Saturday, November 24, 2012

India counters China map claims in a tit-for-tat move

India is stamping its map on visas given to Chinese visitors, an Indian official said Saturday, after China began issuing passports showing disputed territories as its own.

"We have started issuing visas with India's map as we know it," said a foreign ministry official, who did not wish to be named, declining to comment further.

India's tit-for-tat action comes after China began issuing new biometric passports showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai China -- regions that New Delhi claims -- as part of Chinese territory.

And the response comes amid already strained ties between the two Asian giants.

Beijing has also included disputed islands in the South China Sea in the map outline on the new passports, angering both the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as areas including two of Taiwan's most famous scenic spots.

Early this week, the Philippines foreign secretary wrote a protest note to the Chinese embassy and the Vietnam government said it has also lodged its objections with Beijing.

India's The Hindu newspaper said the Indian government had decided not to take up the issue formally with China.

"It feels it will be better to speak through actions... than words," the newspaper quoted an unidentified government official as saying.

Beijing has attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the maps were "not made to target any specific country".

The disputed border between India and China has been the subject of 14 rounds of fruitless talks since 1962, when the two nations fought a brief, bloody war over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

China's build-up of military infrastructure along the frontier has become a major source of concern for India, which increasingly sees Beijing as a longer-term threat to its security than traditional rival Pakistan.

India is also wary of increased Chinese activity in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh which New Delhi sees as within its sphere of influence.-ABS-CBN News (November 24, 2012 3:35PM)

Tensions flare at political rally in Bangkok

BANGKOK - Thai police fired tear gas as tensions flared at an anti-government protest Saturday in the capital Bangkok, the scene of several outbreaks of violent unrest in recent years.

Thousands of police have been deployed for the rally, organized by the royalist group Pitak Siam, which wants Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government to step down.

The authorities expect tens of thousands of people to attend the demonstration, the first major street protest against Yingluck's 16-month-old administration.

Police estimated that about 10,000 protesters were gathered by about 9:00 am at the Royal Plaza in the city's historic district.

"In the name of Pitak Siam and its allies I promise that we will topple this government," the movement's head, retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit, told demonstrators from the rally stage.

Police fired 10 tear gas canisters at a group of protesters who removed barbed wire and barriers blocking their route in front of a UN building close to the main rally site, police said.

"Tear gas was used in one area because protesters did not comply with the rules," said national police spokesman Major General Piya Uthayo.

Three people, including one police officer, were taken to hospital because of the effects of the tear gas, while several others received first aid at the site, according to the city's Erawan emergency centre.

The authorities said they would allow the rally to go ahead at the Royal Plaza so long as protesters gathered peacefully.

Yingluck on Thursday voiced fears the protesters aimed to use violence and to "overthrow an elected government and democratic rule", in a televised address to the nation.

The government has invoked a special security law, the Internal Security Act (ISA), in three districts of the capital to cope with possible unrest.

"We will evaluate the situation daily and if it escalates we are ready to invoke emergency rule, but so far I think the ISA will be sufficient," Thai police chief General Adul Sangsingkaew said on national television.

Politically turbulent Thailand has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent rival street protests in recent years, although an uneasy calm has returned after national elections in 2011.

Two months of mass opposition protests in 2010 by "Red Shirt" supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra sparked a deadly military crackdown that left about 90 people dead and nearly 1,900 wounded.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck is now prime minister after his political allies won a landslide election victory last year.

Thaksin, who made billions as a telecoms tycoon, is adored by many poor Thais for his populist policies while in power, but reviled by many in elite, military and palace circles who see him as authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.

"This government ignores widespread disrespect of the monarchy and even supports the perpetrators. It is a puppet of Thaksin," Pitak Siam spokesman Vachara Riddhagni told AFP ahead of the demo.

Observers say prosecutions for insulting the monarchy have surged since royalist generals toppled Thaksin in a coup in 2006. Many of those targeted are linked to the Red Shirt movement.-GMA News (November 24, 2012 11:40AM)

SAY IT ISN'T SO, LAH | Singaporeans react to 'emotionless' tag

Singaporeans have reacted to a survey depicting them as the world's most emotionless people with many saying the city state's competitive culture leaves them no room for feelings.

"Singaporeans are the least likely in the world to report experiencing emotions of any kind on a daily basis," US-based pollster Gallup said in a report on a three-year study conducted in more than 150 countries.

The Philippines came out as the most emotional society in the world, with Latin American countries dominating the top of the list.

Media in Singapore, one of the world's wealthiest and most stable societies, gave prominent coverage to the report, setting off some strong reactions.

"Where got time to laugh? Wake up, must fight for place on trains, lunch time, must fight for place to sit down and eat, go home must fight for place on trains," Edward Alexzandra Peters wrote on Facebook.

Kok Leong commented on Yahoo! Singapore: "It's so stressful to be living in Singapore. Our mind is all about $$$ -- how to survive, how to raise family, tax, etc. Nothing is free here."

Another commentator wrote on Yahoo: "We have everything, and yet we have nothing. No one in this country actually lives life to the fullest; we merely exist. To our government, we are nothing more than a statistic."

"How can Singaporeans be the most emotionless in the world when they complain the most every day? I'm baffled," said a post by Melody on Twitter.

Gallup said it surveyed about 1,000 respondents 15 years old and above in each country annually between 2009 and 2011. They were asked if they felt five positive and five negative emotions the previous day.

The negative feelings were anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry, while the positive emotions were feeling well-rested, being treated with respect, enjoyment, smiling and laughing a lot, and learning or doing something interesting.

Only 36 percent of Singaporeans said they felt any of the emotions, Gallup said.-Interaksyon (November 23, 2012 3:05PM)

Mr. Obama's focus on Asia

U.S. President Barack Obama has concluded a three-country Southeast Asia tour designed to punctuate his administration's intention to focus on Asia. The intentions are good and the strategy is correct: Asia deserves a more prominent place in U.S. thinking and planning.

But the realities of governing conspired to overshadow Mr. Obama's intent: A crisis in the Gaza Strip and the prospect of a fiscal crisis in the United States distracted the president from his pledge to focus more attention on Asia.

Mr. Obama visited Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia on his first trip after winning re-election.

In Bangkok, he strengthened his country's alliance with Thailand, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said her country was prepared to begin negotiations on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

In a gesture that meant much to the country's residents, Mr. Obama visited Thailand's ailing 84-year-old king in the hospital.

From there Mr. Obama went to Myanmar, marking the first visit ever by a U.S. president to that country. He met President Thein Sein and encouraged him to continue his country's efforts toward political and economic reform.

Mr. Obama announced a new mission from the U.S. Agency for International Development and pledged a two-year aid package worth $170 million.

In a meeting that was unimaginable two years ago, he joined leading opposition figure and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for a discussion of their two countries' future.

Mr. Obama has taken heat for his visit. Critics argue that more reform is needed before the U.S. gives the Myanmar regime the stamp of approval. Mr. Obama countered that his visit signals the benefits of Myanmar's continuing down the current path and will encourage the government to do more, rather than slack off.

Finally, he stopped in Cambodia, another first visit for a sitting U.S. president. There he met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, another leader with a questionable political and human rights record, reportedly telling him in a closed door meeting of the need to improve that dismal performance.

Then Mr. Obama joined two regional meetings, one with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the 18-nation East Asia Summit (EAS), a political institution that is struggling to find its feet in political and security affairs.

Attendees at the U.S.-ASEAN meeting agree that it would henceforth be a leaders' summit — rather than just a "meeting" — which would lock in top-level participation and signal that it is a strategic get-together. That fits squarely with the larger goals of U.S. foreign policy and the rebalance to Asia.

At the EAS, Mr. Obama reiterated U.S. support for peaceful solutions to the region's territorial disputes. This time, however, China did not seem as riled by the comments as it did when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed a similar sentiment and offered U.S. help in working out an arrangement.

But if Mr. Obama can be pleased with the accomplishments of his trip, he must be troubled by the larger picture that emerges. The rebalance to Asia is an attempt to reframe and refocus U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but no sooner was the president in-flight than his attention was diverted to the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.

Reportedly, meals with Asian leaders were followed by hours of phone calls to tackle the brewing crisis. While the president can — and must — be able to deal with several problems at the same time, the perception of distraction and an inability to deliver on the promise to focus on Asia persists.

If that is not enough, there are the fiscal challenges that the U.S. faces and the looming "fiscal cliff."

Asian leaders (and their publics) are savvy and understand the budget constraints that Mr. Obama faces. Even if he can focus on Asia, he may not have the resources to do so.

Fortunately, the U.S. budget problem is more political than economic: If U.S. political leaders muster the will, then the U.S. can overcome its fiscal problems. That is a big "if," however. With cuts, it is questionable whether the U.S. will have the resources to accomplish its objectives in Asia.

But again, the issue is the perception of U.S. weakness, and that is a more difficult obstacle to overcome.

Another important obstacle is China's effort to paint Washington as a disruptor of the status quo.

China sees itself as the rightful leader of the region and, while it cannot yet displace the U.S., it seeks equal status for now (and likely will go for pre-eminence later).

Beijing insists that Washington's actions spark regional instability. Its own rhetoric makes that assertion a fact. It is up to the U.S. to counter Chinese claims and for U.S. allies and partners to push back against that narrative as well. They must remind other nations and China that the U.S. is welcome in Asia.

Indeed, the critical question for the U.S. is the perception of its Asia policy. While the U.S. proclaims a new strategic focus on the region, the vast majority of these policies have been in place for over a decade.

The U.S. will continue to be deeply involved in Asian affairs. The U.S. leadership understands that its future vitality requires a deeper commitment to the region and a deeper appreciation of its value to the U.S.

But Mr. Obama fights an uphill battle — not because of actual constraints, but because of the perception that his resources are limited. Winning the public relations battle — the battle for Asian minds — is the real challenge for the U.S.-Japan Times (November 24, 2012)

San Miguel-Citra consortium plans fund-raising for Philippine, Indonesia tollway projects

The joint venture of San Miguel Corp (SMC) and the Citra Group plans to raise more money to finance a multibillion-dollar war chest for building new tollway projects in the Philippines and Indonesia.

In a briefing on Friday, Shadik Wahono, chairman of PT Citra Marga Nuphasala, told reporters that the consortium is considering an initial public offering (IPO) in the Philippines or a business trust listing in Singapore next year.

The SMC-Padma Funds LP consortium holds majority of shares in Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp, South Luzon Tollway Corp and their respective operating and maintenance companies.  

Padma, which is managed by Cayman Island-based Parralax Capital Management, owns the Citra Group. Citra Manila is the concession holder and operator of the Skyway, while SLTC operates the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

Wahono said the company plans to raise $700 million-$1 billion to finance existing tollway projects and future acquisitions in the Philippines and Indonesia.

"The IPO plan is still in various stages. We are talking with some bankers," Wahono said, adding that it will undertake a road show in Hong Kong and Singapore to get more feedback from investors.

Wahono said the consortium may create a new corporate vehicle for the planned IPO in the Philippines or business trust listing in Singapore.

The company also has the option to list Atlantic Aurum Inc in the local bourse.  San Miguel Holdings Corp (SMHC) owns 46 percent of Atlantic, while Citra Group, the balance.

SMC-Padma's priority projects include the $950 million Skyway Stage 3, $670 million Skyway Stage 4, $230 million SLEX TR4 (from Sto. Tomas to Lucena), and $50 million extension and widening of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR).

SMC, through its subsidiaries, is involved in the $250 million North Luzon East Expressway and the $390 million Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway projects.

In Indonesia, the priorities are the Becaluya Road Project, the Inner Jakarta Toll Road Project and the South Sumatra Resources Road Project.

The SMC-Padma consortium also is in late stage discussions to acquire control of Star Infrastructure Development Corp, the concession holder of the 42-kilometer STAR in Batangas.

In 2011, combined revenue from these toll roads reached $237 million. Revenue for next year is expected to reach $266 million, or an increase of 12 percent.-Interaksyon (November 23, 2012 5:09PM)

Philippine rejection of U.S. bases an example for activists

News photo
SUBIC BAY, Philippines — Visiting activists from Japan have expressed hope that Tokyo will emulate Manila's rejection of U.S. bases two decades ago, citing mainly the negative social impacts of maintaining the installations and the Philippines' successful conversion of the sites into economic hubs.

Mitsuo Sato of the Japan Peace Committee said although convincing the Japanese government to scrap the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is a difficult challenge, he is "hopeful" about it, noting the growing public opinion against the presence of the U.S. bases.

Besides opposing the bases, they also want Japan to end its reliance on nuclear power.

"More people are realizing that U.S. troops in Japan are committing crimes, instead of protecting Japan. I am not exaggerating, but for the first time after the war 67 years ago, we have never seen a situation like this where people are doubting this treaty," said Sato, 74. He headed a 48-member Japanese delegation in a Nov. 8 gathering at the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the closure of the U.S. bases.

The U.S. started pulling out its air force personnel from Clark Airfield in Pampanga Province in 1991 after the volcanic explosion of Mount Pinatubo in June of that year left the installation covered in ash.

In September, the Philippine Senate rejected a renewal of the Philippine-U.S. bases treaty, formalizing the need for the rest of the American forces, particularly the navy in nearby Subic Bay, to also pull out.

The last American forces to leave Philippine soil were those who pulled out on Nov. 24, 1992, from Subic Bay.

The former bases eventually became economic zones, hosting several companies and generating employment not just for local residents but also from other parts of the Philippines.

Kazuko Tanahara, 62, a former government worker in Okinawa, where most of the U.S. bases in Japan are concentrated, said that despite the financial gains of hosting the bases, the lives of the people in the prefecture remain hard, with income levels being the lowest in the country and unemployment the highest.

She also brought up the crimes committed by U.S. service members against local people, the most recent of which occurred on Oct. 16, accidents involving U.S. forces, and the opposition against the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft.

"I know that the people of the Philippines succeeded in removing U.S. bases from your country. Learning from your struggles, we wish to be relieved from base burdens as soon as possible," Tanahara said.

"Military bases are not something that creates the necessary items for our daily lives. We are only looking for a good life without the U.S. bases," she said.

Toshiko Nagado, 62, also from Okinawa, lamented that even after the U.S. forces expanded their presence in Okinawa after World War II, the "destruction of human beings" continues.

Sato said he is impressed with the political will of the 12 Philippine senators who voted against the renewal of the Philippine-U.S. Bases Treaty, and more so at how Filipinos cleared the bases and turned them into commercial centers.

"I really want to express my respect for the Filipino people for their self-determination and independence. What specifically interests me is that you have actually achieved economic prosperity despite apprehensions before kicking out the U.S. forces that many people would be badly affected," he said.

Sato said what the Japanese delegation learned during the gathering and tour in this former U.S. naval facility, and at the former U.S. Air Force base in Clark the previous day, will definitely be brought up during the 2012 Japan Peace Conference in Tokyo from Friday to Sunday and publicized by the different participating organizations.

He will also raise it when his group visits some government offices in Tokyo on Monday, including the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

"We should abrogate the Japan-U.S. Treaty as soon as possible and remain committed to enhancing public opinions and movements for learning, discussing, having dialogues, publicizing and expanding the ring of the united front in pursuit of a nuclear-free, nonaligned, neutral and truly independent Japan," Sato said.

Meanwhile, Roland Simbulan, a professor of the University of the Philippines who has authored books regarding U.S. bases in the country, said that despite the complete pullout of the U.S. bases, the Philippines is still facing many challenges, such as prostitution and violation of children's rights due to the present economic situation.

"With the signing of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement in 2001, units of U.S. military personnel are back to exploit and to take advantage of the poverty of Filipino women and children," Simbulan said in his keynote speech during the gathering.

"This gives us the lesson that political independence has to be sustained and consolidated by economic sovereignty," he said.

While noting that "there is life after the U.S. bases," Simbulan pointed out the continuing challenge "to make it a pro-Filipino and propoor economic conversion and people's development."

He also urged people opposed to U.S. bases and nuclear weapons, both from the Philippines and Japan, to "expose the present character, impact and consequences of U.S. imperialism in the Asia-Pacific region," noting the "reconditioning of U.S. global dominance and its aggressive military posture."

"I have always said that whichever of the two major parties, Democratic or Republican, wins in the U.S. elections, its presidential candidate can be expected to pursue big-military, interventionist policies — the policies that the two Bushes and Clinton promoted, and the Pentagon has carried out, on behalf of the top U.S. corporations," Simbulan said.

Newly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama announced late last year the U.S. plan to pivot its forces from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region amid heightened tensions in Asia, including between the Philippines and China, over territorial disputes.-The Japan Times (November 23, 2012)

Taiwan joins PHL, Vietnam in decrying territory claim in Chinese passports

Taiwan on Friday protested after China started issuing new passports with maps that feature two of the island's most famous scenic spots as part of Chinese territory.

China's new passports also provoked protests by the Philippines and Vietnam for showing various islands in the South China Sea as being in its territory despite overlapping sovereignty claims.

Beijing attempted Thursday to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the maps were "not made to target any specific country".

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou urged China not to "unilaterally damage the status quo of the hard-fought stability across the Taiwan Strait", his office said in a statement.

China's new computer-chipped passports are equipped with a map that covers Sun Moon Lake and Cingshui Cliff, both popular tourist destinations on Taiwan.

The Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top China policy-making body, stressed that Taiwan "is an independent sovereign country".

"China should recognise the facts that the two sides have ruled separately... and exercise self-restraint when faced with controversies," the council said.

China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island has ruled itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Tensions lingered between the two sides for decades until Ma assumed the presidency in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform, adopting a series of policies to boost trade and civil exchanges.-Interaksyon (November 23, 2012 8:50PM)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vietnam officials to face parliamentary confidence votes

The communist-dominated parliament of Vietnam is to subject elected leaders including the president and prime minister to annual confidence votes.

State media said those given a low vote by deputies for two consecutive years could be sacked.

Parliament's resolution comes a week after PM Nguyen Tan Dung dismissed a rare call by an MP to resign for errors in his handling of the economy.

Correspondents say the confidence vote may be no more than symbolic.

The BBC's Viv Marsh says that it is unclear whether parliamentary confidence votes will have any bite - because parliament does not have jurisdiction over the Communist Party, which wields much of the power in Vietnam.

However the 500-member communist-dominated National Assembly is gradually becoming more assertive.

According to a resolution now passed by the legislature, the prime minister, the president and other top officials it has elected or approved must in future face a parliamentary confidence vote every year.

Those who do badly for two years in succession will be subjected to a final vote and could be fired.

The authorities in Vietnam have been trying to deflect rising criticism - and show they are publicly accountable - as they grapple with a stagnating economy and a string of financial scandals.

Last week Mr Dung defended his mistakes and pointed out that the Communist Party had assigned him the job.

Correspondents say that the attack on the prime minister was so unusual because it was made in front of TV cameras in parliament.

Mr Dung was spared disciplinary action at a key Communist Party meeting in October over the scandals that have tainted his leadership.-Black Pearl (November 23, 2012 7:02AM

China Passport Maps Spark Protests From Vietnam, Philippines

Vietnam and the Philippines criticized China’s decision to include disputed South China Sea islands on maps printed inside new Chinese passports.

The Philippines “strongly protests” China’s decision to include the disputed maritime areas, foreign affairs ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said, and Vietnam’s government lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

Three separate pages in the passports include China’s so- called “nine-dash” map of the sea, first published in 1947, that extends hundreds of miles south from China’s Hainan Island to the equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo. Vietnam and the Philippines reject the map as a basis for sharing oil, gas and fish in the waters.

“The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea,” Hernandez said today in a mobile-phone text message.

The map includes the Spratly island chain, which is the subject of overlapping claims by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s website.

China says explorer Zheng He, whose sea adventures predate Christopher Columbus, crossed the South China Sea during the Ming Dynasty and cites historical maps that long predate the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The Chinese Foreign Ministry website says the earliest discovery of the Spratlys, called Nansha in China and Troung Sa in Vietnam, can be traced back 2,000 years to the Han dynasty.

Not ‘Targeted’

“The outline of China’s map in the passport wasn’t targeted at specific countries,” the foreign ministry said today in a faxed response to questions. “China is willing to communicate with relevant nations and promote the healthy development of contact between China and foreign personnels.”

China should “reverse their incorrect prints” on the passports, said Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam’s foreign ministry.

“These actions by China have violated Vietnam’s sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or East Sea,” he said, using Vietnam’s term for the area under dispute.

The maps in China’s new passports didn’t include islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China and Japan.-Bloomberg (November 22, 2012 7:36PM)

Dolphin dies on flight from Philippines to Singapore

One of 25 dolphins being transferred to a Singapore oceanarium despite protests from activists in the Philippines died during its flight to the city-state on Thursday, the resort said.

Wen Wen, a male dolphin aged about 10, died suddenly less than an hour before the flight from the Philippines landed, a Marine Life Park spokesperson told AFP in a statement.

The spokesperson of the park -- which opened to the public for the first time earlier Thursday and is part of the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) casino -- said the dolphin appeared fine when medically examined before the flight.

"We are deeply saddened... he will be sorely missed," the spokesperson said.

The other 24 bottlenose dolphins had arrived and were acclimatizing to their new home.

"No effort or resources will be spared in ensuring the health and well-being of our dolphins and all marine animals at Marine Life Park," the statement said.

Wen Wen is the third dolphin to die out of 27 which RWS acquired from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific between 2008 amd 2009.

Wildlife activists in the Philippines -- where the dolphins were kept and trained before being exported to Singapore -- filed a lawsuit last month to stop them from being flown out.

They said the dolphins' capture violated an international treaty on the trade in endangered animals and plants.

A court in the Philippines initially agreed to a temporary ban on transferring the dolphins but another court overturned it.

A Singapore-based animals rights group also opposed the inclusion of the dolphins in the marine park, saying catching them from the Solomon Islands is detrimental to the survival of the species there.

The remaining 24 dolphins are due to make their public debut at the park's twin attractions the S.E.A Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark only next year.

The aquarium is touted as the world's largest with 100,000 marine animals from over 800 species in 45 million liters (12 million gallons) of water.-Interaksyon (November 22, 2012 10:34PM)

China new Passports’ map includes territory of Vietnam, Philippines, Japan & Taiwan

Beijing has included its South China Sea territorial claims on maps printed inside new Chinese passports, infuriating at least one of its neighbors.

Vietnam has made a formal complaint to Beijing about the new passports. "The Vietnamese side has taken note of this matter and the two sides are discussing it, but so far there has been no result," said Vietnam's embassy in Beijing.

Other countries that have clashed with China over its assertions in the South China Sea, in particular the Philippines, are also worried China is trying to force their immigration officials to implicitly recognize Chinese claims every time a Chinese citizen is given a visa or an entry or exit stamp in one of the new passports.

The Philippines embassy in Beijing has not responded to requests for comment.

The territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas have overshadowed a series of summits of Asia-Pacific leaders in Cambodia attended by US President Barack Obama this week, with discord among southeast Asian nations over how to respond to an increasingly assertive China.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including large swaths of territory that smaller neighboring countries say belongs to them, and Beijing has been increasingly strident in recent years in asserting those claims.

The claims are represented on Chinese maps by a "nine-dash line" that incorporates the entire South China Sea and hugs the coastline of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and a small part of Indonesia.

The nine dashes enclose a region that is believed to be rich in undersea energy reserves and also incorporate the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

Until recently, most regional governments had assumed the nine-dash line represented Beijing's starting position for negotiations.

China undermined that view in June when Cnooc, a state oil company, invited foreign groups to tender for exploration rights in an area close to Vietnam's shoreline which Hanoi had already licensed to America's ExxonMobil and Russia's Gazprom.

The inclusion of the South China Sea claims and the nine dashes in the latest Chinese passport has raised further doubts about China's willingness to compromise on the issue.

"This is viewed as quite a serious escalation because China is issuing millions of these new passports and adult passports are valid for 10 years," said one senior Beijing-based diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. "If Beijing were to change its position later it would have to recall all those passports."

China's ministry of public security oversees the design and issuing of the new Chinese passports, according to an official at the Chinese foreign ministry who declined to comment further. As well as the controversial map, the passports also include pictures of scenic spots in China, as well as two popular tourist destinations on Taiwan.

"The map on the Chinese passport is not directed at any specific country," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to the FT on Wednesday. "China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries."

Since 2010 China has taken a far more strident stance on its territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as in the East China Sea, where it claims the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese, as its own territory.

The Japanese government has also paid close attention to the new Chinese passports but the scale of the map is so small that the islands are not visible and Tokyo has not raised the issue with Beijing, according to diplomats familiar with the matter.

The Chinese government began issuing the new passports, which include electronic chips for the first time, about five months ago.

"I think it's one very poisonous step by Beijing among their thousands of malevolent actions," said Nguyen Quang A, a former adviser to the Vietnamese government. "When Chinese people visit Vietnam we have to accept it and place a stamp on their passports . . . Everyone in the world must raise their voices now, not just the Vietnamese people."

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said including China's territorial claims in the new passports could "demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more problematic and there is already more than enough trouble [between China and its neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea]". Prof Shi said it was likely that the decision to include the map was made at ministerial level rather than at the national leadership level.

The Taiwanese government told the FT it had "noticed" the new passports but had not filed a formal complaint with Beijing.

"The mainland should face the reality of the Republic of China's existence and our established foundation," Taiwan's mainland affairs council said. "We should put aside disputes and face the reality and work together towards peaceful and stable development across the Taiwan Strait."-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (November 22, 2012

PHL DND eyes 100 new APCs from Italy

The Department of National Defense (DND) is planning to acquire 100 armored personnel carriers (APC)s and dozens of artillery equipment from Italy in support of the military’s capability upgrade program.

Documents obtained by The STAR showed that the Italian government might donate 100 units of operational M113 APCs and 25 units of operational FH70 155 mm howitzers.

The possible donations are in connection with the procurement of other equipment that may become part of what the DND called the “Italian package.”

The DND is currently negotiating with Italy for the procurement of Maestrale-class ships, medium-lift fixed wing aircraft (C27J-Spartan), special mission aircraft and three naval helicopters.

If the procurement pushes through, the 100 APCs and 25 long-range cannons may be included in the package.

“In connection with the acquisition of the aforementioned equipment (ships, aircraft, helicopters) the Italian government will donate 100 units operational M113 armored personnel carriers and 25 units operational FH70 155 mm howitzers,” the DND document read.

The APCs and artilleries are expected to enhance the military’s security operations.

The DND said the Italian defense ministry has designated a liaison officer to the Philippines to handle the acquisitions and represent the Italian government in the discussions with suppliers.

The department said it is also negotiating with the supplier regarding the specifications of the equipment.

“The imprimatur to contract with them is directly from the Italian government,” it said.

The Philippines is resorting to government-to-government transactions to fast-track the acquisition of key defense equipment.

Earlier, DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo told The STAR the negotiation for the acquisition of the two Maestrale-class warships from Italy may be completed by yearend.

Last August, the DND announced plans to acquire the Maestrale-class ships from Italy to boost the country’s maritime security capability.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had said the two missile-firing warships would be acquired from the Italian Navy and cost about P11.7 billion.

The ships have anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities. They also have missile systems and modern radars.-The Philippine Star (November 23, 2012 12:00AM)

4 ASEAN West PHL Sea claimants to meet in Manila to discuss disputes

Four Southeast Asian countries locked in a raging territorial row with China over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) will meet in Manila next month in a move to resolve the conflicting claims threatening the region’s peace and stability.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei will hold a meeting—the first of its kind—on December 12 “to discuss viable options to move the issue forward” and find a “peaceful resolution” to the unresolved territorial row, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday.

“If we can, for example, discuss the delimitation solutions to areas where we have disputes with each other, that certainly would be a good result to that initiative,” Del Rosario told a press briefing.

The issue on the rival claims to the resource-rich West Philippine Sea has divided the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

The lack of unified position among the group over the maritime disputes has pushed the four claimants to seek other avenues as the group’s other members wary of offending claimant China had discouraged the regional bloc to take bold steps to resolve the long-running disputes.

ASEAN decides by consensus, meaning a veto by one of its members can block a proposal.

“We are hoping that this can be done under the auspices of ASEAN but we don’t think we should be limited in terms of finding solutions to our disputes among the four of us,” Del Rosario said, calling the new approach “constructive” and “practical.”

The Philippines and Vietnam, two claimants that recently had the most number of confrontations with China over the West Philippine Sea, have accused Beijing of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its claims. Taiwan is also a claimant to the vast waters believed to have huge undersea oil and gas deposits

This has intensified calls to transform non-aggression pact between the ASEAN and China into a legally-binding Code of Conduct aimed at preventing armed hostilities from breaking out.

ASEAN, in the recently concluded summit in Cambodia, said it is ready to sit down and talk to China on hammering out a code, but Beijing remained non-committal.

China, which claims the sea nearly in its entirety, objects to any discussion of the disputes in a multilateral forum and prefers to deal with the claimants one-to-one.

Del Rosario said details of the meeting, to be conducted on the vice ministerial level, are still being finalized.

“We will be treating the issues on how to move forward and we’re not sure what the agenda will be. We will be preparing that,” Del Rosario said.

The territorial rifts have spilled over to an ASEAN meeting in Cambodia in July. In an unprecedented show of disunity in the bloc’s 45-year history, ASEAN failed to issue its traditional joint statement at the conclusion of their high-level talks in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh last week.

Manila and Hanoi blamed Cambodia, this year’s host of the ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship and a known Chinese ally, for blocking any mention of the territorial row in the joint statement.-Black Pearl (November 23, 2012 1:08AM)

With new passport, China stamps claim over disputed territories; DFA protests

Fresh from tense sessions at the ASEAN meetings in Cambodia this week, the Philippines and China are once more at loggerheads over a new issue: the design for China’s new ePassport, which includes maps of contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday issued a note verbale against China to protest this new development. “The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law,” DFA chief Albert del Rosario said in a press briefing.

“The Philippines demanded that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines,” the foreign chief stressed.

The new Chinese ePassport contained images of the nine-dash line which DFA officials say “covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain”.

The nine-dash-line encompasses the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands and Macclesfield Bank – all believed to hold vast resources of oil and mineral reserves.

Vietnam also made the same complaint against China, and said discussions between Hanoi and Beijing are under way.

“The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the DOC [Declaration on the Code of Conduct] in the SCS [South China Sea], particularly on the provision calling on parties to refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute,” he added.

The DOC, signed in 2002 by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), hopes to reduce political tensions and aims to ensure peace and stability in a region that links the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Besides the Philippines and Vietnam, two other ASEAN members, Malaysia and Brunei, have claims on parts of the same area. The other members of the bloc are Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

The non-binding agreement is supposedly the foundation of the Code of Conduct, which interested parties, including the United States, hope will govern the claimant-countries’ actions in the contested waters.

“The Philippines reiterates that the West Philippine Sea with the waters, islands, rocks and other maritime features and the continental shelf within the 200 nautical miles from the baselines, form an integral part of [the] Philippine territory and maritime jurisdiction,” del Rosario said.

The three-decade-old United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) bestows a country maritime jurisdiction over the 200-nautical mile waters of that country’s archipelagic baseline.

Islands disputed with Japan not included

China's new passports show a map including its claim to almost all the South China Sea, but it leaves out islands bitterly disputed with Japan.

China and Japan have also engaged in furious exchanges over East China Sea islands administered by Tokyo, which calls them Senkaku, and claimed by Beijing as Diaoyu. China saw mass protests over them nationwide in September.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

The Paracel islands lie within it and have been held by China since it forced out South Vietnamese troops in 1974, but they are still claimed by Hanoi.

Some social media users in China said the maps had delayed them at Vietnamese immigration.

"I got into Vietnam after lots of twists and turns," said one user of China's hugely popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, saying an entry stamp was initially refused "because of the printed map of China's sea boundaries - which Vietnam does not recognise".

Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi told reporters Thursday that the Chinese documents amounted to a violation of Hanoi's sovereignty and it had protested to the embassy.

Officials handed Chinese representatives "a diplomatic note opposing the move, asking China to abolish the wrongful contents printed in these electronic passports", he said.

Other claimants to parts of the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Beijing attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the maps were "not made to target any specific country".

"We hope to maintain active communication with relevant countries and promote the healthy development of people to people exchanges," Hua Chunying added.

In Tokyo, a foreign ministry official said: "We have confirmed that disputed islands in South China Sea appear in a map printed on new Chinese passports.

"On the other hand, Senkaku doesn't. Therefore, we are not in a position to comment or complain."-Interaksyon (November 22, 2012 6:17PM)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

PHL Fight against Crime

Philippine crime trends are swaying up-side-down in the previous years.  And it continues to be one of the biggest concerns of both private and public sectors in the country.

As what the experts are saying, dearth of space, basic amenities like food and shelter for the rising population leading to competition and rivalry are just some of the reasons why do crimes occur.

However, the Philippine National Police (PNP) are now implementing some measures in order to reduce the volume of crime-related incidents in the country such as maintenance of police visibility, having checkpoints etc.

In fact, PNP says that crime rate in the country are significantly decreasing through the years. This claim was supported by their latest crime statistics for 2012.

The data shows that from January to June of 2012, the PNP has recorded an average monthly crime rate of 19.23% in the country, lower than the 22.46% AMCR recorded during the same period in 2011.Moreover, in the following months of July to October, the figure shows a falling and rising number of crimes nationwide. The data gathered for the month of September is in contrast with the expectations of the authorities where in the crime is usually rising due to the coming Christmas season.

PNP says that the data reflects the police efforts to reduce the number of crimes committed in the country, especially during the so-called “BER” months (September to December).

Following the trend, the PNP are now expecting a consistent drop on the crime volume until the end of the year. They are also hopeful that it would not surpass the 248,378 reported crime incidents in the country for the year 2011. That record is 23.36 percent lower compared to 2010 and only half of the total recorded crimes in 2009.-Read More at Agora Business Intelligence (November 8:50PM)