Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Japan protest over China ship's radar action

A Chinese navy frigate has locked its weapon-targeting radar on a Japanese ship, Tokyo says, amid mounting tensions over a territorial row.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the incident happened on 30 January near islands claimed by both nations in the East China Sea.

He said this had prompted Tokyo to lodge a formal protest with Beijing.

The row, over islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, has escalated in recent months.

Taiwan also claims the island chain (known as Diaoyutai in Taipei), which is controlled by Japan.

Last week, tensions between Tokyo and Beijing appeared to be easing after a Japanese delegation met senior Chinese leaders and both sides later expressed hopes that relations could improve, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo reports.

But on Monday China sent patrol ships back in to the disputed waters around the islands, our correspondent adds.

'Dangerous situation'

"On 30 January, something like fire-control radar was directed at a Japan Self-Defence Maritime escort ship in the East China Sea," Mr Onodera told reporters on Tuesday.

The minister said Japan's Yuudachi vessel and the Chinese frigate were about 3km (one mile) apart at the time, Japan's Kyodo News reports.

Asked about the delay in filing the protest, Mr Onodera said it took the ministry until Tuesday to determine that a fire-control radar had indeed locked on the Japanese ship.

He added that a Japanese military helicopter was also targeted with a similar type of radar by another Chinese frigate on 19 January.

"Directing such radar is very abnormal. We recognise it would create a very dangerous situation if a single misstep occurred," he said.

Radars use radio waves to detect the intended target and then guide missiles or other weapons.

China's UN move

Also on Tuesday, the Chinese ambassador to Japan rebuffed an earlier protest over continuing Chinese patrols off the disputed islands, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

Ambassador Cheng Yonghua said the islands and the surrounding waters were China's "inherent territory".

The dispute over their ownership of the islands has continued for years, but it reignited in 2012 when the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from their private Japanese owner.

The move triggered diplomatic protests from Beijing and Taipei, and sparked small public protests in China, affecting some Japanese businesses operating in the country.

Chinese government ships have since sailed many times through what Japan says are its territorial waters around the islands.

Late last year, a Chinese government plane also flew over the islands in what Japan called a violation of its airspace.

In response, Tokyo has moved to increase military spending for the first time in a decade.

The eight uninhabited islands and rocks lie close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits.

In December, Beijing submitted to the UN a detailed explanation of its claims to the disputed islands.

A UN commission of geological experts will examine China's submission but does not have the authority to resolve conflicting claims.-British Broadcasting Corporation (February 05, 201312:21 GMT)

Indonesian Economy Grows 6.23% in 2012 Despite Weak Exports

Indonesia reported marginally lower-than-expected economic growth of 6.23 percent in 2012, a year in which robust domestic demand and investment outweighed declining exports and a trade deficit that put pressure on the country's currency.

The annual rate for expansion of gross domestic product (GDP) was slightly below 2011's pace of 6.5 percent and just under the 6.3 percent median forecast in a Reuters poll.

In the final quarter of 2012, the annual growth rate was 6.11 percent, compared with 6.2 percent in the previous quarter and in the poll forecast.

On a quarter-to-quarter basis, the economy contracted 1.45 percent in October-December, according to the statistics bureau, or more than the poll forecast of a 1.3 percent drop. In the three preceding years, Indonesia also reported a contraction in the fourth quarter on an seasonally-unadjusted basis.

In each of the past three years, Indonesia has had annual growth of more than 6 percent, spurring global interest in the resource-rich country that is Southeast Asia's largest economy. Investors have been drawn by the resources, a rising middle class that's consuming more and a young population.

It's uncertain if Indonesia can continue to have growth above 6 percent this year.

Gundy Cahyadi, economist at OCBC Bank in Singapore, said "for now" he is maintaining an estimate of 6.5 percent GDP growth in 2013. But he added that December trade data released last week included a disconcerting drop in capital goods imports and it would be "worrying trend" if these keep dropping.

During 2012, Indonesia has robust investment and consumption. Auto sales set a new record of 1 million vehicles despite regulations requiring higher down payments.

Domestic consumption, which accounts more than 50 percent of the economy, helped the country attract a record Rp 221 trillion ($22.8 billion) in foreign direct investment last year, a 26 percent increase from 2011.

Consumer-based firms such as L'Oreal, Pirelli , Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor are among those expanding their business in Indonesia.

Substantial concerns

There are substantial economic concerns. Current account deficits have been large, there are large infrastructure woes and economists say the government must slash costly fuel subsidies this year. In 2012, Indonesia spent Rp 211 trillion on fuel subsidies.

If fuel costs are raised, inflation will rise from 2012's tame 4.32 percent level, which was kept down because the government scrapped a plan to hike fuel prices early in the year.

Low inflation has let Bank Indonesia keep its benchmark rate at a record low of 5.75 percent for 11 months.

Analysts expect the central bank will to hold its policy rate at a Feb. 12 meeting, as January inflation stayed benign at 4.57 percent.

In 2012, Indonesia reported its first annual trade deficit of $1.63 billion, after weak demand hamper exports to have fallen 6.6 percent. While imports stayed strong as a result of the abundance FDI and increased fuel consumption.

High fuel imports have raised concern among offshore investors about the current account deficit and the rupiah .

Rupiah was traded at 9,689/9,691 per dollar at 0439 GMT, marginally firmer after Tuesday's GDP data release. - The Jakarta Globe (February 05, 2013)

Filipinos most optimistic in Asean, 2nd worldwide -- Nielsen

Filipino consumers are the most optimistic in Asean and the second most optimistic globally, the latest report on consumer confidence of market research firm Nielsen showed.

In Nielsen’s fourth-quarter 2012 Consumer Confidence Index, consumer confidence in the Philippines was at 119 in the fourth quarter of last year, just below India’s 121. An index of more than 101 indicates optimism while an index of 100 indicates pessimism.

Filipino consumers’ optimism rose by a point from 118 in the third quarter of last year.

“While consumers around the world struggled with increasing economic concerns, consumers in Philippines continue to have a positive outlook. This optimism can be attributed to the strong performance of the economy in 2012 which was driven by the real estate, construction, manufacturing, services, and trade sectors,” Nielsen Philippines managing director Stuart Jamieson said.

Latest National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) data showed that household consumption rose 6.9 percent for the whole of 2012, bolstering consumer spending that helped lift the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 6.6 percent, exceeding government targets.

Amid an improving domestic economy, more Filipinos are looking forward to landing better jobs, with 76 percent of respondents—4 percent more than in the third quarter—claiming “employment opportunities would be good or excellent in the next 12 months.”

“Filipino respondents’ optimism for local job prospects is also among the world’s highest,” Nielsen said.

Still, job security remains the Filipinos’ foremost concern, followed by work-life balance, health, the economy, parent’s welfare/happiness, and increasing utility bills, Nielsen said.

Also, half of the Filipino respondents said they experienced a “recession” in the fourth quarter, less than the 56 percent during the previous quarter and 59 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Given a still fragile global economic outlook, Filipino consumers are saving up, with 65 percent putting spare cash into savings during the fourth quarter, although 2 percent more said they were saving money during the third quarter.

Confidence in personal finances was at 77 percent, one-percent lower than the previous quarter.

Given the booming stock and other financial markets, 21 percent said they have invested in shares of stock/mutual funds, up two percent from the third quarter.

With most Filipino receiving their bonuses in the fourth quarter, 51 percent of the Filipino consumers polled then said it was a “good time” to purchase the things they need and want over the next 12 months. “This is an increase of five points from the previous quarter’s result and the highest confidence registered for 2012,” Nielsen said.

And what did most Filipinos buy or allocate their money for towards the end of last year? According to Nielsen, purchase of new technology products rose one percent to 35 percent; purchase of new clothes increased by 2 percent to 34 percent; paying off credit cards and debt declined 1 percent to 27 percent; spending intentions for holidays and vacations went up 1 percent to 28 percent; and out-of-home entertainment grew 5 percent to 18 percent.

Among the 58 countries covered by the report, eight of the 10 countries with most confident consumers were in Asia: India, the Philippines, Indonesia (with an index of 117), Thailand (115), United Arab Emirates (113), Saudi Arabia (112), China (108) and Malaysia (103).

Brazil (with an index of 111) and Norway (102) rounded up the top 10 countries with most optimistic consumers.

The Philippines “joins other high population markets with robust economies such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and China out of global recession and in their optimism about the future,” Nielsen said.

Consumers in the Philippines join their Asia-Pacific peers as among the more prolific savers. “Asia-Pacific consumers are at least two times more likely to have spare cash than any other region in the world. Majority (58 percent) report that any spare cash is funneled into savings,” Nielsen said.

Consumers in Asia-Pacific are also more “cautious spenders.” “To save on household spending, Asia-Pacific consumers cut back on new clothes, out-of-home entertainment, and switched to cheaper grocery brands,” Nielsen said.

The country with the least optimistic consumers is crisis-hit Greece, whose consumer confident index is at 35. Seven others among the 10 least optimistic countries are in Europe: Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Spain, France and Slovakia—reflecting declining consumer confidence spread throughout Europe amid the debt problems of most economies in the continent.

South Korea and Japan also have among the least confident consumers, with index scores of 38 and 59, respectively. Nielsen noted that these two Asian economic giants are export-dependent, hence “more exposed to precarious global conditions.”

On the whole, global consumer confidence during the fourth quarter of last year indexed at 91, one point lower than in the third quarter but two points more than the fourth quarter of 2011.

Of the 58 countries measured by Nielsen, confidence went down in 33 countries, was flat in six countries, and rose in 19 countries, when compared with the previous quarter.

“Consumers around the world grappled with increasing economic concerns as the Euro zone crisis spread from troubled to core countries, the United States fiscal cliff threat loomed large, and China’s rising inflation sparked monetary policy action,” said Dr. Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen.

Following last year’s economic difficulties, “consumers are proceeding with caution in 2013 and showed renewed discretionary spending restraint in the last quarter amid further global economic and political uncertainty,” Bala said.

In Asia-Pacific, recession sentiments have improved, Nielsen said.

The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions was established in 2005 to measure consumer confidence, major concerns and spending intentions among over 29,000 respondents with Internet access in 58 countries.

The latest round of the survey was conducted between November 10 and November 27, 2012.-Interaksyon (February 05, 2013 3:55PM)

China to invest more than $1.6B in Malaysia steel, port

Chinese firms will invest more than $1.6 billion to build steel, aluminum and palm oil processing plants and expand a port in a new industrial zone on the Malaysian east coast, Malaysia announced on Tuesday.

The Chinese spending is part of total joint investments of 10.5 billion ringgit ($3.5 billion) expected by 2020 in the new Kuantan Industrial Park as Beijing moves to deepen its ties with the Southeast Asian nation.

China has rapidly moved to expand its diplomatic, cultural and economic influence in Southeast Asia in recent years, from funding mega-dams and casinos in the Mekong region to pushing its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The signing comes a day after Malaysia was criticized by Human Rights Watch for what the group said was the deportation to China of six asylum seekers from the Uighur ethnic minority.

A dozens-strong Chinese delegation led by Jia Qinglin, a senior member of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, was also to sign an agreement on Tuesday to set up the first major Chinese university campus on foreign soil in Malaysia.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia had been "ahead of the curve" in enhancing economic and diplomatic cooperation with China.

"Over the past decade, the world has come to terms with a model where China's need for resources has driven new patterns of trade and influence," he said at the ground-breaking ceremony for the industrial park in the eastern state of Pahang.

"Now it is beginning to recognize that Chinese innovation and domestic demand will prove just as potent a force in the global economy."

Chinese firm Guangxi Beibu International Port Group will partner with Malaysia's IJM Corporation Berhad in a 3 billion ringgit investment to deepen and expand Kuantan port.

Guangxi Beibu will also lead investments of 5 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) to build the steel, aluminum and palm oil plants. Those investments would be 100 percent owned by Chinese firms, Ong Ka Ting, Najib's special envoy to China, told Reuters.

Joint investments in a "master" project to develop the industrial zone would amount to another 2.5 billion ringgit.

"The relationship with China is getting better and better," Ong said.

Growing trade, investment

China is Malaysia's largest export market, and accounts for a sixth of its imports. Najib said Malaysia expected more than 1 billion ringgit of Chinese foreign direct investment this year, with two-way trade expected to grow about 10 percent to $100 billion.

China's Xiamen university announced in January that it would open its first overseas campus in Malaysia. State news agency Bernama said it would initially take in 10,000 students, a third of them Chinese nationals.

Human Rights Watch condemned on Monday what it called Malaysia's "secret forced return" to China of six Uighurs with pending asylum claims. Rights groups have accused Beijing of detaining and intimidating ethnic Uighurs in the far western region of Xinjiang for speaking out on rights abuses following riots in the regional capital three years ago.

"They (China) are running these guys down, they are doing it in Southeast Asia with the support of governments like Malaysia. Are these quid pro quo arrangements?" said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the group.

The prime minister's office did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations. Ong also declined to comment.-GMA News (February 05, 2013 9:15PM)

Monday, February 04, 2013

Philippines, the new Indonesia?

As the Philippines continues to register strong GDP growth figures, many economists are increasingly pairing the country with the robust growth of its neighbor, Indonesia.

Both countries have shown remarkable economic growth against a sluggish global economy, almost catching up with Asia’s other economic powerhouses, China and India.

The two neighbors are considered Asia's rising economic stars, have stock markets that have recently soared to historic highs, and among the most populous in Asia.

In previous years, Indonesia -- a nation of about 240 million people, mostly Muslims -- has been attracting the second biggest chunk of foreign direct investments (US$19.2 billion in 2012) flowing into Southeast Asia, next to Singapore's $54 billion). The Philippines -- a nation of 100 million people, mostly Christians -- remained a laggard, capturing only $1.5 billion.

With a big push for a credit rating upgrade this 2013 for the Philippines -- currently at one level below investment grade -- the Philippines is hoping to be in the same level as Indonesia, which has been bumped up to investment grade.

Fast growing economies

“Indonesia has been growing consistently for the last 25 to 30 years. Even during the financial crisis, there continues to be a really high growth so, if there is any single country we would compete with, it would be Indonesia,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M Balisacan at a recent press briefing anouncing the Philippine’s 2012 economic performance.

The Philippines grew 6.6% in 2012, surpassing the government's own target of 5% to 6% for 2012. The country also registered a 4th quarter growth of 6.8%.

This growth, which was well above the expansion of 3.9% in 2011, boosted the country’s position among its ASEAN neighboring putting it on par with Indonesia, which grew 6.5% in 2011.

In the 3rd quarter of 2012, the Philippines recorded a growth of 7.1%, replacing Indonesia as the second-fastest in Asia next to China's 7.7% and the fastest in Southeast Asia. Indonesia, which dropped down to 3rd position, registered a growth of 6.2%.

While Indonesia is due to announce its GDP data on February 5, the country’s central bank predicts that Indonesia’s economy could grow by 6.3% in 2012, slowed down by weak export performance caused by the global economic slowdown -- an experience the Philippines shares.

'New tigers'

In a recent report, business news site Market Watch christened the Philippines and Indonesia as "the new tigers" or economies that have been overlooked in the past and are now "poised to drive future growth and grab more economic power."

"In an economically vibrant Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines stand out as the region’s 'New Tigers' with the potential to leave a bigger imprint on global growth for years to come while the developed world struggles with excess debt and traditional regional heavyweights China and India lose momentum," said the report.

Market Watch stated that the two countries shared similar characteristics that have helped boost it economic ranking among its neighbors;

  1. Large, young and dynamic populations
  2. Relatively low levels of national debt
  3. Expanding middle classes
  4. Diversifying economies
  5. Stable, elected governments with policies that inspire investor confidence
  6. Top performing stock markets
  7. Best performers, borrowers to lenders

Philippine and Indonesian stocks have been advancing to all-time highs.

On Friday, February 1, the Philippine Stock Exchange Index climbed 1.21% to 6,318.61, breaching the 6,300 milestone and closing the week at another historic high -- the 13th this 2013.

The Jakarta Composite Index rose 1.4% to 4,517.82. The two indexes were the biggest gainers on February 1 among Asian markets tracked by Bloomberg.

“Indonesia and the Philippines are considered among the most attractive markets in Southeast Asia because of their improving economy and strong consumer base,” Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. told Bloomberg.

Proving their full recovery from the Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesia and the Philippines have also both come full circle. Once borrowers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both recently became lenders.

Part of this growth has put down to the reforms implemented by the current administrations. Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Indonesia and Benigno Aquino in the Philippines have both won upgrades from Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service in the past year as they pledged to contain their budget deficits, fight corruption and woo investment to spur economic growth.

In Indonesia, the nation's parliament approved a land-acquisition bill in December that will allow Yudhoyono's administration to accelerate road, port and airport projects. In the Philippines, Aquino is seeking $16 billion of investments in projects including roads in the capital and airports in the provinces to upgrade the nation's infrastructure.

World renowned economist Nouriel Roubini have cited these reforms when he favored the Philippines and Indonesia over China and India, current members of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

“They are actually doing more in terms of structural reform,” Roubini said. “The economies are growing more than 6%,” even higher than the average 5% global growth the developing economies are projected to grow this 2013, and way faster than the 1% estimated pace of growth for the advanced nations.

Roubini has promoted the Indonesia's credit rating upgrade, and believes the Philippines deserves to be among the A-lister countries, too.

Investment grade

In Southeast Asia, only 4 of the 10 ASEAN member states currently enjoy investment grade status: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the recently upgraded Indonesia.

Indonesia received investment grade status from two of the 3 major credit rating agencies: Fitch Ratings in December 2011 and Moody's in January 2012 .

According to studies conducted by Moody's and Fitch's, it is historically more difficult to reach an investment grade when a country's GDP per capita falls under the $3,000 range. Indonesia's GDP per capita is $3,508 in 2011, while the Philippines' is still way below the mark of $2,223 in the same year.

"I have come to the conclusion that the rating to investment grade is certainly warranted and decision should be formally taken this year," Roubini said during the Philippine Investment Summit 2013 in Makati City. "I hope that rating agencies will understand that sooner rather than later... and an upgrade will occur in the next few months."

Getting an investment grade from credit rating agencies encourage more investments to the country, and in turn, supports economic growth.

Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings rates the Philippines one notch below investment grade: BB+ with a positive outlook (S&P), and BB+ with a stable outlook (Fitch). Moody's Investors Service rates the Philippines Ba1, also a notch below investment grade, with a positive outlook.

The right direction

Is one country better than the other?

"In economics, it's not a zero sum game," replied world renowned economist Nouriel Roubini who spoke at the Philippine Investment Summit 2013. "It's not like private business in which one will be successful in one sector and the other will lose. Both can successful."

Roubini has been widely quoted for favoring the Philippines and Indonesia over China and India, current members of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

"Investors are looking at the long-term prospects of the country. They look at macroeconomic policies [and] financial environment if these are sound, political risks reduced, policies, regulatory environment not changing rapidly. Countries build reputation over time. Overall, I would say certainly Philippines and other emerging economies are going to the right direction

In the same investment summit, businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, who chairs Hong Kong-based conglomerate First Pacific Ltd, was asked which country he prefers, considering the group's stakes in both countries. He shared a recent conversation with a large private equity fund manager."

"He noted that there is election this year (in Indonesia), so there is uncertainty on successor of SBY....He also noted that there are more happening in infrastructure investment in Philippines than in Indonesia. In his eyes, the Philippines compares favorably than Indonesia. And I tend to agree."

Pangilinan also stresed that the Philippines has to keep this momentum going.

"I agree that governance have improved a lot, prospects have improved a lot. It is incumbent upon both the government and private sector to ensure that the perception is supported by fundamentals. You cannot defy gravity for long. You have to make sure that performance catches up with perception rather quickly.

"Otherwise, when other economies -- China, Thailand, other countries within the region -- will recover in due course, then there will be more competition with respect to investment dollars. We should be ready for that," he stressed.

As both the Philippines and Indonesia continue to grow nearly on par with each other, investors have been told to keep their eyes on the upcoming powerhouses.-Rappler (February 04, 2013 6:47PM)

Vietnam jails 22 for subversion

Phan Van Thu (R-standing) and others on trial in Phu Yen province, Vietnam (28 Jan 2013)
A court in Vietnam's Phu Yen province has jailed 22 people for between 10 years and life on subversion charges.

Prosecutors said the group had set up an eco-tourism company as a front for activities aimed at overthrowing the government.

The week-long trial was the largest of its kind in several years, as the government cracks down on dissent despite international criticism.

Last month, a court convicted 14 activists on similar charges.

In that case, 13 people - mostly Catholics, including bloggers and students - accused of having links to the banned Viet Tan group were jailed for between three and 13 years, while one received a suspended sentence.


State-appointed defence lawyer Nguyen Huong Que said the 22 men convicted in Phu Yen had "admitted their crime of aiming to overthrow the people's administration".

They were members of a little-known group called the Council for the Laws and Public Affairs of Bia Son [a mountain in Phu Yen].

The group's leader, Phan Van Thu, was sentenced to life, while other defendants received jail terms of between 10 and 17 years, with five years of house arrest after that.

At the time of his arrest last year, state media had accused Thu of setting up two companies and investing in an eco-tourism park as a cover for recruiting supporters.

The defendants were accused of writing documents critical of the government.

Rights groups say the charges laid against the activists are routinely used by the Vietnamese government to silence dissent.

Dozens of people have been jailed under the laws since 2009, and the government has been accused repeatedly by overseas critics of stepping up repression.

An annual round of dialogue on human rights between Vietnam and the US was cancelled in December because of Washington's concerns about Hanoi's worsening rights record.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said the country was "systematically suppressing freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and persecuting those who question government policies".-British Broadcasting Corporation (February 04, 2013)

Tears, prayers as late Cambodian king cremated

Thousands of Cambodians enter the crematorium where a coffin bearing the remains of Cambodia's late king Norodom Sihanouk is placed near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Monday.
The ear-splitting crack of 101 rounds of artillery will mark the final moment before late Cambodian King-Father Norodom Sihanouk is cremated Monday in a specially built crematorium outside the Royal Palace.

Sihanouk's son and successor King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen-Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk were set to light the funeral flame at 6 p.m local time (6 a.m. ET), almost four months after the king's death last October at the age of 90.

The somber event comes on the fourth day of an elaborate seven day Royal Funeral Ceremony, which started on Friday when the late king's body was carried on a winding route through the capital Phonm Penh to the open square of Veal Preah Merhu.

"Everybody had on a pin, a brooch with a black and white ribbon and photograph of the king. People were holding photos of the king in their hands. A lot of people were crying, holding their hands in the worshiping position. (I was) very touched, very moved," said Joyce Clark, vice president of programs at the Friends of Khmer Culture from Phonm Penh.

On Monday, throngs of people wearing white, the color of mourning in Cambodia, some with their heads shaved, continued to queue for their chance to file past the crematorium.

Many were weeping and stopped to kneel, their palms pressed together and heads bowed in a sampeah, a sign of respect. Attendants ushered them on to make way for yet more mourners as the hours passed until the king's cremation.

Foreign leaders and dignitaries from 16 countries were expected to attend the Royal Cremation Ceremony, including the prime ministers of France, Vietnam and Thailand. Also present will be more than 400 prisoners who were pardoned as a gesture to mark the king's passing.

Sihanouk died while in Beijing on October 15, 2012 of natural causes, according to Cambodia's official AKP news agency. His body was flown home to the Royal Palace two days later where it had been lying in state before the weekend process.

Sihanouk reigned over Cambodia for more than 60 years before he abdicated in 2004 due to poor health, according to the king's official website.

A panel elected Sihamoni as the new king. Cambodia's National Assembly then decided to give Sihanouk the title of King Father, allowing him the same privileges he has as the reigning monarch, according to his website.

Sihanouk saw Cambodia go from French rule to independence, then to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and the guerrilla war that followed its toppling. He then watched his country develop into the constitutional monarchy it is today.

He came from a royal lineage, but it was France that placed Sihanouk on the throne in 1941, according to the foreign ministry of Australia, which has played a key role in Cambodia's transition toward peace.

The king dissolved the nation's parliament in 1953, which helped bring about Cambodia's independence. Two years later, he abdicated the throne to his father but remained active as Cambodia's prime minister. In 1960, he became the South Asian nation's head of state following his father's death.

In the 1960s, amid a region simmering with conflicts such as the Vietnam War, Cambodia soon became home to a number of North Vietnamese training camps. That prompted U.S. air strikes on those camps in 1969.

The following year, U.S.-backed Gen. Lon Nol declared a coup d'etat while the king was on an official visit to the Soviet Union and abolished the monarchy.

Sihanouk aligned with the Khmer Rouge, a growing ultra-Maoist group which sought to transform Cambodia into an agrarian utopia.

The king, forced into exile in China, led the resistance movement, while the Khmer Rouge gradually gained strength.

When the group, led by Pol Pot, won control of Cambodia in 1975, Sihanouk returned as head of state. But by the following year, he was placed under house arrest.

From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge led a bloody period of mass killings, public executions and torture centers. While no one knows for certain how many people were killed by the regime, experts estimate 1.7 million fatalities -- or at least a quarter of Cambodia's population -- died from executions, diseases, starvation and overwork

Sihanouk himself lost five children and 14 grandchildren at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. He was confined to the royal palace until Pol Pot was overthrown three years later. He was away from Cambodia from 1979 to 1991.

The king subsequently became president of the new republic, but it wasn't until 1993 -- when Cambodia held its first parliamentary elections -- that the king's powers were restored and Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy.

Elizabeth Becker, the author of "When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution," told CNN after the king abdicated in 2004 that Sihanouk was "larger than life" and brought both good and bad to his country.

He tried to bring Cambodia into the modern world and protect it from its neighbors, but he brought about divisions in the process, she said.

"He threw his prestige and politics behind the Khmer Rouge when they started the rebellion and it was his name that helped convince a lot of peasants to go along with the Khmer Rouge," Becker told CNN.

"Then later, after the Vietnamese invasion, he continued to help the Khmer Rouge at the United Nations with political prestige, so his is a very checkered legacy."-Cable News Network (February 04, 2013)

Japan bookings to China still falling amid island row

This handout picture taken on December 17, 2012 shows a Chinese marine surveillance ship cruising near the disputed islands known as Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea. Four Chinese government ships entered a band of water around the disputed islands. On December 17, hours after the scale of his win became apparent, Shinzo Abe re-staked Tokyo's claim to sovereignty of islands at the center of a debilitating spat with China. FILE AFP PHOTO / JAPAN COAST GUARD
Bookings on Japanese package tours to China for February and March were down around 80%, tourism industry data showed Monday, February 4, as a months-old territorial row dragged on relations.

Tours to China, booked through Japan's 7 biggest travel agencies, fell by 80.3% year-on-year in February and by 77.2% in March, the Japan Association of Travel Agents said.

Tokyo and Beijing have been embroiled in a bitter sovereignty dispute over a chain of islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyus in Chinese.

The Japanese nationalization of some of the islands in September sparked sometimes violent anti-Japan rallies across China.

"Business travel demand is still there but the dispute had a big psychological impact on sightseeing demand," association spokesman Hiroyuki Seishi said.

The drops for February and March show demand for travel to China was not picking up after the drop of 74% in October and declines of nearly 80% in November and December.

Demand has taken a hit from the territorial dispute in past years, Seishi noted.

"The latest flare-up and media reports on the rallies discouraged even more people who do not want to go to unsafe places," he told AFP by telephone.

The heavy air pollution in recent weeks also "worsened the image" of China, he added.-Rappler (February 04, 2013 1:15PM)

Sunday, February 03, 2013

3 Chinese warships enter West Philippine Sea

A Chinese navy fleet entered the South China Sea on Friday for patrols and drills after passing through the Bashi Channel, state media said quoting military sources, as tensions with neighbours over disputed waters remain high.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the navy fleet including three Chinese warships entered the South China Sea at 03:40GMT after five hours sailing to pass through the Bashi Channel.

The Bashi Channel, situated between Taiwan and the Philippines' Luzou Island, is an international sea route connecting the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Official broadcaster CCTV (China Central Television) reported the three ships, all from the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy, are scheduled to carry out patrol missions and multiple training exercises in the South China Sea in the next couple of days.

The PLA Navy fleet departed Qingdao port in east China on Tuesday (January 29) for training exercises and patrol missions in the country's territorial waters. The fleet has sailed more than 1,200 nautical miles so far.

Last year tensions flared between China and Japan after Japan purchased disputed islands from a private owner despite China's protests.

China has also has competing claims over islands with Southeast Asian neighbours including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has made boosting the navy a priority, especially in trying to turn it into a blue-water fleet able to operate far from China's shore, and Chinese ships have participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.

But China's growing defence budget, military advances and perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbours and the United States.

China says it has no hostile intentions and that it is simply updating its outdated forces.-ABS-CBN News (January 03, 2013 12:14AM)

Taiwan deploys advanced radar for early warning vs China missile attack

Taiwan has put into service a US-made billion-dollar early warning radar system capable of giving more than six minutes' warning of a Chinese missile attack, a senior officer said Sunday.

The radar, on top of a mountain in the northern county of Hsinchu, started providing surveillance information after a ceremony presided over by the chief of the general staff, air force General Yen Ming, on Friday.

"The radar is able to provide us with more than six minutes' warning in preparation for any surprise attacks," air force Lieutenant General Wu Wan-chiao told AFP.

The Liberty Times newspaper said the phased array warning system, which cost Tw$40.9 billion ($1.38 billion), is capable of detecting flying objects up to 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) away.

"The system enabled Taiwan to have comprehensive surveillance controls when North Korea launched a rocket in December and the mainland tested its anti-missile system lately," it quoted an unnamed military officer as saying, speaking of the radar's trial runs since late last year.

Critics say the radar is too costly given that it will only provide an additional few minutes of warning, and would itself be vulnerable to any Chinese missile attacks.

However, analysts say the system -- which could be accessed by the United States with Taiwan's approval -- highlights Taipei's position as a strategic ally of Washington despite a lack of diplomatic ties.

"Through the sharing with the United States of the information it collects from the radar system, Taiwan becomes a critical link in the US strategic defence network in the region," said Kevin Cheng, editor-in-chief of the Asia-Pacific Defence Magazine in Taipei.

"This is more important than the extra few minutes the system may give."

Taiwan decided to buy the costly system from the United States following the 1995-1996 missile crisis, when China carried out ballistic missile tests in waters off Taiwan to try to intimidate the island before its first direct presidential elections.

"This is the most advanced system of its kind in the world... it is crucial as the Chinese communists are aiming more than 1,000 ballistic missiles at Taiwan," Chao Shih-chang, then deputy defense minister, told parliament in 2011, adding it was also capable of detecting cruise missiles.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan's China-friendly Kuomintang party took over the presidency in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and last four-year term.

But Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though Taiwan has governed itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.-Interaksyon (January 03, 2013 5:51PM)

Thai cop arrested with 20 elephant tusks

A Thai policeman has been arrested after he was caught trying to smuggle 20 elephant tusks, officials said Sunday.

The haul was discovered when the suspect -- in plain clothes but driving a police van -- was stopped at a checkpoint in the southern province of Chumphon on Saturday, Police Colonel Chalard Polnakarn told AFP.

"We found 10 pairs of elephant tusks in the van and charged him with illegal possession of elephant tusks, which he confessed to during the investigation," Chalard said.

The origin of the tusks was unclear.

International trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989.

But a rise in the illegal trade in ivory has been fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicines and to make ornaments.

Conservationists say ivory from Africa is often smuggled into Thailand and passed off as coming from Thai elephants, as a legal loophole allows the legal trade in ivory from domesticated elephants.

Wildlife campaign group Freeland praised the latest seizure as a "valiant act of fighting corruption to protect wildlife".

"We need more officers like them to fight this new form of transnational organised crime," Freeland director Steven Galster said in a statement.

Freeland said that in the past year thousands of tusks had been seized as they were smuggled into Asia from Africa due to "rampant elephant poaching".

It comes as Thailand prepares to host the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in Bangkok in March.-Interaksyon (January 03, 2013 8:43PM)