Saturday, December 08, 2012

PH scraps meet of 4 ASEAN claimants in S. China Sea disputes

The Philippines on Friday said it has scrapped a planned Dec. 12 meeting among four ASEAN claimants -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

"It will not happen this coming Dec. 12," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said, citing scheduling difficulties as the reason for the "postponement."

He suggested a four-way meeting might still be in the cards, saying, "The parties are working on it" and trying to come up with a "common schedule."

Diplomatic sources said Brunei and Malaysia have sent word that they could not make it to the meeting.

The Philippines, the most vocal among the ASEAN claimants, hatched the idea for the four-way meeting to hammer out a "common position" on how to deal with rival claimant China's growing assertiveness in pressing its claim to almost the entire South China Sea.

Manila argued that it would be "easier to forge an ASEAN position" on the issue if the four claimants were to first work out a common position among themselves.

Asked if China had anything to do with the "postponement" of the meeting, Hernandez said, "I don't want to speculate."

The Philippines initially hoped to hold the meeting among the foreign ministers of the four ASEAN claimants on the sidelines of last month's ASEAN summit meetings in Phnom Penh.

But Vietnam was cool to the idea, while Brunei and Malaysia were also reluctant as "they apparently didn't want to offend China," a diplomatic source said.

The Philippines then proposed the meeting be held at the level of vice ministers on Dec. 12 in Manila, for which it sent invitations to the three countries on Nov. 21.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said the meeting would be held "to discuss viable options to move the issue forward" and find a "peaceful resolution" to the unresolved territorial rows.

The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Other contested areas in the South China Sea include the Paracel Islands, over which the navies of China and Vietnam have come to blows in the past, and Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop north of the Spratlys that is hotly disputed between China and the Philippines.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.-ABS-CBN News (December 07, 2012 11:18PM)

UN offers to mobilize help for Philippine storm victims

The United Nations on Thursday offered to mobilize international support for the Philippines after a major typhoon left at least 477 dead.

"The United Nations stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance and to mobilize international support for the response," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Nesirky said UN leader Ban Ki-moon had sent "sincere condolences" to the Philippine government over Typhoon Bopha, which hit Mindanao island on Tuesday leaving the hundreds of dead and at least 250,000 homeless.-ABS-CBN News (December 07, 2012 2:17PM)

US seeks collaboration, not confrontation, with China

The United States would like China to be a constructive influence on the world stage, Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of the US Pacific Command, said.

Referring to territorial disputes between China and other nations in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the East China Sea, Locklear reiterated the United States does not take sides and wants to see issues resolved peacefully.

“We call on all the parties there, including the Chinese, to ensure that, as they approach these problems, they do so in a way that avoids conflict, that avoids miscalculation, that uses the vehicles available today through diplomacy and through those legal forums that allow them to get to reasonable solutions on these without resorting to coercion or conflict,” Locklear said at a Pentagon news briefing on Thursday.

The US Pacific Command is stressing cooperation and collaboration, not confrontation, in the region and America’s pivot to Asia underscores it is and will remain a Pacific power, he said.

A report on the briefing by Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service was posted on the Defense Department website.

Referring to China’s efforts to modernize its military, Locklear said it’s not so much having such a military capability but what China does with it that concerns him.

He said the latest indicator of China’s efforts to modernize its military was the recent landing of a naval variant of the J-15 jet on Beijing’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

“If I were China and I was in the economic position that China is in and I was in a position where I have to look after my global security interests, I would consider building an aircraft carrier, and I might consider building several aircraft carriers,” Locklear said.

Aircraft carriers have a role in maintaining the peace.

“If the issue is that [the Chinese] are not part of that global security environment, then I think we have to be concerned about [Chinese aircraft carriers],” he said.

The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that China is ready to work with the Philippines to promote the sound and stable development of bilateral ties.

The Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported that spokesman Hong Lei said China is ready to have stable ties with the Philippines during a regular press briefing while answering questions regarding new Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio.

President Aquino appointed Basilio, replacing former ambassador Sonia Brady who suffered a stroke in Beijing last August.

“We have noticed relevant reports and will handle the ambassador’s appointment in accordance with international practices and relevant procedures,” Hong said.

The Chinese government, Hong said, attaches great importance to its relations with the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed the nomination of Basilio as the country’s next top diplomat to China, counting on the seasoned senior diplomat to play a major role in achieving the Philippines’ defined objectives.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said China attaches importance to its relations with the Philippines and hopes that the appointment of the new ambassador may facilitate communication between the two sides.

Meanwhile, officials of the northernmost province of Batanes have appealed to the government to stop the regular intrusion of foreign ships entering into local territorial waters.

Batanes Gov. Vicente Gato said that the provincial government could not cope with the rampant poaching of foreign fishing vessels as well as the occasional incursions of alien ships into the waters around the island province.

“This rampant poaching of fisheries resources by foreigners is the main problem of our administration as well as other coastal towns in Cagayan Valley, and something must be done to remedy this situation,” Gato said.

Batanes, located at the merging waters of the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, is nearer to Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City than to mainland Luzon.

There were reports that most of the fishermen arrested in Batanes for illegal fishing were Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese.

Gato called for the assistance of the various government agencies in its fight against the rampant poaching by foreign fishing vessels.

Jovita Ayson, Cagayan Valley director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said that despite the lack of proper equipment, their agency is doing its best to arrest foreign poachers.

Ayson said that in the first six decades from 1949 to 2003, authorities were only able to apprehend some 328 foreign nationals for illegal fishing and poaching.

She said that an estimated P75-million to P150-million worth of fish have been smuggled out of the country by foreign poachers, while the apprehended poachers paid only $280,000 or a measly P13 million in administrative fines.-The Philippine Star (December 08, 2012 12:00AM)

SE Asian governments gamble on making cheap labor less cheap

After years of profiting from cheap labor, Southeast Asian businesses paying wages low enough to undercut China are being forced to accept it is time they paid people a bit more.

In Thailand, minimum wages will jump by 35 percent in some regions from January, on top of a nationwide increase of 40 percent last April. Big percentages that add up to just a few dollars more in pay packets each month.

The country's finance minister says it will be good for workers and industry.

"People getting higher wages will not want to lose their jobs and employers will not want to increase wages for nothing. They will have to work together to boost efficiency and productivity," Kittirat Na Ranong told Reuters this week.

Economists also point out that if you pay people more they'll buy more. But the nagging worry is that everyone could eventually lose out if wages rise too fast, resulting in higher inflation and job losses as firms lose competitive edge.

While the political benefits are easy to see in a region where a vast majority of people are clamoring for a better life, the economic calculation is a harder sell to a business community whose margins depend on cheap labor.

The chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries was ousted last month for failing to lobby hard enough to convince the government to go back on a promise to voters, and the surrender to higher wages left the federation riven with factions.

Similar social and economic tensions are evident elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a region that has otherwise come through the global slowdown better than most.

Dynamic economies, changing societies

The emerging market boom that characterized the first decade of the millennium saw growth rates surge and profits multiply, but now countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia face pressure from workers for a bigger share of the wealth.

The World Bank designated Thailand an upper-middle-income country in 2011 after national income per capita almost doubled in a decade but it has fretted about wealth inequality.

As a former stock exchange president, the Thai finance minister seems an unlikely class warrior.

But that is how he sounds.

"We have a duty to improve the distribution of wealth," said Kittirat. "For over 30 years that economic records have been kept, it seems income distribution has not improved. The proportion of low-income earners is still the same."

After years of political turmoil, broadly pitting the lower classes against Bangkok's middle class and "old money" elite, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government was elected in July 2011 with a promise to bring in a nationwide minimum wage of 300 baht a day.

At $9.80, it is hardly a princely sum, but it equates to an increase of up to 90 percent, in two stages, by January for workers in the poorer provinces.

Similar trends are evident elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

In Indonesia, trade unions have rallied in several cities in recent weeks to protest at employers using contract labor to circumvent employment regulations.

And in the capital, Jakarta, a newly elected mayor has announced a 44 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage to 1.5 million rupiah ($160).

Apindo, the employers' association, has warned it will cause "waves of layoffs".

"This is a populist decision that doesn't take account of reality," said Apindo official Hariyadi Sukamdani.

Malaysia's new minimum

Malaysia plans to bring in a minimum wage in January of up to $300 a month, which will give some 3 million workers an increase averaging 5 percent.

The change comes in the run-up to an election that should be held in the first half of next year.

Singapore, wealthier, tightly controlled and more capitalist-oriented than most of the region's states, doesn't have a minimum wage and has no plans to introduce one.

But pay strains are showing there, too.

Bus drivers from China went on strike last month over pay and working conditions, complaining they were less well paid than drivers from Singapore and Malaysia.

Singaporeans, in turn, have complained about the competition for jobs and the government has made it harder for low-skilled foreigners to get jobs, which could exert upward pressure on wages.

In Vietnam, the prime minister signed a decree on December 4 raising the minimum wage for laborers by 16 to 18 percent, lifting laborers' wages to anywhere between 1.65 million to 2.35 million dong ($79-$113) per month.

That was a compromise figure after business associations kicked back against plans for a 20 to 35 percent rise.

Cao Sy Kiem, head of the Vietnam Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, acknowledged workers were struggling to make ends meet but said companies, too, would have struggled with the original proposal after rises in fuel, power and other prices.

Vu Tien Loc, chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said nearly 100,000 businesses folded in 2011 and 2012, half of the total business failures in the past 20 years.

Vietnam's annual inflation was still running over 7 percent in November, having been reduced from double digits in 2011.

Price pressures

Inflation elsewhere in ASEAN, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been fairly well contained, allowing central banks to loosen monetary policy to support their economies as global weakness hit export markets.

Any general increase in wages could complicate coming policy decisions.

Credit Suisse forecast this week that wages in Thailand would rise 10 percent in 2013 after 12 percent this year, pushing average inflation up to 3.7 percent next year from 3.0 percent.

In Indonesia, it forecast wages would rise 10 percent next year after 6 percent this year. Credit Suisse saw inflation averaging 5.7 percent in 2013 after 4.3 percent in 2012.

It noted in a quarterly report that many districts in Indonesia were being granted big rises in minimum pay for next year. "With the minimum wage already roughly two-thirds of the national average wage, we see a good chance that upcoming increases will impact wages higher up the spectrum as well."

China comparison

The other big worry is that a rise in wages could hurt ASEAN's exports, especially in markets where it competes with China.

But China's wages are higher, and rising. And demographics work in ASEAN's favor, said Citigroup economist Wei Zheng Kit, with China's working-age population likely to decline as a proportion of the overall population from 2015.

The cost of industrial land, utilities and transport in ASEAN also compare favorably with China.

Thai Finance Minister Kittirat highlighted the boost to domestic consumption from higher wages.

"It's a shame that we produce many good products but our people don't have purchasing power ... If our people are able to buy those goods, they will want to do that. It will be good for producers, better business and sales," Kittirat said.

The argument is all the more valid for Indonesia, by far the most populous ASEAN country.

"Foreign direct investment is drawn to Indonesia for reasons beyond cheap labor," said HSBC economist Su Sian Lim.

"Its population of 240 million represents not just a resource but also a significant market," she wrote in a report.

"Rising incomes -- helped along by minimum wage hikes -- only raise its allure."-Interaksyon (December 07, 2012 7:48PM)

Developing Asian Economies Seen Slowing

The Asian Development Bank says growth in developing Asia will slow slightly this year and next.

The report released Friday says Asia's economies excluding Japan will grow 6 percent this year and 6.6 percent in 2013. Both figures are 0.1 percentage point lower than anticipated in October.

Slower than expected growth in India, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan and the two largest Central Asian economies — Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan — slightly outweigh the more rapid expansion in some other economies in the region, such as the Philippines and Malaysia.

China posted a recovery in September. Fourth quarter growth is expected at 7.7 percent, surpassing the second and third quarter figures, and is likely to reach 8 percent in the first quarter of 2013.-Black Pearl (December 07, 2012 11:59PM)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Former Thai PM Abhisit charged over crackdown deaths

Thai authorities charged former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday with giving orders to use live ammunition that led to civilian deaths during a military crackdown on an anti-government protest in May 2010.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI), part of the Justice Ministry that has a similar role to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, charged Abhisit and former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban for their role in the 2010 events.

"They allowed security forces to use weapons and live ammunition that led to the death of civilians," said DSI chief Tarit Pengdith.

The DSI's decision to press charges was influenced by a court ruling on Sept. 17 in the inquest into the death of taxi driver Phan Kamthong during the protests. The inquest found that troops, acting on orders from state officials, killed Phan.

The two politicians were charged under article 288 of the criminal code. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty or up to life in prison. Neither was present when the charges were read out.

Thousands of protesters, supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, had taken to the streets of Bangkok in March 2010 to demand elections. More than 90 people died during the protracted protest.

Suthep headed the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation(CRES), a crisis control center that authorized "live fire" zones during the protest and used emergency powers to shut down websites, radio stations and a television station.

Government-backed troops forcibly dispersed the crowd on May 19, prompting rioting and arson attacks that saw over 30 buildings set ablaze in some of the worst violence in modern Thai history.

Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is now prime minister. Her Puea Thai Party beat Abhisit's Democrat Party in an election in July 2011 and he became leader of the opposition.

"The DSI is working at the behest of the government and the investigation is completely one-sided," said Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, a Democrat party spokesman. "The DSI wants to put pressure on Suthep to admit responsibility for the 2010 deaths and we will fight back."

On September 17, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission, set up by Abhisit's government to investigate the deadly clashes, released a 351-page report that laid blame for the deaths on the military and a shadowy group of militants dressed in black who hid among the protesters.

Some analysts said the charges were a way for the ruling Puea Thai Party to pressure the opposition into accepting a broad amnesty deal that could whitewash guilt on both sides of the conflict and bring Thaksin home from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

"It's a political game and a way for Puea Thai to gain the upper hand by forcing their opposition to accept some sort of amnesty deal," Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank in Bangkok, told Reuters.

"Suthep and Abhisit can't avoid a trial because so many lives were lost. They will have to accept some responsibility," he added. "Thailand has never jailed a politician for ordering a military crackdown on civilians so if Suthep and Abhisit are convicted, that would be a first."

Some question the DSI's neutrality, accusing Tarit of backing Abhisit's viewpoint when he was in office, then switching emphasis after Yingluck came to power and pressing charges against the former premier and his deputy.

"For the country to get out of this cycle of violence, justice needs to be impartial and accountability accepted on both sides including violence committed by protesters and black shirts," Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

Abhisit and Suthep will be summoned for questioning and to hear the charges against them on Dec. 12.-GMA News (December 06, 2012 7:16PM)

'China ready for stable ties with Philippines'

China is ready to work with the Philippines to promote the sound and stable development of bilateral ties, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today.

Hong made the remarks at a regular press briefing while answering questions regarding new Philippine ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio, who was appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday.

Aquino said he selected Basilio, a career diplomat, for the post to send a signal to China that the Philippines attaches great importance to its relations with China.

"We have noticed relevant reports and will handle the ambassador's appointment in accordance with international practices and relevant procedures," Hong said.

He added that the Chinese government attaches great importance to its relations with the Philippines.

Basilio, who was previously foreign affairs under-secretary, will be replacing Sonia Brady, 71, who suffered a stroke in Beijing last August.-The Philippine Star (December 07, 2012 12:00AM)

US Navy deploys ships before North Korean rocket launch

The United States has deployed naval ships equipped with ballistic missile defenses and is monitoring North Korea "very closely" ahead of an anticipated rocket launch, the head of US Pacific Command said Thursday.

It was "logical" that US naval ships in the region would be employed to track North Korea's launch and "to the degree that those ships are capable of participating in ballistic missile defense, then we'll position them to be able to do that," Admiral Samuel Locklear told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

The US Navy took a similar approach "the last time they had (a launch)," Locklear said.

Two guided missile destroyers, the USS Benfold and the USS Fitzgerald, had been sent to the area ahead of the launch, CNN reported.

American naval ships had been sent to the region "so we understand if they do violate the UN Security Council (resolution) and launch a missile, what kind is it? What is it about? Where does it go? Who's threatened?" he said.

The admiral added that US forces would also be tracking any stray parts that might fall from the rocket.

Pyongyang has announced it will conduct between December 10 and 22 its second long-range rocket launch this year, after a much-hyped but failed attempt in April.

The North says it will be a purely "peaceful, scientific" mission aimed at placing an Earth observation satellite into orbit.

The United States and its allies insist the launches are disguised tests for an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Locklear said North Korea has steadily improved its missile technology but it was unclear if the test this month would be successful.

"I think they have progressively gained better technology over time through a number of methods, a number of years and decades.

"To the degree that they would be more successful than they were last time in such a short period of time and what they've done to correct it, I can't tell you."-Interaksyon (December 07, 2012 12:31AM)

China tells Vietnam to stop oil exploration in South China Sea

Vietnam must immediately stop its unilateral oil exploration in disputed areas of the South China Sea, China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Vietnam expelled Chinese fishing boats from waters near China's southern Hainan province, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when the incident took place.

The vast waters of the South China Sea are rich in oil and gas and are contested by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, while Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also lay claims to parts of it.

Last Friday a Vietnamese ship in the waters had a cable it was pulling cut by two Chinese fishing ships.-Interaksyon (December 6, 2012 10:02PM)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

'Open your eyes,' Philippines tells climate meet

The Philippines urged bickering UN climate negotiators in Doha on Thursday to take heed from the deadly typhoon that struck the archipelago this week and wake up to the realities of global warming.

Philippine climate envoy Naderev Sano made an emotive appeal for urgent action as the annual United Nations gathering hit deadlock on the issue of money for poorer countries' efforts to cut global warming in the next few years.

"I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face," he said to applause from delegates.

"An important backdrop for my delegation is the profound impacts of climate change that we are already confronting. As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising."

Officials say 477 people were killed and a quarter of a million people made homeless by the Philippines' worst typhoon this year -- the kind of extreme weather event scientists believe will become more frequent as global temperatures rise.

Yet negotiators from nearly 200 countries entered the penultimate day of UN climate talks divided on financial assistance to the developing world.

The issue is key to the adoption of a package of plans by Friday for limiting climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

Developed countries are being asked to show how they intend keeping a promise to raise climate funding for poor countries to $100 billion (76 billion euros) per year by 2020 -- up from a total of $30 billion in 2010-2012.

Developing countries say they need at least another $60 billion between now and 2015 to deal with the fallout from climate change.

But the European Union and the United States have refused to put concrete figures on the table in Doha for new 2013-2020 climate funding.

Individual country pledges did start to trickle in, but the European bloc said Wednesday that tight finances prevented it taking on binding near-term commitments, while Washington insisted it was already "doing what we agreed to do."

"I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses," said Sano.

"Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around... for the future we want."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged negotiators to put aside their differences and find compromises in tackling the mounting global warming "crisis."

The talks in the Qatari capital are also meant to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only binding pact on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Barring renewal, it expires on December 31.

The Kyoto deal binds developed nations to emissions curbs, excluding major developing polluters, such as China and India -- as well as the US which refused to ratify it.

Agreement on finance and a follow-up period for Kyoto should smooth the way to a new, comprehensive climate pact that is due to be drafted by 2015 and come into effect by 2020.

But a group of NGOs including Greenpeace, Oxfam and the WWF warned the Doha talks were "on the brink of disaster", urging negotiators to roll up their sleeves and make a deal "that reflects the planetary emergency facing humanity".

"Yes, the entire world is facing an economic crisis. But small island developing states are facing an existential crisis," said Camillo Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

"Our existential crisis is neither cyclical nor temporary. It cannot be solved by austerity, stimulus or elections. And it is immune to delay, empty promises or excuses."-ABS-CBN News (December 06, 2012 11:26PM)

FIFA issues Indonesian deadline

FIFA has once again asked the under-pressure Indonesian football federation to set its house in order by Monday or face suspension, local media said on Thursday.

Soccer in the Asian country has been plagued by infighting between the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) and the breakaway Indonesian Soccer Rescue Committee (KPSI) for control of the sport in one of the world's most populated countries.

The two factions, who have their own leagues, signed a memorandum of understanding in June at the headquarters of the Asian Football Confederation where they agreed to run one league next season and hold a congress by December 10.


FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke wrote a letter to sports minister Andi Mallarangeng, saying Indonesia faced indefinite sanctions if the rows were not resolved at Monday's meeting, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported.

" case of failure, the case would be brought before the FIFA Executive Committee on Dec. 14, 2012, in order to determine the sanctions, which could go as far as an indefinite suspension," Valcke said in the letter, the report said.

"Unfortunately yet again, it seems that the set objectives will not be reached and we, therefore, anticipate that the PSSI will be sanctioned," Valcke was quoted as saying.

"With the deadline approaching and in the current situation, we deem it important that the Indonesian authorities be made aware of the likely sanctions to be imposed on Indonesia.

"We are fully aware that Indonesia is passionate about soccer and that sanctions will have a major impact. We have tried tirelessly to solve the problems, but we are afraid that there will be no choice unless the objectives of FIFA and the AFC are met or that significant progress has been made."

Any suspension would jeopardise Indonesia's participation in the qualifying tournament for the 2015 Asian Cup which begins in February.

Indonesia's early exit from the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup has also renewed calls for a truce between the factions with national captain Elie Aiboy blaming the setback at the Southeast Asian championships on the protracted conflict that has rumbled on for many years.

The national team were humiliated 10-0 by Bahrain, a record defeat, in a World Cup qualifier in February after many of their established internationals were blocked from playing because they had contracts with supposed 'rebel' KPSI Indonesian clubs.

Further pressure

On Monday, the death of Paraguayan striker Diego Mendieta from a viral infection heaped further pressure on the PSSI, with world players' union FIFPro lambasting the "structural mismanagement" of the Indonesian clubs.

Mendieta, who played for Indonesian club Persis Solo last year, wanted to return home but was unable to do so as the club owed him four months' wages.

The PSSI said they would not step in to pay Mendieta's family the money owed by the club as the team competed in a league which they did not recognise.

"If the PSSI is united and together, they can focus on managing the national football. If they are constantly in a state of conflict what happens is this," KPSI member and Solo mayor Hadi Rudyatmo told the Jakarta Globe.

"Clubs are emerging but they can't afford to pay salaries. If PSSI is united there won't be any more club which can't afford to pay its players."-Al Jazeera (December 06, 2012 13:29)

Philippines improves transparency, but still ranks low in world corruption index

The Philippines improved its ranking on the list of most corrupt countries based on anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). 

The Philippines now ranks 105th out of 176 countries. Last year the country ranked 129th. However, despite the improved ranking, the Philippines' CPI rating remains low: 34 in a 0-100 scale, with 100 as the best possible score. 

A score of zero means the country is perceived to be very corrupt, based on the CPI. A score of 100 means a country is perceived to be very clean or corruption-free.  

The Philippines country overtook Indonesia (118, down from 100 in 2011) and Vietnam (124), but still fared less favorably compared with other Southeast Asian neighbors such as Thailand (88) and Malaysia (54).

Singapore, ranked fifth globally. Among Asian countries, the city-state was followed by Hong Kong (14), Japan (17), Taiwan (37), South Korea (45) and Brunei (46).  

China's ranking slips

China saw its ranking slip to 80 from 75 last year, but TI Managing Director Cobus de Swardt  said the Beijing leadership showed a greater understanding of the dangers of ignoring corruption, including among Chinese companies operating both at home and abroad.

Last month, state media quoted Communist Party chief Xi Jinping as saying that if corruption was allowed to run wild, the Communist Party risked major unrest and the collapse of its rule.

Swardt drew comparisons with standards in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which groups wealthy nations. "We have seen a criminalization of bribery to the standards of the OECD," he said.

"The Chinese used to say their companies could not be held to rich country standards because they needed to catch up, but now they realize tackling this is in their own interests."

Least and most corrupt

Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand were ranked as the least corrupt with CPI scores of 90 each.

Countries perceived to be most corrupt are Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan, all ranking 174th with CPI scores of 8 each.     

Meanwhile, Greece scored the worst ranking of all 27 European Union nations, falling below ex-communist Bulgaria as public anger about graft soars during the country's crisis.

Greece took 94th place, below the poorer, newer democracies such as Bulgaria and Romania. Italy was placed 72nd, just ahead of Bulgaria at 75th but behind Romania on 66th.

In the 2011 index, Greece was 80th with Bulgaria scoring worst among the EU nations in 86th place.

Greeks have long complained about corruption but anger has soared, particularly about tax evasion among the rich, as the government has imposed wave after wave of austerity that the country's international lenders have demanded.

The EU has kept Bulgaria and Romania out of its Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel between member states, due to concerns about corruption. A recent study showed Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every month last year, more than in 2010.

Portugal and Ireland, which like Greece have received euro zone bailouts, were placed 33 and 25 respectively in the table.

Harder to check corruption in Russia 

Elsewhere among the so-called BRICs, Swardt said Russia's new restrictions on non-governmental organizations would make it harder to monitor and check corruption. Russia ranks 133rd in the 2012 global rankings, up from 143 last year.

With Russia taking on the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 leading economies, Moscow should try to "lead by example and not by the lowest common denominator in terms of bribery", Swardt said.

Political will has a big role to play in determining whether a country moves up or down the corruption rankings, Swardt said. "Those countries stuck at the bottom are often those where political elites are very unwilling to tackle the issues in a serious manner," he said.-Interaksyon (December 05, 2012 11:18PM)

Vietnam Adds Sea Patrols Amid Tensions With China

Vietnam is adding new patrols to protect its fishing grounds in the South China Sea after the country's state-run energy giant accused Chinese vessels of sabotaging one of its boats in the disputed waters.

State media said Tuesday the "maritime surveillance force" will have the authority to arrest crews and impose fines on foreign vessels within Vietnam's declared exclusive 370-kilometer economic zone. It will be deployed on January 25.

It comes a day after PetroVietnam said several Chinese fishing vessels cut the cables of one of its exploration vessels in the South China Sea last week. The state-run company said it later repaired the cable, but called the act a "blatant violation of Vietnamese waters."

China and Vietnam are in a long-running dispute over their competing claims in the South China Sea, and small-scale clashes occasionally break out between patrol boats or fishing vessels.

Vietnam, the Philippines and other East Asian nations accuse China of increasing aggressiveness in defending its claims in the South China Sea. China claims nearly all of the 3.5 million square-kilometer area, an important shipping route that also contains potential energy deposits.

Last week, regional tensions were raised after China announced new rules authorizing police in southern Hainan province to board and seize foreign ships it says are illegally entering its territory.

Regional power India also says it is ready to deploy naval vessels to protect its oil-exploration interests the South China Sea. Indian Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi said Monday that his ships have the mandate to defend his country's interests in the area when necessary.

India does not have competing claims with China to the area, but its state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has a stake in a gas field off the coast of Vietnam.

Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute for International Policy says Admiral Joshi's remarks should not be seen as an overt challenge to Beijing.

"I think his remarks are primarily aimed at a domestic Indian audience, to assure them of India's naval capability and its willingness to protect its interests," he said. "I don't think, however, that India is picking a fight over this."

Medcalf says he doubts whether India would act unilaterally in the South China Sea, saying it would have difficulty in sustaining any military deployments there.

But Australian National University defense analyst John Blaxland predicts that regional tensions will continue to rise in the South China Sea, and Beijing is not likely to back down.

"The oil and gas resources that are understood to be underneath the South China Sea are potentially massive. And for a resource-starved country like China, they are too important for these little countries in Southeast Asia take from them," said Blaxland.-Voice of America (December 04, 2012)

LYONS: Chinese aggression ratcheting up (U.S. must defend allies in Western Pacific)

With most of the world’s attention focused on the realignment of the “Arab Spring,” Islamists and the latest Hamas-Israeli conflict, China continues its aggressive island imperialism in both the South China and East China seas with its illegal territorial claims. The confrontational incidents forced by China’s bullying tactics on our regional allies — most recently, Japan over the Senkaku Islands and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal — are clearly unacceptable.

There are multiple territorial claims throughout the East China and South China seas. This is a strategic maritime area transited by more than half of the world’s total shipping trade. While there is a growing competition for the natural resources near the contested islands, these confrontations must be viewed in a broader context involving China’s ultimate objective: As part of its anti-access and area-denial strategy, China wants to replace the United States as the dominant power in the Western Pacific.

China wants hegemony over the first island chain, which includes Taiwan and Okinawa, and eventually the second island chain, which includes Guam. As part of a phased plan, China is trying first to legitimize its sovereignty claims based on questionable ventures by Chinese explorers almost 2,000 years ago. In the case of the Senkaku Islands, under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan was granted both jurisdiction and administration rights over those islands.

Scarborough Shoal, a rock formation just 140 nautical miles from the Philippines‘ main island of Luzon, is well within the Philippines‘ exclusive economic zone as recognized by international law. It should be noted that the shoal is 750 nautical miles from mainland China. In another embarrassing incident, the Chinese frigate Dongguan ran aground in the disputed Half Moon Shoal, which sits astride a key strategic maritime trench about 70 nautical miles from the Philippines‘ Palawan province. The Dongguan previously had fired on Philippine fishing boats in the area.

China also has built facilities in the Philippines‘ Mischief Reef in violation of international norms. The Philippines has tried to confront China’s illegal actions, but with basically no naval or air force capability, its attempts to force China out or negotiate with Beijing have been futile. China ignored Taiwan’s call in September for a code of conduct to manage island disputes, as for a decade it has rebuffed efforts by Southeast Asian states to arrange such a code to prevent island conflicts in that region.

The United States has stated on numerous occasions its long-held position that it “doesn’t take sides in territorial disputes” but that it has an interest in maintaining “freedom of navigation” in critical shipping lanes in both the East China and South China seas. The United States has stated in various regional forums that China should have its contested claims adjudicated in an international tribunal versus bilateral negotiations. China has rejected this approach. At the Southeast Asian Nations conference in Cambodia in November, President Obama again stated support for a proposed multilateral approach to resolve these disputes. China was not impressed.

If China tries to use its newly expanded military force capability to impose its claims over disputed territories, that clearly should be resisted. The United States and its allies need to face the fact that China is not going away. We should anticipate more forced confrontational incidents by China. The Asian giant has just announced that as of Jan. 1, it intends to stop and board vessels “illegally” in the South China Sea without their permission. Obviously, this declaration is unacceptable and must be resisted strongly, as it violates freedom of navigation, a core principle of international law.

Japan will eventually have little choice but to employ both its naval and air force resources to protect its sovereign claim to the Senkakus. It should reposition those forces in coordination with the United States so that it can respond immediately to future Chinese threats.

Since the Philippines also is an ally, the United States should provide it with recognized war-fighting capability able to deter China’s aggressive tactics in the near term. Accordingly, we should immediately make a no-cost lease of an FFG-7 frigate with modern weapons, as well as a squadron of F-16 fighters so the Philippines will have some capability to stand up to China’s bullying tactics. The United States needs to make more deployments into these disputed territorial areas in support of our allies by exercising our freedom of transit rights.

Furthermore, the United States needs to make it very clear to China that if it provokes hostilities with Japan or the Philippines with their aggressive bullying tactics, then our respective mutual defense treaties will be activated. A shot must be fired across China’s bow.-Washington Times (December 04, 2012)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

WORLD: China blasts US over Daioyu row

China-United States frayed relations was strained further after Beijing on Tuesday blasted the US Senate for amending a legislation affirming that the Daioyu Island, which the Japanese calls Senkaku, falls under the authority of a US-Japan security pact.

In a report by the Xinhua News Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China expresses its “serious concern” and “firm opposition” over the latest US move.

“The Chinese side expresses serious concern and firm opposition to the U.S. Senate’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which involves the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets.”

The US Senate,  which passed the bill last week,  said that while it “takes no position” on the ultimate sovereignty of the Daioyu Islands,  has noted that Japan has the rights of administration  over the territory and that “unilateral actions of a third party” would not affect its position.

Hong, however, claimed that the Daioyu Island and its affiliated islets have always been the inherent territory of China since ancient times, and China has undisputed sovereignty over the Daioyu Islands.

Jin Canrong, an American studies professor and deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that the US bill shows Washington’s actual partiality “behind its seemingly neutral posture.”

According to the U.S. bill, any armed attack “in the territories under the administration of Japan” would be met under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

The US has a similar treaty with the Philippines called the Mutual Defense Treaty, which both parties signed in 1951, six years after World War II.

The US, however, has yet to make amendments to the treaty in the light of the country’s own territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

Hong described the US Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan as a “product of the Cold War era”, and added that it “should not go beyond bilateral scopes, nor undermine the interests of a third party.

Hong added that the US “should not send out signals that conflict with each other and hopes that the US would “proceed from the general situation of peace and stability of the region”, “keep its words” and “do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

In Congress, Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara, chair of the House committee on foreign affairs, said that the US-Japan security treaty may not be applicable to the Philippine setting.

“Kailangan muna natin pag-aralan ang ginawa ng Japan,” Bichara told the Manila Standard.

He said the House of Representatives of cannot legislate a similar measure to reaffirm its claim over the disputed West Philippine Sea.

“If we legislate a similar bill, ibig sabihin parang inamin natin na hindi tayo sigurado na sa atin ang terroritory,” Bichara said.

House Assistant Majority leader Sherwin Tugna said “it will be better if we resolve the issue of the West Philippine Sea multilaterally with other interested countries.-Manila Standard Today (December 05, 2012 12:00AM)

Malaysia no place for maids–Indonesia

Indonesia on Tuesday warned its nationals not to work as maids in Malaysia after a weekend raid freed 105 women who were confined against their will and forced to work without pay.

In the latest maid abuse scandal to hit Malaysia, authorities said they had freed 95 Indonesians, six Filipinos and four Cambodians who toiled as housemaids by day but were locked inside a building near the capital Kuala Lumpur at night.

Recurring reports of abuse of Indonesian maids have soured relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors and in 2009 prompted Jakarta to angrily cut off the supply of domestic workers to Malaysia.

The two sides announced a year ago that the ban would be lifted after reaching an accord to provide maids better protection and working conditions.

But the latest case showed Indonesians were still at risk, especially those who come to Malaysia illegally without going through proper recruitment channels, a spokesman for Jakarta’s embassy said.

“The Malaysian authorities should take tough action… It’s better for Indonesian maids not to work in Malaysia,” spokesman Suryana Sastradiredja told AFP.

“They (Malaysia) are asking for Indonesian maids but they cannot protect them well.” The women freed on Saturday—who according to Malaysian media reports had arrived illegally over the past several months—have been taken to a shelter and will eventually be sent back to Indonesia, Sastradiredja said.

Sastradiredja said that since the ban was lifted, fewer than 100 Indonesian maids had arrived through official channels, turned off by the low salaries and abuse reports.

But, citing reports from Indonesian and Malaysian activists, he said Jakarta fears thousands more may have been duped into coming illegally with promises of well-paid work since the ban was set in 2009, and were now working in vulnerable situations.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 05, 2012 2:27AM)

UBS picks Phl, Thailand, S’pore as top capital marts

Swiss banking group UBS has picked the Philippines, along with Thailand and Singapore, as its top markets for fund investments in Asean.

“We consider the capital markets of Thailand, Singapore and Philippines as our top favorites for the moment due to their strong cyclical improvements of these economies on a strategic perspective,” Edward Teather, UBS senior Asean economist, said yesterday.

“Our outlook is still positive for the Philippines. We see overall investments to pick up, positive credit growth, exports, current account surplus, fiscal impulse on the positive or aggressive side, and we view positively the government reform efforts such as the fight against corruption, addressing the sin tax issue, improving peace conditions in Southern Philippines, and stronger infrastructure spending,” he added.

UBS had forecast Philippine economic growth at 5.8 percent this year, lower than the government’s six to seven percent target. Next year, it sees growth moderating at 4.5 percent.

Teather explained that their forecast was lower than the government target as external pressures will continue to weigh on domestic growth.

While the Philippines is not an export-driven economy, a weak global economy and a strong peso will nonetheless impact on import costs and export gains.-The Philippine Star (December 05, 2012 12:00AM)

Vietnam steps up sea patrols as tensions with China climb

Vietnam is setting up patrols to protect its fisheries in the South China Sea after a state company accused Chinese boats of sabotage and India declared itself ready to deploy naval vessels to safeguard its interests in the disputed waters.

Vietnam's civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, would be deployed from Jan. 25 to stop foreign vessels that violate fishing laws in Vietnam's waters, Vietnam's government and state media said.

The patrols illustrate mounting tension in the South China Sea where claims by an increasingly powerful China have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the mineral-rich waters.

A decree on the Vietnamese patrols was signed on Nov. 29, the day Chinese media announced new rules authorizing police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize foreign ships in the South China Sea.

"It's going to lead to friction," Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia security expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said of China's new rules that take effect from Jan. 1 on boarding ships which "illegally enter" waters it claims.

"If it begins to assert these rights and isn't challenged over time it becomes customary, it becomes practice."

Vietnam's announcement on the patrols, published in Tuesday's Dan Viet newspaper, comes a day after its state oil and gas company, Petrovietnam, accused Chinese boats of sabotaging an exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable being towed behind a Vietnamese boat.

Petrovietnam said the seismic vessel, Binh Minh 02, had been operating outside the Gulf of Tonkin when the cable was severed on Friday. It had earlier been surveying the Nam Con Son basin further south - an area where Indian state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has a stake in a Vietnamese gas field.

Petrovietnam posted on its website comments by the deputy head of exploration, Pham Viet Dung, to a journalist from Vietnam's Petrotimes that the seismic cable was quickly repaired and the survey resumed the following day.

"The blatant violation of Vietnamese waters by Chinese fishing vessels not only violates the sovereignty ... of Vietnam but also interferes in the normal operations of Vietnamese fishermen and affects the maritime activities of Petrovietnam," Dung was quoted as saying.

Asked about the complaint, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing that China was checking the reports of the incident, which he said was understood to have taken place in an area of overlapping claims.

"Chinese fishing boats were operating in normal fishing activities," Hong said.

Collision course?

India has also declared itself ready to deploy naval vessels to the South China Sea to protect its oil-exploration interests there, a new source of tension in a disputed area where fears of conflict have been growing steadily.

Indian navy chief, Admiral D.K Joshi, said on Monday that, while India was not a territorial claimant in the South China Sea, it was prepared to act, if necessary, to protect its maritime and economic interests in the region.

"When the requirement is there, for example, in situations where our country's interests are involved, for example ONGC ... we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that," Joshi told a news conference.

"Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes," he said.

An Indian government spokesman on Tuesday played down the comments: "This is an issue for the parties concerned to resolve."

India is not the only non-claimant nation concerned about disruption to shipping or oil exploration in the South China Sea. The United States, a close ally to several of the Southeast Asian claimants, has also voiced concern at the prospect of China stopping international ships in contested waters.

India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over its gas and oil exploration block off the coast of Vietnam.

Any display of naval assertiveness by India in the South China Sea would likely fuel concern that the navies of the two rapidly growing Asian giants could be on a collision course as they seek to protect trade routes and lock in the supply of coal, minerals and other raw material from foreign sources.

Joshi described the modernization of China's navy as "truly impressive" and a source of major concern for India.

Asked what China would do if Indian navy entered the South China Sea to protect its oil interests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong, said China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the sea's islands and surrounding waters.

"China opposes unilateral oil and gas development in disputed waters of the South China Sea. We hope that concerned countries respect China's position and rights, and respect efforts made through bilateral talks to resolve disputes," Hong said.

'Provocative behavior'

Singapore, home to the world's second-busiest container port, joined the Philippines on Monday in expressing concern at the prospect of Chinese police boarding ships.

"We urge all parties to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea to refrain from provocative behavior," its government said.

The Philippines on Saturday condemned the Chinese plan as illegal.

Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass the proven oil reserves of every country except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.

On Monday, China's National Energy Administration said China aims to produce 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from the South China Sea by 2015.

It said the sea would "form the main part" of China's offshore gas exploration plans.-GMA News (December 04, 2012 7:00PM)

Typhoon Bopha hits Philippines, killing 27 people and destroying homes

An intense typhoon thumped into the southern Philippines on Tuesday, destroying homes, setting off a landslide and killing more than two dozen people, authorities said.

Typhoon Bopha struck the large southern island of Mindanao, which is rarely in the direct path of tropical cyclones, fueling fears that it could be as devastating as a storm that killed more than 1,200 people there almost a year ago.

Bopha, the most powerful typhoon to hit Mindanao in decades, had top winds of 175 kph (110 mph) as it came ashore over the city of Baganga early Tuesday. Millions of people, many of whom live in remote and unprepared communities, were in the storm's path, Philippine authorities and aid groups said.

"It really is getting to be a very, very big typhoon and it's just starting," said Richard Gordon, the head of the Philippine Red Cross.
Trees have been uprooted and fragile houses blown away on Mindanao, Gordon said, adding that the corrugated iron roofs of some buildings were being carried through the air by the wind like "flying machetes."

At least 27 people have been killed so far as a result of the storm, according to the Philippines News Agency, the country's official news outlet. PNA said the typhoon has affected more than 57,000 people, demolished houses and stranded people in two Mindanao regions and parts of the Visaya islands.

More than 56,000 people are in evacuation centers, said Lt. Col. Perfecto Penaredondo, military assistant within the country's Office of Defense.

A landslide in eastern Mindanao blocked a national highway, the news agency reported, leavening hundreds of people in buses, vans and cars stuck on the road.

Maintenance workers were using heavy equipment to clear the mud and rocks, said Dennis Flores, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works and Highways cited by the news agency.

The tightly packed but fierce typhoon churned west northwest across the island, weakening slightly as it went, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said.

By mid-afternoon, the center of the storm had moved off Mindanao and was heading for Negros, another Philippine island. But it continued to soak a wide area with heavy rain, raising the risk of mudslides and flash floods.

The storm, dubbed "Pablo" in the Philippines, had blown up into a super typhoon at one point Monday as it moved over the ocean, with sustained winds greater than 240 kph -- the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported.

That wind speed is two and a half times the top winds of Severe Tropical Storm Washi, known in the Philippines as Sendong, whose heavy rains swept away entire villages in the same region in December 2011.

"Many emotional people in (Mindanao) trying to prepare for Pablo with Sendong fresh in their minds," Carin van der Hor, the Philippines director for the children's charity Plan International, wrote Monday on Twitter.

But local authorities have done a good job of relocating people out of vulnerable areas and preparing evacuation centers, said Gordon of the Red Cross.

Washi, on the other hand, caught many residents off guard. It was a weaker storm, but its torrential rain triggered landslides and flash floods in the middle of the night, when many people were sleeping. More than 1,200 people died and hundreds of thousands were left homeless, prompting a humanitarian crisis.

Ahead of Bopha's arrival on Tuesday, government agencies relocated more than 50,000 people to evacuation centers. They also moved millions of dollars worth of relief supplies into position for quick delivery to storm-hit regions and put emergency crews, the military and hospitals on standby.

School classes were suspended in many cities, and dozens of flights were canceled, according to the national disaster agency. More than 3,000 travelers were left stranded at ports across the country because of disruption to ferry services.

Palau, a tiny island nation roughly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) east of Mindanao, earlier had a close shave with Bopha as the typhoon churned past, catching some outlying parts of the archipelago.

"It was headed right toward Palau," said Derek Williams, a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Guam. But at the last minute, "it just turned to the west and fortunately went south of them," he said.

"I really think they escaped the brunt of the storm," Williams said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, noting that Palau doesn't usually get hit by strong typhoons.

Bopha nonetheless brought down a lot of trees and caused widespread power outages in Palau, according to Williams.

"The fast movement of the system really prevented a lot of flooding," he said. "I think probably only a few inches of rain fell, so that's certainly good news, because Palau itself is susceptible to mudslides."-Cable News Network (December 04, 2012 1316GMT)