likely overshadow proceedings in Phnom Penh.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the South China Sea, home of some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea, and the Philippines and Vietnam have expressed concerns that their giant Asian neighbour has become increasingly aggressive this year in staking its claim.

An ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh ended in July without issuing a joint communique for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history because of divisions over how to handle the South China Sea issue.

The Philippines and Vietnam had wanted the communique to make specific reference to their disputes with China.
But Cambodia, the hosts of the talks and a close China ally, blocked the moves.

Surin said Saturday that such a public spat would not be seen this weekend.

"I don't think it's going to be confrontational, I don't think it's going to be overly contentious," he said.

But adding to the tensions, analysts said Obama was expected to raise the issue while in Phnom Penh.

Obama is likely to reiterate that the United States has a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation in the sea, while urging ASEAN and China to agree on a code of conduct for the area, according to analysts.

China has long bristled at what it perceives as US interference in the South China Sea, and was upset at last year's East Asia Summit in Indonesia when Obama succeeded in having the issue discussed there.

Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying warned on Saturday that China did not want a repeat and that the South China Sea should not be on the agenda at the East Asia Summit.

"Discussion of the South China Sea issue should return to the framework of China and ASEAN. Discussing the issue in other forums will interfere with the direction of cooperation," Fu said.

Meanwhile, ASEAN leaders are aiming to endorse on Sunday a declaration they say will promote human rights within their 10 countries but which has drawn widespread criticism.

More than 60 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, issued a statement on Thursday urging ASEAN to revise a draft of the declaration.

ASEAN members are also aiming to kickstart negotiations in Phnom Penh over a giant free trade zone with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The 16 nations account for roughly half the global population and around a third of the world's annual gross domestic product.-Yahoo News Philippines (November 17, 2012 3:34PM)

Obama eyes deeper reform on historic Myanmar visit

US President Barack Obama will endow Myanmar's startling reform drive with his newly replenished political prestige Monday, as he makes history in a short, but hugely symbolic, visit to the country.

Thirteen days after he was re-elected, Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit the formerly isolated state, hoping to spur greater reform and to highlight a rare success for his policy of engaging pariah regimes.

But his mission is not without peril: should Myanmar's new political dawn darken and conservative forces move to regain control, Obama's trip could appear in hindsight as premature and invite a domestic political backlash.

Obama, who first flies into Thailand on Sunday for a night, hopes to solidify the political reforms of President Thein Sein by granting the Myanmar leader his highest profile moment on the world stage since his nominally civilian government replaced outright military rule.

"I want to be very clear that we see this visit as building on the progress that the Burmese government has made," said Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security advisor. Washington still refers to Myanmar as Burma.

"We are going in part to encourage them to continue down that road, because much more needs to be done within Burma to realise the full potential of its people."

After meeting Thein Sein, Obama will visit the rickety home of Aung San Suu Kyi, where his fellow Nobel peace laureate was confined for years of house arrest by the paranoid and repressive junta.

Obama was deeply impressed by Suu Kyi during their private meeting in the Oval Office in September, and told aides the National League for Democracy leader lived up to her billing.

But there will be an air of incongruity when Air Force One touches down and Obama's armoured motorcade rattles through Yangon's decrepit streets, in the shadow of the gleaming, golden spire of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The fact Obama will be there at all is testament to the pace and depth of a reform drive that took American officials by surprise, after they spent years isolating the country's ruling generals through sanctions.

"It's a bit risky for the president to go," said Michael Green, a former Bush administration specialist on Southeast Asia, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"This (reform) is not irreversible," he said, adding that Obama's visit was not a "victory lap" but designed to encourage wider change.

For some US-based human rights groups, the visit is coming too soon in a reform process that has left the cards overwhelmingly stacked in favour of the military in the country's new parliament.

Myanmar watchers also say the future of reforms faces a serious threat from the country's intractable ethnic insurgencies and deadly communal unrest in the West.

Euphoria over Myanmar's emergence from decades of junta rule has been tempered by concern over the persecution of the Rohingya, a minority group in Rakhine state who are widely seen as illegal immigrants to the country.

Rights groups have criticised Thein Sein for a military crackdown in the region and accused Suu Kyi of staying mute on the highly-contentious issue.

Washington is concerned that unrest in Rakhine, and other festering ethnic conflicts in Shan and Kachin states, risk undermining hopes of stability.

Obama's remarks on the Rohingyas will be closely watched, as he gives a speech at a hurriedly spruced up Rangoon University, in veiled homage to the cradle of 1988 student-fuelled protests that were brutally crushed by the junta.

The White House is calibrating the symbolism, after deciding not to stage the Obama visit in Naypyidaw, the new capital constructed by the junta, in what would have been seen as an endorsement of the military.

Senior White House officials say the impetus for a closer relationship with Myanmar initially came from Yangon after years in which the pariah state had looked to China for support.

In response Obama has eased sanctions and dispatched a US ambassador to Yangon and US corporations are now keenly eyeing Myanmar's virgin market.

For Washington, there are plenty of upsides to Myanmar exiting the geopolitical deep freeze, as it pivots US foreign policy towards Asia as a counterpoint to China's influence in the region.

Daniel Twining, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said there were "multiple wins" for Washington if Myanmar's emergence is sustained.-Channel News Asia (November 17, 2012 1348hrs)

Indonesia Again Seeks to Lead on South China Sea Code of Conduct

Indonesia will try to unite neighboring countries on a code of conduct proposal agreement regarding the South China Sea. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations members are meeting this weekend in Phnom Penh and will discuss China’s South China Sea claims. 

Leaders of 10 Asean countries will meet today and Sunday before hosting leaders of eight major countries, including the United States, China, Russia and Australia in the East Asia Summit early next week. 

Apart from Asean members, US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart will also be in attendance. 

If Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can rally support from other Asean members they will face the daunting task of convincing China to accept the proposal later in the summit. 

Due to the rising tension in the region’s territorial disputes, Indonesia has come up with a proposal to establish a legally-binding code of conduct to build confidence and avoid the use of force between the conflicting countries. 

According to a code of conduct preliminary draft proposed by Indonesia, the code of conduct aimed at “promoting confidence and preventing incidents” in the South China Sea and also “managing and resolving incidents” if they occur. 

The code of conduct also guarantees the freedom of navigation above the sea. 

But Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations expert from the Indonesia Defense University, said that looking at how the United States and China will try to boost their influence in the region, Indonesia would have hard time gaining consensus among the Asean members. 

“Experience during the first summit earlier this year shows that Cambodia will not change its position to support China and reject any attempt to create a binding regional rule for the South China Sea,” he said.

For the first time since its establishment in 1967, the group failed to come up with a common statement or joint agreement in July’s summit in Phnom Penh after Cambodia insisted on removing any reference to the South China Sea in the final statement. 

While convincing Asean members to come together is already a tough sell, persuading China could be much more difficult. 

“Yudhoyono and Marty will have to work really hard if they want Indonesia to become the mediator to creating a regulation for the South China Sea,” Bantarto said. 

Experts have said that issues of how to reduce tension caused by territorial disputes in terms of the South China Sea between China and four Asean members would dominate the summit. The United States and China will most likely try to boost their influence among Asean members. 

“The South China Sea will continue to overshadow the summits,” Bantarto said. 

Members of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus expressed hope that Obama’s appearance would not only be about containing China and US economic opportunities, but also about pushing Myanmar toward a more genuine and open democracy. 

“We hope Obama’s visit will speed up reform toward democracy and boost the prosperity of Myanmar’s people,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari of AIPMC.-The Jakarta Globe (November 17, 2012)

Where is India, we need it, Asean says

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in Phnom Penh on Sunday, he is likely to hear a common refrain in this part of the world: India is sorely needed here, but India is too slow.

It's a critical time for Asean countries -- they are struggling to remain cohesive and stay relevant. They are caught in a bruising territorial dispute with the big Heavy in the region, China. And now the even bigger US is sailing into their waters and telling them how to stand up to China, with its help. US defense secretary Leon Panetta told everyone he who would listen on Friday, "we are deepening our military engagement with our allies and partners in this region in order to ensure that we are able to promote security and prosperity in this region for many years to come."

For many, India is a natural balancer in this region. India struck roots here hundreds of years ago, and there are signs all around. But in the current strategic debate roiling the region, India is a peripheral presence. India's only statement so far has been to endorse the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and mineral resources in the troubled wats of the South China Sea. In a joint statement with the Chinese, India also emphasized its stakes in the Asia-Pacific. That lone position by the MEA, India believes may have absolved it of all other responsibility. With $80 billion in bilateral trade, India needs a louder ASEAN policy.

"Asean needs India now, not 10 years later," says Kavi Chongkittavorn, a regional expert, of the Jakarta-based ERIA group. "we need strategic support from India about the way forward. How do we deal with the advent of big powers and still retain our relevance?" there is much talk about "Asean-led" and the "centrality" of Asean, but everyone knows its in danger of being swamped.

China watchers here say Beijing is likely to get more tough in the next six months, as the leadership transition will only be completed by next March. This is the time, they say, India needs to ramp up its engagement and support in this region. But there is no Indian voice that is heard here. Seoung Rathavy, secretary of state of the Cambodian foreign ministry, said 200 senior officials have gathered here to discuss the agenda of the key summits. She told journalists, "implementation of a declaration of conduct on the South China Sea is crucial for political and social stability of Asean."

The South China Sea disputes would be discussed at every meeting in the several summits that will be held here. The Chinese are unlikely to agree to the declaration of conduct on the issue, regarding it as their sovereign territory. Indonesian experts, familiar with their country's position, said very little forward movement would be expected.

For many, the US "pivot" is a mixed blessing. While many countries here are happy to get external support as they deal with the rise of China, there remains some uncertainty about whether the US would actually come to their help. For many, Vietnam and Philippines have been "burnt". In 2011, the US stopped short of fully backing up these countries during their respective stand-offs with China on the South China Sea.

Cambodia needs the kind of defence interest from India like Vietnam has. India should offer joint exercises with everyone in this region. Most of them have old naval fleets, and even with modest means, India can help upgrade them. In fact, India needs to work harder with naal cooperation with all the ASEAN countries. In 2011, Indian naval vessels paid port calls to many in the region before ending up in Shanghai. That should become a run-of-the-mill affair. A look at the map will show how India, with its still superior navy, can successfully block off the Malacca Straits for the Chinese if a conflict breaks out in the Himalayas. For India to carry out a successful blockade, it needs all the littoral countries on its side.

India, many Asean analysts here believe, should openly reiterate its position on an issue which will deeply affect India's own future. There is a sense that India is piggybacking on the US. Even Cambodia, which is believed to be close to China, is crying out for an alternative partner. The India linkages are for all to see, from the Ganesha idols to the Mekong river.

"Connectivity" is India's mantra but it's China that's putting stakes on the ground. China is doing more on the Mekong river and China is building the Kunming-Singapore links, while India's trilateral highway to Thailand through Myanmar will take many more years to realise. The wasted opportunities are stacking up.-The Times of Asia (November 17, 2012 10:58AM)

Asean urged to work together for 2015 integration

The Secretary General of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) yesterday called on Asean member states to work collectively towards achieving the Asean Economic Community by 2015.

Sok Chenda Sophea, who chaired the 2nd Asean Investment Forum (AIF) held in Phnom Penh yesterday, said Asean members must think collectively to attract foreign direct investments in an increasingly volatile economy.

Events such as the eurozone crisis have changed the world's economic landscape, said Sok. "Whenever these changes occur, countries have to adapt to the new situation. So this forum is very timely for us to sit down together and see how can we take into account this new landscape to try to attract more investment (into Asean).

"In addition to this, individually, each country's job is to attract FDI. But at the same time, we must think collectively. Can we try to do something that is of interest to all of us?

"The focus is the Asean Community. The theme for this year's summit is 'One Community, One Destiny'. So let's make this concrete and do it together because a lot of observers seem to doubt that we can make it happen," he said.

During the 2nd Asean Investment Forum (AIF) yesterday, delegates discussed the formulation of an Asean Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) strategy amidst a changing economic landscape.

Heads of investment promotion agencies of Asean member states also looked into developing a common theme to market and promote Asean as a single integrated investment area.-Asia News Network (November 17, 2012 7:17PM)

Myanmar welcomes Obama with graffiti

When Arker Kyaw heard President Barack Obama was coming to Myanmar, he gathered 15 cans of spray paint and headed for a blank brick wall under cover of darkness. Kyaw, whose passion is graffiti, labored from 3 a.m. until the sun came up. Passing taxi drivers and the occasional pedestrian gave him signs of encouragement as Obama's grinning, uplifted face took shape against a background of the American and Myanmar flags.

"I wanted to welcome him," said Kyaw, a 19-year-old with a sweep of styled hair and a penchant for skinny jeans.

The next day, someone — a rival graffiti artist, suspects Kyaw — scribbled over his handiwork with a can of black spray paint.

Before dawn Saturday, as he watched for cops between tea breaks, he painted another wall with an image of Obama scrawled with the words "hello again." He sees it as a shout out from the youth of Myanmar, and hopes Obama will glimpse it during his six-hour visit to the country, the first by a U.S. president.

Word of Obama's historic visit has spread quickly around Yangon, which is readying itself with legions of hunched workers painting fences and curbs, pulling weeds and scraping grime off old buildings in anticipation of the president's Monday arrival.

Some here read symbolic value into Obama's itinerary. Obama is scheduled to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as President Thein Sein, who is widely credited with driving the country's recent political and economic reforms. He will also deliver a speech at the University of Yangon, which has been a seat of opposition since colonial times.

Obama will not visit Naypyitaw, the muscular, desolate capital built in the middle of scrubland at great expense by the country's military leaders in 2006.

"I like that Obama will meet Aung San Suu Kyi. It's a very good point," said Than Lwin, a 47-year-old freelance teacher from Kachin state, where an armed insurgency continues.

"I'm glad he's not going to Naypyitaw," he added, laughing. "Naypyitaw is only the military."

Many hope that Myanmar's emerging friendship with the West will improve human rights in the country and help counterbalance the influence of neighboring China.

"I think America can work for the people. China only works for the government," said Wizaya, a 47-year-old monk from Mandalay who goes by one name. "This is our expectation, that they will help us. Whether they help us depends on them."

Others are less convinced and see in Obama's trip an attempt to further America's own economic and regional interests.

"This trip is not only for Burma," said Hla Shwe, 75, who fought with communist rebels and spent 25 years as a political prisoner. "America wants to balance power between China and Southeast Asian nations."

"For 50 years the American government did not help the Burmese people," he added. "American companies will do business and cooperate with Burmese tycoons and authorities and high officials. All the benefits and interests will be for the Burmese authorities and their community. Not for the Burmese people."

Among the many hungers in Myanmar is a desire for better stuff. One of the first things Paul Myathein, a 63-year-old English teacher, noticed after the military seized power in 1962 was a quick decline in the quality of toothpaste and soap. Many hope that warming ties with America will mean more and better things to buy.

Soe Wai Htun, a 21-year-old poet, said he had a lot of Chinese toys when he was a kid. "In our country, there are a lot of made-in-China toys," he said. "They don't have quality." But when he talks about the single toy car that friends of the family sent from Florida, his hands cup the air as if he could still caress it today. America, he said, has "quality items."

War War, a 34-year-old mother of two, said she'd really like to buy a car, a bed and a pillow from America.

"The products from America are better than the ones from China," she said. "Most American products are expensive. We can't afford to buy them."

For Myathein, the English teacher, Obama's visit is, he said, "a dream only."

In 1963, Myathein became a member of the American Center, a cultural outpost of the U.S. Embassy in Yangon with a well-stocked lending library, a popular book club and English-language classes. Gatherings of more than five people were once banned in Myanmar and during those years, the American Center was one of few safe places for public debate.

Myathein took refuge there, burying himself in books of English grammar and George Orwell novels.

He holds up American culture as a model of something he tasted in childhood, which was ground out of his society during half a century of military dictatorship — a drive to question, the boldness to say no, the space to speak freely, take initiative and connect with the world at large. Myanmar is changing many political and economic policies, but for Myathein the more important, deeper transformation has yet to take place.

"Superficially, you think it's quite OK, but if you penetrate deeper, you see the same thing. Everyone is the same. We don't want to raise questions," he said. "One thing I would like to say to Obama is give us a chance. Teach us to open up our mindset."-Associated Press (November 17, 2012 7:13PM)

China premier to visit Cambodia, Thailand

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will take part in a Southeast Asian meeting in Cambodia from Sunday that will include President Barack Obama and regional leaders, which comes as China is locked in territorial disputes with its neighbors.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Wen will visit Cambodia and Thailand from Sunday to Wednesday. Hong did not provide specific dates for each leg of Wen’s visit.

Hong said Wen will attend the East Asian Summit and other meetings in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member bloc that China is not a part of but holds talks with.

Tensions have flared recently over territorial disputes in the region, including rival claims by China, the Philippines and Vietnam to South China Sea islands and waters that are believed to be rich in gas and oil and straddle busy shipping routes.

Two other ASEAN members — Brunei and Malaysia — also have been embroiled in South China Sea territorial rifts.

China has opposed any attempt to bring the disputes to international forums, including ASEAN, preferring to negotiate one-on-one with rival claimants. It has warned the United States, which has been reasserting its role as an Asia-Pacific power, to stay away from the sea disputes.

The United States, which has tens of thousands of forces based in the Asia-Pacific, views itself as a stabilizing influence in the region, and its diplomacy on the South China Sea, where it says it holds no position on the competing sovereignty claims, has helped boost its standing in Southeast Asia.

But criticism of China risks straining ties with Beijing that the U.S. also sees as crucial for regional stability.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (November 17, 2012 10:28AM)

Young PH population an economic advantage - NSCB

The Philippines has one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia with a median age of 23 years, considered as a major economic advantage moving forward, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) said.

Based on 2010 data, the Philippines’ median age was the third youngest, next only to Lao PDR (21 years) and Cambodia (22 years) which are among the weaker member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in terms of economic growth/performance.

On the other hand, the median age of Singapore is 41 years, while that of Thailand is 33 years, two of the leading members of the Asean.

“The Philippines’ growing labor force can be beneficial to the economy assuming that enough jobs will be available whether here or overseas,” Jose Ramon G. Albert, secretary general of the NSCB, an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Albert added that while the Philippine population is aging, it has an age structure in 2010 that is not a substantially different from those of past decades.

The United Nations forecasts that in 2030, the median age in the Philippines will reach 29 years, and it will be 35 years by 2050.

The Philippines can take advantage of its growing working age proportion to pump up its economy, Albert added.

He said while the Philippines has a smaller proportion of dependents and a lower fertility in 2010 compared to past decades, the country still has a young population.

“Even if total fertility rates reach replacement levels in 2040, the Philippine population will only decline 60-70 years from then. Such a demographic winter will likely not happen within the 21st century,” he added.

Total fertility rate in the Philippines decreased from 1970 to 2010 but remained the highest among Asean countries.

The statistics agency said that in the Philippines, total fertility rate decreased from 7.2 in 1960 to 3.1 in 2010. But comparing it with other ASEAN members, the Philippines has the second highest total fertility rate in 1970 with 6.3, although this reflects a 3.2-reduction in a 50-year span.

Albert argued that even if the total fertility rate continues to decline in the Philippines by 0.2 point every five years, replacement fertility levels of two points will only be reached by 2040 as projected by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

Meanwhile, the age-dependency ratio has been declining since 1970.

The implication of the declining dependency ratio is that it frees more earnings for the working individual.

“With fewer dependents to support by the working age, household income can be used for productive investments. The Philippines’ growing labor force can be beneficial to the economy assuming that enough jobs will be available whether here or overseas,” the NSCB chief pointed out.

Albert stressed further that the gains in improved living standards can be made only if the working age population will be equipped with sufficient education that will provide them opportunities for decent employment.-ABS-CBN News (November 17, 2012 8:43AM)

Philippines a 'cheap' tourist destination? 6 tourism fallacies

MANILA, Philippines - If you think you know tourism, think again.

Outgoing Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) President Aileen Clemente told reporters on Wednesday, November 14, that there are many tourism fallacies that are hindering the country from determining how it can maximize the Philippines' potential of becoming a tourism hub.

1. Tourism refers to hotels and activities

Clemente said tourism is not only the accommodations and the activities that tourists enjoy in a particular place. She said tourism starts from the time a passenger boards a plane to a destination to the time the passenger boards a plane to go home.

This is why the little things matter. These small things include flight delays, numerous forms, long lines, and even the length of time one spends to reach the gate or lounge.

She added this is also the reason why the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 was deemed the worst airport in the world. Clemente said its not about the structure per se but the service.

Clemente said it takes passengers who go through the NAIA around 45 minutes to an hour to complete the check in, immigration, and security process.

"Tourism is an experience and not just about the accomodations. Isa lang ang magkamali dun, sira na yung experience," Clemente said.

2. Tourists look for adventure

Clemente said while "adventure" or extreme activities are welcome activities in the tourism sector, they are not enough because not all tourists look for these activities.

She said what the Philippines can do is to increase cultural and heritage experiences to attract more tourists. Clemente said tourism, as one of the experts in a recent IATA event said, is the first worldwide web which tourists can tap and experience to know more about a particular place in the world.

For one, she said, tourism preferrences vary from one region to another and one country from another. Clemente said while adventure and eco-tourism works for European tourists, ASEAN tourists look for great shopping opportunities.

Japanese and Korean tourists look for beach getaways. For US tourists, particularly second generation Filipinos, the main selling point is tracing their roots so visiting friends and family is what they look for.

Clemente said that among US tourists, there is also a growing interest in the Philippines history, particularly its role and involvement in World War II. She said more and more schools are coming here for educational purposes.

3. Tourists come to the Philippines because its cheap

Clemente said this is one of the biggest fallacies there is. She said its not cheap to come to the Philippines compared to some destinations in Asia.

She said compared to China or Bangkok, tourists spend an average of atleast $50 to $100 more in the Philippines. This amount can already be spent on additional shopping or a better hotel.

The country's advantage is its people and their facility of the English language. Since Filipinos have a good grasp of English, the country becomes a far-less complicated and more friendly destination for tourists.

4. Visitors come to the Philippines for tourism purposes only

Clemente said that the Philippines must position itself not only as a tourist haven but a business hub as well. She said more tourists can come to the Philippines through businessmen or businesses themselves.

She added that these tourists even spend more than regular tourists because they can afford better hotels and facilities.

5. The Philippines is not a good destination because of travel bans

Contrary to common belief, Clemente said the Philippines has always been considered a 'green light' destination in the tourism industry, even with the issuance of travel bans.

One of the issues that were initially thought as very damaging to the industry was the issue with China that led to the halting of charters to the country.

Clemente said these charters only include first-time tourists and they do not comprise the majority of tourists that visit the country. She said there are many independent travellers that come to the Philippines. She added that the charters from China are already slowly coming back.

6. We need a 'premier' airport to attract more tourists

Clemente said what the country needs to usher in more tourists to its shores are international gateways or airports.

It doesn't matter if these airports are premier or not, what matters is the number of airports, the quality of runways, and the size of the terminals to make flying in and out of the country safe and convenient.

She said that in the US, they have several gateways and none of their gateways are dubbed as a premier airport. They just have many airports which can handle arrivals on a day-to-day basis. -Rappler (November 17, 2012 3:07PM)

Regional hotlines eyed amid Asian territorial row

Indonesia asked Southeast Asian countries and China on Friday to establish emergency communication lines to allow officials to rapidly contain any potential outbreak of violence in disputed South China Sea territories as a solution to the long-unresolved conflicts remained elusive.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa made the call on the eve of an annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, where the territorial conflicts were expected to dominate the discussions on a range of regional concerns that include human rights and a proposed regional free-trade pact.

The disputes have long been feared as Asia's next potential flashpoint.

Indonesia's proposal reflects growing apprehension over a lack of a clear prospect of immediately resolving the overlapping territorial claims by China, Taiwan and four countries belonging to the 10-member ASEAN — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — in the South China Sea.

While all the rival claimants have pledged to peacefully resolve their disputes, Natalegawa feared an accidental clash could get out of hand if governments did not have lines of communications devoted to rapidly contain an outbreak of violence.

Top officials and authorities should set up hotlines and commit to talk and take steps to extinguish any violence that might erupt, he said.

"It's just a simple commitment, political commitment by countries of ASEAN and China that if there were to be future incidents, let's pick up the phone and chat and discuss what has happened," Natalegawa said.

"The real challenge for us is miscalculation, misunderstanding, misperception," he told reporters after meeting his ASEAN counterparts over dinner in Phnom Penh. "When there are issues, it's the time for diplomacy to work, not to shut down."

China and the ASEAN signed a nonbinding declaration in 2002 that urged rival governments to avoid acts that touch off violent confrontations, including occupying new islands or reefs.

Both sides have agreed to work to come up with a stronger and legally-binding "code of conduct" after fresh altercations involving China, Vietnam and the Philippines ratcheted tensions anew in the disputed waters. A long-running territorial feud between China and Japan has also flared up recently, compounding regional worries.

One dilemma is China's demand to negotiate one on one with each of the other rival claimant countries, a strategy aimed at shutting out any involvement of the United States, which has been warned by Beijing to keep out of the disputes. The United States and China's rival claimants have incensed Beijing by bringing the conflicts to international forums like ASEAN and calling for the involvement of other governments in a search for a peaceful resolution.

Washington has declared that the peaceful resolution of the conflicts and freedom of navigation in the contested waters were in the U.S. national interest, suggesting it would take action to thwart any hostile act that could threaten the stability across the sea, which has one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.-Black Pearl (November 17, 2012 6:58PM)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Western countries going to the PH as global crisis looms

Philippine economy is seen to grow stronger, making it the third fastest in the region in 2011 according to the rating agency as it cited the country’s improved economic performance as a breakthrough in the country’s many ties bind with foreign investors.

The three international ratings agencies had been analyzing gaming markets in Asia and western countries which the Philippines is rated one notch below investment grade.

President Benigno Aquino III forges ties with other countries such as Europe, Canada and Australia and its main objective is to build a comprehensive partnership between Asia and European countries. In the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting in Laos, President Aquino reaffirms the importance of Europe as a major investor in the Philippines even in the aftermath of the region’s current economic decline. Europe is the Philippines’ third largest trade partner after North America and Asia.

On the other hand, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government “would make further investments in the Philippines over the next three years with focus on sustainable economic growth”. Canadian investment would come with assistance from the Asian Development Bank. These funds will help create new opportunities across the Philippines. The government of Canada has also approved the grant to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. These funds will be used to help improve the rights of women and girls throughout Southeast Asia.   

 Meanwhile, Philippine and Australian defense authorities are mulling over the participation of Australian troops in the annual “Balikatan” exercises with US troops, making way for possible “trilateral” training exercises among the three countries’ militaries.-READ MORE AT: Agora Business Intelligence (November 16, 2012)

Jakarta raises minimum wage by 44%

The Jakarta Remuneration Board has set the city minimum wage effective next year at 2,216,243 rupiah (US$228.60), or 44 per cent higher than this year's 1.53 million rupiah.

Although the decision, made late on Wednesday, has yet to be signed by Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, it has been considered a victory by workers who had long demanded a wage higher than the basic cost of living. The governor said yesterday that he would hold another meeting with labour and business representatives over the issue.

Jakarta Workers Forum secretary-general Mohammad Toha said his organization appreciated the new minimum wage.

"After struggling for a decent wage, we finally have a 44 per cent increase from last year's level," he said.

Earlier this month, the remuneration board increased the basic cost of living for a single worker by 32 per cent to 1.97 million rupiah from 1.49 million rupiah per month. The level was used as main the reference to decide the provincial minimum wage remuneration for 2013.

Prior to the announcement of the 2013 regional minimum wage, workers in the capital staged demonstrations to demand a minimum wage of 2.8 million rupiah.

For years, workers in Jakarta received wages lower than the basic cost of living. In 2011, as an example, the minimum wage was set at 1.29 million rupiah or only 92 per cent of the basic living cost of 1.4 million rupiah. In 2010, the wage of 1.11 million rupiah was 84.48 per cent of the living cost at that time. Not until 2012 was the minimum wage higher than the basic cost of living (102 per cent).

"We have decided that the city's minimum wage will be 2.22 million rupiah, higher than the basic cost of living of 1.97 million rupiah," board chairman Deded Sukandar, who is also head of Jakarta Manpower and Transportation Agency, announced to the cheers of workers waiting outside City Hall on Wednesday night.

He said that the decision was legitimate and in accordance with the law although employers' representatives walked out from the meeting.

"Any complaints, either from employers or workers, should be filed at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry," Sukandar said.

Board member representing employers, Sarman Simanjorang, said that both the Indonesian Employers Association and the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and Industry would not accept the decision.

"The decision made tonight was baseless. The numbers used were not in the methodology set by the government itself," he was quoted as saying by on Wednesday.

Eddy Kuntadi, the chairman of chamber's Jakarta office, said that the decision was invalid because it was made without the consent of business representatives.

Kuntadi said that the business representatives had requested the wage be increased to 2.1 million rupiah, which was still higher than the basic cost of living.

"The governor was a former businessman and he should understand that this decision will hurt businesspeople and will likely have a bigger impact," he said.

According to Kuntadi, it was possible some foreign companies would decide to leave the city while some small and medium enterprises would close because of the increased wage.

"We are aware that we have to increase the minimum wage due to the country's strong economic growth, but the decision should have been made by considering businesses as well. A lot of entrepreneurs will not accept this decision," he said.

Deputy Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama lauded the decision on Wednesday, saying that it would be enough to cover living expenses in the city.

"Employers who cannot afford the minimum wage should write to us and we will follow it up in accordance with the law," he said.

Based on the existing Labour Law, business owners who fail to comply with the minimum-wage policy face a maximum of four years in prison, but transition time would be given to those who declared audited financial problems.-Asia News Network (November 16, 2012)

Asian colleges seek to ascend to global arena

Around 500 education experts from 48 Asian countries gathered for a conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Wednesday to discuss the advancement of universities toward internationalisation.

At the three-day "Eighth QS Asia Pacific Professional Leaders in Education" (QS-APPLE) conference and exhibition hosted by the Bogor Agricultural University, experts shared the common view that Asian universities have gained better recognition worldwide in line with the rise of Asia in the global arena.

Mandy Mok, managing director of QS Asia Quacquarelli Symonds, said Asian universities had performed well in the world university rankings. The region had a total of 19 universities in the top 100 universities in the 2012 QS World University Rankings this year, with the University of Hong Kong leading the pack in 23rd place.

Singapore saw its two universities, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, make it to the top of the rankings, she said.

"Universities in Asia are becoming more international, as seen in the rapid growth over the past few years of branch campuses in Asia from universities in the West," she said, adding that China now hosted 17 branch campuses compared to 10 two years ago, followed by Singapore with 18, up from 12 in 2009.

Freddy Boey, a professor at Nanyang Technological University, said that with the rise of Asia, several Asian universities had in recent years acquired top academic rankings and achieved international recognition on a par with many of their iconic Western counterparts.

In his presentation on Strategies for Academic and Research Excellence for Asian Universities: Perspective from Singapore, he highlighted several significant factors that gave universities a critical competitive edge and building platform to become world-class institutions.

"As countries worldwide have become increasingly more interconnected due to globalisation, universities have undergone significant change. To achieve and maintain academic and research excellence in today's fast-paced knowledge economy, it is critical for universities to transcend traditional education."

Aman Wiranatakusumah, chairman of the Indonesian Board of National Education Standards, and former Indonesian ambassador for Unesco, presented his views on strategies for the internationalisation of higher education.

"It requires appropriate academic and professional qualifications, including the comprehension of the global language, multicultural understanding and better human or soft skills," the professor at Bogor Agricultural University's department of food science and technology said.

"Looking toward internationalisation, universities should establish more attractive and higher quality academic programmes, better institutional capacity and stronger international networking."-Asia News Network (November 16, 2012)

South Korean actor Lee Min-ho welcomed in Manila

South Korean actor Lee Min-ho, who shot to fame in Asia for his role in the 2009 hit television drama “Boys Over Flowers,” has received a rousing welcome from Filipino fans in Manila.

His arrival Thursday was a top Twitter trend in the country. GMA News dubbed him “Lee Min Hot” and showed a video of the heartthrob being mobbed by shrieking fans at Manila’s airport.

The 25-year-old actor is an endorser of a local clothing brand. Organizers say he will meet with fans and tour malls during his four-day visit.

Lee is best known for his role as a rich student who falls in love with a poor schoolmate in “Boys Over Flowers.” The Philippines’ ABS-CBN network says it will soon air Lee’s latest drama, “Faith."-Philippine Daily Inquirer (November 16, 2012 9:18PM)

Panetta touts US military ties at ASEAN talks

SHIFT. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promotes military ties to Asia-Pacific countries. Photo from
SIEM REAP, Cambodia - US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sought to promote Washington's strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific and a tentative rapprochement with Myanmar as he met regional counterparts Friday in Cambodia.

Wrapping up a tour of Asia before President Barack Obama visits the region next week, Panetta joined 10 defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Cambodian resort of Siem Reap.

In his talks, Panetta was expected to outline Washington's cautious steps toward reopening ties with Myanmar's military, as well as a bid to "rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific, officials said.

The US tilt to Asia as well as warming relations with Myanmar reflect a concerted effort by the Obama administration to assert American influence in the face of China's growing economic and military might.

Next week, Obama will be the first sitting US president to visit Cambodia as well as Myanmar, following a series of dramatic political changes in a country emerging from decades of military rule.

Panetta's trip, which included earlier stops in Australia and Thailand, came as China unveiled a new leadership team headed by Xi Jinping, a transition sure to feature in Friday's talks among ASEAN ministers.

Reflecting Washington's new approach to Myanmar, the Pentagon chief had no scheduled meeting set with his Myanmar counterpart but was open to an informal conversation, a senior US defence official told reporters.

The United States was ready to explore reviving military ties with Myanmar but at a deliberate pace, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pentagon officials are considering cooperating with Myanmar's armed forces on non-lethal programmes focused on military medicine, education and disaster relief exercises.

The activities would be "limited in scope" at the outset, the official added. "We'll grow as appropriate over time. We need to see reform. We need to see continued progress."

The overtures to Myanmar's leaders -- and Obama's planned visit next week -- are a source of concern for China, as the country -- along with North Korea -- had remained firmly in Beijing's orbit and off-limits to the Americans until now, analysts and officials said.

"From China's perspective, enhancing US-Burma (Myanmar) security ties takes on greater significance because it was one of the few countries in China's periphery that Beijing had a near monopoly on military, economic, and diplomatic relations," Andrew Scobell, an expert at the US-based RAND Corporation think tank, told AFP.

"Now, with a US-Burmese rapprochement well under way, China's leaders believe they are being outmuscled by the United States in yet another location around their periphery," he said.

Washington's diplomatic initiatives to Myanamar and Cambodia come despite concerns over human rights in both countries, with US officials lobbying Cambodian leader Hun Sen to end a crackdown on dissidents and protests.

In his discussions with the Southeast Asian ministers, Panetta was due to renew US appeals for a peaceful, multilateral resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, which have tended to pit China against its neighbours over potentially resource-rich waters.

"We continue to be closely monitoring both the situations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea," said the same defence official.

"Our message is going to be consistent with what we've said in the past, which is we don't take sides. We want these disputes solved peacefully in accordance with international law but we do take issue with coercion," the defence official said.-Rappler (November 16, 2012 4:54PM)

PH ready to assist Filipinos in conflict-stricken Gaza

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said the Philippine government was ready to assist Filipinos in Gaza amid the escalating tensions there.

“There are about 100 Filipinos and members of their family in Gaza. The Philippine government remains ready to assist in getting them out of harm’s way in light of the evolving situation there,” Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson, said in a text message.

“The Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv has likewise advised the Filipino communities in Israel to be alert and ready for contingencies if the situation continues to escalate,” Hernandez added.

The Gaza Strip has been an area of concern in recent days following a flare-up of violence between Israeli and Gaza based groups.

Agence France Presse earlier reported that Ahmed Jaabari, a top Hamas commander, was among seven people killed in more than 20 Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Hernandez said that as of Friday, there were no reported Filipino casualties or Filipinos injured because of the violence. He noted that there were 41,000 Filipinos in Israel and that most of them were caregivers.

“They are relatively safe and live in houses with bomb shelters,” Hernandez said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel and called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has also voiced its concern over the violence which it said “put civilians at great risk.”

“We support the calls of the Secretary-General for an immediate de-escalation of tensions and his demand that both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times,” the UN said.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (November 16, 2012 8:48PM)

PH-Cambodia relations excellent, says envoy

Relations between the Philippines and Cambodia remain strong despite a rift months ago over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) failure to issue a joint statement on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the Philippine ambassador in Phnom Penh said.

Ambassador Noe Wong described the two countries' relationship as "excellent."

"Both countries until now are continuing their efforts to strengthen cooperation in areas which are of mutual interest and benefit," he said.

Last July, the 10-member ASEAN failed to come up with a joint statement that mentions the West Philippine Sea issue, allegedly because Cambodia yielded to pressure from China, its closest ally. It was the first time the organization failed to issue a communiqué.

After the Philippines and Vietnam blamed Cambodia, Cambodia's ambassador to the Philippines accused the two countries of engaging in dirty politics. Cambodia's ambassador in Manila has been recalled.

Despite this, Noe said the Philippines and Cambodia continue to hold dialogues and consultations with each other through the Joint Conference on Bilateral Cooperation.

Soon, the two countries will also sign an agreement to fight transnational crimes and terrorism, he added.

"What is left is the formal signing of that memorandum of agreement, and we have agreed to do that immediately after we finish with the ongoing ASEAN Summit and related summits. So I foresee either December or the first quarter of 2013," Wong said.

Cambodia, the ASEAN chair for 2012, is home to about 6,000 Filipinos.

Wong said most Filipinos here are gainfully employed in various sectors, including the garments and textile industry and the academe. Some are members of missionary and civil society organizations.

"We are really proud that we Filipinos are much better here, it's less a headache to me as the ambassador here in Cambodia," he said.-ABS-CBN News (November 16, 2012 6:55PM)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

FIFA website focuses spotlight on 'ambitious Azkals'

Ambitious Azkals target regional glory
The Azkals' steady improvement in the last two years did not only draw the attention of their regional competitors, it also gained recognition from the world’s football governing body.

The Philippine national football team, which climbed to its highest ever world ranking at 143, was featured on FIFA’s official website. 

In the article titled “Ambitious Azkals target regional glory,” the website attributed the team’s string of successes to its consistent development under coach Hans Michael Weiss.

“Since the German took the reins in January 2011, the Philippines have enjoyed a string of impressive results, giving the nation’s burgeoning fan base cause for optimism ahead of this month’s AFF Suzuki Cup,” the report said.

FIFA also cited the Azkals’ accomplishments in the AFC Challenge Cup where they defeated former titlists Tajikistan, India before overcoming Palestine for a bronze medal.

The Azkals first broke out to prominence when they shocked the competition by forcing Singapore to a 1-1 draw, upsetting 2008 champion Vietnam (2-0), then holding Myanmar to a scoreless in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.

The effort was good enough for the Azkals to earn a qualification to the 2010 semifinals.

The breakout performance forced their regional rivals to consider the Philippines as a genuine force in the 2012 edition of the Cup.

"In 2010 we surprised everyone," team manager Dan Palami said in the report.

"Now they don’t consider us as underdogs and every team is expecting to have a hard time against us. And we have to live up to the expectations not only of the Filipino fans but the other teams. We must stand by our ranking."

The Azkals are scheduled to play against Singapore in a friendly game on Wednesday before they head to Thailand for the 2012 Suzuki Cup.

The 2012 Cup begins on November 24.-ABS-CBN News (November 15, 2012 7:54PM)

PH urges ASEAN to unite on sea dispute

REGIONAL ISSUES. President Aquino with key leaders of Southeast Asia. File photo from Malacañang
President Benigno Aquino III urged Southeast Asian countries Thursday, November 15, to present a united front to China over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) at an upcoming regional summit.

Aquino said all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should speak with one voice at the East Asia summit in Cambodia next week.

"We can talk to the other claimants that aren't ASEAN members but since we want to maintain ASEAN's centrality, we must have just one voice in ASEAN... in this regard," he told reporters.

He noted that ASEAN included 4 countries with some overlapping claims to islands and waters in the South China Sea -- the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Non-members China and Taiwan also have their own claims.

ASEAN also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea despite the competing claims of the four ASEAN members to parts of the waters.

In July a regional ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh ended in disarray over the issue.

ASEAN chair Cambodia, a close China ally, refused to allow Vietnam and the Philippines to mention specific disputes with China over the sea, preventing the group from issuing a joint communique for the first time in its 45-year history.

Aquino said he hoped other countries outside of ASEAN realized it was necessary to maintain stability in the South China Sea for the region's growth to continue.

Tensions over the sea have risen in recent months, with Beijing becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with Manila and Hanoi.-Rappler (November 15, 2012 6:09PM)

Cambodia prepares for Asean Summit

Cambodia will take centre stage this Sunday with the hosting of the 21st Asean Summit and related summits in its capital, Phnom Penh, from November 18 to 20.

A symbolic handover of the Asean chairmanship for 2013 is expected take place between Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the culmination of the summits at the Peace Palace.

Following the annual Asean leaders meeting, the 7th East Asia Summit on November 20 will bring together eight additional world leaders to Phnom Penh, including US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

“The forthcoming 21st Asean Summit will promote the Asean integration process and strengthen the bloc’s central role in the region’s evolving regional academic and social architecture,” said Hun Sen last month in a Xinhua report.

According to the news agency, the agendas of the forthcoming summit have yet to be disclosed as of Monday, however “analysts envisaged that the summits will touch on a number of issues including economics, trade, security, human rights, environment and climate change”.

Meanwhile, preparations for the summits in Phnom Penh are well underway. It was reported by Xinhua that over 10,000 security forces will be deployed in the capital in order to ensure security and safety for the foreign leaders attending the summits.

The news agency also reported that more than 1,600 reporters from around the world have registered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Information to cover the 21st Asean Summit and related summits in Phnom Penh.

This will be the second Asean Summit hosted by Cambodia this year as the previous summit was also held in Phnom Penh in April 3 to 4, where the Asean leaders including His Majesty exchanged views regional and international issues.

Themed “Asean: One Community, One Destiny”, among the highlights of the summit was the deliberation on the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

The 20th Asean Summit also saw the adoption of “The Phnom Penh Declaration on Asean: One Community, One Destiny”, “The Phnom Penh Agenda for Asean Community Building” and the “Asean Leaders Declaration on Drug-Free Asean 2015″. Two statements were also issued at the end of the summit, referred to as the chairmans statement on the “45th Anniversary of Asean: The Way Forward”, and the chairmans statement of the 20th Asean Summit.

Founded in 1967, Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia became a full member of Asean in 1999. The country chaired its first Asean Summit in 2002 after three years of membership.-One Southeast Asia Faith and Studies (November 15, 2012)

US, Thailand boost military ties to counter China

The United States and Thailand pledged Thursday to renew their military alliance for a new security era, during a regional tour by Washington's defense chief designed to counter China's rise.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the new joint defense declaration between the decades-old allies had "moved this alliance into the 21st century".

The last time the two nations drafted such a joint declaration was in 1962, when the United States promised to defend Thailand from "communist aggression".

Although the new statement made no reference to China's rising military power, Washington's strategic tilt to the Asia-Pacific is meant to offset Beijing's clout and maintain American influence there.

The United States promised "an enduring presence in the Asia-Pacific" and recognized Thailand as a "regional leader".

The Pentagon chief's trip to Asia has been overshadowed throughout by a snowballing sex scandal in Washington that forced the resignation last week of ex-general and CIA director David Petraeus over an extramarital affair.

The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has been linked to a key figure in the case and is now under investigation for potentially inappropriate emails.

Panetta said Thursday he was "not aware" of any other officials linked to the scandal.

His visit to Bangkok marked the first face-to-face talks between US and Thai defense ministers since 2008, and came days before President Barack Obama is due in the region for a tour of Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Obama will be the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, following a series of dramatic political changes in a country emerging from decades of military rule.

He will meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

A senior US defense official told reporters travelling with Panetta that the United States was open eventually to restoring military ties with Myanmar, but that the Pentagon would proceed cautiously.

"We're going to go slow. We are going to engage those we think are reformist elements," said the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

US officials were considering cooperating with Myanmar's armed forces on non-lethal programmes focused on military medicine, education and disaster relief exercises.

The activities would be "limited in scope" at the outset, the official added. "We'll grow as appropriate over time. We need to see reform, we need to see continued progress."

Washington restored diplomatic relations with Myanmar and ended sanctions on investment in July.

The United States has also dropped its objection to inviting Myanmar to observe Cobra Gold, the largest US multilateral exercise in the Asia-Pacific. It brings together thousands of troops from the US, Thailand and other countries for field training.

Thailand's air bases and ports remain vital to the US military's logistical network in Asia and the Pentagon continues to hold dozens of drills every year with Bangkok.

The United States suspended military aid to Thailand after a 2006 coup but reinstated it after elections in December 2007.

Earlier during his week-long trip to Asia, the third since June, Panetta took part in annual strategic talks with Australia in Perth, where officials unveiled plans to station a powerful US Air Force radar and space telescope.

He will fly to Cambodia on Friday to join a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that is expected to focus on territorial tensions with China and recent sectarian unrest in Myanmar.-Interaksyon (November 15, 2012 6:46PM)