Thursday, December 12, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan Challenges China’s Leadership

Stunned by the world’s most powerful storm to make a landfall in recorded history, the International Community responded swiftly to give aid to the badly-devastated provinces of the Philippines as the natural disaster feared claimed thousands of lives.

The United States, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom and Israel are just some of the 28 nations and organizations who immediately provided humanitarian assistance to the Philippines as the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Typhoon Yolanda, struggle to survive.

View full report of Foreign Aid:

However, despite of the urgent call to help the storm-ravaged Philippines, including the United Nations’ plea, the world’s second largest economy was seemed singled out for its paltry donation.

The outpouring pledges of international community, both public and private, makes China's contribution for typhoon relief look like a trickle and a disgrace to Chinese leadership.

China was seems like battered by the tail-end of Typhoon Haiyan as criticisms strike its government for only pledging $200,000, including the amount given by Chinese Red Cross, to the Philippines, an initial donation that was dwarfed by the $20 million, $16 million and $30 million donations of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan respectively.

China has since increased its donation to $1.6 million, but it still even falls short behind the Swedish furniture chain Ikea's offer of $2.7 million donation, through its charitable foundation and Coco-Cola’s promise of $2.5 million in aid.

Some experts in international relations viewed China’s reluctance in giving more aid to the Philippines as an action influenced by the latter’s on-going conflict with the Philippines.

China and the Philippines’s relation have been frayed over the past years, after the two Asian nations embroiled in a standoff over the tiny group of islands in the South China Sea, which the Philippines recently renamed as the West Philippines Sea.

For Zheng Yongian, a China politics expert at the National University of Singapore, despite of the growing influence of China in the region, it still remains lags far behind the U.S in sphere of soft power, a non-traditional form of diplomacy in which emergency assistance is a major component.

"China has missed an excellent opportunity to show itself as a responsible power and to generate goodwill," said Zheng "They still lack strategic thinking."

Zheng also explained that Chinese leadership is still bound with old-fashioned major-nation diplomacy based on economic and military might.

Meanwhile, for Phillip Swagel, a former assistant secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department, this incident only unveils China’s limited friendship relations with its neighbouring countries.

In his interview with the United Press International (UPI), Swagel said "China's action illustrates the blundering nature of its foreign policy."

"This is an unforced error for them, revealing to other countries the limits of Chinese friendship," he added.

However, for Bonnie Glaser, an East Asia adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is not unusual for China not to give more aid to other countries because it still sees itself as a third world country.

"The leadership worries that they would be criticized if they were found to be giving too much money away and not helping the poor at home," Glaser said.

China even insisted, in response to global criticisms, that their country was also hit by Typhoon Haiyan, putting some of its provinces under water.

The International Community remains monitoring the situations in the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan as foreign assistance, particularly military relief operations of U.S, U.K, Japan, South Korea and Israel, seemingly makes the Philippines a center stage for world powers to show off their military strengths.

This even makes the Chinese power invisible in one of the world’s massive humanitarian missions, after the latter only sent its 14,000-ton navy hospital ship, the ‘Peace Ark,’ to the Philippines compared to the planes, warships and aircraft carriers sent by other forces.

In the meantime, relief and recovery operation continues in the Philippines weeks after Typoon Haiyan battered the central part of the archipelago.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), more than 9 million people were affected in 44 provinces, 536 municipalities and 55 cities. Nearly 3.5 million were displaced, with about 400,000 of them finding shelter inside evacuation centers.

Based on the NDRRMC report, as of November 30, 2013, the death toll from the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan has hit 5, 598, with the number expected to rise further as some areas still left unsearched.

Typhoon Haiyan, apparently, not only unveils the worsening threat of Global Warming to the world, but also the capability of China to be the world’s next ‘Super Power’. – Vic Saure 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thai PM calls elections as 140,000 join protest

Thailand's premier called a snap election on Monday to try to defuse the kingdom's political crisis, but protesters kept up their fight to topple the government with an estimated 140,000 demonstrators flooding the streets of Bangkok.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has faced more than a month of sometimes-violent protests by boisterous demonstrators storming key government buildings in a bid to suspend the country's democracy in favour of an unelected "People's Council".

Thai opposition lawmakers resigned en masse from parliament on Sunday, deepening the political deadlock.

Yingluck, the sister of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, announced in a televised national address on Monday that she would dissolve the lower house and hold a general election "as soon as possible".

"The government does not want any loss of life," she said, amid fears the mass rallies could bring fresh violence.

But the leaders of the anti-government movement said they were not satisfied and pledged to rid Thailand of the influence of Thaksin, a tycoon-turned-premier who was ousted by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago and now lives in self-exile in Dubai.

"The movement will keep on fighting. Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an arrest warrant for insurrection, told AFP.

Thaksin -- who once described Yingluck as his "clone" -- is widely considered the de facto leader of the ruling party.

Yingluck's Puea Thai party said she was likely to be its candidate for prime minister again in the upcoming election, which it expects to be held on or around February 2.

The political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

His overthrow in 2006 by generals loyal to the king ushered in years of political turmoil and rival street protests by the royalist "Yellow Shirts" and Thaksin's supporters, known as the "Red Shirts".

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election in more than a decade while the opposition Democrat Party -- whose MPs resigned en masse Sunday because they could not achieve anything in parliament -- has not won an elected majority in about two decades.

Democrat Party officials said on Monday they had not yet decided whether to take part in the upcoming election, which must be held within 60 days of the house's dissolution.

"The anti-government protesters want to take over the government. They do not want to contest for government because they have lost each time," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"If they succeed we will likely have more turmoil in Thailand because the pro-government supporters, the so-called Red Shirts, have not been heard so far and we can presume that they must be very angry at the turn of events."

Dozens of people were killed in a military crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin Red Shirt rallies in Bangkok three years ago.

140,000 protesters take to the streets

Around 140,000 people were estimated to have joined the protests by early afternoon, according to the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, which was set up to deal with the unrest.

Demonstrators marched along several routes through the capital towards the government headquarters -- the main target of the rally -- paralysing traffic in parts of the city.

"We don't want politics any more -- no elections. Only the protesters can choose the next government. We choose, then the king appoints them," said one demonstrator who did not want to be named.

Tensions remain high after several days of street clashes last week when police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against rock-throwing demonstrators.

The unrest has left five people dead and more than 200 injured. Authorities have said they would try to avoid fresh confrontation.

"Police are unarmed, with only shields and batons. We will not use tear gas, or if we have no choice, its use will be limited," Interior Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan said ahead of the rally.

"The government believes we can control the situation. We will focus on negotiation," he added.

The demonstrations were triggered by an amnesty bill, since dropped by Yingluck's ruling party, which opponents feared would have cleared the way for Thaksin's return.

The former premier went into exile in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated. -Channel News Asia

Friday, November 29, 2013

Philippines fears China wants South China Sea air control

The Philippines expressed concern on Thursday that China may seek control of air space over contested areas of the South China Sea, after Beijing declared an air defence zone above other disputed waters.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said China's announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea on the weekend raised the prospect of it doing the same for the South China Sea.

"There's this threat that China will control the air space (in the South China Sea)," del Rosario said in an interview on ABS-CBN television.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the strategically vital and potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the sea, even waters and islands close to its neighbours. 

China has been steadily increasing its military and coast guard presence in the sea in recent years to assert its claim, causing diplomatic tensions to rise and stoking concerns in the Philippines about perceived Chinese bullying.

Del Rosario also voiced concern over China's declaration of the air defence zone in the East China Sea, where it is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.

"It transforms an entire air zone into China's domestic air space. And that is an infringement, and compromises the safety of civil aviation," del Rosario said.

"It also compromises the national security of affected states."

The air defence zone requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face "emergency defensive measures".

The zone covers Tokyo-controlled islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other. - Channel News Asia

Thursday, November 28, 2013

South Korea, Japan send planes into China's new defence zone

Japan and South Korea said Thursday they have defied China's newly-declared air defence zone, showing a united front to Beijing after US B-52 bombers did the same.

Meanwhile Chinese authorities are coming under internal pressure to toughen their response to incursions into the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) they declared last weekend.

The zone includes disputed islands claimed by China, which knows them as the Diaoyus, but controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus.

The move triggered US and Japanese accusations of provocation as global concerns grew.

China's ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication -- or face "defensive emergency measures".

But Tokyo said its coastguard and air force had flown unopposed in the zone without complying with Beijing's rules.

"We have been operating normal warning and patrol activities in the East China Sea including that area," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. "We have no intention of changing this."

South Korea's military said it encountered no resistance when one of its planes entered the area -- which also overlaps Seoul's ADIZ -- unannounced on Tuesday.

A day earlier two giant US Stratofortress bombers flew into the zone, an unmistakable message from Washington before a pre-planned visit to the region by Vice President Joe Biden.

China's defence ministry issued a statement 11 hours after the US announcement saying its military "monitored the entire process" of the B-52 flights, without expressing regret or anger or threatening direct action.

The Global Times, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party and often takes a nationalist tone, criticised the reaction as "too slow" in an editorial Thursday.

"We failed in offering a timely and ideal response," it said, adding that Chinese officials needed to react to "psychological battles" by the US.

The China Daily added that Washington's move risked increasing Tokyo's "dangerous belligerence" and putting China and the US on a collision course "which will prove much more hazardous than sending military aircraft to play chicken in the air".

Asked about the South Korean flight, China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "China identifies any aircraft within the ADIZ and must have noted the relevant situation you have mentioned."

He reiterated criticism of US and Japanese responses to the zone, urging both countries to "immediately correct their mistakes and stop their irresponsible accusations against China".

The Communist Party seeks to drum up popular support by tapping into deep-seated resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of China in the 1930s.

Such nationalist passions are quickly aroused, and Chinese social media users called for Beijing to retaliate against Washington.

"The US's bomber wandered around the edge of our ADIZ, I figure we should respond in kind. One good turn deserves another, right?" wrote one commentator on Sina Weibo, a social media service similar to Twitter.

Senior administration officials in Washington said Wednesday that Biden will raise Washington's concerns about the zone while in Beijing.

The trip will allow him to "make the broader point that there's an emerging pattern of behaviour by China that is unsettling to China's own neighbours and raising questions about how China operates in international space", an official said.

China's relations with South Korea have recently improved but the zone covers a disputed South Korean-controlled rock -- known as Ieodo in Seoul and Suyan in Beijing -- that has long been a source of tensions between them.

South Korea's Vice Defence Minister Baek Seung-Joo expressed "strong regret" at China's ADIZ announcement, which he said was "heightening military tension in the region."

Australia on Thursday refused to back down from criticism of the air zone after summoning China's ambassador earlier this week and prompting an angry response from Beijing.

The Philippines voiced concern that China may extend control of air space over disputed areas of the South China Sea, where the two nations have a separate territorial dispute.

Japanese passenger airlines said after government pressure they will not obey Beijing's rules, while the State Department has taken an ambiguous position, saying it was advising US carriers "to take all steps they consider necessary to operate safely in the... region".

Thai Airways said Thursday it will comply with Beijing's directive.

China for its part has accused the US and Japan -- which both have ADIZs -- of double standards, saying the real provocateur is Tokyo.

Defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement Thursday that Japan established its ADIZ in 1969, so Tokyo had "no right to make irresponsible remarks" about China's.

"If there are to be demands for a withdrawal, then we invite the Japanese side to first withdraw its air defence identification zone, and China may reconsider after 44 years," he said.

The islands dispute lay dormant for decades but flared in September 2012 when Tokyo purchased three of the uninhabited outcrops from private owners.

Beijing accused Tokyo of changing the status quo and has since sent surveillance ships and aircraft to the area, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets 386 times in the 12 months to September.

After an unidentified drone flew towards the islands, Tokyo threatened to shoot down such aircraft, which Beijing warned would amount to an "act of war".

The manoeuvres have raised fears of an accidental clash. - Channel News Asia

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Beijing's aircraft carrier heads for South China Sea

China's first aircraft carrier left on Tuesday on a training mission to the South China Sea, escorted by missile destroyers and frigates, state media said.

The newly-commissioned Liaoning left its home port of Qingdao accompanied by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between China and its neighbours over disputed waters, with Beijing declaring air defence rights over islands controlled by Japan at the weekend, provoking a furious international reaction.

Beijing took effective control of Scarborough shoal, claimed by Manila and just 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Philippines, last year.

It keeps up nearly daily pressure in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety and where Vietnam and others have competing claims to some of the islets.

China's vessels also frequently patrol near the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Tokyo, which controls them, and in China as Diaoyu.

The Liaoning's latest mission is to test the equipment it carries and is "a normal arrangement in the carrier's scheduled training", Xinhua said, citing Chinese navy authorities.

The carrier is a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine. It went into service in September 2012, and top naval commanders have promised the country will have more such ships. - Channel News Asia

Singapore high commissioner meets Malaysian official amid spying allegations

Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong on Tuesday met Othman Hashim, the secretary-general of Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry, to clarify allegations that Singapore spied on Malaysia.

Mr Ong was summoned by Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs after fresh media reports surfaced, alleging that Singapore had aided an intelligence group in spying on Malaysia.

Malaysia said it is deeply concerned by the allegations, adding that such activities should not be carried out amongst partners and close neighbours.

Mr Ong is the third international diplomat to be summoned by the Ministry this month, after Australia and the United States, following leaked reports from American whistleblower Edward Snowden of an alleged global espionage network.

According to Mr Ong, the meeting lasted for just over 10 minutes, during which Mr Othman sought clarification from him regarding media reports alleging Singapore's spying on Malaysia.

Mr Ong said he was unable to comment on the allegations because he did not have any specific information and has referred the media reports to the relevant agencies in Singapore.

Mr Ong also took the opportunity to reaffirm that Singapore values good relations with Malaysia and that both countries have an excellent bilateral relationship and cooperate closely on many matters of common interest.

He added that Singapore has no interest in doing anything that might harm its partners or the friendship between the two countries.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had already summoned the heads of the US and Australian missions earlier in November in protest over reports that a vast US-led surveillance network included a listening post in America's Malaysian embassy.

Mr Anifah has, in a statement, expressed grave concerns over the alleged spying and promised a thorough investigation.

It is a serious matter, he said, if the allegation is proven to be true, adding that spying on a neighbour is unacceptable and goes against the true spirit and commitment of good neighbourly relations.

Malaysian ministers have condemned the alleged spying activities as an infringement of the country's sovereignty.

Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Malaysia’s multimedia and communication minister, said: "Of course, we cannot tolerate any form of spying, especially among the… friendly nations. I'm not referring to anybody in this case, unless you come up with the proper evidence and proof.”

Lawmakers have tried to raise an emergency motion to condemn the alleged spying, but the motion was rejected by the speaker as non-urgent.

Protest notes were also handed over to Australia and the US on November 1.

Both countries have declined comments on issues of security.

Monday's report in the Sydney Morning Herald said Singapore and South Korea were playing key roles in a "Five Eyes" intelligence network involving the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

It quoted a top-secret US National Security Agency (NSA) map that it said was published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

As a major hub for regional telecommunications traffic, Singapore was an important link in the surveillance network, it said. -Channel News Asia

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Myanmar President to undertake state visit to Philippines

Myanmar President Thein Sein will be in Manila for a two-day state visit next week, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

Thein Sein, whom Philippine President Benigno Aquino III invited to visit,  will be in the country from December 4 to 6, a DFA statement said.

This will be the first visit to the Philippines by a Myanmar leader since the former military-ruled state undertook reforms in 2010. The last state visit by a Myanmar head of state was by Prime Minister Soe Win in 2005.

The Philippines has been one of the harshest critics of the military junta that formerly ruled Myanmar, aggressively calling for the nation’s democratization and the release of thousands of political prisoners then led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Western nations led by Europe and the US have imposed tough financial and economic sanctions against the former Myanmar regime since the 1990s amid allegations of gross human rights violations and failure to heed its call to institute democratic reforms.

But Thein Sein, a former junta general who was appointed president of Myanmar to head a nominally civilian government following a rare election in 2010, stunned the international community by embarking on a surprising array of reforms that included the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi - a move that earned instant recognition from its staunchest critics like the United States.

The DFA said Aquino and Thein Sein will discuss issues of mutual concern, particularly in the areas of trade and investment, agriculture, energy, cultural exchanges and information cooperation.

They will also take up regional issues, including Myanmar’s historic chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

Apart from the Philippines and Myanmar, ASEAN comprises Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

The two leaders had their first bilateral meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on June 7, 2013, when Aquino attended the World Economic Forum on East Asia hosted by Myanmar.
Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Myanmar was established in 1956.

In response to an international call for aid to typhoon-ravaged Philippines, Myanmar donated seven tons of relief goods and $100,000. - GMA News

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Southeast Asian countries share anti-corruption experiences at meeting

The ninth annual South East Asia Parties Against Corruption (SEA-PAC) meeting is going on here Friday with parties sharing experience in fighting corruption in the region.

Around 200 participants including delegates from member countries and representatives from international organizations convened on Thursday for the two-day meeting.

The first day of the meeting saw Myanmar sign a memorandum of understanding to enter SEA-PAC, bringing the number of its member nations to 10.

Lao Deputy Prime Minister Asang Laoly said that the meeting was an important platform that gave participating nations the opportunity to share lessons learned and the best practices for use in combating corruption.

Participants are expected to discuss and explore stricter measures to prevent and fight corruption, state-run daily Vientiane Times reported Friday.

Laoly said corruption was a threat to the security of a nation that hinders development. The Lao government has attached great importance to combating corruption and had introduced a number of laws and regulations in order to stem corruption in the country, he said.

The Lao government has also improved the state administrative structure and the administrative structure of the Government Inspection Authority and Anti-Corruption Authorities in order that they might work more effectively, said Laoly, adding that Laos has been active in activities falling within the scope of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) including a 2011 review of corruption in Croatia.

In 2012, Laos itself was reviewed by Mongolia and Luxembourg. The government Inspection Authority and Anti-Corruption Authorities are working with relevant bodies to implement findings of the review.

Laoly congratulated Myanmar on becoming a member of SEA-PAC. Myanmar's Bureau of Special Investigation Director General Aung Saw Win, head of his country's delegation to the meeting, said that it was"a great honor and pride"to sign the memorandum of understanding on behalf of Myanmar. -Philippines News Agency

China urged to send warships amid Philippine aid anger

China should send warships to aid the typhoon-hit Philippines and counter US and Japanese influence, state-run media said on Friday, as Beijing comes in for criticism for its relatively meagre donation to the stricken nation.

The call came after China said on Thursday it would provide a further US$1.6 million aid to the Philippines, mainly in tents and blankets, following condemnation of its initial response of a US$100,000 government donation, matched by the Chinese Red Cross.

Even the expanded donation was less than that of Swedish furniture group Ikea, whose charitable foundation is giving UN children's agency Unicef US$2.7 million for its relief efforts.

Beijing and Manila are embroiled in a row over disputed islands. But China's Global Times said in an editorial that if the Philippines rejected the warships proposal, that would only "underscore its narrow mind and will be of no loss to China".

An eight-strong flotilla of US vessels, headed by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, has arrived off the Philippines bearing badly needed equipment, supplies and expertise for the thousands left homeless and hungry by one of the strongest storms in history.

Japan is tripling its emergency aid package for the Philippines to more than US$30 million, and plans to send as many as 1,000 troops to the disaster zone -- the largest single relief operation team sent abroad by its de-facto military.

"We believe China should send its warships to the Philippines too," said the Global Times, which is close to the Chinese Communist Party, adding such a move would be "well-intentioned".

Beijing's initial financial response to the disaster was met with disgust, with US magazine Time carrying a report on Wednesday under the headline: "The world's second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines."

Michael Valderrama, a columnist with the Sun Star Daily in the Philippines, wrote: "China should realise that this isn't about politics any more -- it's about basic human decency.

"The Philippines and China aren't exactly best buddies, but we're not sworn enemies either," he added.

"If bitter enemies like Pakistan and India or Japan and North Korea can give each other appropriate aid and funding in times of need, then why can't the Chinese just give a little bit more instead of tossing a few dollars at us like we're a beggar that they want to shoo away?"

The territorial dispute over islands in the strategically vital South China Sea -- which Beijing claims almost in its entirety -- has been running for years.

Manila says Chinese vessels have occupied Scarborough Shoal, which it claims itself, since last year, and it is open to question whether it would welcome a Chinese navy presence in its waters.

The US and Japanese militaries' part in the relief efforts is an element of Washington's Asia strategy and may have "more intentions hidden behind the humanitarian aid", the Global Times said in a separate report.

Beijing could send a hospital ship, the Peace Ark, escorted by warships if dispatching its newly commissioned aircraft carrier the Liaoning was "sensitive and premature", said the editorial.

China's foreign ministry disassociated the authorities from Friday's editorial, with spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters at a regular briefing: "The relevant op-ed represents the opinion of the media itself.

"As for in what way and how much (further aid should be provided), China will make relevant decision in accordance with the development of the situation as well as the requirement of the Philippine side," he added.

The Global Times editorial, which was similar in both the paper's English- and Chinese-language editions, said Beijing was cautious about sending troops overseas in the past because of "a lack of capabilities, experience and many other concerns".

But now, it said: "The Chinese military must gradually assume a more forceful role in China's diplomacy.

"There is no need for a stronger China to worry about what we should do if our offer is rejected by the Philippines or if we are criticised by global public opinion due to poor performance," it added. -Channel News Asia

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hong Kong holds fast to sanctions deadline for the Philippines

While offers of aid for the Philippines pour in from around the world following the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, Hong Kong has vowed to press ahead with sanctions on Manila over a 2010 hostage crisis.

The threat has sparked outrage among some Hong Kongers and the city's Filipino migrant workers, whose homeland is reeling from the impact of the record-breaking typhoon that killed thousands and devastated entire coastal communities.

The United Nations has appealed for US$301 million of aid, with the US and Britain among leading donors and China on Thursday stepping up its initially modest response to dispatch rescue materials worth US$1.6 million.

But the southern Chinese city, a former British colony that is now semi-autonomous, has refused to drop its warning of impending economic sanctions unless the Philippines offers a formal apology for a 2010 hostage crisis.

Eight Hong Kongers were killed and seven others wounded in the incident after negotiations broke down between Philippine authorities and a former police officer who hijacked a Manila tour bus.

Last Tuesday, the city's leader Leung Chun-ying said he will take "necessary actions to apply sanctions" if he does not see concrete steps taken to resolve the issue within a month.

Asked on Wednesday if the disaster would impact on the deadline, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said: "At this moment, we don't have this intention."

Lam added that the hostage situation and the devastation in the Philippines caused by Haiyan were "entirely separate issues".

The remarks angered some Hong Kong web users and the city's Filipino community, who number some 150,000.

"I am ashamed to call myself a Hong Konger and I hope the vast majority of Hong Kongers also feel the same, particularly with the government's callous and insensitive attitude on display to the world," a user commented online.

Another named 'shayliu', said: "This government does not serve or represent the general HK population."

Benjamin Panganiban, a director of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong said the remarks were "inappropriate", adding: "After the aftermath of what happened in the typhoon, maybe we can delay that deadline."

The city's unpopular government is under pressure not to upset groups affected by the hostage situation.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has refused to apologise on behalf of the country for the Manila hostage situation, insisting the deaths were primarily caused by the actions of the hostage taker.

The city's lawmakers have mooted a cancellation of its visa-free arrangement for visitors from the Philippines as well as possible trade sanctions.

In a response to the disaster, the Hong Kong government plans to boost its existing reserve for overseas disaster relief from HK$9 million to HK$49 million (US$6.32 million), which aid groups can then apply for. - Channel News Asia

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

World sends emergency relief to battered Philippines

The United States, Australia and the United Nations mobilised emergency aid to the Philippines as the scale of the devastation unleashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan emerged on Monday.

The Pentagon sent Marines and equipment to assist with the relief effort following the typhoon, which may have killed more than 10,000 people in what is feared to be the country's worst natural disaster.

Even Vietnam, despite coping itself with a mass evacuation programme as a weakened Haiyan swung onto its territory, provided emergency aid worth US$100,000 and said it "stands by the Philippine people in this difficult situation".

On the ground, the relief operation was centred on the city of Tacloban on Leyte island, three days after one of the biggest storms in recorded history demolished entire communities across the central Philippines and left countless bodies as well as gnawing desperation in its wake.

Delivering on a promise of quick help from President Barack Obama, about 90 US Marines and sailors based in Japan flew into Tacloban aboard two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, after receiving a bird's eye view of the immense scale of destruction across Leyte.

They brought communication and logistical equipment to support the Philippine armed forces in their relief operation.

"We are gonna move stuff as they direct, as the Philippine government and the armed forces (ask)," Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, the head of the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expedition Brigade, said in Tacloban.

Kennedy's men were the advance guard of a Marine operation that in total will encompass up to nine C-130s plus four MV-22 Ospreys -- tilt-rotor planes that can operate without runways -- and two P3 Orion aircraft for search and rescue.

"That is what I do, I provide capabilities that are not resident here," Kennedy told reporters.

The Australian government pledged Aus$10 million dollars (US$9.38 million), with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describing the unfolding tragedy as "absolutely devastating" and on a "massive scale".

The sum includes Aus$4 million towards a UN global appeal and Aus$3 million for Australian non-government organisations. The aid will include tarpaulins, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, water containers and health and hygiene kits.

A team of Australian medics will leave on Wednesday via a C17 military transport plane from Darwin to join disaster experts already on the ground, the government said.

Philippine rescue teams were said to be overwhelmed in their efforts to help those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed after Haiyan ravaged large swathes of the archipelago on Friday.

Officials were struggling to cope with the scale of death and destruction, with reports of violent looters and scarcity of food, drinking water and shelter.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon promised UN humanitarian agencies would "respond rapidly to help people in need".

The UN children's fund UNICEF said a cargo plane carrying 60 tonnes of aid including shelters and medicine would arrive in the Philippines Tuesday, to be followed by deliveries of water purification and sanitation equipment.

Pope Francis led 60,000 people in Sunday prayers for the Philippines, urging the faithful to provide "concrete help" to the largely Roman Catholic country.

Other aid mobilised for the Philippines includes:

-- The European Commission said it would give three million euros (US$4 million) towards the relief efforts.

-- Britain offered an emergency support package worth US$9.6 million. Germany's embassy in Manila said an initial shipment of 23 tonnes of aid was being flown in and German rescue teams were already at work.

-- Japan was on Monday sending a disaster relief and medical team of 25 people, while Malaysia also readied a relief crew and cash aid was offered by Taiwan and Singapore.

-- New Zealand increased its humanitarian relief on Monday, bringing its total to NZ$2.15 million (US$1.78 million), while Canada has promised up to US$5 million to aid organisations.

-- Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it was sending 200 tonnes of aid including medicine, tents and hygiene kits to arrive mid-week, with the first cargo plane leaving from Dubai on Monday and another from Belgium on Tuesday. -Channel News Asia

Top UN court awards flashpoint temple area to Cambodia

The UN's top court ruled Monday that most of the area around a flashpoint ancient temple on the Thai border belongs to Cambodia and that any Thai security forces there should leave.

The International Court of Justice interpreted a 1962 ruling saying that "Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear," Judge Peter Tomka said.

"In consequence Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers who were stationed there," Tomka said.

At least 28 people have been killed in outbreaks of violence since 2011 over the ownership of the patch of border land next to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

"It's good enough," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who was at the hearing in The Hague, told reporters after the ruling which nevertheless excluded Cambodian sovereignty over some land, including a place known as Phnom Trap.

"This is a very long decision by the court that we need to study very carefully," he said. "The two countries need to negotiate between themselves."

"Both sides are satisfied with the verdict," said Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, adding that Bangkok and Phnom Penh would discuss further steps in a joint commission.

There were reportedly no celebrations on the streets of Phnom Penh after the verdict, while a demonstrator set fire to a Cambodian flag on a Bangkok street, AFP correspondents reported.

Last year, the ICJ ruled that both countries should withdraw forces from around the ancient Khmer temple, which is perched on a clifftop in Cambodia but is more easily accessed from the Thai side.

Cambodia and Thailand finally pulled hundreds of soldiers from the disputed zone in July 2012, replacing them with police and security guards.

Last place to fall to Khmer Rouge

Tens of thousands of people were displaced in the 2011 fighting, leading Cambodia to ask the ICJ for an interpretation of an original 1962 ruling.

Thailand does not dispute Cambodia's ownership of the temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but both sides laid claim to an adjacent 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) piece of land.

Access from the Cambodian side was so difficult that in the 1970s it was the last place to fall to the Khmer Rouge regime, and also the communists' last holdout in the 1990s.

Leaders of the two countries appealed for calm before the ruling by 17 international judges which cannot be appealed.

The Cambodian government will try to "avoid to be dragged into confrontation with Thai extremists and increase cooperation and exchange of information between the armies of the two countries at the border," spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.

"At this time the situation is calm. The cooperation between the troops along the border is good and friendly," he said.

The Cambodian army meanwhile denied local media reports that it had sent military reinforcements to the area.

On her Facebook page Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed Sunday to "consult" with Cambodia after the decision to avoid any conflict, adding her government would make a statement following the verdict.

The ruling, which was broadcast live on Thai television, is fraught with danger for her government, which is already grappling with mass street demonstrations against a controversial political amnesty bill.

The country's opposition is now likely to direct public anger towards Yingluck, whose divisive brother Thaksin is close to Cambodia's strongman premier Hun Sen.

Cambodia has allowed Thaksin -- who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for corruption -- to hold a number of rallies for his "Red Shirt" supporters on its soil.

There are fears a negative verdict for Thailand will increase anger among hardline nationalists.

In a television appeal last week Hun Sen urged his armed forces to "remain calm and show restraint", adding he had agreed with his Thai counterpart to abide by the ICJ's decision.

The roots of the dispute lie in maps drawn up in 1907 during French colonial rule. -Channel News Asia

Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines declares state of calamity

Destroyed houses hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar province, central Philippines on 11 November 2013

The Philippine President Benigno Aquino has declared a state of national calamity to speed relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

In a statement, he said the two worst affected provinces, Leyte and Samar, had suffered massive destruction and loss of life.

Thousands of survivors are still desperately waiting for the aid effort to reach them.

Up to 10,000 people are feared to have been killed.

Tacloban is one of the worst affected cities. The BBC's Jon Donnison, who is there, says there does not yet seem to be an effective operation to get help to those in need.

This is expected to change over the next few days, he says.

Hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced after the high winds and floodwaters destroyed their homes. Damage to roads and airports has delayed the delivery of aid.

One of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall, Haiyan - named "Yolanda" by Filipino authorities - struck the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar on Friday.

It then headed west, sweeping through six central Philippine islands.


More than nine million people have been affected in the Philippines. Many are now struggling to survive without food, shelter or clean drinking water.

A picture is slowly emerging of the full damage wrought by the storm:

  • The exposed easterly town of Guiuan, Samar province - population 40,000 - is said to be largely destroyed

  • Tacloban, Leyte province, was largely flattened by a massive storm surge and scores of corpses are piled by the roadside, leaving a stench in the air as they rot, say correspondents. Hundreds of people have gathered at the airport desperate for food and water, others trying to get a flight out

  • Disaster worker Dennis Chong told the BBC that assessments in the far north of Cebu province had shown some towns had suffered "80-90% damage"

  • Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80% under water, the UN said.

A huge international relief effort is under way, but rescue workers have struggled to reach areas cut off since the storm.

However, reports from Tacloban say that soldiers have been on the streets distributing food and water to some residents and the US military has sent marines to the city.

The head of the Philippine Red Cross, Richard Gordon, described the situation as "absolute bedlam".

"It's only now that they were able to get in and we're beginning just to bring in the necessary food items... as well as water and other things that they need," he told the BBC.

Jane Cocking, the humanitarian director for Oxfam, said her colleagues witnessed "complete devastation... entire parts of the coastline just disappeared".

A Philippine military spokesman was quoted as saying on Monday that 942 people had died in the typhoon's aftermath, though it is clear the official death toll will rise significantly.

Almost 630,000 people have been reported displaced.

'Unprecedented' storm

Ships washed ashore by the typhoon in Tacloban, Philippines 11 November 2013Some are questioning what more authorities could have done to prepare for this, just the latest in a string of disasters to hit the nation of more than 7,000 islands.

Authorities had evacuated hundreds of thousands of people before the typhoon arrived, but many evacuation centres - schools, churches and government buildings - proved unable to withstand the winds and storm surges.

Haiyan brought sustained winds of 235km/h (147mph), with gusts of 275 km/h (170 mph) and waves as high as 15m (45ft). In some places, as much as 400mm (15.75 inches) of rain fell.

Officials said looting was widespread and order was proving difficult to enforce. Correspondents say many ordinary people are simply scavenging for the food and water needed to survive.

In some areas, the dead are being buried in mass graves.

American military aircraft and ships are being deployed to provide help. Aid is being flown into the only regional international airport at Cebu, with relief efforts focusing on Tacloban.

US President Barack Obama has issued a message saying he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and extensive damage".

Other countries have also pledged millions of dollars in assistance. Australia has approved $9m in humanitarian aid to the Philippines, while New Zealand has pledged over $1m.

Typhoon Haiyan later made landfall in Vietnam, near the tourist destination of Ha Long Bay, with sustained winds of up to 140 km/h (85mph).

Despite losing much of its strength, the storm still felled trees and damaged buildings, with reports of some casualties.

Some 600,000 people were evacuated in northern provinces of the country. - British Broadcasting Corporation

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cambodia braces for another round of political protests over disputed polls

Phnom Penh is bracing for yet another round of political protests, with 10,000 people set to rally over the next three days against alleged voting irregularities in July's general election.

Security forces have begun demonstrating crowd control measures in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park, which is the site of upcoming anti-government protests.

Local media estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people will rally there in coming days.

They want to show support for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its leader Sam Rainsy.

He is calling for an independent investigation into the July vote where his party won 55 seats according to the official results.

The CNRP's own total vote was 63 seats, giving it a slight edge in the National Assembly over Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People’s Party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said: "There are widespread evidence from independent observers, (and ) both national and international independent organisations have pointed to countless and serious election irregularities that might have distorted or even overturned the will of the Cambodian people."

Mr Hun Sen said that an independent agency is not needed to verify election results.

And the government in a White Paper published soon after the election said there is no evidence to back the opposition's claims.

An earlier protest in September turned violent when soldiers clashed with demonstrators causing one death and several injuries.

And despite various government attempts to rein in these protests--like limiting the duration and the number of people in the rally -- Mr Sam Rainsy has said they will ignore these requests.

For the moment, politics here remain in a deadlock---the opposition is boycotting the National Assembly until the issue of vote fraud is satisfactorily resolved. - Channel News Asia

Sultan of Brunei Introduces Tough Islamic Laws

The Sultan of Brunei introduced tough Sharia-law punishments on Tuesday including death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, hailing what he called a "historic" step toward Islamic orthodoxy for his country.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah -- one of the world's wealthiest men -- said a new Sharia Penal Code in the works for years was officially introduced on Tuesday in the tiny, oil-flush sultanate and would be phased in beginning in six months.

Based on individual cases, punishments could include stoning to death for adultery, severing of limbs for theft, and flogging for violations ranging from abortion to alcohol consumption, according to a copy of the code.

The code applies only to Muslims.

"By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled," the sultan, 67, said in a speech.

An absolute monarch whose family has tightly controlled the oil-rich country of 400,000 for six centuries, the sultan first called in 1996 for the introduction of Sharia criminal punishments.

The sultan already imposes a relatively conservative brand of Islam on his subjects, compared to Brunei's Southeast Asian Muslim neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brunei bans the sale and public consumption of alcohol and closely restricts other religions.

But Sharia has been a rare point of contention in a land where the sultan's word is unquestioned, with many Bruneians quietly grumbling that the concept is out of step with the affluent country's laid-back ethnic Malay society.

"These rights-abusing policies are a good indication of why modern democracy and the right of people to participate in their government is a much better idea than anachronistic absolute monarchy," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The situation shows that "respect for basic civil and political rights is near zero in Brunei," he added.

The monarch himself has acknowledged concerns over Sharia in recent years as the code was being drafted.

Compatible with Malay culture?

It was not immediately clear how aggressively it would be enforced.

Two years ago, the Attorney-General's office promised Brunei would apply an extremely high burden of proof for Sharia cases and judges would have wide discretion in applying it, in comments apparently aimed at easing public fears.

"It seems almost incompatible with Malay culture, which is peace-loving," said Tuah Ibrahim, 57, driver of a boat taxi in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.

He said Sharia can be acceptable if proportionate to the crime, but adds: "I can't imagine our country turning into somewhere like Saudi Arabia."

Brunei already has a dual system combining civil courts based on British law -- the sultanate was a British protectorate until 1984 -- and Sharia-compliant courts limited to personal and family issues such as marriage and inheritance.

Nearly 70 per cent of Brunei's people are Muslim ethnic Malays. About 15 per cent are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese, followed by indigenous tribes and other groups.

Bankrolled by South China Sea oil and gas fields, Brunei has one of Asia's highest standards of living, including free medical care and education through the university level.

The monarch's wealth -- estimated at $20 billion by Forbes magazine two years ago -- and luxurious lifestyle have become legendary, with reports emerging of his vast collection of luxury vehicles and gold-bedecked palaces.

The monarchy was deeply embarrassed by a sensational family feud between Hassanal and his younger brother Jefri Bolkiah over the latter's alleged embezzlement of 15 billion dollars during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s.

Subsequent court battles and exposes revealed salacious details of Jefri's un-Islamic jet-set lifestyle, including allegations of a high-priced harem of Western paramours and a luxury yacht he owned called "Tits."

Despite a suave image overseas, the sultan repeatedly warns at home of the potential impact that increasing integration with the world could have on Brunei's moral values and has leaned towards Islamic orthodoxy of late.

In the past year, the government introduced mandatory religious education for all Muslim children and ordered all businesses closed during Friday prayers.

In his speech, the sultan appeared to try to assuage any international concerns that may arise, saying the Sharia change "does not in any way change our policies ... as a member of the family of nations." -Channel News Asia

13 Vietnamese arrested in Philippines over sea turtles

Thirteen Vietnamese fishermen were arrested after being found in Philippine waters with a haul of protected sea turtles, police said Monday.

The fishermen were caught on Friday off the western Philippine island of Palawan, in waters near the South China Sea where authorities say foreign poaching of endangered or protected species has become a major problem.

"Upon initial inspection, it was found out that the said foreign fishing vessel is loaded with undetermined (number of) pieces of dead sea turtles," said Benigno Caabay, a station officer at the Palawan police provincial headquarters, quoting an official report.

The 13 are being held at a police camp in Palawan while officers look into filing a case against them, Caabay added.

Sea turtles are protected under Philippine law and catching them is punishable by at least 12 years in jail.

In recent years, Philippine authorities have frequently caught foreigners, often Chinese, catching or buying sea turtles in the waters off Palawan.

In November last year, in the same area where the Vietnamese were caught, the Philippine navy rescued more than 100 sea turtles from poachers. But the fishermen, whom authorities believed to be Chinese, escaped.

Twelve Chinese fishermen were also arrested in April after their boat, which ran aground on a protected reef, was found to be carrying hundreds of dead pangolins, or scaley anteaters, another protected species.

Their case is still pending in court.

The issue of foreigners poaching endangered species has become sensitive in the Philippines, with environmentalists calling for stronger action against the perpetrators.

Following pressure from their governments, the foreigners often have the charges dropped or lessened, allowing them to be deported quickly back home.

Caabay said fisheries experts were still determining what species of turtles were caught, although he stressed they were all protected under local laws.

The turtles were frozen and packed tightly in the cargo hold of the fishing vessel, he said.

Turtles are used in traditional medicine or are served as delicacy in many Asian countries.-Yahoo Philippines