Saturday, January 05, 2013

China holds 'war games'

Chinese military forces on Wednesday held air and ground defence exercises in the protested Sansha City in the southern province of Hainan, the prefecture established last year to govern the disputed Spratlys islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The exercises were held amid a string of already controversial moves China has made in the contested waters—oil exploration, sea patrols and plans to build infrastructure—despite its reiteration that it will never provoke tension among claimants to the resource-rich islands.

As this developed, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) called on China to stop its provocation in the disputed waters as claimant nations hope to resolve the debate peacefully.

“We continue to call on China to act responsibly and refrain from taking further action that will heighten tensions in the region,” said DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

Citing information from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the South China Morning Post said the drills were held on January 2 at Sansha City in the Paracels, the city of Shenyang in northeast China’s Liaoning province and Jinan, the capital city of the eastern Chinese province of Shandong.

The PLA said drills were also held on New Year’s Day in the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang, also a province in eastern China.

Philippines' claims not covered

The drills do not appear to cover Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea, including the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarbourough) Shoal off Zambales. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have partial claims to territories in the West Philippine Sea.

The exercises were aimed at “enhancing soldiers’ combat consciousness and capabilities” in the event of a surprise attack, the Hong Kong newspaper said.

Drills included “air defence, antitrerorist, emergency muster and fire drills,” according to the Post.

The report also revealed that some 1,000 civilians and 6,000 Chinese troops are stationed as “permanent residents” in Sansha City, established in June last year as a Hainan prefecture to exercise administrative powers over all of the Spratlys islands.

Infrastructure investments

China is reported to be planning to infuse a US$1.6 billion investment in the city to develop its infrastructure, including air and sea ports.

The city sits in the Paracels, also a disputed island chain being claimed by Taipei and Vietnam. While the Philippines has no claim to the islands, the DFA has a standing protest to Sansha’s establishment as its jurisdiction covers Philippine-claimed parts of the Spratlys.

Asked for comment, the DFA asserted the Philippines’ sovereign rights over West Philippine Sea territories within the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

“No military activities shall be undertaken by any country within the Philippine maritime and territorial jurisdiction without the consent and authority by the Philippine government,” Hernandez said in a statement.-Asia News Network (January 05, 2013)

Japan scrambles jets to head off Chinese plane

Japan scrambled fighter jets Saturday to head off a Chinese state-owned plane that flew near islands at the centre of a dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, a Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The Japanese jets were mobilised after a Chinese maritime aircraft ventured some 120 kilometers north of the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, at around 12:00 pm (0300 GMT), the spokesman said.

The Chinese Y-12 twin-turboprop later left the zone without entering Japanese airspace over the islands, he added.

It was the first time Japanese fighter jets had been scrambled this year to counter Chinese aircraft approaching the islands, the spokesman said.

Japan dispatched fighter jets last month after a Chinese state-owned plane breached airspace over the islands, while Chinese government ships have moved in and out of waters there for the past few months.

The confrontations have become commonplace since Japan nationalised the East China Sea islands in September, a move it insisted amounted to nothing more than a change of ownership of what was already Japanese territory.

But Beijing reacted with fury, with observers saying riots that erupted across China in the weeks following had at least tacit government backing.-Interaksyon (January 05, 2013 4:02PM)


Starbucks to open first Vietnam store next month

Starbucks, the world's biggest coffee-shop company, is set to open its first store in Vietnam next month as it continues expanding in Asia.

The cafe will be in Ho Chi Minh City, the company said in a statement, with partner Hong Kong's Maxim Group.

Starbucks has seen growth stagnate in the US prompting it to open thousands of stores in China and Asia Pacific.

Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer in the world behind Brazil.

Starbucks has been reorganising its business to focus on the Asia Pacific region, the biggest growth market for the company.

It has previously said that by the end of 2013 it plans to have 1,000 stores in China, 1,000 in Japan and 500 in Korea.

in 2014 China will become Starbucks' largest market outside the US.

In October, Starbucks opened its first store in India in partnership with Tata Global Beverages.-British Broadcasting Corporation (January 2013)

Japan foreign minister eyes Manila trip amid China row

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to visit the Philippines in the first half of this month on his first trip abroad as foreign minister, possibly from Wednesday, government sources said Friday.

The trip is aimed at strengthening Japan's ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a time when China is being increasingly assertive in making territorial and other claims in not only the East China Sea but also the South China Sea.

China is pushing its claims to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which it calls the Diaoyu, and has also been involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam, among other ASEAN members.

Kishida's first trip as foreign minister to the Philippines has been arranged as part of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to beef up Japan's diplomacy.

In the Philippines, Kishida is expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in maritime security, including possible supply of coast guard vessels to the Southeast Asian country, with his counterpart Alberto del Rosario, according to the sources.

The year 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of exchanges between Japan and ASEAN, with a special summit of the heads of the 10 ASEAN members being planned in Japan in December for the first time in a decade.

Kishida is expected to smooth the way for the regional gathering and strengthen a network of countries that call for the observance of international rules, including free passage in sea lanes.

The Abe government, which was launched in late December after a landslide electoral victory by the Liberal Democratic Party, is also eager to forge close ties with such countries as India and Australia.

One of the Abe government's strategies, while embracing Japan's alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, is to improve ties with China by strengthening cooperation with these countries in such areas as security, the economy and energy.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.-ABS-CBN News (January 05, 2013 4:08PM)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Beijing raps Myanmar as conflict spills into China

China has made a diplomatic complaint to Myanmar after three bombs landed on its territory during air attacks on ethnic minority rebels in Kachin state, just over their shared border, Beijing said on Friday.

"The Chinese side has launched representations with the Myanmar side requiring them to take effective and immediate measures to avoid the repetition of similar incidents," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

The bombs landed just inside China on Sunday evening and caused no casualties, she told reporters at a regular media briefing.

Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army in the far north of the country, which is also known as Burma, has worsened in recent days as government forces battled to regain one of their bases.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin state since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation, broke down.

Hua refused to be drawn on whether China would mediate between the two sides in an effort to end a conflict which has overshadowed wider political reforms in the country.

"The issue concerning northern Myanmar is Myanmar's internal affair and we hope that the Myanmar government can appropriately deal with the issue through peaceful negotiation," the spokeswoman said.-Channel News Asia (January 04, 2013 1742hrs)

Thailand "loses rank of world's top rice exporter"

Thailand lost its status as the world's top rice exporter in 2012 as a controversial scheme to boost farmer incomes saw it overtaken by India and Vietnam, an industry group said Friday.

Thailand exported 6.9 million tonnes of rice last year, falling behind India which shipped 9.5 million tonnes and Vietnam which sold 7.8 million tonnes overseas, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

Thai exports slumped 35 percent from the 2011 level of about 10.6 million tonnes, based on the group's figures.

"We had been the champion since 1980, for 31 years, but we lost the top spot in 2012," the group's honorary president Chookiat Ophaswongse told AFP.

He said the figures from the rival exporters were based on data from Vietnam's rice industry and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's more than one-year-old policy to buy rice from farmers for 50 percent more than the market price, while popular with the rural poor has hit the competitiveness of Thai exports.

"Now Thai rice is $130-150 per tonne more expensive than our competitors. That's why our exports have fallen as no customer can buy from us," said Chookiat.

"Exporters should change their jobs because they can't survive. Rice has become a political issue now," he said.

The kingdom produces about 20 million tonnes of the grain annually on average, about half of which was sold overseas in the past.

Chookiat estimated that Thailand now has about 12-13 million tonnes of stock in storage and predicted that by the third quarter of 2012 this rice mountain will have grown to about 20 million tonnes.

While the scheme is putting strains on Thailand's government finances, it has been welcomed by many farmers, whose support helped sweep Yingluck to a landslide election victory last year.

Her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister by royalist generals in a coup in 2006, is hugely popular in rural Thailand thanks to his populist policies while in power.

The government has said it is confident that it can find buyers for its rice on world markets at a price that will raise the living standards of its farmers. It says it has signed deals to sell rice directly to other countries.-Channel News Asia (January 04, 2013 1839hrs)

PH 7th most dangerous for reporters

Last year was one of the deadliest on record for journalists, with 141 killed in 29 different countries. Six were members of the Philippine media, making the country the 7th most dangerous place on earth for reporters.

The Swiss-based Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), which fights for the protection of journalists, said the figure was up by 31 percent on 2011.

Syria ranked number one. At least 37 journalists, among them 13 working for foreign media, were killed in Syria, PEC said in a statement.

Four journalists are reported missing or detained: Ukrainian Anhar Kochneva, Jordanian-Palestinian Bashar Fahmi, freelance US reporter Austin Tice and another American reporter James Foley, who has contributed video to Agence France-Presse.

The situation in Somalia has deteriorated dramatically, where 19 were killed, PEC added.

Three Latin American countries followed among the most dangerous places: Mexico with 11 journalists killed, Brazil also with 11 dead, and Honduras, where six journalists were killed.

After the Philippines are Bangladesh and India with four each, said the PEC.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists for its part said last month that 67 reporters were killed in 2012, up 42 percent from the previous year, due in large part to the Syria conflict, shootings in Somalia, violence in Pakistan and killings of reporters in Brazil.

The Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile put the number of those killed at 88 last year.-Rappler (January 04, 2013 1:58PM)

Taiwan seeking dialogue with Asian neighbors

Taiwan should actively seek dialogue with neighboring countries as tensions in East Asia are escalating over territorial disputes, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Thursday.

Joseph Wu, head of the DPP's policy coordination department who served as Taiwan's top representative to the United States during the DPP administration, said Taiwan should strive to take part in future multilateral dialogue on formulating a code of conduct for the South China Sea and East China Sea region.

Even if Taiwan is denied access to multilateral dialogue on the South China Sea issue, it should seek to hold bilateral dialogue with each neighboring country with competing territorial claims, said Wu.

Otherwise, Wu said, the international community might perceive that Taiwan is on the same side with China on the issues.

Meanwhile, local media reports said the Diaoyutai Island spat among Taiwan, China and Japan may provide a new opportunity for closer U.S.-Japan strategic cooperation.

The reports also said U.S. arms sales to Asia is expected to boom in the years to come amid growing regional security jitters and as a result of Washington's "pivot to Asia" policy.

The following are local media coverage of the latest developments in regional security situation:

China Times:

A Reuters report said the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade group that comprises top U.S. arms producers, has forecast a significant growth in Asia-Pacific countries' demand for costly U.S.-built weapons.

The AIA attributed the growing demand for U.S. warplanes, anti-missile system and other advanced weapons mainly to China's disputes with neighboring countries over tiny islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea as well as North Korea's development of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles, according to the Reuters report.

The report said U.S. arms sales to Asia-Pacific allies posted a 5.4 percent year-on-year increase to US$13.7 billion in 2012.

Political experts said Southeast Asian countries' defense budgets have continued to increase steadily and that the election of conservative and pro-U.S. leaders in Japan and South Korea late last year is also expected to help boost U.S. arms sales to the region.

Meanwhile, some local analysts said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will bring with him a comprehensive plan to enhance Tokyo-Washington strategic cooperation during his upcoming visit to the United States.

They said Abe will pledge full support for the Obama administration's "Pivot to Asia" policy in exchange for its aid in Japan's spat with China over the Diaoyutais.

The Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea has been under Japan's administrative control since 1972, but is also claimed by Taiwan and China.

Local observers said the new Japanese government is determined to make the Diaoyutai dispute as a new start for closer strategic and defense cooperation with the U.S.

Japan also intends to prop up its declining international status through strengthened strategic partnership with the U.S., political analysts noted.

In another news development, Taiwan's military reportedly will start mass-production of a local version of a joint standoff weapon (JSOW) next year.

JSOW is a type of precision guided bomb. According to ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, the JSOW developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology will be carried as the payload of the locally built IDF jet fighter. (Jan. 3, 2013).

United Daily News:

China has made progress in development of advanced anti-submarine patrol aircraft, according to online media reports.

China's military authorities are allegedly using the Internet to leak information about its progress in anti-submarine aircraft research and development.

Latest online reports said China's new Gaoxin 6 anti-submarine aircraft is eqtest online reports said China's new Gaoxin 6 anti-submarine aircraft is equal or even outpaces the United States' P-3 anti-submarine plane in functions.-Focus Taiwan (January 04, 2013)

Army chief ready to pull out troops from Thai-Cambodia border

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha

The Thai military has no conflict with the Foreign Ministry when it comes to complying with the International Court of Justice's injunction to withdraw troops from disputed areas near the Preah Vihear temple, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said yesterday.

The Thailand-Cambodia joint working group is now working out measures to comply with the court's order, he said, noting that clearing landmines was the first step in troop withdrawal.

According to an ICJ ruling in 1962, the territory on which the ancient Hindu temple is situated comes under the sovereignty of Cambodia, however Thailand has been claiming ownership of the area surrounding the temple. Then in April 2011, Phnom Penh appealed to the ICJ to interpret the scope and meaning of its 1962 judgement.

Conflict with Cambodia over the temple, meanwhile, has become a source of problems between Thai state agencies. The Foreign Ministry, which was at the forefront of defending the case in court, wants Thailand to comply with all provisional measures issued by the court since 2011. As a temporary measure, the ICJ ruled that both sides withdraw troops from the disputed areas and allow international observers from Indonesia to monitor the situation while awaiting court judgement.

In July last year, both sides announced an adjustment in the number of troops, but not in all the areas marked as demilitarised zones by the court. In some areas police officers have replaced soldiers and so far, no observers have been put in place.

The court, meanwhile, has said that it will listen to another round of testimonies in April, and is expected to deliver a final judgement on the interpretation later this year.

Prayuth said that Thailand and Cambodia wanted to show the international community and the court that both sides are able to settle the case peacefully.

"We can talk to each other and find a way to live together in permanent peace in the future," he told reporters.

He added that this bilateral agreement had been decided upon in a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Wednesday. He added that the government will be putting together a team of public relations officials to explain the case to the public, he said.

Public sentiment was affected in 2008 when conservative groups like the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the opposition Democrat Party started drumming up nationalism with claims of territory being lost to Cambodia. There was even a military skirmish during the previous government's time causing dozens of deaths on both sides.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul express-ed deep concern about the court's verdict saying that they were not in favour of Thailand and this could lead to undesirable action by Thai people.

"Every country has to accept the ICJ's decision. Refusal to accept it may put Thailand in a difficult position in the world arena. It is necessary to explain to the public about the previous government's actions that made Cambodia take the dispute to the court," Surapong said.

He added that the Foreign Minister would keep the public informed about the issue, while officials from the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department would provide details to provincial governors nationwide so they too can relay the facts.

"When both countries become part of the Asean Economic Community, having a border will be almost meaningless. There should be no clashes on the border as both countries are neighbours," he said.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said Sura-pong's comments would discourage the Thai legal team in court because he made it sound as if the government was throwing in the towel.

He added that the opposition party suspects that the government will cut a deal over the Preah Vihear Temple in exchange for business interest in oil and gas in the Gulf of Thailand, he said.

The Democrat said his party will also give its explanation of the Preah Vihear conflict while it was in power from 2008 to 2011.-Asia News Network (January 04, 2013)

Indonesia ‘Not Ready’ for Asean Free-Trade Zone, Minister Says

When Gita Wirjawan became trade minister, the first thing he did was send 1,200 employees on a three-day crash course to improve their English proficiency. 

This was a part of a capacity building program to prepare Indonesia ahead of a free trade era, the Asean Economic Community, which will commence in 2015. 

“Right now, we’re not ready to face AEC. I’ve raised this issue several times at cabinet meetings but our awareness is still low,” Gita said on Thursday. 

He said that many government institutions at both the central and regional level had yet to properly train their employees to prepare for liberalized investments and the open trade of goods and services among Asean nations. 

“I put up an Asean flag in my office but I don’t see that in other departments. This is indicative of the low awareness toward Asean issues,” he said. 

Gita added that Indonesia should be wary of the free flow of labor coming into the country, as labor costs in Indonesia are likely to continue to rise. 

“What will happen if people from other countries flock here willing to work for cheaper wages compared to our local labor? We need to be prepared,” he said. 

Natsir Mansyur, deputy chairman for trade distribution and logistics at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), said that there is much to be done ahead of the AEC. 

“Ready or not, the AEC is coming, and we’re not ready yet,” he said. 

He said that there was still time to improve infrastructure, the national logistics system and the labor cost structure ahead of the AEC. 

“Human-resources wise, we’re ready to compete. But there’s much to be done to prepare us for the free-trade era,” he said. 

Establishment of the AEC in the mold of the European Union will create a combined economy of more than $1.13 trillion in a market of 600 million people. 

The AEC will liberalize trade and the movement of skilled labor and capital within the 10-member region, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, among others.-The Jakarta Globe (January 14, 2013)

PSE continues bull run, inches closer to 6,000

Shares rallied for the third consecutive day, closing on another record high as it inched towards the 6,000-mark.

The Philippine Stock Exchange index finished 0.63% or 37.4 points higher at 5,971.45, while the broader all-shares index gained 0.41% or 15.55 points to 3,778.43.

Friday's close marked the third time the PSEi hit a record high this year. Last year, the index reached 38 record highs, riding on the country's good macroeconomic fundamentals.

"The PSEi managed to avoid the general downtrend in Asia today, an encouraging sign for the sustainability of last year's impressive performance. These positive developments, including favourable inflation data, help support our good start to the year," PSE President and Chief Executive Officer Hans B. Sicat said in a statement.

Trading volume fell to 1.62 billion from 2.34 billion on Thursday, but trading value rose to P7.59 billion from P7.53 billion.

All sub-indices were in the green except for industrial firms, which lost 0.09% or 8.16 points to 9,057.48.

The services sector increased 0.78% or 13.87 points to 1,779.70, while holding firms went up 0.75% or 39.36 points to 5,317.45.

Financial companies gained 0.56% or 8.67 points to 1,552.58, as mining and oil firms grew 0.55% or 110.47 points to 20,037.87 and property developers climbed 0.54% or 12.67 points to 2,350.76.-ABS-CBN News (January 04, 2013 6:58PM)

Philippines welcomes China assurance over disputed sea

China's assurance that it will not board foreign ships passing through the disputed West Philippine Sea is a welcome development, an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) general said Friday.

AFP Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said Beijing should follow international laws.

"We should stick to international laws and China should respect our territory and sovereignty," Sabban told media at Camp Aguinaldo.

He said China will violate international laws if it boards foreign ships in the area.

"I don't think it will be good for one claimant country (to board vessels) of other countries who are respecting international laws," Sabban said, reiterating the freedom of navigation in international waters.

He downplayed concerns that a shooting war might erupt if China boards foreign ships.

"I don't think so, because anybody who goes against international law or who will violate international law will be subjected to pressure from other countries," he said.

China was earlier reported to be considering boarding foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea, which it claims as its own.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying later said the policy will only cover waters extending 12 nautical miles from the coastline of Hainan province "to strengthen border controls over the coast and maritime management."

The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei are also claiming islands, atolls, and rocky outcroppings in the disputed area.

Seven islands and 2 reefs in the Spratlys island, which are now part of Kalayaan town in Palawan, have been claimed by the Philippines.

No new China ships seen

Meanwhile, the AFP has not seen any new ship deployed by China in the area.

"As per information from commanders, we conducted aerial recon yesterday. We did not see any of the new vessels that China said they will deploy to West Philippine Sea," he said.

He also wants the air strip at Philippines' Pagasa Island to be improved before he retires in April.

"The air strip is existing, it needs repairs. The air strip is operational, we can land our own planes there but it needs repairs due to erosion in some portions of the airstrip," Sabban said.

"This is to restore the standard airstrip that we had before and I don't think this is an issue because this structure has been there for more 40 years. So why do we have to delve on this issue when it has been there for so long?" he asked.

He said renovating the airs trip can also help develop the island.

"This will create livelihood, this will also attract tourists in that area. While other countries are promoting their own islands to become tourist destinations then we should, we might as well compete with their reefs and shoals which will definitely put us in an advantage because ours are much better than theirs," Sabban said.-ABS-CBN News (January 04, 2012 7:34PM)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Malaysia opening up to Bangladeshi workers

The year 2012 ended on a high note for the Bangladeshi overseas labour market.

The Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry disclosed that the country had received a formal request from the Malaysian government for 10,000 workers. This is very good news, particularly when one takes into account that this major labour destination had been closed to Bangladeshi workers for four long years.

The signing of a formal Memorandum of Understanding between Bangladesh and Malaysia in 2012 paved the way for a state-to-state recruitment process, and we hope this is the first lot of 10,000 being taken with the remainder to follow in due course. The decision to do so could be a test-case to see whether the recruitment process has been streamlined as per requirements of the Malaysian counterpart.

The plan is to register 35,000 workers from Dhaka, Barisal, Rajshahi, and Rangpur divisions and through lottery select 10,000 successful candidates. Selected candidates would naturally have to qualify for work on the basis of health check-up before receiving confirmation through cell phone messaging. The declared cost per worker stands at 40,000 taka (US$500).

Naturally, all this looks very good, but the acid test for the authorities will come when actual recruitment process begins. We have been informed that selection of workers from each union will be done under a quota system based on the demographic map and that a government official would monitor registration and selection process at each registration centre.

Undoubtedly, this is a whole new method of recruitment the government is embarking on. This is an area in which it has no prior experience to count on. It involves a lot of logistical challenges such as computerised online registration, physical monitoring, and so on.

However, there is no reason to cast doubt on a system that has not yet been tested. What should be remembered is that much will depend on how well the ministry handles this deal. If successful, it could pave the way for other such agreements in new international labour markets.-Asia News Network (January 01, 2013)

PHL Navy To Get 3 Choppers Next Year

Three naval helicopters are expected to be delivered and commissioned next year following the signing of the contract of agreement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and supplier AugustaWestland S.P.A.

The Department of National Defense said the three rotary wing aircraft are worth P1.34 million, acquired under negotiated procurement through the Government Procurement Reform Act.

The DND issued last Dec. 4 the notice of award to AugustaWestland after it was chosen by the Naval Helicopter Acquisition Project Negotiating Committee as the best proponent for the deal.

“The acquisition of these naval helicopters is one concrete step towards the fulfillment of our goal to modernize the Philippine Navy, and our Armed Forces in general,” DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

The AW 109 Power Helicopters are twin-engine, eight-seat mutipurpose choppers capable of flying at 177 miles per hour.

Nation ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1“With the other projects in the pipeline and our planned acquisition, we are now louder and clearer in our intent to upgrade the capability of our AFP to address its constitutional duty to 'secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory’,” Gazmin said.-The Philippine Star (January 02, 2012 1:28PM)

China starts oil production in disputed territories

One of China's major oil companies said that it had started production in disputed territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), according to a recent report by state-owned English language newspaper China Daily. 

The report quoted a statement from the China National Offshore Oil Company Ltd. (CNOOC) as saying that the country's largest offshore oil and gas producer's two oil fields were located in the Pearl River Estuary Basin in the South China Sea. 

The first oil field, Panyu 4-2/5-1, "is expected to reach its peak output level in 2014," according to the report. 

CNOOC owns 75.5 percent of the field, while Burlington Resources China Llc owns the remainder, China Daily said. 

CNOOC identified the second oil field as Liuhua 4-1, which the company fully owns. Its production is expected to peak this year. 

In the first week of December 2012, China announced its oil exploration plans. 

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary Albert del Rosario said in an earlier interview that China’s plan would be “acceptable” if it is within the exclusive continental shelf of Beijing as provided by the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

DFA spokesman  Raul Hernandez said that the Philippines was prepared to protect its oil interests in the West Philippine Sea and had been upgrading its defense capabilities to be able to defend the country from any aggressive actions by other regions.

"Our constitution mandates the state to secure the integrity of our national territory and protect the nation's resources in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone" Hernandez said.

"We have been upgrading our capabilities and endeavoring to build a mininum credible defense position," he added.

China is in dispute with several of its neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei. Malaysia, and Taiwan, over claims to parts of the oil and gas-rich sea.

India, which is not among the claimants, also said earlier that it was prepared to act, if necessary, to protect its maritime and economic interests in the region.

It said the Indian Navy was prepared to deploy vessels to South China Sea to protect India's oil interests there.-Interaksyon (January 01, 2013 6:16PM)

Philippines to Replace Taxis with Electronic Trikes

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide $300 million and The Philippines government will provide an additional $99 million to the project. Tricycle taxis are one of the Philippines' most widely used forms of transport for travelling short distances, but they are also responsible for more than two-thirds of air pollution.

The ADB estimates that there are 200,000 tricycles in the Manila metropolitan region alone, and about 3.5 million in the entire country. The tricycles use nearly $5 billion of imported fuel every year, produce about ten million tons of carbon dioxide, and are the biggest source of particulate pollution in urban areas. The World Bank estimates that the total economic burden of air pollution to the Philippines economy is more than $150 million each year.

The project aims to replace 100,000 petrol-fuelled tricycles with 'clean, energy efficient' electric tricycles (e-trikes) in a 'lease-to-own' arrangement.

'Every 20,000 e-Trikes that are introduced to Manila's streets will save the Philippines 100,000 liters of foreign fuel imports each day, worth US$35 million annually,' says the ADB's principal energy specialist, Sohail Hasnie.

E-Trikes will use lithium-ion batteries, a form of battery widely used in consumer electronics such as mobile phones, which can be recharged 2,000 times before being replaced. A test run earlier this year showed that tricycle operators more than doubled their incomes when using e-Trikes.

'E-Trikes are a cleaner, greener transport solution for the Philippines and provide a better quality of life for tricycle drivers,' says Neeraj Jain, the ADB's country director for the Philippines. 'This project can help transform transportation in the Philippines and positions the country as a leader in electric vehicle development in Asia.'-Environmental Protection (January 02, 2013)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

PHL Gov't: Annexes of framework agreements with rebels to be complete soon

The Philippine government is expecting to complete all the four annexes of the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that will form part of the comprehensive pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the first quarter of this year, a senior government official said today.

Governmental peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that the Aquino administration is determined to finish what it has begun together with the MILF, the largest Muslim rebel group in the country.

"The will and the goodwill are there to make this happen. The two negotiating partners, the Bangsamoro, the peoples of Mindanao, the Filipino public and the international community all want this peace process to succeed. With this much public support, how can we not reach our goal?" she said in her New Year's message.

Since the Oct. 15 signing of the FAB, two meetings between the government and the MILF have taken place where they discussed the four annexes of the initial pact. These include power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities.

"It should not take more than two months to finish the four annexes," Ferrer said.

By that time, she said that the Transition Commission that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law should have been fully organized and ready to build on the terms laid out by the panels in the annexes.-The Philippine Star (January 01, 2013 7:18PM)

WORLD: North Korean leader reaches out to S Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53 conflict, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media.

The address by Kim, who took over power in the reclusive state after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011, appeared to take the place of the policy-setting New Year editorial published in leading state newspapers.

Impoverished North Korea raised tensions in the region by launching a long-range rocket in December that it said was aimed at putting a scientific satellite in orbit, drawing international condemnation.

North Korea, which considers North and South as one country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under UN sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests.

"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the north and the south," Kim said in the address that appeared to be pre-recorded and was made at an undisclosed location.

"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war."

Rare public address

The New Year address was the first in 19 years by a North Korean leader after the death of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un's grandfather.

Kim Jong-il rarely spoke in public and disclosed his national policy agenda in editorials in state newspapers.

The two Koreas have seen tensions rise to the highest level in decades after the North bombed a Southern island in 2010 killing two civilians and two soldiers.

The sinking of a South Korean navy ship earlier that year was blamed on the North but Pyongyang has denied it and accused Seoul of waging a smear campaign against its leadership.

Last month, South Korea elected as president Park Geun-hye, a conservative daughter of assassinated military ruler Park Chung-hee whom Kim Il-sung had tried to kill at the height of their Cold War confrontation.

Park has vowed to pursue engagement with the North and called for dialogue to build confidence but has demanded that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, something it is unlikely to do.

Conspicuously absent from Kim's speech was any mention of the nuclear arms programme.-Al Jazeera (January 01, 2013 06:06)

China sends destroyers to boost 'surveillance' ops in South China Sea

China has transferred two destroyers and nine other ex-navy vessels to its maritime surveillance fleet, reports said Monday, as it moves to beef up its position in bitter territorial rows with Japan and other neighbours.

Beijing renovated the ships and transferred them to surveillance operations to "alleviate the insufficiency of vessels used to protect maritime interests", said a report on Tencent, one of China's major news portals.

China is embroiled in a maritime dispute with Japan that has seen tensions between the two Asian giants, the world's second- and third-largest economies, at times reach fever pitch.

It is also engaged in a simmering row with its southern neighbours over its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea.

Beijing has been sending maritime patrol vessels into waters around the East China Sea islands - which it claims as the Diaoyu and which Japan controls and calls the Senkaku - since Tokyo nationalised the chain in September.

China is apparently seeking to prove it can come and go in the area at will and on Monday three of Beijing's ships were spotted in the waters around the islands, according to Japan's coastguard, in the latest perceived incursion.

Two of Beijing's newly-refurbished vessels are destroyers, with one each to operate in the East and South China Seas, with the others including tugs, icebreakers and survey ships, according to the Tencent report.

The destroyers, the Nanjing and Nanning, numbered 131 and 162 respectively, each had a displacement of 3,250 tonnes and had a top speed of 32 knots, according to, an independent UK-based website.

It said that during their time in the navy they were equipped with 130mm guns with a range of 29 kilometres, anti-ship missiles and other weapons.

The Nanjing went into service in 1977 and the Nanning in 1979. Both retired this year from the Chinese navy, previous domestic media reports said.

It was not clear whether it was the first time the maritime surveillance fleet has acquired destroyers, or when the transfers took place.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment when asked about the destroyers at its regular briefing on Monday.

Officials at the Ministry of Defence and headquarters of the China Marine Surveillance were not immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP.

The transfer report was first published in the International Herald Leader, a Chinese-language newspaper linked to Beijing's official news agency Xinhua, and the author said the operation had been given significantly more capacity.

"The maritime surveillance team's power has been greatly strengthened and its capacity to execute missions sharply improved, providing a fundamental guarantee for completing the currently arduous task to protect maritime interests," wrote Yu Zhirong, of the government's Research Centre for Chinese Marine Development.

Since 2000 the maritime surveillance fleet, which is tasked with "protecting China's interests and executing law enforcement missions", has also received a total of 13 new vessels, the report said.

Daily patrols have been stepped up from six vessels before the disputes heated up to "more than 10" Yu said, adding authorities planned to build another 36 surveillance ships by 2015.

A Chinese plane overflew the islands in the East China Sea earlier this month, in what Japan said was the first time Beijing had breached its airspace since at least 1958. Tokyo scrambled fighter jets in response.

Yu added in the report: "I believe Chinese maritime surveillance authorities will build and buy many ships and planes in the future with strong capabilities and advanced equipment."-Interaksyon (December 31, 2012 5:58PM)

Long way to joint Asean claim on Spratly Islands

Raking over the embers of a volatile year between Asean and China over South China Sea disputes, it is clear a few at least still flicker with life. Among them is the prospect of talks among Asean's four rival claimants to the Spratly archipelago - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - to settle their own positions.

On paper, at least, it is a compelling move. A common statement of claim would introduce a significant new dynamic to an equation that, right now, is looking increasingly difficult to solve. It would potentially strengthen the hand of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Beijing, of course, has repeatedly warned against any steps to "internationalise" the dispute and wants only bilateral talks to settle specific territorial claims.

Such a move would highlight the excesses of China's claim to virtually the whole sea through its nine-dash line; it could also stop the issue poisoning other Asean business, such as talks over economic and social integration. To that end, it would also stop non-claimant members scuppering on Beijing's behalf efforts to resolve South China Sea issues, as Cambodia stood accused of doing last year.

The prospect of the four hammering out a joint Asean claim is alarming China - and the fear of Beijing's wrath could yet be enough to kill discussions before they really get moving.

No one has forgotten China's formal protests to the UN when Malaysia and Vietnam announced the settling of their own maritime boundaries in 2009. Significantly, Beijing's submission included a map of the nine-dash line - a move that set alarm bells ringing across the region.

While officials from the four met discreetly on the sidelines of the Asean leaders' meeting in November, planned talks in Manila a few weeks later were postponed and a firm date has yet to be rescheduled. Officials from the Philippines and Vietnam - two once-disparate nations that now increasingly plan strategy over China and the South China Sea - did hold preliminary talks, according to envoys.

And China isn't the only problem. While Malaysia and Vietnam successfully demarcated their own boundaries, other maritime borders may prove far more complicated.

Vietnam, for example, has yet to clearly define the reach of its claimed boundaries in the eastern part of the South China Sea. While it would be politically easier for Hanoi to settle with fellow Asean members rather than China, the issue remains fraught.

Vietnam, of course, claims all of the highly strategic Spratlys chain, just like China. The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim them in part.

More than its rivals, Hanoi's claims are also buttressed by occupation, and it is hard to imagine Vietnam's military strategists wanting to give up their fortified holdings on 20-odd shoals and islets - particularly in the current environment. Those bases - straddling some of the world's most important shipping lanes - have long rankled with China, which occupies just a handful.

As a new year begins, the outlook for the South China Sea is ever more complex, it seems.-South China Morning Post (January 01, 2013 12:00AM)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

This time it’s PH vs Taiwan

Another conflict is brewing in the West Philippine Sea, this time between the Philippines and Taiwan over oil and gas exploration around Ligao Island, the largest islet in the Spratlys group.

The Philippine government on Saturday asserted its sovereign right to “explore and exploit” resources in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as Taiwan announced plans to begin looking for oil and gas in  disputed areas of the Spratlys islands chain.

Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson, said Saturday that only the Philippines could explore in those parts of the Spratlys that lies within the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf.

Reports from Taiwan said island nation’s Bureau of Mines and state-run oil supplier CPC Corp. were keen on starting exploration for oil and gas in waters around Ligao Island, the largest Spratlys island that the Taiwanese call Taiping.

China, Vietnam and the Philippines have claims to Ligao Island.

The Philippines earlier this year offered oil exploration contracts in its claimed part of the Spratlys, a move that drew criticism from counter-claimants, especially China.

Without directly criticizing Taiwan for the move, Hernandez said foreign exploration within the Philippines’ EEZ must be signed off by Manila in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

“The Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights to explore and exploit all types of resources in its continental shelf within the 200 nautical miles measured from the baselines in the western side of the Philippine archipelago,” Hernandez said.

“No country can conduct oil exploration in the PH continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea without the permission of the government, as provided for under Unclos,” he said.

Known to be dependent on oil imports, Taiwan is initiating the oil exploration to build up its oil resources, the reports said.

Taiwan’s announcement came amid renewed tensions between China and the Philippines over reports of Chinese ships patrolling in the West Philippine Sea and plans to fortify Sansha City, an administrative domain established to govern all of the Spratlys.

The Philippines called both developments violations of international law and disrespectful of the Philippines’ sovereign right to its EEZ.

China this week deployed an oceangoing ship in the disputed waters, the first time for a Chinese vessel to patrol beyond its coastal waters.  The patrol started ahead of the implementation of a new policing law allowing Hainan province’s authorities to board and inspect foreign ships that will pass by the South China Sea, a critical international trading route.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 30, 2012 4:11AM)

China now extracting oil from disputed waters

China’s largest offshore oil and gas producer has announced that two of its oil fields in disputed waters in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) have started production.A report of the state-owned China Daily yesterday said the China National Offshore Oil Co. Ltd. (CNOOC) announced on Friday the operation of the oil fields in the contested waters.

In a statement, the CNOOC said both oil fields are located in the Pearl River Estuary Basin.

The report said the Panyu 4-2/5-1 field, one of the two oil fields, is expected to reach its peak output level in 2014.

The CNOOC owns 75.5 percent of the field, while Burlington Resources China Llc. owns the rest.

The other field was identified as Liuhua 4-1. The company owns it completely and expects its production to peak next year.

In June, the CNOOC announced it would open nine new blocks in the South China Sea to bids for exploration and development.

The blocks are in disputed waters directly off Vietnam’s coast, in some cases within 100 nautical miles of Vietnam’s shores.

A few days later, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced that it was preparing to start regular naval patrols in the waters around the Spratly Islands, which are being claimed also by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Vietnam protested the CNOOC announcement on the opening of nine oil and gas lots for international bidders in areas overlapping with existing Vietnamese exploration blocks. Vietnam said the lots lie entirely within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Malacañang, on the other hand, said the Philippine government would continue to call on China to respect the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Malacañang issued the statement after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) protested China’s sending of an oceangoing patrol vessel to disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday.

“The Philippines again calls on China to respect our territorial sovereignty and EEZ (exclusive economic zone). The Philippines strongly objects to the Chinese patrol of Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea,” the DFA said.

“Such patrol will not validate the nine-dash lines and is contrary to China’s obligation under international law including UNCLOS,” the DFA added.

China announced the deployment of Haixun 21, the first oceangoing patrol vessel equipped with a helipad, to conduct maritime patrol in the West Philippine Sea.

Haixun 21 is the first of its kind to be put into service in the West Philippine Sea and will be under the administration of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Haixun 21, which is equipped with a helipad, is under the control of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration.

Huang He, deputy head of the maritime bureau of the Ministry of Transport, said the vessel’s principal mission is to monitor maritime traffic safety, investigate maritime accidents, detect pollution, carry out search and rescue work, and fulfill international conventions.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said China only intends to build “harmonious oceans” and protect its maritime sovereignty with its deployment of patrols in the disputed waters.

Malacañang said it remains committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the dispute and avoiding provocative actions.

It said President Aquino is now being recognized in the global community as a champion of peace with his vigorous effort to bring the issue to a multilateral and diplomatic conclusion.

The government earlier in May asked the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) to consider investing in Philippine companies undertaking exploration activities in the country’s continental shelf.

Assistant Secretary Gilberto Asuque of the DFA’s Ocean Concerns Office encouraged the federation’s members during a meeting organized by the FFCCCII in Manila to invest in an energy exploration project in the Philippines’ continental shelf that includes Recto Bank (Reed Bank), which China is also claiming as its own.

Scientific data showed the West Philippine Sea contains vast deposits of oil and natural gas. The area around Recto Bank alone has an estimated 16.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last for a century, according to the Department of Energy.

Asuque also assured the public that the government is protecting the rights of Filipinos in their territory as well as the Philippines’ marine resources as provided for under local and international laws, including the UNCLOS.-The Philippine Star (December 30, 2012 12:00AM)

Manila To Host Global Summit On Corruption

Some 300 parliamentarians worldwide will meet in Manila next month to share their expertise in combatting corruption  -- through legislation -- in their respective countries.

The 5th Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to be held on January 30 up to February 2  will be attended by 144 Filipino lawmakers -- the largest contingent to the conference.

Senator Edgardo Angara, vice chairman of GOPAC Executive Committee and the Charter President of the Southeast Asian Parliamentarians Against Corruption (SEAPAC), said the Manila hosting of GOPAC 2013, “is a vote of confidence on the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption efforts.”

“Achieving good governance and fighting corruption can be strengthened by building networks among institutions. International cooperation is a key ingredient. Just as corruption transcends borders, so too must we fight it on a transnational level,” Angara said. 

President Benigno Aquino III, who will keynote the four-day conference earlier ordered concerned government agencies to assist the Senate in hosting the conference. 

Among the foreign speakers are Huguette Labelle, former Deputy Minister of Canada and chairperson of the Board of Transparency International and Ghassan Moukheiber, vice chairman of the Arab Region Parliamentarians Against Corruption. 

Angara noted that GOPAC is the only parliamentary network with the singular focus of combating corruption. 

The 2013 GOPAC Conference will have the theme “Good Laws. Good Leaders. Good Citizens.” 

“We want to show the whole world, especially the developed world, how the the Philippines and the rest of Asia, are making strides in fighting corruption in our backyard,” Angara said.-Black Pearl (December 30, 2012 1:54PM)