Friday, January 18, 2013

Asia risk analyst doubts China will go to war over Spratlys

Amid the reported Chinese intrusions in the disputed Spratly Islands in West Philippine Sea, a risk strategist on Thursday said he doubts China will actually to go to war over the territories it claims it owns.

What China will do is test the waters and see how far can go intimidating other claimants, Richard Jacobson, operations director of Pacific Strategies and Assessments, told a forum in Makati City organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Pacific Strategies is a business risk consultancy focusing on Asia, with offices in Hong Kong, Manila, Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Milwaukee and Sydney.

“It appears doubtful that China has any intention to go to war for the South China Sea territorial claims,” the analyst noted. “Nevertheless it can be expected of Beijing to test the waters and in many ways see how far they can intimidate other claimants,” Jacobson added.

Apart from China – which claims the whole of South China Sea or West Philippine Sea – and the Philippines, other countries with claiming territorial ownership over the Spratlys are Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. 

The area is believed to be rich in oil and gas resources. 

Jacobson said China also exploited the differences among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As a regional bloc, ASEAN has been proven ineffective in reducing tensions over the disputes especially with China – the world's second largest economy after the United States.

In last year's ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, the regional block failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in its over 40-year history because of the resistance by Cambodia – a close ally of China and last year's ASEAN chairman – toward the inclusion in writing of the escalating tensions between China and the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Philippines and other claimants want to involve ASEAN and United Nations in resolving the disputes, but China insists on bilateral talks with individual claimant counties.

The new ASEAN chairman, Brunei, and new ASEAN Secretary General, Vietnam's Le Luong Minh, vowed to pursue a binding code of conduct among countries with competing claims over South China Sea.

Vietnam and the Philippines have been issuing diplomatic protests against China's incursions into the disputed territories. As part of the protest, Vietnam and the Philippines have refused to stamp China's new passport which features a map of Beijing's claim to almost all of South China Sea.-GMA News (January 17, 2013 8:25PM)

Some 1,000 mid-sized Japan firms eye Thailand

More than 1,000 medium-sized Japanese companies are planning to expand their business and invest in Thailand this year, the highest number for seven years, Kasikornbank said yesterday.

Songpol Chevapanyaroj, executive vice president of KBank, which has joined forces with 15 Japanese partner banks that take care of financial matters for Japanese companies investing in Thailand, said the investment size of each company was estimated at between 50 million bath and 100 million baht. 

This implies an overall investment value of 50 billion baht to 100 billion baht (US$1.6 billion to $3.3 billion) . At present, some 8,000 mid-sized Japanese companies have operations in the Kingdom.

The bulk of Thai investment by Japanese firms in the past has come from larger companies. Songpol said most of the mid-sized Japanese enterprises now interested in Thailand are in high-technology sectors such as vehicle engines and service sectors, as they have confidence in the quality of Thai facilities and do not believe the country will violate their know-how.

Some of the 1,000 medium-sized companies want to shift investment from China to Thailand, he said.

"Thailand in Japanese companies' eyes has completed facilities and infrastructure for operating business, and the country is a gateway to Asean. Start-up companies are able to run businesses rapidly here," he said.

The official visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today is a clear sign that Thailand is a place for Japanese investment, and can help Japanese business reap benefits in Southeast Asia ahead of the Asean Economic Community, he added.

KBank expects to benefit from transactional services thanks to the arrival of a larger number of Japanese companies. The bank will assist Thai business operators through business-matching activities between the two countries, Songpol said.

The bank is, however, concerned about the shortage of manpower in Thailand and whether there will be enough suitable labour to cope with the expected rise in foreign investment.

This issue and the baht's appreciation should be major risk-management factors for business operators in Thailand, Songpol said.

Commenting on the current strengthening of the baht against the US dollar, he expected the trend to continue as long as there was a major influx of capital from abroad.

The volatility of the unit against the dollar is between 50 satang and Bt1, similar to last year's level, he said, adding that the recent appreciation was considered manageable because of the Kingdom's trade balance.

Import value remains higher than export value as infrastructure investment is attracting more machinery and raw materials into the country, besides which the offshore investment by large companies could help ease the baht's volatility, he said.

Small and medium-sized enterprises in the import and export sector are less affected by the baht's strength because there are more SME importers than exporters, he said.

Last year, about 20 per cent of KBank's business customers hedged their foreign-exchange risk. The volume decreased because the baht's appreciation was not considered as serious for business as previously, while some operators considered there was a chance for taking high profits, said the executive.-Asia News Network (January 17, 2013)

US, Japan review defense guidelines amid tension with China

The United States and Japan began on Thursday the revision of defense cooperation guidelines for the first time in 15 years as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a territorial dispute with China and North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.

The revision to the guidelines, which set rules on how Japanese and US forces work together in or near Japan, comes after a hawkish Abe led his Liberal Democratic Party to power in an election last month.

"We would like to discuss Japanese Self Defence Forces' role and US forces role with eyes on the next five, 10, 15 years and on the security environment during those periods," a Defence Ministry official told reporters, without elaborating.

The revision is due because of drastic changes in the security environment over the past 15 years including China's maritime expansion and North Korea's missile development, the Japanese government has said.

North Korea has also twice tested nuclear devices.

Japan is locked in a territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny East China Sea islets called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, with both countries sending patrol ships and planes to areas near the isles.

The review started with a working-level meeting in Tokyo between US and Japanese officials. It will likely take a year or more to complete and coincides with a US "pivot" in diplomatic and security focus to Asia.

"One issue that's prevalent is whether the Abe government will reinterpret the constitution to exercise the right of collective self defense," said Nicholas Szechenyi, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Should that policy decision be taken, it will obviously have an impact on the way the Self Defense Forces and US military coordinate."

Japan recognizes it has what is known as the right of collective self-defense, meaning a right to defend with force allies under attack even when Japan itself is not being attacked.

But Japanese governments have traditionally interpreted the pacifist constitution as banning the actual exercise of the right, creating a sore spot in Tokyo's security ties with Washington. Abe wants to change the interpretation to allow Japan to exercise the right.

The Defense Ministry did not say whether the issue of the right of collective self-defense has been discussed.-Interakasyon (January 17, 2013 11:53PM)

US Navy ship stuck in Tubbataha Reef

A US Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian, ran aground in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines on Thursday, and was stuck on a reef, the Navy said.

No one was injured in the incident, which occurred at 2:25 a.m. local time on Tubbataha Reef about 80 miles (130 km) east-southeast of Palawan Island, in the Philippines, the Navy said. There were no reports that any fuel leaked from the vessel.

The ship, with a crew of 80, had just completed a port call at Subic Bay in the Philippines, when the grounding occurred.

"The crew is currently working to determine the best method of safely extracting the ship," a Navy statement said, adding that the cause of the grounding was under investigation. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed the incident at the reef, which is a world heritage site.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the US Embassy in Manila informed the department about the incident.

"The cause of the grounding is still under investigation. The DFA is closely coordinating this matter with the US Embassy and the DND, the AFP and the PCG," Hernandez said. "We expect that relevant agencies of the Philippine government will conduct their own investigation, assess the impact of the incident on the reef, and recommend any and all actions that must be taken."

 "For the moment, our main concern is to ensue safety of navigation in the area and to mitigate this incident's impact in the reef which is natural and national treasure," he added.

US presence assailed 

The incident drew flak from a lawmaker and leftist activists.

"The continued presence of US troops in the Philippines has attacked our sovereignty in all terrains - land, air, and now our territorial waters. The incident in Tubbataha is simply unforgivable," Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino said in a press statement Thursdau.

He quoted the the Tubbataha management office as allegedly saying that the US Navy ship damaged large portions of the heritage site's coral reefs, thus violating pertinent Philippine laws, including Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009.

He said the US Navy may be fined approximately P12,000 per square meter of damaged corals.

"This case just highlights how the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between our country and the US is opening loopholes that enable the said imperialist country to conduct covert military operations on our territory, without any regard whatsoever on its effects to our people and our natural resources. It is appalling, really appalling," Palatino said.

He wants Congress to investigate the incident.

"This incident shows us how the United States military forces have brazenly disrespected our laws and damaged our country's environment and national treasures," Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment official Clemente Bautista said.

"We denounce how the US military forces responsible for the damage have barred our environmental officials from inspecting the USS Guardian to immediately assess the incident. They are the intruders and violators, yet they still have the gall to disrespect Filipino officials and bar them from doing their environmental duties. This is the height of US military arrogance and brazenness," he claimed.

"What is the US military doing in Tubbataha Reef and its environs? What other environmentally-critical areas has the US military presence damaged or destroyed?" Bautista asked.-ABS-CBN News (January 17, 2013 7:59PM)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cambodian human rights group urges Laos to locate missing activist

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) expressed its deep concern regarding the disappearance of prominent human rights defender Sombath Somphone in Laos, according to the CCHR President’s letter to Yaseng Lao, the Lao Ambassador to Cambodia.

The letter said Sambath Somphone, known for his work educating and training youths to promote sustainable development in Laos, has disappeared since December 15, 2012.

He was last seen by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, as they drove separately from his office at around 5pm on the evenining of December 15, 2012. Sombath Somphone did not return home as planned and so on the morning of December 16, Ng Shui Meng reported him missing to the authorities. 

“Closed-circuit camera footage obtained by his family in the days after his disappearance shows Sombath Somphone being stopped by traffic police on Thadeua Road in Vientiane just after 6pm. The camera footage appears to show Sombath Somphone leaving his car and being accompanied by the police to the police station before later being driven away in a large while vehicle,” Ou Virak, the CCHR president said in his letter, dated January 16, 2013.

Sombath Somphone has now been missing for one month and there is growing concern for his welfare. This concern is accompanied by a widely help belief that Sombath Somphone was targeted as a result of his community development work and that he is being made an example of by the Laotian authorities who are attempting to prevent the growth of civil society in the country, he added.

“CCHR therefore calls upon your Embassy, Ambassador, to do all in its power in order to urge the Laotian authorities to establish an immediate, thorough, impartial and credible investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone and to ensure that justice is delivered to the human rights defender and his family,” said Ou Virak.-Asia News Network (January 17, 2013)

Jakarta Suffering Huge Economic Losses Due to Floods: Kadin

The massive floods that hit Jakarta have paralyzed economic activities and may disturb the capital’s economic growth, an official said on Thursday.

“This is due to absent employees,” Deputy Chairman of the Jakarta Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) Sarman Simanjorang told on Thursday. “As the center of the national economy, Jakarta’s economy has been disturbed by the floods that, up until now, the government still has no clear solution for.”

Sarman claimed that economic losses could reach anywhere from Rp 1 billion to 1.5 billion per hour. 

He added that business people expect the Jakarta administration and the central government to draft a plan with a definite timetable to solve the crisis.

Torrential rain from Wednesday night until Thursday morning had paralyzed the capital, with floodwaters up to one meter deep rendering several roads impassable.    

The TransJakarta busway halted operations on Thursday morning while trains from Bogor were only able to travel to Manggarai as the Kota and Sudirman stations were inundated as well.   

Many workers, including civil servants and employees with companies workers, could not reach their offices.

Sarman declared that the floods could not be tolerated in the capital.

“In this case, we hope the central government will fully support the Jakarta administration in solving [this problem],” Sarman said. “If necessary, the president should establish a united team that coordinates facility and infrastructure development to free Jakarta from flooding.”-The Jakarta Post (January 17, 2013)

15 hostages and 15 terrorist killed in Algerian airstikes

35 hostages and 15 hostage takers were killed in airstrikes by Algerian Army Thursday, as they tried to move from one plant location to another.

Recently, a French News Channel reported that Malaysians, Japanese and Filipinos are among the hostages.

-The Asean News (January 17, 2013 9:51PM)

See more latest update here: REUTERS LIVE COVERAGE

Reports say many hostages killed in Algeria siege

A Mauritanian news agency that has been in constant contact with kidnappers holding dozens of Western hostages in Algeria reported on Thursday that 34 of the captives had been killed in air strikes.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the report by the ANI news agency, which said 14 kidnappers had also been killed in air strikes by the Algerian armed forces, which had surrounded the remote desert gas pumping station where the kidnappers were holed up.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera television carried a similar report, citing its own sources.

ANI quoted a spokesman for the kidnappers as saying they would kill the rest of their captives if the army approached.

Governments around the world were holding emergency meetings to respond to one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades, which sharply raised the stakes in a week-old French campaign against al Qaeda-linked rebels in the Sahara.

An Algerian security source earlier said 25 foreign hostages had escaped the besieged compound, including two Japanese.

The source told Reuters the captors had demanded safe passage out with their prisoners. Algeria has refused to negotiate with what it says is a band of about 20 fighters.

A group calling itself the "Battalion of Blood" says it seized 41 foreigners, including Americans, Japanese and Europeans, after storming the pumping station and employee barracks before dawn on Wednesday.

The attackers have demanded an end to the French military campaign in Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against rebels a week after Paris began firing on militants from the air.-Reuters (January 17, 2013 9:50PM)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Japan's Abe turns to SE Asia to counter China

The last time he was prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe's inaugural foreign trip was to China. In the job again 7 years later and relations with Beijing now chilly, Abe is turning first this time to the rising economic stars of Southeast Asia.

A hawkish Abe wants them to help counterbalance the growing economic and military might of China at a time when Japan needs new sources of growth for its languishing economy and is debating whether to make its own military more muscular.

But experts warn he will have to tread carefully during his visit to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam this week to avoid provoking Beijing by appearing to "contain" China.

Beijing is also scouring the region in search of new investment and trade opportunities and sources of raw materials. But it is also clashing with countries in the region over territorial rows in the South China Sea, as well as with Japan over tiny isles in the East China Sea.

Moreover, Abe may find his hosts keen to avoid upsetting China, now their major economic partner as well.

"The Japanese government is trying to solidify its relations with other countries in the region and strengthen its bargaining power before talking to China," said Narushige Michishita, an associate professor at the National Graduate Institute.

Abe had hoped to go first to Washington this time after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) big win at the polls last month, in order to bolster the security alliance with his country's main ally. But because U.S. President Barack Obama was too busy, he will start with members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Japanese firms are already eyeing Southeast Asia as an alternative to investment in China after a long-simmering feud with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea flared up last year, sparking protests in China and hurting trade.

Abe has made clear that ASEAN's planned integration in 2015, creating a bloc with combined economies worth $2 trillion and a population of 600 million, is a significant lure for a Japanese economy that has been trapped in deflation for decades and whose population is ageing fast and shrinking.

He also says, however, that he wants to go beyond mere economic ties and expand relations in the security field. He is expected to give a policy speech in Jakarta.


In an echo of the push for a broader Asian "arc of freedom and prosperity" that underpinned Abe's foreign policy during his first term in office - which ended when he quit abruptly - the Japanese leader is also likely to refer to his desire for deeper ties with countries that share democratic and other values.

"Japan's path since the end of World War Two has been to firmly protect democracy and basic human rights and stress the rule of law," Abe told NHK public TV on Sunday. "I want to emphasize the importance of strengthening ties with countries that share such values."

One issue that could come up is a maritime "Code of Conduct" that the United States has urged China and its Southeast Asian neighbors to agree on as a step toward reducing tensions.

"Japan should play a more significant, responsible role not only for the prosperity but also stability in this part of the world, especially in its waters," said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat close to Abe.

"Possibly we could work together with Southeast Asia in a possible broad, extended Code of Conduct in the waters to avoid unnecessary and unintended friction or disputes,"said Miyake, now research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.

Abe has said repeatedly that he wants to improve ties with Beijing despite his tough stand over the islands dispute. But some warn his rhetoric could been seen as trying to box in China, provoking Beijing and worrying Southeast Asian countries whose economies are increasingly linked to China's.

"What is the point of making an enemy of China?," said Hitoshi Tanaka, a former diplomat who is now chairman of the Institute for International Strategy in Tokyo. "It is not smart diplomacy in my view and the last thing the nations named as targets of 'values diplomacy' would welcome."


Abe will need to reassure his hosts that he will not let the islands row with China get out of hand despite his hawkish security stance and his desire to revise Japan's take on its wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

"Prime Minister Abe might be seen as revisionist but this should not influence the dispute as all countries in the region would rather focus on economic development than see this conflict deteriorate," said Damrong Kraikuan, director-general of the Thai foreign ministry's East Asia Affairs Department.

"But the South China Sea will not be the highlight of his visit to Bangkok," he added. "Thailand will take note of what Japan has to say and we will listen, but we have to take other countries into consideration to make progress."

Japan's remains a huge economic influence in ASEAN. It is the group's biggest source of foreign direct investment, after the European Union and almost three times the size of China's.

"Japan is concerned about losing out to China in trade and investment," said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank's Office for Regional Economic Integration. "(The visit) sends an important message."

In Vietnam, Japan pledged investments of $4.9 billion in the first 10 months of last year, nearly double the whole of 2011. In Thailand, from January-September, foreign investment almost tripled to around $8.1 billion.

In the group's biggest economy, Indonesia, net direct investment last year looked to be heading for a record amount.

And Japan was ASEAN's second biggest trading partner in 2011, just behind China, according to the group's figures.

Abe's young government has already been pushing hard to improve relations in the region. He sent his foreign minister last week to Brunei, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines. Manila, for one, has welcomed signs of Japan's willingness to play a bigger regional security role.

Nevertheless, Abe will have to tread carefully on the topic of Japan's wartime aggression, which remains a sensitive issue.

His government has said it would stick by a landmark 1995 apology for Japan's wartime aggression.

But Abe also wants to issue a statement of his own and has expressed interest in revisiting a 1993 government statement apologizing for military involvement in kidnapping Asian women to work in wartime military brothels.

"Everyone knows that if the new government were to change the basic line then Japan will be isolated in East Asia because China, Korea and even Southeast Asia will make lots of issues out of a change in interpretation (of the past)," Tanaka said.-ABS-CBN News (January 16, 2013 6:56PM)

WB sees PH growth at more than 6% through 2015

The Philippine economy is expected to continue growing by more than 6% in the next three years, according to a World Bank report.

In its "Global Economic Prospects 2013" report released on Wednesday, the World Bank said it projects a 6.2% growth for the Philippines in 2013; 6.4% in 2014 and 6.3% in 2015. This despite continuing concerns about the global economy's vulnerability to the risks from the euro zone crisis and fiscal policy in the United States. 

The World Bank estimated the Philippines grew by 6% in 2012.

For the East Asia and the Pacific region, the World Bank sees growth at 7.9% this year, reflecting firmer growth in China to 8.4%. This is an improvement from the region's 7.5% growth in 2012. 

"Improved global financial conditions, a gradual pickup of growth in high-income countries and a return to more normal global trade growth are expected to support a gradual strengthening of output in East Asia and the Pacific between 2013 and 2015," the report said. 

The report also noted that "accommodative monetary policy" and and low inflation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines is also a factor.

Major ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, are expected to continue their strong economic growth. 

"Growth in this country group is expected to increase to 5.9% in 2015, as Indonesia continues to grow rapidly (at around 6.6%) and growth remains robust in Malaysia (around 5%), Thailand (4.5%) and the Philippines as well (around 6%)," it said.  

Possible impact of US fiscal impasse

The World Bank cut its outlook for world growth this year. It estimates global gross domestic product will go up 2.4% this year, from 2.3% in 2012.

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim said the global economic recovery remains fragile and uncertain, which clouds the prospects for a return to robust growth.

"Developing countries have remained remarkably resilient thus far. But we can't wait for a return to growth in the high-income countries, so we have to continue to support developing countries in making investments in infrastructure, in health, in education. This will set the stage for the stronger growth that we know that they can achieve in the future."

The growth prospects for the East Asia and Pacific region in 2013 remain vulnerable to the continuation of the euro zone crisis and the fiscal impasse in the United States.

The World Bank estimates a deepening euro zone crisis could cut East Asia and Pacific's regional GDP by 1%. The impact of the US' failure to resolve its fiscal problems could mean a 1.1% cut in East Asia and Pacific's GDP in 2013. 

"Among the EAP developing economies China, Thailand and Indonesia are projected to be most affected by a growth slowdown in high income countries (about  1-1.2% cut in GDP in both 2013 and 2014 relative to the baseline) followed by Vietnam and Malaysia (about 0.8-0.7% cut in the GDP relative to the baseline) due to reduced import demand in high- income countries, much tighter international capital conditions and increased pre-cautionary savings within the region," the World Bank said. -ABS-CBN News (January 16, 2013 7:01PM)

Asian FX glass is half full: HSBC

Expecting the Thai baht to end the year at 29.8 per US dollar, HSBC Global Rearch expects all Asian currencies to gain strength this year with Korean won and Philippine peso as the best performers.

The baht strengthened 0.1 per cent to 29.99 per dollar as of 8.36am after reaching 29.91 earlier, the most since Sept 7, 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

In its research released today, the house said that the outlook for most Asian currencies remains positive with a broader range of funding sources emerging. 

"When we go through the catalogue of events that impacted Asia negatively last year, we feel a little more comfortable in 2013," it said. 

The fear surrounding the Eurozone has subsided in recent months (Chart 1). Meanwhile, China's economy continues to turn up, which should have a positive effect for Asian currencies. 

"We are not suggesting that no risks remain and that developments in the Eurozone, for instance, will no longer impact Asian currencies negatively or that the US fiscal issues are not a concern. That would be misguided. But for now, we can lean towards the optimistic side and focus more on the improving trajectory of growth data rather than the obscure politics of Europe and the US," it added.

A key support for Asia currencies is a continuation of inflows into local markets encouraged by as the region's economic growth, which has navigated through a trough in the third quarter of 2012 and has started to bottom out. This should help to underpin inflows into the region's equity and bond markets, following a strong 2012.

Where relatively strong appreciation pressuresexist, it expects Asian policymakers to remain guarded, even if the suspected foreign exchange policy aim is to limit currency volatility. This suggests that gauging FX intervention and macro-prudential measures will be critical in determining the relative attractiveness of Asian currencies.

HSBC expects this year to be characterised by a "glass-half-full" approach. In this context, it should be easier to fund long Asian currency positions using the highly indebted industrialised currencies like euro, US dollar, Japanese yen and British pound sterling. This is particularly the case with ongoing balance sheet expansion by major central banks and

broadly lower volatility in financial markets 

In this circumstance, it believes the overall structure of the Korean won has changed for the better. The won is expected to end the fourth quarter at 1030 per dollar, from 1,058.73 per dollar as of today. 

Thanks to robust capital account inflows particularly into bonds as the market prepares for a potential sovereign upgrade of the Philippines, the peso is expected to end the year at 39.5 per dollar from 40.55 per dollar on Jan 14, the strongest level since March 2008.-The Nation (January 16, 2013 6:53PM)

New PH map to include 'West PH Sea,' EEZ

'WEST PH SEA' NOW ON MAP. The new official map of the Philippines will include not only the new name for the Philippine-claimed parts of the South China Sea but also the EEZ contested by China

The official map of the Philippines will include in 2013 for the first time the name "West Philippine Sea" for maritime territories claimed in the South China Sea as well as the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This was confirmed on Wednesday, January 16, by officials at the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria), which has already submitted drafts for approval to Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

"Previously, in the old maps, the EEZ was not yet indicated, but for the new maps we will now have to produce, we will have to include the EEZ," Namria's Mapping and Geodesy Department director Ruel Belen told Rappler.

Belen explained that apart from the EEZ and the "West Philippine Sea," updating the national map is "business as usual."

"It's normal for Namria to update information on the map, it just so happened that we needed to put in new information, in this case the West Philippine Sea," he said.

China -- which disputes Philippine sovereignty over certain maritime territories in the area -- ignores the new official name and rejects the full EEZ as drawn by Manila.

Malacañang said last year that calling the area "West Philippine Sea" should be no cause for conflict.

Tasked by Aquino

Namria immediately started working on the new map when President Benigno Aquino III instructed the government agency to do so in September 2012.

Under Administrative Order No. 29, Namria was to publish charts and maps covering areas “around, within, and adjacent to” the Spratlys (Kalayaan Island Group) and Scarborough Shoal (also called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc), both claimed in full or in part by China.

It took a team of 10 experts less than a week to complete the task, but much more time was needed for Malacañang and the DFA to go over the drafts.

One controversial issue was where to put and how to write the text of the new official name "West Philippine Sea."

The text could either be written horizontally but not covering the whole EEZ, or vertically inside the 200-nautical-mile demarcation line that highlights the area of sovereign national territory, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the matter was resolved then the government chose the latter option.

"They instructed us that this is where the [name] 'West Philippine Sea' should be placed," said Joaquin Borja, officer-in-charge of Namria's Cartography Division.

Another sticky point was the new official name itself.

"The former name of that part of the world is South China Sea, so when we name it as such, West Philippine Sea, definitely there will be a not-so-good reaction from the party," Namria chief administrator Dr. Peter Tiangco told Rappler.

Tiangco said that in any case Namria did as it was told: "Technically we don't have any problem, it's our bread and butter."

China already has own new map

Namria submitted their final drafts to Malacañang and the DFA a few weeks ago, but the government has still not given the final approval.

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said on Monday, January 14, that the mapmakers will have to use our laws to draw up an official map of the country [so that] all parts of our national territory will be included."

"It is very clear that based on UNCLOS, we have the 200 nautical miles of EEZ and that area in the West Philippine Sea is clearly part of our national territory," Hernandez noted when asked if the EEZ would be included in the new official map.

The DFA is now mulling a protest against China after Beijing announced that it was set to publish a new official map of the South China Sea that will include areas claimed by the Philippines.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday, January 11, that the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation had approved new national maps including for the first time the more than 130 islands and islets that Beijing claims in the South China Sea.

The editor of the maps said that the charts "will be very significant in enhancing Chinese people's awareness of national territory, safeguarding China's marine rights and interests and manifesting China's political diplomatic stance."

In late November 2012, China increased tensions with other claimant countries in the South China Sea after Beijing started issuing its citizens new biometric passports with a map based on the controversial 9-Dash line.

The Philippines and Vietnam refused to stamp the travel documents.-Rappler (January 16, 2013 9:28PM)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Phl’s support to rearm Japan surprises China

China is surprised that the Philippines supports a US proposal to rearm Japan.

In an editorial, state-owned newspaper China Daily said: “The Philippines, which suffered Japanese atrocities during World War II, has surprisingly supported the revival of militarism in Japan, which has the tacit backing of the United States.”

The editorial said the US is playing with fire by re-arming Japan and instigating territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The US may be willing to propel Japan’s territorial ambitions – a dangerous move to say the least – to contain China’s rise, but it cannot afford to push thousands of US soldiers into another conflict,” read the editorial.

The belligerence of some Southeast Asian countries in their territorial disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is making matters worse, the editorial said.

The Philippines and Japan agreed on Thursday to strengthen policy dialogue and enhance maritime cooperation.

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said after meeting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in Manila that stronger cooperation is necessary because of security changes in the region.

Del Rosario said he and Kishida discussed Japanese assistance to the Philippines in strengthening the capacity of the Philippine Coast Guard through human resource development and augmentation of much needed communications system equipment for maritime safety.

The acquisition of multi-role response vessels is undergoing serious consideration, he added.

China is seeking to assert its claims to Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands.

Territorial disputes between the Philippines and China over claims to territories in the West Philippine Sea increased in 2012.

It involved a standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal within Philippine territory.-The Philippine Star (January 15, 2013 12:00AM)

China to survey islands disputed with Japan — Xinhua

China is to carry out a geographical survey of islands in the East China Sea at the center of a bitter dispute with Japan, state media said Tuesday.

The survey of the Diaoyu islands -- known as Senkakus in Japan, which controls them -- was part of a program to map China's "territorial islands and reefs," the Xinhua news agency said, citing a state geographical agency.

The maritime dispute, which has simmered off and on for years, intensified last year when the Japanese government nationalized islands in the small chain it did not already own, triggering anger and demonstrations in China.

The protests were allowed to take place by the Communist authorities in Beijing, who use nationalism to bolster their claims to legitimacy, particularly regarding Japan, which occupied parts of China in the 20th century.

The mapping exercise was part of China's efforts to "safeguard its maritime rights and interests", Xinhua said, without saying when it would take place or making clear whether it would involve activities on land, as opposed to sea-based surveying.

It quoted Zhang Huifeng, an official with China's National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, acknowledging that there could be "difficulties."

"There are some difficulties in landing on some islands to survey, and in surveying and mapping the surrounding sea area of the islands, because some countries infringed and occupied these islands of China," he said.

Both Tokyo and Beijing have scrambled fighter jets to the area in recent weeks in a further escalation of the row, though no actual clashes have taken place.

China's armed forces have been instructed to raise their fighting ability in 2013 and "should focus closely on the objective of being able to fight and win a battle," state media said.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Monday that Japan will deploy two more patrol ships to boost its defence of the islands and has conducted its first drill simulating the recapture of an isle seized by enemy forces.

Xinhua said that the survey was part of a program started in 2009 and by the end of 2012, China had completed the identification and "precise positioning" of approximately 6,400 islands.

In September, China announced the "base points and baselines of the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands," filing details with the United Nations as part of the diplomatic sparring over the issue.

Within days, China's State Oceanic Administration released geographic information about the islands in what Xinhua called a "new move to affirm China's sovereignty."

The data included "the exact longitude and latitude of the Diaoyu Island and 70 of its affiliated islets", along with "location maps, three-dimension effect graphs and sketch maps for the Diaoyu Islands," Xinhua added.

Last month, Beijing also submitted to the UN information on the outer limits of its continental shelf in a bid to bolster its claim to the islands.

China also has disputes with several Southeast Asian countries over islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Japan, meanwhile, has a dispute with South Korea over small islets in waters about halfway between their countries.

Tokyo also has a long-running dispute with Russia over northern islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War.-GMA News (January 15, 2013 5:27PM)

Japan, US fighter planes in joint drill: official

US and Japanese fighter jets on Tuesday, January 15, carried out joint air exercises, an official said, days after Chinese and Japanese military planes shadowed each other near disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The five-day exercise, off the southwest of the archipelago, involves six US FA-18 fighters and around 90 American personnel, along with four Japanese F-4 jets and an unspecified number of people, the official said.

The drill is being carried out over Pacific waters off the coast of Shikoku, the fourth largest of Japan's islands.

It comes weeks after hawkish new premier Shinzo Abe won an election landslide following campaign promises to re-invigorate Tokyo's security alliance with Washington and take a more robust line against Beijing.

It also comes as a stand-off between China and Japan over the sovereignty of the disputed East China Sea islands shows no signs of letting up.

Tokyo reportedly scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to head off Chinese military planes in an area adjoining the airspace of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.

A Chinese defense ministry official later said two J-10 fighters flew to the area to monitor two Japanese F-15 fighters that had trailed a Chinese Y-8 aircraft, according to China's official Xinhua news agency said.

The row between Asia's two largest economies over the uninhabited, but potentially resource-rich islands blistered in September when Tokyo nationalized three of them.

Chinese government ships have repeatedly gone to the archipelago's territorial waters since then.

Beijing insists it is simply patrolling islands it has owned since ancient times. Commentators say China wants to prove that Japan does not have effective control over the chain and draw Tokyo into concessions.

On Sunday, Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force carried out the nation's first military exercise designed to recapture "a remote island invaded by an enemy force".

Some 300 troops took part in the 40-minute drill with 20 warplanes and more than 30 military vehicles at the Narashino Garrison in Chiba, southeast of Tokyo.

Some 80 personnel from the SDF's First Airborne Brigade rappelled from helicopters to demonstrate maneuvers to counter an enemy invasion of a remote island.

There was no outward indication that the joint Japan-US exercise, which began Monday and runs until Friday, was aimed at China, and the area being used was a long way from any contentious zone.

The official told AFP the drill had previously been staged from Iwakuni in the far west of Honshu, but had been moved to Miyazaki in the south of Kyushu out of consideration for people living near the base.

While the security alliance receives wide public support in Japan, there are tensions between bases and their host communities, particularly around noise and the risk of accidents, as well as associated crime.-Rappler (January 15, 2013 4:34PM)

Nike investigates Indonesian suppliers over wage abuse

US sporting goods giant Nike said Tuesday it was investigating claims by labor activists that its manufacturers in Indonesia were trying to evade paying its workers the minimum wage.

"Nike takes these claims seriously and company representatives are investigating the claims," global corporate communications director Greg Rossiter told AFP.

Nike's code of conduct is "very clear," he said, adding the company expected workers producing for Nike to be "paid at least the minimum wage required by country law and provided legally mandated benefits," such as holidays, leave and severance pay.

Following massive protests, Jakarta workers won a 44 percent minimum wage rise to 2.2 million rupiah ($228) a month, effective on January 1, and other provincial governments are following suit at different rates.

Minimum wages are regulated at provincial and district levels in Indonesia but authorities have mulled giving exemption to factories deemed unable to afford the hikes.

Jim Keady, head of the US-based NGO Education for Justice (EFJ), has said at least six Indonesian suppliers had applied for exemptions.

After the EFJ visited the western Javanese city of Sukabumi, it reported a Nike supplier there had won approval from the district wage council to pay only 1.1 million rupiah, instead of the new minimum wage of 1.2 million rupiah.

"Nike unfortunately exercises imperialist values – values that run counter to the commitments to democracy and human rights," Keady said.

Surya Tjandra, director of Indonesia's Trade Union Rights Center, said while those seeking exemptions appeared to be Nike's local contractors, the company was ultimately responsible for ensuring its code of conduct was upheld.

"Factory workers are paid poorly in Indonesia. They barely have enough to pay for food, what more health, school and other living expenses," Tjandra said.

"Nike should not only be concerned about making profits, which often come at the expense of workers' welfare."

Indonesia is the world's third-biggest producer of Nike footwear and apparel, after Vietnam and China, with 40 factories in the country employing 171,000 workers producing Nike goods.

Despite fears that wage increases will encourage businesses to move to neighboring countries like Vietnam, Indonesian factory workers remain some of the lowest-paid in Asia, often earning less than workers in China or India.-GMA News (January 15, 2013 4:21PM)

New Species of Flying Frog Discovered in Vietnam

An Australian researcher who discovered a new species of flying frog near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and named it after her mother said on Tuesday it was a rare find so close to such a big city.

Helen's Flying Frog was first discovered by Jodi Rowley, an amphibian expert from Sydney's Australian Museum, in 2009 during a field trip to the forests fringing the city previously known as Saigon.

Rowley initially thought the tree-dwelling flying frog, so named for the huge webbed feet that allow it to glide or parachute across the forest canopy, was a familiar species when she saw it sitting on a log beside a path.

It was not until a later trip, when she saw a specimen of the original type of frog in another part of Vietnam, that she realized her creature was something quite different.

"The new species has a bright white belly and white whites of the eyes, whereas the species that I thought it was — its closest relative — has a lemon yellow belly and yellow whites of the eyes," Rowley said.

"There's also differences in the color of the webbing, color of the thighs, and we did look at body type as well so it does seem to be bigger than the other species."

Molecular analysis confirmed Rowley's suspicions and she had the honor of naming the new species rhacophorus helenae or Helen's Flying Frog after her mother, who had recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She said the "big, impressive" species, which is 10 centimeters long was a surprising find in the low-lying evergreen forest surrounded by rice paddies on the fringes of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's most populous city.

"What's rare about this discovery in particular is the fact that I found the lone individual less than 90 kilometers from the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, one of the biggest cities in Southeast Asia," Rowley said.

Researchers are now working to establish whether Helen's frog is endangered. Specimens have only been seen in the lowland forests of southern Binh Thuan and Dong Nai provinces and Rowley said there were real fears for its survival.

"We are worried particularly because it is a lowland forest and it's the same kind of forest [as where] the Javan rhinoceros went extinct in 2011 as well. Habitat loss is a huge issue," she said.

Rowley's discovery, made with researchers from Ho Chi Minh city's University of Science, was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Herpetology.-The Jakarta Globe (January 15, 2013)

China tells its army: 'Prepare to fight'

File:Chinese Army's Extreme Makeover.jpg
China's armed forces have been instructed to raise their fighting ability in 2013, state media reported Tuesday, amid heightened tensions with Japan over disputed islands.

In 2013, "the PLA and the Chinese People's Armed Police Force should focus closely on the objective of being able to fight and win a battle," according to a report in the overseas edition of the People's Daily newspaper, the Communist Party organ.

The directive came in a document released at the beginning of the year by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff on military training in 2013, said the report, republished from a website linked to a PLA newspaper.

To prepare for combat, the armed forces must also "vigorously strengthen real-combat-like military training" and intensify efforts to cultivate high-calibre military personnel, the report said.

The report made no mention of the dispute with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan as the Senkakus but also claimed by China as the Diaoyus.

A report in state media early last year on military objectives for 2012 did not call on the military to be ready for combat and was more general, focusing on issues including training reform and promoting information technology.

The maritime dispute, which has simmered off and on for years, intensified last year when the Japanese government nationalised islands in the small chain it did not already own, triggering anger and protests in China.

Both sides have scrambled fighter jets to the area in recent weeks in a further escalation, though no actual clashes have taken place.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Monday that Japan will deploy two more patrol ships to boost its defence of the islands and has conducted its first drill simulating the recapture of an isle seized by enemy forces.

Japan occupied parts of China for several decades in the first half of the 20th century, and the countries have fought two wars, one from 1894-95 and the second from 1937-1945, which was part of the broader Second World War.

China has become increasingly assertive over its territorial claims in disputes with its neighbours as its economic and military power have expanded.

The Asian giant already has the world's largest armed forces and its defence budget has seen double-digit increases every year for much of the last decade, rattling the United States, which is forging ahead with plans to expand its own military power in Asia.

China has made advances in satellite technology and invested in advanced weaponry including its first aircraft carrier but it remains technologically far behind the United States.-Interaksyon (January 15, 2013 2:34PM)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thailand, Cambodia negotiate prisoner swap

The Thai Justice Ministry will seek to have the two nationalists - Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattana-Paiboon - detained in Cambodia quickly transferred to Thailand while Cambodia wants two of its prisoners sent back in exchange.

Korbkiat Kasiwiwat, deputy director-general of the Corrections Department, said that while those detained for espionage are normally not included, swap negotiations are ongoing through the diplomatic channel and with representatives from the Justice Ministry, police, the Office of the Attorney-General and the Criminal Court, chaired by Justice permanent secretary Kittiphong Kittayarak.

As Ratree had served one-third of her sentence in Cambodia and been given a royal pardon, she was now eligible to return to Thailand, said Korbkiat, while Veera's sentence had been reduced by six months. However, he had not yet served the one-third period of his eight-year sentence, equivalent to two years and 10 months.

Charnchao Chaiyanukij, deputy permanent secretary of Justice, confirmed that Cambodia had requested that two Cambodian prisoners be exchanged for the two Thais.

In a related development, the Democrat Party spokesperson urged the Thai government to pull out from the World Heritage Site Committee to protect Thai sovereignty over the disputed Preah Vihear Temple along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, the party's spokesperson, accused the Yingluck Shinawatra administration of not wanting to protect the Kingdom's national sovereignty.

"The stance of the government is not strong in fighting against Cambodia. We want the government to immediately pull out."

Suan Dusit Poll, meanwhile, revealed that a majority of respondents want the government to do its best to protect the dignity and rights of Thailand over the Preah Vihear Temple while they also want the opposition to avoid politicising the issue.

Between January 9 to 12, 1,204 respondents from across the country were asked questions. About 54 per cent said they have some understanding regarding the temple dispute. Only 9 per cent said they did not know anything.

More than 66 per cent said the government should do its best while 14 per cent said the government should consider bilateral relations and the impact of people along the border area.

Asked what the citizens should do, 45 per cent said people should follow the news carefully and not panic.

In another related development, Pheu Thai Party spokesperson Prompong Nopparit denied that the party and the government had sought the release of both Veera and Ratree in exchange for some undue benefits for Cambodia.-Asia News Network (January 14, 2013)

China bullying won't help renminbi become int'l currency

Bullying neighbors will frustrate China's efforts to position the renminbi as an international currency like the US dollar, according to a former adviser of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California in Berkeley, said the world's second-largest economy must smoothen its relationship with neighbors since any diplomatic strains would take longer for other countries to accept the RMB.

"I think it is in China’s interest for renminbi internationalization to succeed. It will be a convenience for Chinese banks and firms to have their own currency [used for] cross-border transactions. To let territorial disputes get in the way obviously would not be good," Eichengreen said on the sidelines of a lecture on the Chinese currency at the Asian Development Bank last Friday.

"Hopefully the tensions in the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea] will resolve themselves," he said.

China has territorial rows with Japan, the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia.

It has been claiming virtually the entire West Philippine Sea, including the coastal waters of its neighbors, citing its “historical inheritance” and the nine-dash line that may be found on ancient Chinese maps.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has forecast that China will grow at an average of 6.6 percent through 2030 and can overtake the US economy by the middle of this decade.

But Eichengreen said it is "implausible" for China to grow at that pace given that its labor force will shrink in absolute numbers within that time span whereas the US is estimated to grow its workforce by 1 percent annually.

He said large and fast-growing economies will slow down and this happens also in countries with high old-age dependencies and with undervalued exchange rates.

Scale, stability, liquidity

But the size of the Chinese economy alone is not enough for the renminbi to be accepted as a replacement to the US dollar as the currency for trade and foreign reserves, Eichengreen said.

A currency has to have scale, stability and should be liquid before it can reach the status that the US dollar had achieved after World War II, he said.

Eichengreen said the greenback was not used at all in international trade and finance prior to 1914, when the British pound sterling held sway.

But after 10 years, the US government was able to create a lender of last resort - the US Federal Reserve - that allowed its banks to branch abroad, he said, adding that by 1924, more bonds were denominated in dollars.

Before the renminbi can have scale, China's growth must be consistent as it is prone to slowdowns and inflationary shocks every now and then, Eichengreen said, adding that its internationally traded goods must be also properly valued.

For the renminbi to become liquid, China has to grow its capital markets like that of the major economies in the world, he said, citing the US bond market, which is eight times larger than China, he said.

Given the constraints and challenges China faces, it may take a quite a while for the renminbi to be accepted as an international currency that can dislodge the US dollar or be used alongside the yen and the euro, he added.-Interaksyon (January 14, 2013 11:23AM)

New ASEAN chair Brunei to seek South China Sea code of conduct

Brunei will pursue a binding code of conduct among competing South China Sea claimants as a top priority during its ASEAN chairmanship, officials said Monday.

The tiny, oil-rich Muslim sultanate has assumed the chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2013 at a time when tension over sweeping Chinese claims to the sea have rattled the region.

"Brunei sees this as a key threat to regional security and would like to resolve the issue through dialogue with all claimants, including China," said a foreign ministry official, who declined to be named.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also have claims to parts of the sea, one of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

Simmering tensions over the issue have risen in the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims.

Cambodia's 2012 ASEAN chairmanship was marked by sharp regional discord over the affair.

The rancor led to unprecedented infighting at an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh in July, which ended for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history without a joint communique.

As chair, Cambodia—a close China ally—was accused of resisting efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to take a more aggressive position against the Chinese.

Efforts to secure a legally binding code of conduct involving ASEAN and China have floundered for years amid Beijing's insistence on handling disputes bilaterally with individual countries, while ASEAN wants to speak as a group.

China and ASEAN signed a broad declaration in 2002 pledging the parties would handle disputes peacefully and not take actions that threaten peace and stability.

During an ASEAN summit in November, the organization called on China to get serious in working toward a binding code of conduct.

Brunei will host ASEAN leader summits in April and October.-GMA News (January 14, 2013 7:54PM)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

PH orders embassy in Beijing to verify new China map that highlights disputed islands

The government has ordered the Philippine embassy in Beijing to verify reports that
China has already published new maps that include disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea that are also being claimed by Manila. 

“We are aware of the reports released by Chinese media which is why the Department of Foreign Affairs
will be asking our embassy in Beijing to verify that particular report before we make any further comment," deputy presodential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday. 

According to Xinhua, China's official press agency, the maps also featured islands in East China Sea being claimed by Japan. 

Quoting information from China's National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, Xinhua said the country had included in its new vertical-format maps over 130 islands and islets in the South China, "most fo which have not been featured on previous maps of China."  

Also, the report said that a "zoomed illustration" of the Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands being claimed by Japan had been included in the bottom-left corner of the maps "displaying their positional relations and those of their affiliated islets with the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. 

In the old horizontal maps, only bigger islands such as the Xisha, Zhongsha, and Nansha islands were featured.-Interaksyon (January 13, 2013 3:58PM)