Saturday, December 22, 2012

India to Asean: We will not intervene in China dispute


Southeast Asian countries on Thursday urged India to intervene to help resolve bitter territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying it was “crucial” to maintaining peace and stability.

But India’s foreign minister insisted the territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations did not require India’s intervention.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) called on India—which vowed to promote cooperation on trade and maritime security with the countries—to take a more decisive stance in the region.

Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung asked for New Delhi’s direct intervention over West Philippine Sea territorial disputes while Burmese President Thein Sein said India’s role was “crucial” to ensuring peace and stability in the region.

China is in an increasingly angry dispute with several of its neighbors over claims to parts of the oil- and gas-rich sea. It claims almost of the whole sea, including waters close to the shores of its neighbors. These areas also include major sea-lanes through which nearly half of global trade passes.

China’s claim is contested by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, which have overlapping claims to some or all of those same areas.

Insisting on its claim, China has issued a new passport with a map that shows all parts of the sea that it says are its territory, including parts disputed by its Southeast Asian rivals.

The Philippines and Vietnam protested the new passport and refused to put their stamps on it, while India issued a new passport with a map showing border territory it is disputing with China.

New border rules

Three weeks ago, China’s southern Hainan province announced new regulations that would authorize Chinese border patrols to board, search and expel foreign ships that would enter what China considered its territorial waters.

It is believed that the new rules, which will come into force on Jan. 1, have Beijing’s approval, and Asean members the Philippines and Vietnam are worried Chinese action according to those rules could lead to clashes in the sea.

Wu Sichun, head of the Hainan foreign affairs office, said in early December that the new rules were partly a response to an increase in Vietnamese fishing boats operating around the Paracel Islands, which both countries claim.

Vietnam condemned China’s claims as a serious violation of its sovereignty after saying it was setting up patrols to protect its fisheries and accusing Chinese boats of sabotaging a Vietnamese survey vessel in the disputed sea.

The Vietnamese foreign ministry said the sabotage and the new Chinese maritime rules “complicated” the territorial dispute between the two countries.

China, the Vietnamese foreign ministry said, must respect Vietnam’s sovereignty and “immediately stop all this wrong actions and make sure they are not repeated.”

Standoff

The Philippines remains in a standoff with China at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a resource-rich reef within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Triggered by Chinese poaching on the reef, the standoff between Philippine and Chinese maritime law enforcement vessels began in early April and ended in mid-June when stormy weather forced President Aquino to order Manila’s ships home.

But Mr. Aquino promised to send the ships back unless the Chinese vessels withdrew from the shoal.

They never did. The Philippine Coast Guard is waiting for orders to deploy from MalacaƱang.

US wants clarification

The United States is seeking clarification on the new Chinese border rules. US Ambassador to China Gary Locke told Reuters in early December that the new rules were unclear as their extent and purpose.

“The US government very much wants clarification of what these rules mean, how they will be interpreted by the Hainan government and marine enforcement agencies and the purpose of these rules,” Locke said.

The United States has taken a neutral stand on the territorial disputes between China and its allies in Southeast Asia. But Washington has made it clear that it has “national interest” in freedom of navigation in the disputed seas.

The disputed waters link India to Southeast Asia and the Pacific, but India already has its own border dispute with China and does not seem keen about concerning itself with the territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations.

India’s foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, said the West Philippine Sea disputes did not require his country’s intervention.

“Doing something about it includes not doing something about it,” Khurshid said, adding that issues of sovereignty “need to be resolved between the countries concerned.”

“China knows it, India knows it that there is too much to lose if we don’t overcome issues from time to time,” he said.

Broadening trade

Relations between India and China are often prickly and marked by mutual distrust—a legacy of a brief border war in 1962—but they are trying to broaden trade ties despite political tensions.

China’s trade with Asean countries is far greater than India’s, but 20 years after the latter launched a “Look East” policy New Delhi’s trade with Southeast Asian nations is increasing.

Trade between the two was $80 billion last year compared with $47 billion in 2008.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 22, 2012 1:58AM)

Coast Guard to get Japanese patrol ships


Ten brand new Japanese patrol ships are scheduled to be  delivered to the Coast Guard from 2014 and 2017.

Speaking to reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, Coast Guard commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said yesterday light guns will be installed on the ships after they are delivered.

“We will be installing the usual .50 caliber machine gun as the vessels would be used for maritime patrol and interdiction operations,” he said.

Built in Japan, the 35-footer patrol ships will be acquired through the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Isorena said two ocean capable ships are on standby for deployment to Panatag Shoal once orders from the political leadership are given.

The Coast Guard is unable to monitor Panatag Shoal after two its ships were disengaged from the area several months ago, he added.

Since the standoff in April, Chinese maritime surveillance ships have maintained their presence in the area on a rotation basis.-The Philippine Star (December 22, 2012 12:00AM)

Indonesian official who divorced teenager faces sack


Legislators have voted to dismiss an Indonesian official who divorced a teenager after four days of marriage.

Aceng Fikri, elected head of Garut in West Java province, publicly apologised amid angry protests earlier this month.

But on Friday legislative council members voted overwhelmingly to remove him from office. He can still appeal to the Supreme Court.

Mr Fikri, 40, is married with three children and took the 17-year-old as his second wife in a Muslim ceremony.

He divorced the teenager, Fani Oktora, by text message after he said he discovered she was not a virgin. She accused him of domestic violence.

Forty-five out of 49 local council members who attended Friday's session agreed to report Mr Fikri's actions to the Supreme Court, according to the Jakarta Globe.

A verdict is due within a month, the paper said.

The case has caused a national outcry and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered an investigation.

Mr Fikri has been dropped by the Golkar party and has faced repeated calls to resign.-British Broadcasting Corporation (December 21, 2012 17:21GMT)

Singaporeans more miserable than Afghans, Iraqis - poll




Afghans and Iraqis have been traumatized by years of war but the people of super-rich Singapore are even more miserable, coming dead last in a Gallup ranking of "positive emotions" around the world.

The survey of 148 nations and territories sought to tease out adults' mental state through five questions such as "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" and "Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?"

The city-state of Singapore, which ranks in the top five of the world's richest countries in terms of GDP per capita, was bottom of the pile with only 46 percent of respondents answering "yes" to all five questions.

The survey suggested that Singaporeans felt less rested and enjoy life less than Armenians, who came second last, and Iraqis, who were third from bottom. Afghans were placed 136th out of the 148 countries polled.

Singapore has developed over five decades of no-nonsense government by the People's Action Party from a sleepy backwater into a thriving exporting and financial hub, and in recent years has tried to promote arts and culture.

But political discontent has intensified as costs of living rise across the board, especially in property. The opposition, which has never held power since the former British colony won independence in 1965, is resurgent.

"When you run a country like a business instead of a country, what do you expect?" one commentator called BeoW posted below an article about the Gallup survey in Yahoo! News Singapore.

"This is a national shame for SG (Singapore)," greenbubble posted on hardwarezone.com.sg.

Gallup, which in another poll last month said that Singapore was the world's most emotionless society, said its latest survey "may surprise analysts and leaders who solely focus on traditional economic indicators."

"Higher income does not necessarily mean higher well-being," it said.

The top three countries in the survey were Panama, Paraguay and El Salvador respectively, and Latin America contributed eight of the top 10, making its residents "the most positive people in the world", according to Gallup.

The survey polled at least 1,000 adults in each of the countries. Among other nations, Britain came 30th in the poll, the United States was 35th, and China 36th.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan -- which has rejected gross domestic product in favor of "Gross National Happiness" to measure its people's spiritual as well as material wellbeing -- was not in the poll.-Interaksyon (December 21, 2012 3:25PM)

HAPPY KA | PHL in Top 10 of 'most positive' nations


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s smash hit of a slogan, “Gusto ko happy ka,” may have gotten it right all along. And the bright boys in government who have been wracking their brains on how the Aquino administration can attain higher growth rates for the country would do well to study closely what other factors impact the national psyche or make people happy, if the results of the latest worldwide Gallup poll are any indication.

The poll put Latin America as the region of the world where citizens reported feeling the “most positive” emotions, with eight countries in the region landing in the Top 10, which, incidentally included the Philippines.

The Philippines ranked eighth with a score of 83, meaning 83 percent of those polled reported positive responses to questions asked. It beat several developed countries like the United States (ranked 35th), Canada (11th), Denmark (16th), United Kingdom (30th), Australia (43rd) and Japan (59th). It was also higher than New Zealand (rank 21), United Arab Emirates (29), and the Netherlands (14).

The eight Latin American countries in the Top 10 are: Panama (rank: 1st), Paraguay (2nd), El Salvador (3rd), Venezuela (4th), Guatemala (7th), Ecuador (9th) and Costa Rica (10th).

With the exception of Thailand which was ranked 6th (at 83%), the Philippines bested all its other ASEAN neighbors, including prosperous Malaysia which was at 13th, and Singapore, which came dead last in the list of 148 countries and areas who were surveyed using five questions. People were asked whether they experienced a lot of enjoyment the day before the survey and whether they felt respected, well-rested, laughed and smiled a lot, and did or learned something interesting.

The results as reported by Gallup’s website noted that Singapore is ranked fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita; but the poll topnotcher Panama just ranks 90th.

According to the summary of the poll outcome as reported in Gallup’s website, “the average percentage of respondents worldwide who said "yes" to these five questions reflects a relatively upbeat world. Gallup found that 85% of adults worldwide felt treated with respect all day, 72% smiled and laughed a lot, 73% felt enjoyment a lot of the day, and 72% felt well-rested.

“The only emotion that less than half of people worldwide reported experiencing was getting to learn or do something interesting the previous day, at 43%. Despite many global challenges, people worldwide are experiencing many positive emotions,” said the report.

Implications: money doesn't automatically mean well-being

“These data may surprise analysts and leaders who solely focus on traditional economic indicators. Residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita, are among the most likely to report positive emotions. Residents of Singapore, which ranks fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita, are the least likely to report positive emotions,” said the section of the Gallup report on the “Implications” of the poll.

The poll indicates, said the report, that “higher income does not necessarily mean higher wellbeing. Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Angus Deaton found in the United States that income only makes a significant impact on daily positive emotions when earning up to $75,000 annually -- after that, additional income does not make as much of a difference.”

Thus, it added, “leaders who are looking for ways to further improve the human condition in their countries -- especially those societies such as Singapore that are doing well on traditional economic indicators, but not necessarily behavioral metrics -- need to do more to incorporate wellbeing into their leadership strategies.”-Interaksyon (December 21, 2012 5:25PM)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Philippines warns it may bring Thailand back to WTO arbitration over discriminatory tobacco taxes


The Philippines said it may hale Thailand back to arbitration before the World Trade Organization after Bangkok's failure to remove taxes that discriminate against imported tobacco products.

During a WTO-Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting last Monday, the Philippines' permanent mission to the global trading body pointed out that a November ruling of Thailand's Board of Appeals (BOA) "may not be WTO-consistent, in particular with the Customs Valuation Agreement."

The case stemmed from a complaint of the Philippine unit of Philip Morris, which said Thai import duties discriminated against the company's products. The WTO had ruled in favor of the Philippines and gave Thailand only until last October to address Manila's concerns.

"The Philippines recalled that the importer of cigarettes had introduced an appeal against a Thai Customs assessment of these entries and that the appeal had been pending with the BOA since 2003. The extraordinarily long delay taken by the BOA in deciding on this appeal was at issue in the original proceedings in this dispute and led to the WTO Panel’s finding that Thailand had violated both Article X:3(a) and X:3(b) of GATT 1994. The BOA's ruling was finally issued on November 16, 2012, after pending for 10 years," the Philippine WTO mission said in an email to InterAksyon.com

"While progress has been achieved by Thailand in implementing the WTO ruling, the Philippines' concerns about the BOA's ruling are additional to other pending concerns in the dispute," the Philippine WTO mission said.

"Thailand acknowledged in its status report and in its statement at the meeting that there are still a number of issues under discussion, which both parties have tried to resolve at the bilateral level," the Philippine WTO mission said.

"The Philippines also stressed that every effort has been made to resolve the dispute. While the bilateral process has yielded results in respect of some issues and is still ongoing, the Philippines stated that next steps are currently being evaluated, even as it has fully reserved its rights under the Dispute Settlement Understanding, including recourse to compliance proceedings," it added.

During the same DSB meeting that also tackled the Manila's compliance to the WTO ruling on its spirits, the Philippine panel reported that "the Philippine Congress has substantially advanced the consolidation and reconciliation of various legislative proposals" with regards to the country's so-called sin taxes.

The Philippines has to meet a February 2013 deadline, following complaints from the US and the European Union that Philippine duties and taxes discriminated against imports.

"The United States and the European Union welcomed the developments. Pending further review, the US understood that the Philippine Congress had approved a new tax system on distilled spirits that abolishes the raw materials distinction, while the EU noted that the proposed modified tax system appears to have introduced new positive elements," the Philippine mission to the WTO said.-Interaksyon (December 20, 2012 9:46PM)

10 Indonesians drown as boat capsizes off Malaysia


Ten illegal immigrant Indonesians, including two pregnant women, drowned when their boat capsized in rough seas off Malaysia's southern coast, maritime authorities said Thursday.

The bodies of five men and five women and the rickety wooden boat they were travelling in washed ashore earlier in the week, marine police official Mohammad Muhi told AFP.

The group was believed to be illegally journeying back to Indonesia from Malaysia's southern state of Johor, Mohammad said.

He added that authorities were engaged in an ongoing search and rescue operation as the ill-fated boat could have carried up to 35 people.

"We found 10 bodies -- five men and five women. The victims are Indonesian nationals and we believe they were heading to Indonesia's Batam island," he said.

There are some two million illegal immigrants living in Malaysia.

Many of the illegals are poorly paid Indonesians who make a perilous journey across the Malacca Strait only to work long hours in menial jobs shunned by locals.

With one of Asia's largest populations of foreign laborers, Malaysia relies heavily on immigrants, especially from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, to clean homes, care for children and work in construction, plantations and factories.-Interaksyon (December 20, 2012 2:45PM)

Japan ready for stronger military stance vs China but remains committed to peace


Japan said it is ready to adopt a stronger military posture to defend its territory following the recent incursion of Chinese planes over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

In a statement released by the Japanese embassy in Manila, Tokyo described the December 13 flyby over the islands by Chinese State Oceanic Administration aircraft “a further dangerous act.”

‘This is the first intrusion of its kind” and “constitutes an unlawful act,” the statement said.

Tokyo branded the action as “dangerous behavior” that worsens an already volatile situation and increases the possibility of actual military conflict.

“Japan will take a firm response to an airspace incursion under domestic laws and regulations. Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces took a countermeasure which is a standard operation procedure that is widely recognized in the international community to counter an airspace incursion by a foreign aircraft,” the statement said. “Based in international law, any state has complete and exclusive sovereign over the airspace above its territory.”

News reports at the time of the incursion said Japan had scrambled fighter jets.

“Any country can take necessary measures to stop an airspace incursion,” Tokyo noted, stressing further, “If China further escalates the current situation, Japan will have no choice but to consider its future response with adequate readiness accordingly.”

But while indicating they were ready for the worst, Tokyo also moved to assuage fears of the resurgence of a militarist Japan.

“Japan has consistently maintained the hallmark of a peace loving nation after World War Two … we will continuously contribute to peace and prosperity in Asia,” the statement vowed.

“It is China that is challenging the status quo concerned the Senkaku Islands by coercion rather than adhering to the international law,” Tokyo said, noting that China’s recent action is not in synch with the declaration made the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that it “opposes hegemonism and power politics and that it will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion.”

Japan challenged Beijing to prove its commitment to peace and diplomacy by “peacefully dealing with issues by its own action.”

Despite the increased tensions and their unshakable claim over the Senkaku Islands, Tokyo said it has maintained open communication lines with the Chinese.

But, it added, should Chinese incursions continue, the “environment to continue communications between diplomatic authorities of the two countries could be harmed.”-Interaksyon (December 20, 2012 3:01PM)

World Bank: PH Among Asia's Fastest Growing Economies


The Philippines' strong economic performance is seen to offset a slowdown in neighbors and prop growth in the region, the World Bank said, as it hiked its full-year forecast for the country.

The multilateral lender now expects the local economy to grow by 6 percent this year, higher than its previous estimate of 5 percent and hitting the optimistic end of the government's 5-6 percent target.Related story: Aquino signs sin tax reform bill into lawThe Philippines is also expected to expand further in the next two years, with the World Bank seeing a 6.2-percent growth in 2013 and 6.4 percent in 2014.

"The Philippines economy has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia, with growth accelerating to 7.1 percent in the third quarter," the World Bank said in its December update on East Asia and the Pacific.

It meanwhile credited the Aquino government's "commitment to reform," which it said helped boost domestic demand along with stronger government spending.

The Philippines will be among the drivers of growth in the region, where the World Bank is expecting an expansion of 5.6 percent this year, up from 4.4 percent in 2011.

"The rebound in economic activity in Thailand following the floods of 2011, strong growth in the Philippines, and relatively mild slowdowns in Indonesia and vietnam contributed to this increase," the World Bank said.

The Washington-based bank meanwhile highlighted a "window of opportunity" for the Philippines to accelerate reforms as it enjoys "political stability" and a "popular government."

"Several reforms have successfully started, notably in public financial and debt management, anti-corruption, and tax policy," the World Bank said.Related story: Christmas just the same for Pinoys this year, says pollHowever, it urged "further structural reforms, especially in areas which will have more impact on the lives of the poor, along with investments in infrastructure, education, and health..."

"[T]he Philippines can take advantage of new opportunities arising from the global economic rebalancing and the strong growth prospects of the East Asia region," the World Bank said.

The external environment, however, continues to pose downside risks to the country's booming economy as well as the rest of the region, the World Bank said.

"High levels of global economic uncertainty" can be seen with likely delays in Eurozone reforms, a feared "fiscal cliff" in the United States and a slowing China.-Black Pearl News (December 21, 2012 12:01AM)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In China's shadow, ASEAN leaders look to India for maritime security


Southeast Asian nations and India vowed on Thursday to step up cooperation on maritime security, a move that comes amid tension with China in the potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea.

In a vision statement agreed at a summit in New Delhi, India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set their sights on a new "strategic partnership" that would bring closer political, security and economic cooperation.

Significantly, they underlined the need for freedom of navigation, a contentious issue because of competing claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea, though there was no mention of China in their statement.

In speeches, the Philippines and Vietnam referred to tensions in their region, but India's foreign minister sought to distance New Delhi from the wrangling over the South China Sea.

"There are fundamental issues there that do not require India's intervention," External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid told a news conference, adding that issues of sovereignty "need to be resolved between the countries concerned".

An ASEAN summit ended in acrimony last month over China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, with its leaders failing to agree on a concluding joint statement.

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over a huge, looping area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves. Malaysia and Brunei, also members of ASEAN, as well as Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.

Other members of ASEAN include Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Laos.

Last month, China announced a plan to board and search ships that illegally enter what it considers its territory in the South China Sea, prompting ASEAN's secretary-general to warn that the move could spark naval clashes.

"At this time of rising concerns about maritime issues, the need to maintain a high level of maritime security and freedom of navigation offers us ... an opportunity for enhanced cooperation," Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay said.

Indian ocean routes

Although India has no territorial claim in the region, it is hungry for energy and is exploring for oil and gas with Vietnam in an area contested by China. In future, it is expected to ship liquefied natural gas from Russia through the Malacca Straits.

This month, India's navy chief said he was ready to deploy vessels to the South China Sea to protect exploration interests there if needed. Last year, an Indian navy ship was challenged for entering 'Chinese waters' off the coast of Vietnam.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the summit that closer maritime cooperation with India was needed because 70 percent of the world's traffic in petroleum products passes through the Indian Ocean from the Middle East to East Asia.

"While the center of the global economy is shifting eastward, the Indian and Pacific Oceans have been and will become even more important in providing the vital sea routes for trade and commerce," Yudhoyono said.

The New Delhi summit underscored India's growing role in one of the world's fastest-growing regions.

Twenty years after India launched a 'Look East' diplomatic push to promote trade with a neglected neighboring region, the relationship is finally beginning to gain traction. Annual trade has nearly doubled in four years and India's growing economic clout make it appealing as a balance to other Asian powers.

However, China's trade relations and links with ASEAN are far deeper than India's.

Ian Storey, senior fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said many ASEAN nations want to see all major powers playing a role in their region so it is not dominated by one or two players, in particular China.

"So that presence by India in Southeast Asia would provide them additional hedging options," he said.-GMA News (December 10:02PM)

Philippines is 1st runner up in Miss Universe 2012




Miss USA Olivia Culpo took home the Miss Universe 2012 crown in a Christmas-themed pageant that took place at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Miss Philippines Janine Tugonon was 1st runner up, Venezuela was 2nd, Australia 3rd, and Brazil 4th.

This is the Philippines' best finish since Miriam Quiambao in 1999. It is also the 3rd consecutive year that a Filipina has made the Miss Universe Top 5. In 2010 Venus Raj was 4th runner up and in 2011 Shamcey Supsup was 3rd runner up. 

Responding to a question by Nigel Barker sent in via Twitter, Tugonon was asked, "As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English is a prerequisite to be Miss Universe?"

Her answer, "For me Miss Universe is not about being able to speak a specific language, it's about being able to influence and inspire other people. No matter what language you speak, as long as you have the heart and a strong mind, you can become Miss Universe."

Speaking to GMA 7's Mariz Umali after her win, Tugonon said in the moments leading up to the crowning moment, she offered this prayer, "Thy will be done." Speaking to the ABS-CBN News Channel she admitted wanting to win the title but was happy with the result, "Happy na ako doon. Malaking blessing na ito para sa Pilipinas." (I'm happy with that. It's already a major blessing for the Philippines.)

This is the 8th Miss Universe title for USA with wins in 1954, 1956, 1960, 1967, 1980, 1995, and 1997. The last winner for the USA was Hawaii's Brook Lee in 1997.

Miss USA 1st runner up Nana Meriwether of Maryland is expected to take over the duties and responsibilities of Miss USA 2012.

20-year-old Culpo hails from Rhode Island and was the first woman from her state to take the Miss USA title. As Miss Universe she will spend the next year speaking on behalf of causes such as HIV/AIDS prevention.

The Top 10 in the order they were called were Australia, Russia, Brazil, France, Venezuela, USA, Hungary, South Africa, Mexico and Philippines. The top 16 included Turkey, Peru, Poland, Croatia, Kosovo and India.

The event was opened by Donald Trump dressed in a Santa suit, and hosted by Andy Cohen and Guliana Rancic, with backstage commentary provided by Jeannie Mai. 

Kosovo was voted Miss Photogenic, Guatemala was Miss Congeniality and China was Best in National Costume.-Rappler (December 20, 2012 4:05PM)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Indonesia Looks East in Infrastructure Catch-Up: Southeast Asia


Indonesia’s government will emphasize building infrastructure projects on its eastern islands in 2013 as it seeks to spread development across the archipelagic nation to boost economic growth.

“The government must balance infrastructure improvement in areas that haven’t been developed with those that have,” Deputy Public Works Minister Achmad Hermanto Dardak said in an interview yesterday. “We will finish roads in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi to connect the provinces on those islands, and we will build roads in Papua.”

Indonesia must shift the share of total spending from subsidies into social programs and infrastructure to sustain growth, attract investment and reduce poverty, according to the World Bank. Faster economic growth is stretching the capacity of roads and ports as goods flow through the world’s largest archipelago, which covers 5,300 kilometers (3,300 miles) across more than 17,000 islands along the equator.

Infrastructure spending has fallen to about 4 percent of gross domestic product from more than 8 percent in 1995 and 1996, the World Bank says. The government plans to invest about 3,000 trillion rupiah ($309 billion) by the end of 2014 on infrastructure, manufacturing facilities and projects such as dams as part of its 2011-2025 development plan, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa said at yesterday’s seminar.

Spending Focus

“Indonesia’s quality of spending can be improved,” Ndiame Diop, Indonesia lead economist at the World Bank, said in Jakarta yesterday during a presentation of the bank’s quarterly economic report. “We have seen a strong increase in capital spending, which is very positive, but subsidy spending is still very high. As you know, one of the weaknesses in the fiscal policy in Indonesia is the quality and efficiency of spending.”

Complex budget revisions, administrative delays and lengthy land acquisition processes have hampered Indonesia’s ability to implement budget plans, the World Bank says, underscoring President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s challenge as he seeks to sustain one of Asia’s fastest growth rates. The nation’s economy, Southeast Asia’s biggest, expanded 6.17 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, holding above 6 percent for an eighth quarter.

The Ministry of Public Works, among the biggest state spenders, had only disbursed about 77 percent of its 75 trillion-rupiah 2012 budget as of Dec. 13. It expects to reach as much as 92 percent by the end of the year.

Budget Delays

Delays during budget preparations and slow clearance of land are among the reasons infrastructure spending has been slow, according to a May joint report by the Ministry of Finance and institutions including the World Bank.

The government has revised spending rules to speed up the disbursement process, Vice Finance Minister Anny Ratnawati said last month. The new rules allow ministries to hold tenders in November for projects to be implemented in the following year, she said. Starting next year provinces, regencies and ministries must also prepare disbursement of their budgets every month.
“We will monitor this closely,” Ratnawati said. “To anticipate a slowdown in China and impact of the commodity slowdown in our state budget, improvement in the quality of spending becomes important.”

More Ports

Indonesia’s parliament approved in December 2011 a land acquisition bill to speed up the process for infrastructure projects.

Yudhoyono also plans to build more ports, to help achieve growth of as much 9 percent a year, as in China. The pace of expansion in the world’s fourth-most populous nation has averaged about 5.6 percent in the past decade, less than China’s 10.6 percent.

Six of the world’s 10 busiest ports in 2011 were in China, according to the World Shipping Council. Indonesia’s only entry in the top 50 was Tanjung Priok near Jakarta, ranked 24th. State-owned Indonesia Port Corporation II has started work on a harbor in Kalibaru near Tanjung Priok to ease bottlenecks.

State-owned enterprises have committed about 900 trillion through 2014 for infrastructure and real-sector projects, Economy Minister Rajasa said yesterday.

“State-owned enterprises will build ports, airports, roads and toll roads, while the government’s budget will finance basic infrastructure such as access to fresh water in villages,’ he said. “This will improve life quality.”

Indonesia also faces the prospect of joining a single Asean economic community with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the end of 2015, in which Asean will be in a single market and become production-based, Rajasa said.

“The question is if Indonesia will become production-based or only market-based for investors,” he said. “We don’t want Indonesia to become market-based; that’s why we need to hurry to improve our infrastructure.”-Bloomberg (December 19, 2012 1:00AM GMT+0800)

Asean nations lap up Navy chief’s South China Sea comment


Navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi's recent comment on the South China Sea may not have warmed hearts in China, or in the South Block, but they have bolstered India's standing among Asean countries. 

Welcoming the underlying sentiment as part of India's Look East policy, vice-president of the Philippines, Jejomar Cabauatan Binay, told TOI in an exclusive conversation, "In the present day, these issues are no longer of parochial interest. Freedom of navigation and lawful commerce are universal interests. The statement of the Admiral is a confirmation that it is a problem that India cannot turn its back to." 

Last week, Admiral Joshi had responded to journalists' questions on the Navy's preparedness, saying, "Are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is "Yes. We, of course, will need government clearance. Should a requirement come, I am sure we will have that clearance,'' he said. The comment came even as National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon was in Beijing working on a border agreement with his counterpart Dai Bingguo. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) was livid and the blame was swiftly passed on to an "irresponsible" media after the comment reverberated in various parts of the world. 

The Philippines, of course, is in a unique position and in direct line of fire. The sea that China describes as South China Sea is known locally as West Philippines Sea — China and the Philippines have faced off over the Scarborough Shoal earlier this year, sparking fears of a larger regional conflict. Although the Philippines has activated a mutual defence pact with the US, Manila's response to India, said analysts, could be a sign that the region was looking for a credible balancing power. 

Recently, the Philippines "sought clarification from Beijing" after a news report suggested that from January, 2013, local police would engage in "search and seizure" of ships within China's claim line. 

"But we haven't received any confirmation. Other countries too have sought a clarification," Binay said. 

Making a big pitch for increased Indian investment in the Philippines, the vice-president said, "We look forward to Indian investment, tourism and culture. We also welcome Indian pharmaceuticals into Philippines, because India is very advanced in this sector. But more than that, we want to have a deeper political and security relationship with India." 

However, the Philippines is also clear that the recent troubles are not the defining point of their bilateral relationship with China. Like India, the Philippines has a very deep and intricate relationship with China. Binay said, "The relationship is multifaceted. After all they are our neighbours. There has been continuous dialogue at the foreign ministry level. President Aquino met President Hu Jintao and they agreed this cannot be the sum total of relations between China and the Philippines."-The Times of India (December 18, 2012 09:25PM)

Moody's lifts growth forecast for Philippines yet again



Moody's Investors Service has upgraded its economic growth forecast for the Philippines to 6.3 percent from the earlier estimate of 5.5 percent.

“An improved investment climate that promotes further increases in the capital stock, gains in productivity and employment, and addresses relatively poor infrastructure will help to sustain economic momentum,” Moody’s said in a report.

This was the third revision in the credit rating firm's forecast for the Philippine economy for the year. Moody's originally forecast 4 percent growth in the country's gross domestic product (GDP), then hiked this to 4.7 percent and to 5.2 percent thereafter.

“The increase in the government's expenditures this year has supported economic growth, but the effect on the headline deficit has been mitigated by buoyant revenue performance due to continued gains from enhanced tax administration," Moody's said.

"The primary balance remains in surplus, contributing to sustained debt consolidation. The Philippines' Bureau of the Treasury also continues to proactively enhance the structure of the public debt burden, resulting in lower debt servicing costs and refinancing risks,” the debt watcher said.

Moody's also upgraded the country’s economic strength to "moderate-to-low" from the earlier "low." The rating firm's scale ranges from "very high" to "high," "moderate," "low" and "very low."

The government’s financial strength likewise was rated higher to "low-to-moderate" from "low."

These two factors were “primary drivers of the upgrade,” Moody's said of its higher growth forecast.

The country’s scores for institutional strength and susceptibility to event risks remained the same at "moderate-to-low" and "low," respectively.

“Nevertheless, there have been noticeable improvements in institutional quality reflecting the current administration's focus on good governance, while banking system stability anchors the low likelihood that tail risks affect the government's fiscal position,” Moody’s said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo said Moody's higher growth forecast may be a signal to the market that an upgrade was forthcoming.

“This could be a foreshadowing, preparing the market (for the anticipated credit upgrade),” he said in a text message.

Moody’s as well as rival sovereign credit watchers Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings had raised the Philippines' rating to a notch below investment grade.-Interaksyon (December 18, 2012 5:12PM)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Philippines MPs approve contraception law


Legislators in the Philippines have defied the powerful Roman Catholic Church to vote in favour of state-funded contraception.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives backed a bill that has been debated for 13 years.

Supporters say it is a vital human rights measure in the impoverished country with one of the highest mortality rates in the region.

But the Church says the law could corrupt moral values.

The bill has had the strong backing of President Benigno Aquino, who hopes to sign it into law by the end of the year.

However, the two chambers passed slightly different versions of the bill, and they need to agree on a common version to put before the president.

'Harmful'

Mr Aquino's spokesman described Monday's votes as "historic".

"Many administrations have tried to come up with a bill on responsible parenthood," Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a key backer of the law, said that, despite the Church's opposition, "there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come".

But senior figures in the Catholic Church say they will continue to oppose the move.

"What the Church will do is to continue instructing our people, telling them the evils of contraceptives," said Bishop Gabriel Reyes.

"They should not accept it because contraceptives are not pro-poor. It's not pro-children or pro-family. It is harmful against women, children and family."

More than 80% of the population in the Philippines is Catholic.

A government health survey in 2011 found that the maternal mortality rate had risen by 36% between 2006 and 2010.

Many maternity hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of births - and the UN appealed to the Philippines earlier this year to pass the bill.

But the Church has had the support of many politicians, media commentators, businessmen - including revered boxer-turned-congressman Manny Pacquiao.

This was the fourth attempt to pass a bill dealing with family planning issues. The last three bills were blocked by the Church and its political allies.-British Broadcasting Corporation (December 17, 2012 16:24GMT)

China holding up moves to sanction North Korea for rocket launch - diplomats


China is resisting US-led efforts to order new sanctions against North Korea over its rocket launch and the UN Security Council could take weeks to decide a formal move, diplomats said.

Gary Locke, US ambassador to Beijing, said Monday that China and the United States are deeply divided over the best way to tackle North Korea's flouting of Security Council resolutions on using ballistic technology.

The 15-member Security Council, including China, condemned the rocket launch within hours after it took place Wednesday. Beijing has since signaled, however, that it will not add new sanctions to measures ordered after the North staged nuclear weapon tests in 2006 and 2009.

"There has been no serious discussion of any kind of resolution on North Korea," said one council diplomat. "With China in their current mood it will take weeks to get anything done and there is no guarantee that they will agree new measures," added a second envoy. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice demanded last week that the Security Council make it clear that North Korea will face "consequences" for its actions.

Rice and China's UN envoy Li Baodong clashed during closed Security Council negotiations on a statement released Wednesday, diplomats said.

The following day, China's foreign ministry said any Security Council response had to be "prudent, appropriate and conducive to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and avoid the escalation of the situation."

As one of the five permanent members of the council, China could block any resolution needed to order new sanctions.

But diplomats said new firms and entities could be added to the current sanctions list without a resolution. The UN Security Council has also yet to put any North Korean individuals on its sanctions list.

"There are ways to increase pressure, but clearly it would be better for the council to be united with China behind any action taken," said the council diplomat.

Locke told the Asia Society in New York that the United States is "really engaging diplomatically with China and other members of the United Nations Security Council on tougher resolutions, possibly sanctions against North Korea."

"The Chinese believe that we need to give North Korea a chance, that we need to help them develop economically," said Locke, who has been US ambassador in Beijing for 16 months.

China wants to restart six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons "and see if we cannot encourage better behavior from North Korea, as opposed to imposing sanctions now and trying to coerce North Korea into the fold and abiding by their international obligations."

Locke called it "a difference of opinion of strategy" between the United States and China.

China, United States, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and Japan last held formal nuclear weapons talks in 2007. The North withdrew from the talks in 2009 following Security Council condemnation of a rocket launch it staged.

"China really believes that we ought to re-engage with North Korea. The United States feels that every time we have tried to re-engage with North Korea, they basically turn around and fail to respond to their promises," Locke said. "And it gets us nowhere.

"So we don't believe that we should rewarding their bad behavior by sitting down and talking with them."

Locke and other observers say China is trying to press North Korea to copy its own economic transformation of the past 40 years.

Beijing has helped the North set up free trade zones and encouraged other countries to invest in the isolated state in the hope "that might lessen the isolation of North Korea and therefore hope that might influence their foreign policy and similarly their military policies," the US ambassador said.-Interaksyon (December 18, 2012 1:44PM)

6.1-magnitude quake hits off central Indonesia: USGS


A strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of central Indonesia Monday, the US Geological Survey said, sending panicked people rushing into the streets but there was no tsunami alert.

The quake struck at 0916 GMT more than 160 kilometres (99 miles) south-southeast of Gorontalo in central Indonesia's Sulawesi island at a depth of 18 kilometres.

The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics agency (BMKG) measured it at 6.0 at a depth of 10 kilometres.

"The epicentre was in the sea but it doesn't have the potential to trigger a tsunami," BMKG official Agung Utomo told AFP. "We haven't received any report of damage so far."

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said the ground shook for several seconds.

"The quake was quite strong and all the guests here - about 30 people - panicked and ran out into the street," said Rudi Gowarno, manager of Ramayana hotel in the town of Luwuk.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where continental plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Earlier story

JAKARTA: A strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of central Indonesia Monday, the US Geological Survey said, but local seismologists ruled out any threat of a tsunami.

The quake struck at 0916 GMT at a depth of 18 kilometres (11 miles), more than 160 kilometres south-southeast of Gorontalo in central Indonesia's Sulawesi island.-The Star Online (December 17, 2012)

Southeast Asia small-capstocks attracting investors




SOUTHEAST Asia's small-cap stocks are drawing investors including Aberdeen Asset Management plc and Samsung Asset Management Co as the region's economies accelerated even as growth in China and India slowed.

Small caps are benefiting from domestic demand and their earnings are insulated from global macroeconomic forces, said Alan Richardson, who helps oversee about US$82 billion (RM250.92 billion) for Samsung Asset Management, including companies with values as low as US$200 million.

The Asian Development Bank this month raised its 2012 growth forecast for Southeast Asia, the only economic area covered by the lender to get a boost.

The MSCI Southeast Asia Small Cap Index climbed 25 per cent this year, surpassing the MSCI Southeast Asia Index's 18 per cent advance and the 12 per cent gain of the MSCI Asia Pacific Index. A similar gauge in Singapore posted its longest winning streak ever, rising for 22 days.

"Investors are finding value in the small caps following a sustained rally in the big caps," Ng Soo Nam, Singapore-based chief investment officer at Nikko Asset Management, which oversees about US$165 billion, said last Friday. "If the global environment stabilises, we're on the verge of a pretty strong market performance next year."

Nikko Asset defines small-cap stocks as companies with market values lower than US$2 billion.

Southeast Asian countries including Laos, the Philippines and Thailand are among the 12 best-performing stock markets globally, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, posting the biggest gains in Asia this year, after Pakistan.

The gains in stocks have pushed valuations in Southeast Asia to the highest in 16 months. The regional stock index trades at 14.8 times estimated earnings, one of the highest levels since August 2011, while the Southeast small-cap index trades at 15.9. Those exceed the multiples for Asia-Pacific markets including Australia, China, Hong Kong and South Korea, according to data.

Northeast Asia stocks are expected to post bigger gains in 2013 than equities in Southeast Asia, which have become expensive in the near term, Michael Kurtz, Nomura Holdings Inc's global head of equity strategy, said in Hong Kong last Tuesday.

Southeast Asia is also growing more reliant on trade with China, a market that posted its slowest growth in three years, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month.

Still, the region's growth will remain resilient over the next five years as stronger investment and private consumption reduce dependence on exports for expansion, the OECD said. 

The region's economy is expected to expand 5.3 per cent, according to Manila-based ADB, up from an earlier forecast of 5.2 per cent. Policy makers have loosened fiscal or monetary policies this year to spur growth, with Philippine President Benigno Aquino increasing spending to a record and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak boosting outlays.

"Small caps tend to be domestic-focused consumer businesses," said Richardson at Samsung Asset. "They're benefiting from monetary and fiscal stimulus of the governments in Southeast Asia. That helps offset the external slowdown, which is driving slower export growth."

To capture the region's rising consumption, Samsung Asset holds shares of companies such as Siam Global House plc, a Thai retailer of furniture and building materials, to PT Ramayana Lestari Sentosa, an Indonesian department store operator, Richardson said.

Retailers and financial services companies including Siam Makro pcl, the owner of Makro discount-store chain in Thailand, and Bank OCBC NISP, the Indonesian banking unit of Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp, are among the top holdings of Aberdeen Asian Smaller Companies Investment Trust, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Aberdeen defines small caps as firms with a market value that's lower than US$750 million.

Aberdeen is attracted to companies with "good solid balance sheets, businesses benefitting from increased consumer wealth and spending," Hugh Young, who helps manage about US$70 billion in Asian equities at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Ltd in Singapore, said in an e-mailed response to queries, adding that the stocks were "cheap" when it bought them.

Companies from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore accounted for about 45 per cent of Aberdeen Asian Smaller Companies Investment Trust's holdings as of July 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.-Zurich Insurance (Business Times) (December 18, 2012)

US eyes better ties with China to promote peace



The United States is looking forward to developing its relationship with China so they can work together to promote peace and prosperity.

Brig. Gen. Michael Compton, Strategic Planning and Policy Mobilization Assistant of the US Pacific Command, told The STAR he believes their most important relationship in the next 50 years will be with China.

“We’ve been here a long time,” he said.

“They (China) are building up their military capability very rapidly, much faster than any other country and much faster than the relationships have developed.

“We’re very interested in developing the relationship at the same speed with which it is developing its military capability. It is important.”

Compton said the current military ties between the US and China is “a growing relationship.”


“We are completely tied together economically by rising technologies,” he said.

Compton said economic and diplomatic connections make the relationship between China and the US significant.

“We are together in the world economy and diplomatically and socially through the Internet,” he said. “Now, the military will be a part of that same process.”

Compton said the US and China have a “natural competition” in world trade but that they can work together to address common concerns.

“The standard of living of their people is the most important thing for them,” he noted. “And because of that, I think I have great hope that we can work together.”

Compton could not comment on reports that China is planning to interdict ships entering the West Philippine Sea.

“The US does not take any position on disputed territories, but the international waters open ocean is not a territorial water of any nation,” he said.

Compton said the law of the sea guarantees unimpeded access to all nations engaged in trade.

“It is critical to our national security and the security of the region that ships and commerce be able to flow freely through the sea lines of communication,” he said.

Any nation that would try to illegally impede the flow of commerce would be a source for concern, Compton said.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said a border defense regulation promulgated by Hainan province allows law enforcement over fishing boats that enter waters under its jurisdiction.

The Philippines has asked China to clarify the policy, believing it is “illegal” and “deserves international condemnation.”-The Philippine Star (December 18, 2012 12:00AM)

S. Korea, China discuss U.N. actions over N. Korea's rocket launch


Senior diplomats of South Korea and China met Monday to discuss a possible U.N. response to North Korea's defiant long-range rocket launch last week, a Seoul official said.

Kim Bong-hyun, Seoul's deputy minister for multilateral and global affairs, held talks with China's Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu in Beijing earlier in the day, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

There was no official announcement on the results of the Kim-Ma talks, but the Seoul official said the topics included a possible U.N. action against North Korea over the rocket launch.

North Korea claims that its rocket launch was to put a satellite into orbit but the international community sees it as a disguised attempt to improve its intercontinental nuclear missile capability.

South Korea and the U.S. are seeking tougher U.N. sanctions against North Korea, believing that the rocket launch violated earlier U.N. resolutions that ban the communist country from carrying out any long-range missile development.

It is unclear, however, whether China, a veto-wielding Security Council member, will back any new sanctions against the North.

China, a key ally of North Korea, said last week that any U.N. response to North Korea's rocket launch should be "prudent."-Interaksyon (December 17, 2012 11:08PM)

Nuclear technology has long been developed in Indonesia


Nuclear technology has long been developed in Indonesia
Nuclear technology has long been developed in Indonesia but the public still focuses on its potential negative impact, according to National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) researcher Haryanto. "Indonesia has developed nuclear technology for a long time, and the people have enjoyed its benefits in the health and agriculture sector, but they continue to focus on its negative aspects," he said here on Monday.

"When they think of nuclear technology, they only think about the atom bomb attack in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the leakage of Fukhusima nuclear reactor in Japan," Haryanto noted.

"But nuclear technology has contributed significantly to agricultural development in our country," he said, adding that nuclear technology had been used in Indonesia`s agricultural sector for a long time.

Haryanto pointed out that a variety of rice seeds were produced in Batan with the help of nuclear technology. "It is also being widely used in the health and industrial sectors of Indonesia," he added.-Republika Online (December 17, 2012 20:49WIB)

Visiting Thai Army Chief Lauds AFP For Peace With MILF


The head of Thailand's Royal Army lauded the Armed Forces of the Philippines Monday for the AFP's role in peace efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha made the remarks during a visit to Philippine Army headquarters, Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said. 

"General Prayut(h) lauds the AFP for contributing towards the success of the drafting of the framework agreement with the MILF," Cabunoc said on his Twitter account. Last October, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a framework peace agreement that aims to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a Bangsamoro entity. 

Both sides over the weekend concluded another round of exploratory talks in Malaysia. Earlier, the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok said Prayuth's visit aims to find out how Thailand can help victims of Tropical Cyclone Pablo (Bopha). 

Over the weekend, the embassy said the Royal Thai Army donated $30,000 (P1.234 million) to the Philippines as aid for victims of Tropical Cyclone Pablo. It said Prayuth and a delegation is visiting the Philippines to "meet with their Philippine counterparts and look into areas of cooperation, including in disaster relief and recovery."  

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said that as of Sunday morning,Pablo had left more than 1,000 dead.-Black Pearl (December 17, 2012 11:01PM)

China plans to build industrial zones in eastern Indonesia


The Chinese government is planning to spread its business in Indonesia by constructing several industrial zones in the eastern parts of the country.

Industry Minister MS Hidayat said on Monday that the governments of Indonesia and China had discussed China’s plans to build economic zones in eastern regions such as Sulawesi.

“The Chinese government plans to build 5,000-hectare industrial zones in three or four locations in eastern Indonesia,” he said in his year-end press conference in Jakarta.

According to Hidayat, the Indonesian government is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding for the plan with newly installed Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who will officially replace current Premier Wen Jiabao in March next year.

Hidayat said the scheme was in line with the boosting investment in the eastern parts of the country.-The Jakarta Post (December 17, 2012 9:38PM)